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Archive for July, 2011

Matthew 13:1-23

My father was a gardener. Gardening was not Daddy’s vocation, but it was his avocation. He liked to say that it was his golf, the way he relaxed. However, Daddy’s gardening had a practical purpose, too. My grandmother lived with us, and there was Mama plus three children. The yield from Daddy’s garden—frozen or canned or preserved—fed our whole family all through the winter. I remember how Daddy plowed the soil to get it soft and pliable. We children helped him plant the seeds: poking holes in the mounds of dirt. Planting corn, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, okra, beets, onions, and sometimes, pumpkins. Then we went back later to fertilize, weed or water. As summer went on, we helped to pick the vegetables off the vines and to put the freshly dug potatoes in a basket to take home and wash.

Although I don’t know for certain, I’m guessing that some summers, the garden yielded more vegetables than in other summers. It all depended on how much rain we got, and when we got it. I do not think Daddy’s garden was a luxury. With six mouths to feed, on a preacher’s and a teacher’s income, the food this garden yielded made a difference in our lives. So my father did not leave his garden to chance—especially in the preparation of the soil that was to receive all those seeds.

In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about a man who sows seeds. We must understand that first century farming is very different than modern farming methods. In Jesus’ world, a farmer’s practice is to “cast the seed and then plow the land. With this scattershot approach, it is no surprise that some seed falls on hard soil, other seed on ground too rocky for good roots, and still other seed among thorns and weeds.”[1] The land in Palestine is challenging, in the best of times, so if a crop yields seven bushels, or sevenfold, it was a good year. “Tenfold meant true abundance. Thirtyfold would feed a village for a year and a hundredfold would let the farmer retire to a villa by the Sea of Galilee.”[2] So Jesus’ story about the sower uses extravagant—almost unbelievable—images of an abundant harvest of food.

To whom does Jesus tell this story, and why does he not explain it? Context is critical. Just prior to this parable in Matthew’s gospel, while Jesus was in Nazareth, the Pharisees accused Jesus of being possessed by demons. They have even gone so far as to get his mother and brothers to take him home—resulting in Jesus asking, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Jesus realizes, with sadness—and perhaps some anger—that his family thinks he is crazy. And if that is so, he must continue on his spiritual journey, proclaiming God’s kingdom, with his chosen family—the disciples who follow him.

With these disciples, Jesus knows he can go deeper than superficial explanations of parables, because he believes they will understand. The disciples are curious about this. They ask Jesus “Why do you speak to them in parables?”The “them” is likely not only the people in the crowds gathered around to listen, but the church officials—the Pharisees—who refuse to see God’s new kingdom breaking in among them in Jesus’ words and deeds. The “word of the kingdom” that Jesus casts with abandon like seeds on the ground, is that God’s love is more abundant than anything we can ask for or imagine. Keeping all the rules and regulations of the church is not necessarily the best way to know God’s love—although one might argue that keeping the discipline of a life of faith is not a bad thing altogether. Yet we Christians might well ask ourselves what disciplines of faith we practice on a daily basis. We might ask what it means to sow seeds of faith—in ourselves and in others? And how well do the seeds of faith grow in our lives?

Many churches today use the corporate method of gardening. Some of the mega churches have done careful research before planting a church. They research demographics of a geographical area. They choose location strategically, using the latest in marketing methods. They spend a lot of money on a state-of-the art worship space, have plenty of parking and purpose-driven programs. In other words, many churches use methods and strategies adopted from the business world. Clearly, the sower in Jesus’ parable would not be hired by any self-respecting pastor of a mega-church. Yet I wonder if we would hire him either. It just doesn’t make good sense to squander precious seeds as we stride along, throwing seeds willy-nilly. Yet in every church, we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to people whose hearts are like different kinds of soil.

On any given Sunday morning, a variety of people enter our church doors, hungry for spiritual food. As one writer has noted, “There is the newcomer who is ‘church shopping’ or ‘trying out’ Christianity. There is the person in crisis who will vanish when things get better. There is the family who comes ‘for the kids’ but quits once the kids’ soccer season starts.”[3] Yet is it our business what kind of soil is represented in people’s lives or how the seeds of faith are received? Jesus makes it very clear in this parable that the abundant yield of the harvest belongs not to the sower, but to God. God has given every human being some of God’s DNA, so that we might be hungry for God in some way. Do we respond? Some of us do. Some of us don’t. Some of us struggle along for years, not knowing that the hunger within us is spiritual. And even when we know that, we still struggle at times to be faithful.

Being faithful is what this is about, of course. As people of God, we are called to be sowers of God’s love, wherever we are. This means we learn how to pray. We teach our children how to pray. We adopt disciplines like attending worship faithfully or reading holy scripture or helping our brothers and sisters in the community—not just because it feels good, but because Jesus calls us to care for each other the way God has cared for us.  If we are to be disciples of Jesus, we must stride out, throwing seeds of faith with reckless abandon. Being willing to risk.

The picture on the front of today’s bulletin was taken by a friend and colleague of mine, Charles Lafond. It is a statue of the sower, found in London’s Kew Gardens. Charles wrote a poem about this statue, and in closing today, I would like to share parts of it.

“Strong arms sowing.
Strong legs striding.
Strong heart growing.

God brooded over the earth.
Not planned.
Not designed.
Not considered.
Not deigned.
No. Not so Anglican as deigned. . . .

And we.
Who are we but made in that image?
Who are we that we do not carry our basket in life?
Who are we not to sache our color like some orchid or lotus?
Who are we that we do not throw seeds to the earth that God might further brood?
Who are we that we do not stride with legs of weathered bronze along troughs cut wide
and deep by oxen unseen whose mantle is easy and whose burden is light?
Who are we but the sower of The Seed?

We exist to stride, not stroll.
We exist to go forward and not go back;
not even to glance back.

To go back would be to crush the earth
and hamper the seed. . .

For now, we sow the seed and we tend the garden,
longing for the Gardener for whom we turn.
Who calls our name.
Who sparks our re-cognition like lightening in a dark, dry forest.
Who calls that second turning into a dance.”[4] Amen.

© Text by The Rev. Sheila N. McJilton
Picture of Working in Garden Hoeing Between Plants accessed through Google images.
Picture of 4 Soils, James B. Janknegt. Contemporary, accessed at www.textweek.com.
Pictures of Sower in Kew Gardens, London by The Rev. Canon Charles Lafond, “The Sower at Kew,” posted on July 1, 2011 at http://charleslafond.com/blog. .  Accessed on July 4, 2011.  Used with permission of author.


[1] David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 3, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2011), 236.

[2] Ibid., 236.

[3] Ibid, 238.

[4] The Rev. Canon Charles Lafond,  Excerpts from “The Sower at Kew,” posted on July 1, 2011 at http://charleslafond.com/blog. Accessed on July 4, 2011.  Used with permission of author.

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