“A Sower Went Out to Sow”

July 13, 2014

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

Let us pray: O Lord of light and of salvation; be in my mouth and my speaking, be in our ears and our hearing, and be in our hearts and our understanding of your will and your ways. Hear this, our prayer. Amen.

 

In recent days

Jesus has been traveling around the countryside,

stopping at many different cities,

always being followed by his disciples and the crowds.

The Pharisees had started to plot against Jesus,

planning how to destroy him.

He healed a man's withered hand

and allowed his disciples to pluck and eat grain,

both on the Sabbath.

This raised their ire.

 

This morning we find Jesus by the Sea of Galilee,

perhaps in Capernaum,

where he taught as a child in the synagogue

and healed Peter's mother-in-law.

Because so many followers crowded around him,

he got into a boat and slipped just offshore,

creating for himself the perfect, natural amphitheater

- Jesus on center stage -

with his audience rising up on the nearby shore.

Jesus took advantage of the setting

by teaching his followers and the crowd in parables

- short stories whose purpose

is to make a point by analogy, comparison, or illustration.

Many have speculated

why Jesus spoke and taught so frequently in parables.

Why would his message be transparent to some

But intentionally opaque to others?

 

It is important to remember

The dangerous environment in which Jesus was immersed.

When surrounded by threats,

it was safest to speak in generalities,

with vagueness,

less one be arrested, tortured, and killed.

The less specific, the better.         

Yet, Jesus's parables were specific enough

so that, while some were left wondering what he was talking about,

his followers knew exactly what he was saying.

This, of course, makes all of us nervous

when we don’t immediately grasp the meaning of a parable!

While some may believe

that Jesus is teaching in some kind of secret, cryptic code,

it only makes sense that he was

just being wisely cautious.

 

So this morning,

place in your mind's eye

the picture of Jesus in a boat,

floating just off shore.

He could have been at Durand Eastman beach or Sodus Point.

Around him would have been a crowd of hundreds

- perhaps thousands -

standing and sitting at the water's edge,

straining to hear his every word.

 

I have recently been reading “Simple Church”

by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger.

In this short book the authors describe the two kinds of churches;

The simple church and the complex church.

The complex church is

One that deploys a smorgasbord of programs, events, and opportunities.

Generally, the larger the church,

the more resources it has to offer to members and friends.

Many have come to associate

activity with vibrancy.

While this may have curb appeal,

Especially to the occasional church shopper,

The authors research has shown that complex churches

Foster stagnation, status quo, even decline.

 

The alternative is the simple church;

One that intentionally nurtures movement through the spiritual journey,

starting with the new Christian,

engaging people with vibrant worship,

leading each to deepen their faith

while reaching out to neighbors.

Love God,

Grow deep,

Reach out

To put it simply.

This simplicity is patterned after the first century description of church

In the Acts of the Apostles.

Programs that don’t reach up,

Grow people deep,

Or reach out

Are slowly, but intentionally eliminated.

New seeds are sown

To bring laser focus on leading people,

Moving and growing with people

In faith development

That leads to outreach and missions.

Simple churches, the authors cite in their research

Are becoming examples of new life,

Fertile growth,

And vibrant communities of faith,

Just as they once did two thousand years ago.

 

The key to transformational change

Is keeping it simple,

Seeking fertile soil,

Faithfully sowing seeds,

Nurturing the growth that God is providing.

 

In today’s parable

Three quarters of the seeds sown are complete and abject failures.

Henry Ford once said,

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again,

This time more intelligently.”

Keep sowing seeds.

 

It is, indeed, exceptionally easy for us

to dwell upon all of our efforts which have failed

- those ideas which have fallen upon the path

while others have come along and snatched them away,

or plans which have fallen upon rocky ground

and have quickly grown up but have just as quickly died away,

or hopes and dreams which have fallen in the midst of thorns

and others have quickly choked them off

before they could even begin to grow.

 

Yet, Jesus promises us that

"other seeds

fell on good soil and brought forth grain,

some a hundredfold, some sixty and some thirty."

At the time of Jesus,

the finest harvest might bring in tenfold

- or ten times the amount of grain planted.

The farmers listening to Jesus would have had a good chuckle.

Even with modern technology,

a good crop might bring in forty fold.

Regardless, Jesus wasn’t naive.

He was simply making the statement

that some of our efforts will succeed beyond our wildest dreams.

