Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the realm of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
“‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ ”
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ ”
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
Jesus said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.”
“Consider carefully what you hear,” Jesus continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
Jesus also said, “This is what the realm of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
Again Jesus said, “What shall we say the realm of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Will you pray with and for me? Great Sower of wisdom, open our hearts to you today. Give us ears for hearing and heart open to receive what you want us to hear. In all your names, amen.
Well, this seems pretty straightforward. Jesus tells a parable to his followers, then explain it to his disciples (and us). The thing about a parable though--which we remember is an extended metaphor in the form of a story--is that it has many layers, like an onion. You can keep peeling layer after layer, and always there is something more to find.
Something that has really struck me is that not only are we like the various kinds of ground that receive the seed--that is, the good news--but we are also the seed--and the sower of the seeds. At different times in our life we are recipients of hope and faith; or we are the ones to give that word, or our very presence is a reminder of God's good word.
I love the metaphor of seeds. A seed is a little bit of potential--like an infant, it can grow into almost anything. Unless we are expert gardeners or botanists, we can't tell what will grow from a random seed, just by looking at it. We cannot know, from looking at a baby, whether she will become a parent, a soccer player, an artist--or all of those. At the same time, a seed cannot grow into something it is not--a mustard seed grows into a mustard plant, a sunflower seed becomes a sunflower. A human child becomes a human adult, not a dog or a tulip or a whale. So seeds have limitless potential, but within certain boundaries.
When we are the sower of the seed, we can only plant what we have--what we know, what we have learned, what is within us, in accordance with our gifts and talents. I don't have the gift of communicating with youth--that is neither good nor bad, but it means that I can't--at least, not very effectively--work as a youth pastor.
When we are the seed, we can only become what we are created to be. Marsha Stevens sings of being who she was made to be, that all the prayers in the world won't make her an inch taller, or make her what she is not. I would love to be a fabric artist, like my friend Susan, who made my chasuble--but I was not made with her sewing skills or her eye for colour and pattern.
And we are the ground, as well. Sometimes we're distracted by other things, and while we hear the good news, we don't take it in fully, let alone act on it. Sometimes we receive it and are happy with the surface appearance of the word, but we don't allow it to sink into our souls and take strong root. Sometimes it does take root, but other things happen to us, and we allow them to prevent us from acting on the good news. And sometimes, we do none of those things--the message of God's love and care sinks deep into our spirits, and we are encouraged and we act on that message, and can encourage others, and plant that message of hope in others.
I had a professor of preaching in seminary, who used to tell us budding preachers that all we were doing was planting seeds. We would probably never know when or if something we said had a lasting effect on someone in the congregation, and that was OK, because we weren't preaching to promote ourselves. We were simply planting seeds. We had to have faith, he used to tell us, that what we said, if we had approached it prayerfully and carefully, would settle in some hearts and make a difference. And sometimes it was cumulative--not just one sermon or study session, but over time, the effect of our words, our witness, would help those seeds to grow.
But wouldn't it be easier if we did know? If an angel told me, "don't work too hard on the sermon this week, everyone who will be there is already committed and their seeds are growing well?" I could say, "great, I'll take the weekend off and not really bother with a sermon?" Well, no. I'll let you in on a pastoral secret--often, the pastor is preaching to her or himself. Reading and studying and meditating on the readings for Sunday is a lesson for the one bringing the message as well.
This is where I trust Spirit--and Spirit has never let me down. I have preached sermons I thought were quite good, or led changes that I felt would make a real difference, or taken a stand that I thought would be powerful--and they all seemed to fall flat. On the other hand, I have preached sermons I thought were less than my best and received comments such as, "That was amazing!" Or "You were talking right to me, thank you, I needed that." This is where the work of Spirit comes in--we do not know, cannot know, the effect our words, our actions, our lives will have on others. That doesn't mean we should be frozen in fear lest we lead someone astray. This is why I say Spirit acts as well. There is a clergy saying about sermons, "Even if it's a dog, walk it proudly; Spirit has your back." Spirit--God--can speak through our poorest efforts as well as through our best ones, whether we are preaching, teaching, parenting, shuffling paperwork, cooking, or praying. All we can do is our best, and plant those seeds.
Plant those seeds. Some will wither away; some will be trodden down; some will be choked out. But some will grow and flourish and rise up strong and beautiful. Spirit will be with those seeds, to strengthen and encourage. So plant those seeds.
In all God's names, amen.