The texts for this week are as follows:
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Here is what I posted to the preaching email study group PRCL (Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary) earlier this week.
In my studies and reading thus far, I find that I am inclined toward the following sermon theme for Sunday: “It’s not about the soil, and it’s not about the seed, but it’s all about the Sower.”
While I have done the typical sermons on how it is “our” job to sow the seed, or on the varying degrees of receptivity people have for receiving the seed/word, I feel led this week to talk about the profligate nature of the Sower, who goes around throwing the seed anywhere and everywhere as though he/she had tons of it to waste, as if there will never be a shortage of seed (or grace or love or forgiveness or healing or whatever).
I will also draw upon my own experiences in rural Kentucky while growing up and how carefully my family prepared the soil to receive the seeds or plants we placed within it. And how this sounds more like the Church and what it does than the Sower in the parable. Almost every church I have served operates from a theology of scarcity rather than a theology of plenty, and we tend to be very selective when it comes to how and when and upon whom we sow the seed we have been given. But God is not as miserly as we are, and we are called to follow the example of this wild, reckless Sower, who shares all with any and every one.
In response, one fellow subscriber wrote:
As a master gardener I read this parable knowing the importance of the soil when planting seed. I am intrigued by your analogy of the church preparing the soil. I do think that is one of the things we are called on to do. After all, most of us do not start with good soil; it is inevitably rocky and weedy and may also be either clay or sand. Most soil is not good loam. How do we improve it so that our seeds can grow? Carefully, over many years we amend the soil with good compost, manure (make what you want of that) and other soil conditioners. At the same time we remove rocks and weeds. We may do other things as well to get our soil ready for planting. Only then do we plant the seeds, and even then we must take care to make sure the seedlings have all they need to grow and produce fruit — sun, water, protection from wind, violent weather and animals. These are the jobs of the gardener, not of the seed and not of the soil. If God is the gardener, what responsibility does God have for the ability of the soil to receive the seed? And as God’s “hands and feet,” what responsibility do we have?
To which I responded:
While I do agree with what you say about the Church tending and nurturing the soil/souls/hearts/minds of people so that they may be receptive to the seed/word of God, I don’t see this parable as being one that makes this the job or responsibility of the Church. By all means we must do what we can with what we have and make it easier for people to respond positively to God’s grace, but the point of the story, it seems to me, is that God flings the seed willy nilly all over the place, with nary a thought as to where it might land. God doesn’t wait until the conditions are perfect before casting the seed of his word/grace wherever it falls. And when you state, “Yes, God sows abundantly, but might God also actually take care that the soil the seed falls in is at least capable of sustaining the life that it contains?,” I would reply that this is precisely what the sower in the parable does not do, for whatever reason(s) he/she has.
What would it mean for the Church to imitate this reckless God, especially when it comes to the resources it has. I have seen far too many churches and church people who are loathe to “waste” time or resources on some people because of their history, their social status, or even the way they looked. I have heard church leaders decry the waste of money spent on certain programs because they only reach a very few or even just one person (what is the value of the few or one in God’s eye is my reply, of course).
And if the Church ever seems to get to the point where it is actually willing to share the seeds of love and grace it has so freely received, it has by that time (in my own limited experience, mind you) also planned the Holy Spirit out of the process entirely.
Again, this is not to disagree with your statement about the church doing what it can to prepare or enrich the soil/souls of people. Rather, the image of God in this parable is of one free-wheeling and carefree Sower, who presents the opposite picture of most every gardener and/or church that I have ever known.
At least that is the direction I am currently heading in. Anyone have any thoughts, illustrations or more discussion on this idea?