Some of the efforts and energies that we put in working for the Lord,

will bloom and grow far beyond the sum of everything we put into it.

Those ministries which take off,

do so not because of what we do,

but because of what God does in addition to our efforts.

It is God who provides for the fertile soil.

It is God who provides for the necessary rain and sunshine.

We are simply required to sow the seeds

and to nurture that which grows.

Successful kingdom building,

doing the Lord's work,

requires a partnership with God and ourselves.

 

A few observations.

 

First, a seed is a seed is a seed.

That is, every seed is the same as every other seed,

worthy of the same consideration by the sower.

The only difference in the final outcome

depends upon where it is sown.

Seeds,

our visions, ideas, and plans for ministry

Come to us from God

Our Divine Creator.

Every seed is created with the same potential;

worthy of our efforts to sow.

If Jesus is telling us that only one in four

Stand a chance of taking root and prospering

We can’t risk losing any seeds.

 

It is wonderful to dream.

The more dreaming the better.

That is why we must be bold in our approach to mission and ministry;

Sowing every seed God gives us.

The more seeds that are sown,

the more opportunity for some seeds to grow

and grow abundantly.

 

Secondly, wise sowers will seek out the best soil.

Soil isn’t going to change its nature for our sake.

This is what it means for us today:

Avoid mission creep.

Avoid efforts that steal away the focus.

As my mother would say,

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Be smart in sowing.

Seek out fertile soil;

Where the need is greatest,

Where the longing of the heart

and people’s deepest concerns can best be fed.

 

Jesus zeroed in on the deepest needs in his life and ministry.

He sowed seeds with the poor, the marginalized, with women, and children.

Jesus sowed seeds with those who were suffering illness, disease, and grief.

Jesus sowed seeds with a tax collector who was seeking a new heart

And with a paralyzed man lowered through a hole in the roof.

Let us ask ourselves,

Where is the fertile soil today?

Where are we being led to sow God’s seeds?

 

Third,

from Jesus's parable of the sower,

Jesus is preparing us to expect failure.

Despite our best efforts

Only twenty-five percent of the seeds fall upon fertile ground.

Keep sowing seeds!

 

I’ve learned with age and experience

That even failed efforts to grow God’s kingdom have merit.

Seeds that were sown twenty years ago,

Kindness that was extended,

Love that enabled you to go the second mile,

Grace that flowed through you and touched another,

May eventually take root.

Timing is everything.

Even worn paths

change and grow over with time.

Choking weeds eventually give way to trees and streams.

Rocky ground might slowly give way to rich topsoil.

Timing may be the key,

So cultivate a culture of sowing.

Keep sowing,

Especially in the face of apparent failure,

If for no other reason

Than to maintain the discipline of sowing.

 

Jesus sowed throughout his ministry.

He only ended up with a few disciples in the end.

He had to repeat his message of suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension

Because those seeds didn’t take root

Until his disciples were changed by their experience.

Yet, he continued to sow

In his resurrection,

And through his Spirit,

He continues to sow seeds today.

His Spirit hasn’t stopped

And neither should we.

Keep sowing.

 

Fourthly,

It is very clear that Jesus promises us that

even one small seed,

one idea,

one goal;

planted in fertile soil,

nurtured, cared for, and supported by God and the community;

can lead to a harvest abundant,

a harvest beyond our wildest dreams,

a vibrant ministry of our church of unmeasurable success.

Indeed, that one successful seed

Will more than make up for the other three that failed.

If one seed has the potential of a hundred fold,

imagine what ten good seeds can do

- or a hundred!

Indeed, we are only limited by our ability to dream

and our capacity for faithfulness.

We are only limited by our ability to dream

and our capacity for faithfulness.

 

The goal of our Lord

for us, as individuals,

and for us, as His Church,

is the establishment

and fulfillment

of the kingdom of God,

bringing people to Jesus Christ,

nurturing each in our life long journey of faith.

God has called us to be faithful sowers,

people who will work without ceasing

at bringing about a successful harvest.

God supplies the seeds,

We simply sow as best we can.

God provides the soil, rain, and sunshine;

the growth and fulfillment of that kingdom.

We can expect disappointments and failures.

However, it is very clear that,

for those seeds landing upon fertile ground

which we care for and nurture,

the harvest will be abundant beyond belief,

easily making up for that which is lost.

 

Can we dream?

Are we faithful?

If we can and

if we are,

let us sow.

Those who have ears to hear, let you hear.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.