Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.
13:2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
13:3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.
13:4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
13:5 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.
13:6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.
13:7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
13:8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
13:9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
13:18 “Hear then the parable of the sower.
13:19 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.
13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
13:21 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.
13:22 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.
13:23 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.”
Good morning Lyndale! It’s always such a joy to be with you each week and I must say that it has been an absolute bright spot in my life finding this congregation as I’ve been making a life here in Minnesota over the last two years. I have to admit I was a little hesitant when Rebecca asked me to speak with you this morning. I still feel like a new kid on the block in some ways but I’m so eager to deepen my connection with you.
It’s been a dream of mine for some time to one day have a hobby farm. Preferably one to share with others, but I’m compelled by the pursuit of living in right relationship and connection with the natural world and finding a simpler rhythm and pace to life- one that centers around the basic needs of the plants and animals and on hard yet gratifying work with hands in the dirt. That’s why it’s pretty ironic that before I met my partner, I hadn’t really attempted to grow anything aside from the occasional house plant or garden flower. One of our first activities together was building garden beds in my backyard in St. Louis. When it came time to fill the beds, little did I realize just how much there was to learn about, well, dirt. Sure, I know it needs to be workable and have nutrients for the plants, but that was where my knowledge pretty much plateaued. Since then, I’ve come to learn quite a bit more about dirt and one of the most important things I’ve come to understand is that the best kind of dirt comes from waste– coffee grounds, rotting fruit or veggies that you’ve lost to the abyss of your refrigerator drawers, trash, and literal biological waste…manure. Do you remember in the movie The Martian when Matt Damon grows an entire habitat full of potatoes (in MARS DIRT by the way) from his fellow astronaut’s waste?! Yeah, so, poo is important for good dirt.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, because the story from the lectionary today says quite a bit about dirt. But let’s back up for a moment. As we know from his ministry, Jesus was a storyteller. He shared parables as a way to invite his listeners- then and now- to see the Kindom of God in the images of everyday life. A parable isn’t just an idea to think about, but something we participate in. So much is left to us, to our interpretation. We filter it through our own experience and reason, we each may come to various different conclusions, all from the same story. The Greek translation of the word parable is “to throw alongside”. I invite all of us to shy away from an immediate response of attempting to figure it out, and instead sit in the parallelism with listening ears and open eyes.
Don’t Judge the Dirt
Because parables can hold many meanings, possess an unfolding of meaning even, my own understanding has changed over time. I grew up in a conservative Church of Christ which provided me so many formative experiences in my faith but also conveyed a doctrine that instilled fear and a very binary, wrong/right, understanding of faith. I remember learning this parable as a young person and being fixated on the ways in which I could become and remain the “good, rich soil”. I wanted so desperately to never equated with the hardened, rocky, thorny soil Jesus spoke of. As you can imagine, it just didn’t quite work out that way.
The truth is, I recognize a bit of myself in all the soils. Because I have been the hardened path, toughened over time from feeling trampled on, dismissed, violated, walked over. I’ve felt small seeds of joy, love, hope and faith being snatched away as I’ve experienced loss, grief, doubt. I’ve felt my faith spring up only to have it falter under the endless questions and paradoxes. Some days it feels scorched by the oppressive heat of life and the systems of injustice that continue to kill and threaten the most vulnerable. I’ve fallen among thorns and brambles- caught in pain or fear or worry with little room to stretch and grow. Church, I am all of these soils. Sometimes in the course of a single day. I’m guessing some of you have felt that way too.
When we read the parable the way that I did as a young person, measuring myself against the various types of soil and using it as a tool to analyze and judge myself, or others, it reads as a really cynical story. It also makes it all about me. Or us. Over time, I’ve come to learn that I don’t think that’s what this parable is really about.
I like the way Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it, “I think we naturally tend to read this parable NOT as the parable of the sower but as the parable of the judgment of the soil. To focus on the worthiness of the soil is to read the parable in judgment. When we approach this text or our lives with only the knowing and judging of good and evil, we miss out on the knowing of God.”
God’s Radical Generosity and Abundance
Episcopal priest and writer Barbra Brown Taylor elaborates even further,“The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into the seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of God’s truth.”
What’s so important about shifting our view is the focus on God’s abundant love and refusal to give up on us. God doesn’t stop sowing seeds of divine love because the soil isn’t perfect. Amen? What a relief! In fact, God is sowing seed with reckless abandon. There is such beauty in the abundance of the seed- God is the relentless and lavish sower, seeds here. There. Everywhere. This is radical generosity. Once we embrace this, we can let go of our hang ups about what kind of soil we are.
I find so much wisdom in this radical generosity. The wisdom is found in seeing the true worth in something- even when others may not- and delighting in it. The wisdom in the long view, looking beyond the immediate to the promise of what the future can hold. There is fierce optimism in this wisdom, in the belief that sowing a seed on a rock may yield something. Because sometimes a tree does grow out of a rock, a rose out of concrete, as Tupac wrote.
There is a divine dance between the sower and the soil. The dance of our faith and transformation. You know, part of the reason I had some hesitation about sharing this morning really stemmed from the fact that on most days, I don’t always know how to articulate my faith. It’s been an evolution, to be sure, and there was a time when I was so overcome with pain and rage I didn’t believe much of anything. The misogyny of the evangelical church I was raised in left me with such a narrow view of myself in the story of God’s love. Later in my life, suffering a sexual assault from someone within church leadership and my faith community was a seemingly impossible trauma to recover from.
But the lavish love of God led me to the sacred feminine. The lavish love of God met me in the darkness and led me to a new community of faith of in Seattle when I least expected it. The lavish love of God gave me the strength to honor my queer identity and come out to my friends, family, and colleagues. And the lavish love of God has transformed my understanding of social justice from just work I was doing in my career in higher education to a spiritual imperative connected to my very own liberation, my own soul.
And none of these moments or learnings or questions or crucibles were easy, to say the least. What I have come to learn in my short 38 years, and what I’ve learned more recently in my life about dirt, is that dirt can be transformed. Sometimes the only way to get to the good stuff is through a pile of dead stuff. Stinky stuff. Pastor David Roberts frames it this way, “Good soil doesn’t just happen, it is the remnant of faith had and faith lost, of beliefs embraced and beliefs discarded. Good soil is alive through the decomposing of dead things. Good soil is resurrection, for out of the waste and detritus of faith and life springs forth a bountiful harvest. It is all part of the cycle of dirt, the cycle of faith. To have faith and to lose it so that out of the decomposed remains of belief, new life, richer life, deeper life can begin to take root.”
Sow God’s Love Widely
So, what does this mean for us? There is both promise and responsibility in this text. The promise of that extravagant, abundant, and radically generous love of God AND an invitation to be a witness, to offer hope amidst a world that sometimes feels hardened, rocky, or full of thorns. We know what we’re up against, the parable talks about that too- evil, persecution, backlash, worry, wealth. The early Christian’s in Matthew’s community faced all kinds of responses to the Good News-indifference, closed minds, hostility. And let me just say friends, we are living in a remarkably challenging and painful moment. If ever there was a time to sow radical love with radical generosity, it is now. It is our work not just to muse, but to embody. To practice. To act. To sow and to sow widely. A love that is radically inclusive and justice-centered. And we’re called to sow with the same radical generosity of our extravagant sower- in the hopeful places and in the less promising. Seeds here, there, and everywhere. Sow joyously and with delight. That is the work of a people who find resurrection in the soils of life, who live transformed, and who accept the extravagant and radically generous love of God.
Let those who have ears, listen!