Seeds – August 23, 2020


A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Matt 13:1-9

August 23, 2020

Main Idea – We sow the seeds of God.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

I am not a gardener but one day, I stood in a friend’s kitchen and heard stories about the houseplants that surrounded us.  As she tended a big shamrock plant she said, “I’m not surprised that people associated leprechauns with them since their leaves snap open and shut like magic.”  She told me the story of each plant in the kitchen, “oh that dear, silly avocado plant, and that’s basil, and that’s another shamrock.”  She then turned to me and said “One thing I know is that plants like to be touched and pruned, oh, except for Boston ferns.  I had a big old Boston fern someone gave me half dead.  I brought it back, but boy, that plant hated to be touched.”

This sermon sprouted that morning as I observed the care my friend gave to her plants.  I have always enjoyed studying the parables but that day I saw this parable in a new way.  What if we looked at the image of the seed in the parable?  What could we learn that is different from our usual interpretation of this story?  This led me to two questions.  One, “What kind of seed are we sowing?”  The other, “Where are we sowing these seeds?”  Now some of you are old hands at gardening and some may not be (like me).  But each one of us plants seeds everyday by our actions and our approach to life.  And it is these seeds that I want us to keep in mind this morning as we explore the image of seeds in this parable.

When you think of seeds, what comes to mind?  Seeds are small and a bit mysterious in the way they transform into plants.  They require patience, they grow at their own speed.  Lots of seed gets planted without our help by the wind and by birds.  These plants seem to spring up out of nowhere.  On our farms, seeds mean life and livelihood.  Without seeds we are without food!  Seeds are potential, a small bag of seeds can yield an enormous bounty of produce.  They are an image of resurrection; that which looks and seems lifeless can burst into life with glorious color.  A seed is always more than it appears.  It is a good image for a parable for it is very evocative.  Jesus uses the image often. 

Now parables are stories meant to surprise and challenge the hearer.  They deal with everyday issues like work or cooking but then they have some surprising aspect to them which points beyond the everyday meaning.  Like any good story they reveal something new each time you study them.  Jesus was a master storyteller.  He taught in parables because an argument or discourse might rouse the ire of the listeners while a story lingers in the mind, engaging memory and imagination, long after the storyteller has finished.    The parables themselves are seed planted in the minds of those who hear them which can blossom to reveal new and deeper truth.  And as Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears, listen!”

“A Sower went out to sow some seed and as he sowed…”  We all know this story, we have heard it many, many times.  And most of us know the interpretation given here in the Gospel of Matthew.  The seed is the Word of God and the four soils are the different types of people who hear the Word.  True enough, but what if, instead of focusing on the four soils we focus on the actions of the Sower?  What new do we learn?  In the parable the Sower does not parcel out his seed one tiny seed at a time.  He does not survey the land to find the most optimum spot.  He is extravagant in his sowing.  He throws the seed generously and indiscriminately and some lands in good soil but most does not.  It would be like stepping out of the church building and casting seeds all over Saint Paul Street and on top of the parking lot, and down College St to finally get to the grass at Waterfront Park.  What kind of farmer plants like that?  What is this story really about?  Obviously, it is not about prudent planting practices but about extravagant, indiscriminate sharing of time and resources.   Do we live our lives like the Sower?  Do we share of ourselves and our faith extravagantly without thought of what we would get in return?  Do we persevere in the face of failure? (remember that 75% of the Sower’s seeds goes to bad soil!)  Or do we only put down one tiny seed at a time? Do we live prudently and cautiously, sharing ourselves only with familiar projects and people we know?  “Let’s see how this goes before committing anything else.”   Do we hoard our seed, our resources, “because we might need it someday”?  Out of fear of planting seed in bad soil do we fail to plant any seed at all?  Seed is an image of potential, of the future, but seed kept too long in a bag instead of the ground, will rot and become useless.  We have all been in situations in which we are called to take action but we fail to do so, we silently let the moment pass.  We let the inertia of “We have always done it this way” keep us from considering things from a new angle.  Most of us would prefer to do the familiar, to talk with people of like mind rather than trying something new with people of differing perspectives.   And we certainly don’t want to fail!  But the Sower in the parable, teaches us to take risks and to trust that the more sown the more reaped.  Fearful hoarding and timid or stubborn inaction leads to nothing.

Now let’s enter the parable again and think about the seeds.   If we are like the Sower throwing seed all around, what exactly are we sowing, good seed or bad seed?  What if the seeds are our thoughts and actions?  Of course, we, as a people of faith, take as our mission the sowing of good seed, the spreading of the Gospel.  But what about when we are late for an appointment so we cut off another driver in traffic?  What seed did we sow there?  Or because of preoccupation or reserve we neglect to speak kindly to the people with whom we interact?  What is the fruit of that action?    We are called to share the good seed, the Good news of God’s love.  Telling someone about this church, saying a kind word to a harried salesclerk, speaking out against injustice, this is the sowing of good seed.  These actions will bring about a bountiful harvest.

Now some folks will point at our culture; full of mindless consumption, petty selfishness, and deep division, cluck their tongues, and throw up their hands.  “There is nothing we can do!  The soil of our culture is no good!”  Several years ago there was a survey which found Vermont to be the most secular state in the nation.  For some this means that Vermont is all bad soil full of atheists and pagans and who knows who else.  For some this means Vermont is a wild, uncultivated mission field full of folks who have never heard the gospel.  We know that neither of those views has the full picture.  Vermont, like every community, has people that choose not to be part of a church and their reasons are as varied as the people themselves.  The parable of the Sower tells us not to despair but to sow our good seed extravagantly, everywhere.  Our efforts can make a difference in our communities and in our culture.  Only God knows where the good soil is, and it is often not where we would expect it.  The more we sow, the more we reap, and any return at all is reward enough for our investment.

And here is the really good news, God is the Sower, our Holy Gardener.  Sometimes we are the good seed; when we are loving, attentive, and attuned to God and sometimes we are the bad seed; when we are fearful and self-absorbed. Sometimes we are the bad soil; dry, rigid, unwilling to change, and sometimes the good soil; ready and able to follow God’s leading.  God loves us and shares with us extravagantly regardless.  God showers us with love and grace and mercy and power so that we might live in joy and share God’s extravagance with others.

My plant loving friend planted the seed of this sermon by showing me that the smallest of our actions can bring about unexpected results.  By paying attention to her plants, she was also tending me. Through her stories she shared the fruit of her patient, hopeful labor.  As we go about our lives may we pay attention to the seeds we sow; may we sow love, attention, and justice.  May we not be discouraged by the seemingly hostile and barren soil around us.  May we toss out the Good News by the handful, extravagantly and hopefully, sustained and empowered by God.

Let us pray,

Most Bountiful God, we are surrounded by the fruits of your creation.  May we too plant good seed so that your love may blossom in the lives of every person.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.