Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”Matthew 13:8-9
The Parable of the Sower has always been important to me, because it was the very first gospel reading that I preached on as an ordained pastor. It was the assigned gospel for July 11, 1999, the day after I was ordained, which, of course, is this same weekend, 21 years ago. It seemed to me then, and still seems now, that God was trying to tell me something important through this “coincidence” of the church calendar: That this parable can guide me in ministry. It can show me a way to think about ministry. For all Christians, to be sure. But for me as a pastor, as well.
So I’ve tried to approach my ministry with this parable in mind. Scattering seed widely, and not worrying about where it would land. Some would land on rocky ground, some among the thorns, and some even on the path. But some of the seed will land on good soil, and the promise is that this seed will bring forth much grain. When we sow the seed in this way, Jesus teaches us in this parable, we don’t know which is which. So, we just sow the seed of God’s word all over our corner of the world, and trust that some of it will find good soil.
We can get so focused on results these days, on being efficient, that we can forget that this is a perfectly legitimate way to sow seed. I talked about this a few months ago, at the closing worship of our Lutheran Men in Mission Statewide Gathering, which we hosted the weekend before the pandemic closed everything down.
I am no farmer, but I have learned that this way of sowing seed is called “broadcasting.” It is a common way to sow seed. The farmer would walk the field with his bag of seed and scatter it all over, in a rainbow kind of pattern, casting it broadly. And the reason for doing this was simple: you farm on the field you’ve got. Some of it might be rocky. Some of it might have some thorns. But you farm on the field you’ve got. You prepare the ground that you have as best you can, and you scatter the seed. And then? You take care of it, and let the good Lord do the rest.
This was the original use of the word, “broadcast.” You cast the seed broadly. It was not until the 1920s that the word began to have a new use. It was used to describe radio broadcasting, and eventually television broadcasting. In fact, NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS all have the word “Broadcast” in their name. Just like radio, these networks sent out their signal to anyone who wanted to tune in. They scattered their programming widely. They “broadcast” it. And this created a whole new way of communicating and connecting our world together. Everyone could be listening or watching the same thing at the same time. It really was revolutionary, when you think about it.
It is kind of ironic to think of this now, as this pandemic has forced us to “broadcast” our worship services! This is a new way of doing church, that I could not have imagined even just a few months ago. But it is one way to share the gospel.
We are all searching for new ways to share our faith and our hope and our love these days. Social media. Texts and phone calls. Zoom calls. Socially distanced conversations, with masks and without hugs. A lot has changed, but some things have not. We are still being called to scatter the seed, to broadcast the gospel. We are just having to find new ways to do so.
What Do We Want to Plant?
The truth is that we are scattering seed in our life all the time. Every day and in every way, we are scattering seed. The only question is, what kind of seed? What kind of seed are we scattering in this world? Is it seed that will bring forth the harvest that we want to see?
What do we want to grow in this world? What do we want to see more of in the world? What would God like to see more of in the world? If we would like to see more kindness in the world, then shouldn’t we be sowing seeds of kindness? If we want to see more justice, then plant seeds of justice. More hope, plant seeds of hope.
Throughout our day, every day, we all re planting seeds of one kind or another. Our words and our actions plant seeds. Everything that we do plants seeds. So it is worth thinking about what kind of seeds we are planting with our lives. This applies to pastors, of course. But also to teachers, and students. To nurses and engineers. To those in sales and in business. To retirees. To all who follow Jesus.
In many different ways, through our daily lives, we are called to broadcast our seeds. To sow them widely. To take care of the field that we have been entrusted with. And then to entrust the results of our labors to God. That is one of the things that this parable has taught me. To keep sowing the seed of God’s word, and don’t worry too much about where it lands. Just keep sowing. Keep loving. Keep giving. Keep praying. Keep serving. Keep sharing our faith. Keep hoping. Keep believing. And leave the results to God.
But there is one other point to this parable that I want to highlight today. Because this parable is not just addressed to those sowing the word. It is also addressed to those hearing the word. We know this is true because of the explanation of the parable that Jesus later gave to his disciples.
He shared with them that there are four different ways to hear this parable, or to hear God’s word. And only one of these ways is fruitful. Just because we are listening to God’s word, in other words, doesn’t mean that it will bear any fruit in our lives. So it’s worth thinking about these four ways of hearing God’s word this morning. Because only one of these ways actually bears any fruit or makes any difference.
The first way of hearing the word, Jesus tells us, is what happens when the seed of God’s word lands on the path. It never stands a chance. The evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart, because the hearer hasn’t taken the time or made the effort to understand God’s word. These are hearers who aren’t really listening. They have shut their minds to any other truth than their own. You’ve heard the saying, “I’ve made up my mind, so don’t confuse me with the facts”? Jesus tells us that there is no point in even approaching God’s word if we aren’t willing to be changed by it. An open mind and an open heart is necessary for the seed to find good soil.
The second way to mis-hear God’s word, Jesus tells us, happens when the seed falls on shallow, rocky ground. It isn’t able to grow any roots, so that when the first storm of life comes, this person’s faith immediately blows away like tumbleweed. Roots are important to the long-term health of a plant. Our faith roots cannot be seen by others, but they are essential to health. And making sure that our faith has deep roots, is essential to surviving life’s many storms with our faith and our hope intact.
The third way that God’s word does not find good soil happens when the seed lands among thorns. Jesus tells us that these thorns represent “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.” And these cares and desires choke the word, so that it yields nothing. It is a challenge these days, more than ever I think, to make sure these types of thorns don’t take over our soil. There are so many cares and concerns in our world today, this pandemic just being the most obvious one. We need to stay vigilant, and rooted in God’s word, so that these cares and concerns, these thorns, don’t shout at us so loudly that we are no longer able to hear God’s still small voice.
And finally, there is the good soil – those who truly hear God’s word, and who embrace it with open minds and open hearts, and who let it change their lives. And when we do that, God’s word planted in our hearts very naturally bears fruit, and yields even up to a hundredfold, as Jesus tells us. Good seed planted in good soil bears good fruit. Our task is to make sure that we are doing what we can to be that good soil. Opening our hearts, minds, and souls to God’s word. When we do, we will naturally bear good fruit.
And so, today, let us all pray that we would truly receive God’s word with an open heart. So that it can grow in our lives and yield new seeds, that we can then broadcast to the world. We are called to be the sower, who broadcasts the gospel through our words, our deeds, and our love, eagerly and generously, without any concern for where it lands. But to do that, we must first be the good soil, open to receiving the seed of God’s word. May our hearts be open, our soil good, and our harvest plentiful. To the glory of God. Amen