As I began to prepare for this sermon, I was struggling with the scripture.
The ‘Parable of the Sower/Soil’ is not the most infamous scripture or parable, but it is well known and of importance as it is included in all of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
The struggle was because as a preacher, it is my responsibility to explore the scriptures and interpret how it might apply to our current time and place. Yet, it seemed the interpretation was done and provided on a silver platter.
Since our lectionary is a three-year cycle, I returned to the first time I preached this parable six years ago and I began it sharing that it was the first parable I preached and the process taught me that I hate preaching on parables. Why? The Gospel authors always include the interpretation of the parable on a silver platter saying “and here is what this means”. Thus, as the preacher, I am left asking ‘what else am I to say about it’.
Then, I read this quote on a colleague’s Facebook page providing a little motivation and inspiration.
Jesus’ parable did not deliver prepackaged meaning but challenged the hearer to respond. Parables are open-ended narrative metaphors that generate new meaning in new situations. While a parable cannot mean simply anything (it is not a Rorschach ink blot), it “teases the mind into active thought” in such a way that the hearer himself or herself must actively participate in deciding what the parable means, i.e., how the hearer should respond to it. Parables thus often function by beginning in the familiar world of the hearer but then presenting a different vision of the world that challenges the everyday expectations of the hearer.
So, how do we hear a familiar parable paired with an interpretation handed to us on a silver platter in a ‘new’ light that relates to our time and lives?
The Parable of the Sower/Soil is appropriate for this time of year. We are in the time after Pentecost, symbolized by the color green to emphasis it as a time of growth. You might have noticed the leaves on my stole, which symbolizes new growth and the healing of the nations.
But, how does this growth happen?
Intellectually, I know that plants need good soil, nutrients, water, and sunlight.
Although a farmer’s daughter, I am grateful they primarily tended to the pigs because my mother, sister, and I have black thumbs. As my sister will tell you, if it doesn’t make noise, she forgets to feed it.
In fact, I am excited because my flowers this year are not dead YET.
This is thanks to a lot of conscience effort, a lot of miracle grow, and prayer.
Thus, I do not know that I am the best to be speaking about seeds sown and their growth, but I do think that the parable has more layers than the one provided by the author.
We have multiple farmers, or those raised by farmer, in this congregation.
Do you toss the seed out, anywhere and everywhere? No.
And yet, Jesus the Christ as the sower, takes the seeds of grace and throws them everywhere.
Thus, we understand ourselves as being the soil and our readiness to receive the WORD of grace and love. It raises the question of how can we prepare ourselves to be the good soil, but that is not a Lutheran concept, for we are saved by God’s grace alone and not our own efforts.
There are four types of soil presented and we attempt to comfortably place ourselves and others within one or another of these soils.
- Are we the ones on the path, who do not have a chance or opportunity to grow?
- Are we those in rocky ground, who grow quickly but without roots and thus wither with the sunlight?
- Are we those who root and grow, but who the stresses and anxieties of our world choke the grace, love, and joy from our lives?
- Are we those rooted in good soil, who receive all that is needed to grow and multiple?
This is too simplistic, for within the seasons of our lives we find ourselves sown within all four soils.
How often do we allow another to steal our joy, causing us to question if God considers us worthy of divine love or not?
During Advent, while serving in Washington, we had Wednesday meals and worship. A well-recognized, local homeless woman with schizophrenia joined us one evening. Those sitting near her before worship heard her saying to herself “shut up, shut up, they will love me anyways”. The Advent candle I was discussing was “Love”. As I begun to preach, she stood up, yelled “go to hell, all of you” and walked out the church slamming the door behind her.
She was not talking to me, but I joke that I am the only preacher that can be told to go to hell for preaching love. The truth is she was talking to the voices within her own mind. Similarly, we have voices in our own minds and ears, whether schizophrenic or not, telling us ‘you are not worthy, you are not enough, and how can God love you when you cannot love yourself’.
In those moments, we are upon the path for the evil one is a master of lies with the intention of stealing that joy of God’s divine grace and love from us.
How often do we think that our lives are great and we are blessed, but a phone call or complication suddenly shifts our perspective? We question why God would allow it to happen or why God hates our loved one or perhaps us.
In February 2018, it was a great, blessed day until I received a phone call that my uncle had passed unexpectedly. I shifted from bless to being upset and questioning God quickly. This is when we are in shallow soil and rocky ground for our experiences challenge the divine grace and love of God.
I have heard people say that we cannot question or be angry at God. However, the Bible is full of persons lamenting to God; and thus, God can handle our questions, frustrations, and anger.
How often are we worried and anxious about matters of this world?
How often might we be called to speak up on behalf of our baptismal commitments to seek justice, to act with compassion and mercy, and to love and serve, but we are hesitant? Our hesitance may be rooted in concern about the opinion of others or profitability in financial resources or power/authority. This is when the thorns are growing around us.
Then there are those times when we are in good soil. We don’t have those voices whispering in our ears. We don’t feel persecuted. We don’t seem tempted or threatened by the powers of this world. Thus, we are able to become more firmly rooted and to be restored, for my flowers this is after I add the miracle grow and it goes from near death to becoming alive with blossoms.
When we are in this good soil, we experience growth and blossom because our needs for becoming stronger are met which prepares us for the next time we are on the path, or in rocky ground, or among the thrones.
However, these soils are not the only way we enter into the parable.
You might have noticed that I did not include one of our baptismal commitments, which is proclaiming Christ in word and deed. We continue to be called to proclaim Christ is word and deed, and therefore we are also the sower who does not carefully prepare the soil but rather foolishly, abundantly, and indiscriminately throws those seeds of grace, love, and mercy out into the world.
The most challenging part for us, however, is to let it be. It is not our responsibility to “save” people. We cannot even “save” ourselves, because we are saved by grace alone through Christ Jesus. So, we are called to throw those seeds of God’s grace, love, and mercy anywhere and everywhere unconcerned about if these fall upon the path, or in rocky ground, or among thorns, or hopefully upon good soil. It can be challenging to walk away and accept that it is out of our hands.
How do we breathe new life into a parable whose meaning has seemingly been handed to us on a silver platter? Perhaps we acknowledge and respect the interpretation as one of many layers within the parable. These parables are never as simplistic as they seem.
I encourage us to ponder the times in our lives when we have been the seed on the path, in the rocky ground, surrounded by thorns, and when we have been rooted in good soil. Embrace the seasons of your faith journey, because it has brought you to where you are today. Do not worry about if you are not good soil today, because perhaps tomorrow you will be.
I encourage us to not be worried about the ‘soil’ that another person is in the moment.
I encourage us to spread those seeds abundantly, indiscriminately and with joy.
Then, walk away. Let the Holy Spirit do God’s work. Amen.
Scriptures were Isaiah 55: 10-13, Psalm 65: 1-13, and Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23.
Originally preached on 12 July 2020 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, Indiana).