Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Last Wednesday morning at the regular men’s coffee group that meets over in the Upper Room, the guys and I were talking about farming and weather and the unpredictability of the whole enterprise of being involved in agriculture. I probably don’t need to remind you that these kind of conversations are still relatively new to me; growing up in a city of over one million people miles from the nearest agricultural land doesn’t lend itself to a high level of awareness of the issues affecting communities like Falls City. You might be able to imagine my surprise, then, when they started talking about people who farm land that is located on a flood plain. It was just three years ago, in my first summer here in Southeast Nebraska, that our area dealt with extensive flooding that devastated communities and cut us off from our neighbors to the east for months. As the conversation went on this week, I found it difficult to understand the logic of planting crops in an area that has such a high probability of flooding. Why waste seed like that, knowing that there’s a good chance that you might suffer a devastating loss if the wrong conditions present themselves.
Leaving aside things like crop insurance (and the fact that farming pretty much anywhere is an exercise in managing risk), I was struck by how similar questions popped up when I considered this morning’s gospel reading. Let’s take a look at the picture Jesus paints of the sower in the parable he tells those crowds gathered on the lakeshore. This guy walks out into his fields with a sack of seed slung over his shoulder, reaches into the sack, and flings the seed far and wide as he walks along. He apparently doesn’t care where the seed actually ends up, so it lands on all these different types of soil: hard-packed earth beaten down by countless footsteps; ground dotted with rocks and stones; soil overgrown with thick thorns and weeds; and good rich soil capable of bringing forth an abundant harvest. He might as well be throwing the seed into the flood plain with dark clouds gathered on the horizon; much of it, after all, seems destined to turn into a whole lot of nothing. Why? What’s the point in being so careless with the seed, which isn’t free, and won’t do anything if it lands on unfertile ground?
Well, as the guys explained to me last week, the point is precisely this: Sure, there will be some years that don’t amount to anything. Sometimes those storm clouds will drop a bunch of rain and the river will climb over its banks and the crops will be flooded out. But sometimes they won’t, and in those years the effort expended in sowing that seed will be more than worth it. The same thing goes for the parable Jesus tells. Sure, that message about the kingdom will sometimes fall on deaf ears. Sometimes, it will come to people when they can’t understand it, when circumstances conspire to distract them from hearing words of grace and life, when the cares of this world prevent that word from taking root and flourishing. Sometimes that word comes to people who have been yearning to hear it, who are ready to receive it, and it bears a thirty or sixty or hundred-fold harvest of renewal and strength and encouragement and abundant life. No matter what, though, the sower keeps going out to the fields, day after day, and casting the seed abroad without regard, knowing that, in the words of Isaiah, it will not return empty.
That is a word of grace for all of us, because despite the temptation to read ourselves into this parable as the good soil that bears an abundant harvest, we know the truth about ourselves. More often than we’d like to admit, that word encounters us and goes right over our heads. Sometimes, try as we might, we are unprepared to hear the message of the kingdom, and so we miss the word that God is trying to sow in our hearts. At other times, we hear a message from the Lord and get fired up to make changes in our lives, and then we realize how difficult making that change is and lose our enthusiasm. At still other times, we hear something that sounds really good but we’re too weighed down by everything else that’s going on to truly receive that word, and it gets choked off by all the different forces that vie for our time and attention. Then, miracle of miracles, we hear that word that takes root deep within and begins to blossom and grow until we can barely contain it, and we experience the overwhelming power of this message that finds us where we are and opens up new possibilities for the future and new dimensions in our relationship with that extravagant sower.
I don’t know what kind of soil you are today. Whether you’re feeling beaten down, rocky, thorny, or pretty good, hear this word from our teacher and Lord: Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself, the message of God’s reign is for you. The time has been fulfilled, and the reign of God is at hand. Grace and love and abundant life are yours this day, not because of anything that you have done, but because God in Christ offers it to you and to all people without reserve. Even more, that offer is always on the table, always available even to those who don’t know that they need it.
Wait, what? Even to people who don’t know that they need it? How does that make any sense. Look no further than the font in front of you. Kase and Cabe will approach that font in just a few minutes with their parents and sponsors. They, like all who come for the Holy Baptism, have different levels of understanding about what they are receiving and why. They, like many who have come before them, will rely on others to help them comprehend the promises that are shared and the commitments that will be made this day. Yet, despite the fact that they may not be able to explain their need for grace, God offers it to them in this holy sacrament, in these waters that bear the Word of new life and forgiveness. So it is with each of us. Whether we are prepared to receive it or indifferent to it, the message is still spoken, and it still has the power to transform our lives for the better.
So, brothers and sisters, as we prepare to witness the Word planted in the hearts of these beloved children of God, let us bless God for the message that is so recklessly sown for the sake of the whole world, and let us pray these words from the beautiful hymn by Handt Hanson:
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard, break the stone away.
When my heart is cold, warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost, lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart be good soil.
May it be so among us today and always, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.