October 16, 2016
Mark 4:1-9, Jeremiah 31:31-34
I grew up in a suburb of a large city. My mother grew up on a farm. Each year, she would plant flowers and tomatoes. She would tend them with great care and she would be so hopeful that they would grow and flourish. I never understood why she would work so hard and invest so much emotional energy in something that seemed destined to fail. Her best tomato plants were rather pathetic, but she didn’t give up on them. I think of her when I read the parable of the sower. It’s a story of a farmer who doesn’t carefully look for the right soil, add the best nutrients, water with great care, and stand over the seeds until they flourish. It’s about a farmer who throws thousands of seeds with great abandon over all kinds of soil, rocks, thorns, and then walks away so that they can do their thing. From a stewardship standpoint, this seems like a grand waste. Why would so many seeds literally be thrown away? Doesn’t this farmer want the seeds to grow and thrive?
This parable flies in the face of smart business practices. It is the opposite of what they teach in church growth training. It is certainly not what we would tell investors. It seems that Jesus has no business sense. What’s more, he doesn’t seem to care about the numbers.
We may reflect on ourselves as the soil and wonder which one we might be. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be the rich soil where things take deep root, grow, and produce abundant fruit? No one wants to be the rocky ground or thorns. It doesn’t excite us to think of being eaten by the birds. Yet, I’m guessing we are all of the above. As someone pointed out in text study this week, none of the seeds are wasted. Some become food for the birds and some become compost. It is tempting for all of us to wish we were the successful soil and do all that we can to thrive. That is good stewardship, but there is something else going on here.
We are being given a glimpse of an extravagant God who will not give up on us. God is the sower who flings seeds everywhere. It’s a challenging message in a world where dozens of species become extinct each day. We recently became a Green Justice Congregation. This reflects our commitment to be good stewards. We want to be cautious and take good care of what has been entrusted to us. It seems like God is calling us to waste. I think that’s exactly what God is calling us to do.
The question is WHAT is God calling us to waste? God isn’t calling us to waste precious resources. The parable is a story of God’s word being completely wasted on all kinds of soil. The sower in this story isn’t stopping to decide if it is worth it to share the word with this person or that person. Who are we to decide who deserves to hear God’s word or receive God’s love? Part of what is amazing about this story is the seed is sewn everywhere and miraculously produces tremendous fruit! God will not give up on us. The sower doesn’t say, “I’m not wasting my energy on this person…it didn’t work out so well for me last time.” In fact, we see the opposite of that in the reading from Jeremiah. God has tried the covenant approach with people and it has failed miserably every time. It seems time for God to give up when God comes up with a whole new approach. “I am going to write this covenant on their hearts.” God was forever coming up with a new way to love the people who had turned their backs on God’s love and redemption.
If we follow the path set before us by this sower, we will realize that success isn’t up to us. Our job is to generously sow the seeds. How many of us want to control the results of our efforts? This is a challenging message for the church. Sow seeds of God’s love with abandon. It is not up to you to make them succeed. In fact, you cannot make them succeed, but you can follow the example of this extravagant sower and keep flinging seeds.
Have you ever thought about how many times Jesus failed? How many people turned away from his message? He was rejected in his hometown. Rejection doesn’t mean he was a failure. Ted Williams is considered one of the best hitters in baseball. In 1941, he hit .406 which means he failed nearly 60% of the time. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper and told he lacked creativity. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, was rejected by a dozen publishers before one finally took a chance on Harry Potter. Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team. Thomas Edison was both hearing impaired and fidgety. He only lasted three months in school where his teachers said he was "too stupid to learn anything." His mom eventually home schooled him. In talking about his invention of the light bulb, he said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that do not work.”
If Edison found 10,000 ways that don’t work and Michael Jordan has missed over 9,000 shots in his career, how many seeds has God scattered? It doesn’t matter because miracles continue to happen. Some of the seeds that seemed to produce nothing at first glance will spring up and bear unexpected fruit. Sometimes I look at all we are doing right now and think there is no way all of our efforts will succeed. How many efforts have failed in the 136-year life of this congregation? That is not our concern. Our concern is continuing to sow seeds of God’s love, justice, and inclusion. We are never in charge of the results, but we are responsible for sowing seeds.
Remember the bumper sticker “Practice Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty”? It has taken a new form in Albuquerque. At the 2016 US Conference of Mayors, Billionaire Philanthropist Philip Anschutz, the Dalai Lama, and Lady Gaga challenged participants to kindness. That took hold in a conversation between Tom Tait, mayor of Anaheim, California and our major Richard Berry. The mayor of Anaheim and Superintendent of Schools challenged Albuquerque to one million acts of kindness. Mayor Berry accepted the challenge. Talk about scattering seeds!
Henry David Thoreau said, “I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” The greatest act of faith we can do may be scattering seeds. We do so not trusting in our own expertise as farmers, but in the God who does miracles. A few weeks ago, we heard a parable of a mustard seed, a tiny seed that becomes a tree. Today, we talk about fearless sowing in a larger context of fearless generosity. We sow seeds and offer gifts not because we are so sure of ourselves, but because we know God can do more than we can dream with the gifts we offer. Today, we celebrate our 136th anniversary. Many have gone before us sowing seeds. We are the fruit of their labor. God is at work in us still.
This text is a call to wholehearted generosity. We don’t have to count how many seeds we sow. We don’t have to choose one issue to care about or one project to devote our energy. We simply have to fling seeds of love, justice, and inclusion and trust God to do the rest!