Written by Pastor Ed
Casting the Seed
July 16, 2017
Isaiah 55: 10-13
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Parable of the Sower and the Soils
This week during VBS we looked at a number of parables, one of them being the parable of the sower, or more accurately the parable of the soils. Parables, as the children learned, are stories that have a deeper meaning and say something about the kingdom of God. This parable is somewhat unique, in that we are given an explanation, which is a bit strange since Jesus tells his disciples that they will understand, while others won’t. This had led at least some scholars to suggest that the explanation was added later, perhaps by Matthew, to make the point clearer.
In any case, as with many parables, there are a variety of lessons we can draw from them. Now normally we talk about the soils, and wonder what kind of soil we are, of course always being the good soil, right? But what if we put ourselves in the place of the sower? Let’s think about that for a bit.
We need to remember that planting in those days was not like it is today. They didn’t have planters to make nice neat rows, with powerful tillers to work the soil. And the land of Palestine was not your prime soil. So planting was by broadcast, casting the seed out by hand, and as the parable states the seed could fall on all kinds of soil, with predictable results. The amazing thing is that some of the seed actually took good root and produced a harvest.
I wonder how many of us would persist in those kinds of circumstances? Or would we get frustrated and give up, maybe go and find another way to make a living? The parable suggests that the seed is the word, the gospel that we are to proclaim to the world around us. And the reality is that not everyone is going to receive it or receive it in the same way. And sometimes it is easy to get frustrated and give up.
I don’t know how many times I have heard congregational members over the years repeat a phrase that seems to be universal. Someone will suggest that the congregation do something, and someone else will say, “We tried that once and it didn’t work.” Which usually effectively shuts down trying something again. Do we really expect that everything we do to spread the gospel will work? Are we only satisfied if everything we do is successful?
There was a movement quite a number of years ago called the Church Growth Movement, which basically said you should only do things that have been proven to work. The only problem is that what may work in one setting may not work at all in another. I recall the example of a church in rural Iowa that, in the midst of a drop in hog prices, decided to host a community pig roast since there were a number of hog farmers in the congregation. And it was a great success and they made it a regular part of their community involvement.
Well, word of this got out and an urban church decided that since a pig roast worked for West Union church, they should try it – and discovered that for some strange reason, a pig roast didn’t work in town the same way it did in the country.
One of the principles of the missional church movement is experimentation. That is we need to try a variety of ways to spread the gospel, and we should expect that not all of them will work. And if they don’t work, well, that’s fine we can move on and try something else. And just because you’ve tried something once, doesn’t mean that it will never work. Perhaps the time isn’t right, or situations have changed. This neighbourhood is changing, more families are moving in, perhaps things that we did to connect with the community in the past that didn’t work then, will work now. The sower keeps on sowing the seed, knowing that some of it will grow and produce fruit.
Jesus gave us the mandate to spread the gospel, to share the good news. It won’t always be successful or yield a harvest, but that doesn’t mean we should give up, because some of what we do will fall on good soil, and yield a rich harvest.
And what about the soils? Rather than focusing on the soil that didn’t produce, let’s talk a bit about what it takes to be the good soil, to bear fruit for the kingdom. Because we too are ones who hear the word, and the parable suggests that some people, and that includes us, aren’t very good soil for the seed to take root, either not allowing the root to go very deep, or allowing many other things to come along and choke out our faith, like weeds in the garden.
When we talked about the parable this week, I invited Marlene Pytyck who takes care of all the flowers around the church to come and talk about what it takes to make them look so good. And along with good soil, water, and sunshine, it also takes some work, some constant gardening, to get rid of the weeds, to water when needed, and to look after the plants.
And so it is with us as well. To strengthen our faith we need to nurture it, to water and fertilize it. We need to pay attention to the weeds that threaten to grow up and distract us from God. Without regular tending to our faith we will be like those plants that either wither in the sun or get choked out by the weeds. And we also need to recognize that some people will not receive the gospel, no matter how hard we may try.
But we are called on to keep spreading the word, casting the seed far and wide knowing that amazingly, some of the seed will take root and produce fruit, far beyond what we can hope or imagine.