Sunday, July 16, 2017
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
“Listen!” Jesus said. “A sower went out to sow.” (Matthew 13:3b) The Rev. Joann Lee serves as an Associate Pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. She recently wrote, “It’s a familiar parable. As Jesus explains it, we are to be the ‘good soil.’ That is, the soil that hears God’s word, understands it, has it take root within us, and then bears fruit – leading to some kind of change and transformation within us and in the world.” (“Reflections on the Lectionary, Christian Century, June 21, 2017, page 19)
However, she reminds us that the parable is not called the parable of the soil or the parable of the seed. Instead, Jesus calls it the parable of the sower. It is, as others have pointed out, a simple story drawn from ordinary life.
“A sower scatters seed in a field prior to plowing ... ” (Preaching Through the Christian Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 362) Some say it was the custom or practice of a Palestinian farmer to scatter seeds. If that is the case, it seems like a sure way to also waste seeds.
Pastor Lee points out, “We usually plant seeds in soil that is well cultivated and ready to nurture and grow them. Furthermore, most gardeners and farmers carefully place each seed into the soil bed, spacing the seeds out and mapping out what kind of seeds will go where.” (“Reflections on the Lectionary, Christian Century, June 21, 2017, page 19)
I have a very small yard around my home in Wailuku. Much of outdoor area in the front and back of my home is covered over with pavers. But there is enough ground for two ‘ōhi‘a trees, beds of kupukupu and palapalai fern and other native plants.
The soil is good and with a drip line to irrigate both areas, the plants are happy and thriving. It took more than a few years but two of the ‘ōhi‘a trees had their first full bloom of lehua flowers this year and the aloe have also had their bloom of flowers.
One might presume that what Pastor Lee is saying makes sense – that we usually plant seeds in soil that is well cultivated and ready to grow them - but what was Jesus attempting to teach the disciples about the sower who scatter seeds? After all not only did the Palestinian farmer scatter seeds, nature itself seemed to work in same fashion. The “wind blows seeds from trees and flowers all over the place – sometimes onto good soil, sometimes to places where they do not stand a chance.” (Op. cit.)
While I do not mean to speak disparagingly of my neighbors, I know that on a day when the trade winds are brisk there are seeds from numerous weeds intheir yards manage to migrate across the roadway to my yard. They settle in between the very narrow spaces of the pavers in my front yard and quickly take root in what can only be described as rocky ground.
Bugs and insects do their share as they pollinate the invasive plants. Mynah birds and pigeons leave behind their contributions of seeds as well.
But again, what was Jesus attempting to teach the disciples? “Perhaps,” Pastor Lee muses, “this is how the original gardener, the God of Genesis who walks in the Garden of Eden, actually works . . . it seems wasteful, almost irresponsible, to just scatter seeds anywhere and everywhere.”
“But,” she explains, “to the God of abundance, to the God of grace and mercy and love, perhaps that is exactly the right way to go about it.” (Op.cit.) In other words, if we are to sow the “word of God” then we must do so “broadly and widely.”
We cannot know for sure whether Jesus’ intention was to explain why there would be some failure in the mission of the disciples to elicit a response to their message of God’s promise of abundance or if it was his intention to encourage the success of the disciples’ efforts “by pointing to the good soil and the abundant yield.” (Preaching Through the Christian Year A, Craddock, Hayes, Holladay & Tucker, Trinity International Press, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1992, page 363) Both perspectives are valid. Some will turn away; others will fall away. But others will thrive.
For the early disciples and for us, whatever doubt, criticism, rejection or disappointment we may face, the parable of the sower contains the promise that there will be a bountiful harvest. The parable of the sower leaves us “to wonder if there is any place or circumstance in which God’s seed cannot sprout and take root.” (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, Bartlett & Brown, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2011, page 241)
The Rev. Dr. Theodore Wardlaw at Austin Presbyterian Seminary in Austin, Texas concludes, “ . . . this parable is not so much about good soil as it is about a good sower. This sower is not so cautious or strategic as to throw the seed in only those places where the chances for growth are best. No, this sower is a high-risk sower, relentless in indiscriminately throwing seed on all soil – as if it were all potentially good soil. On the rocks, amid the thorns, on well-worn paths . . . ”
It is easy to lose sight of the intent of the ‘Ōlelo Mikiona or Mission Statement that we include as a part of our time of worship each week. Because of our kūpuna, our ancestors we have made a commitment as the church here in Mākena to share “God’s aloha from generation to generation.”
In the same way that God gives freely, hoping to find good soil but with no guarantee that this will happen, so it is that we must risk giving freely of ourselves as broadly and as widely as possible by welcoming all, loving all and accepting all into our ʻohana. “This kind of lavish abundance” Pastor Lee writes, “is a call and a challenge to us.” (“Reflections on the Lectionary, Christian Century, June 21, 2017, page 19)
It is a call and a challenge that are the marks of our discipleship. We will share the good news of God’s aloha and be extravagant in our welcome of others. Thanks be to God. Amen.