-Van Gogh’s The Sower
Again [Jesus] began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
I have a friend, Ben, who grew up on a farm in a semi-rural area of Ohio. He then went to a small college in a semi-rural part of the state. Ben is pretty good at making up his own fun. One day Ben visited a local granary and told the worker that he would like have some corn seed for a project he was doing in a science class. The worker obliged and gave him a sack of seed. Ben then took the seed back to his campus and began to toss it about wherever he went. On the way to the dining hall, on the quad, in front of the library, on his way to the dorms- corn seeds everywhere. He didn’t till the soil or even look where he was tossing it. He just threw it everywhere. And sure enough, that Spring little foot-tall stalks of corn began to sprout all over campus.
I tell this story because I imagine the sower of today’s parable acting in a similar way. The sower does not seem to do any prep work before tossing the seed- no pulling of weeds, no removal of rocks, no tilling the soil. In fact, it doesn’t even seem like the sower is looking where he is tossing the seed. The seed falls among thorns and rocks, but most surprising to me is that some of the seed falls on the path. How did the sower not see that? It’s a path! That doesn’t look anything like a farm plot!
But this isn’t a guidebook for farming. It is a story that shows how God shares God’s word of forgiveness, love, and abundant life. God isn’t so selective about who gets to hear this life-giving word. God doesn’t look around and choose only those who (by our standards) would be most worthy to receive this precious gift. God tosses the seed or Word all over the place. It falls among those who are too scared or caught up in the affairs of this world to really hear and believe that God is the source of all joy, forgiveness, and wholeness. It also falls among those who are too hurt or weak to do anything with that message of love once they receive it. But it always falls on good soil where its goodness is multiplied. God’s Word of love and wholeness multiplies in incredible ways when it is heard in Scripture or preaching, when it is tasted in bread and wine, or when it is felt in cool water. That message of God’s closeness with us then gets multiplied. By God’s grace, we start telling others about the goodness of God, we bring Communion to those who can’t get to church, we invite others to come and hear this Good News of a God whose love destroys death and sin, we feed and care for those who are most vulnerable in our communities. We do all this because we know that the Good News of God transforms the world for good and that Good News to the hungry is bread, Good News to hopeless is hope, Good News to the captive is freedom, and Good News to the dying is life.
The way this Good News seed is spread is just like the way the sower spreads the seed in our parable. It is with abandon and it is prodigal. God calls us to share our time, talents, and treasure in such a way that is exuberant and in many ways seems to be reckless.
We may wonder if it is such a good idea to give away some of our money or even to tithe to the church. We may ask, “What if I give and the church still doesn’t grow?”
We may wonder if it is a good idea to invest our precious time and money in international aid organizations like Lutheran World Relief or to local services like the clothes closet or the community meal. We may ask, “What if I give up my time and/or my money and no one new joins the church? What if we don’t serve all the people we want to serve?”
We may wonder if it is a good idea to invest our time and skills in teaching a Sunday School class or leading a youth activity. We may ask, “What if no one shows after I put in all that prep time? What if they do show up, but don’t appreciate it?”
Those are all legitimate concerns, but how the seed grows is not under our jurisdiction. We are simply called to toss the seed about. God is the one who will see over what grows and what does not grow.
In spite of our failures and shortcomings, we know that God’s Word will yield incredible results and this message of the God who lives and dies for us will transform our world through forgiveness, healing, and life. We have that promise through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus- that the powers of sin and death are ultimately defeated and God’s goodness will spread throughout the world.
This stewardship season, I invite you to consider how God calls us to join in on this crazy, extravagant, and fearless spreading of God’s Word. With God as the sower, we can expect a surprising and abundantly good harvest. Consider giving of your wealth, your time, and your unique gifts- these things that God has blessed us with, to share God’s life-giving Word and work with a world that so desperately needs it. God tosses God’s promises about to all people whether or not they appear to be “good soil” ready to receive that life-giving promise. That’s how we ended up receiving that Word of grace. God now calls us to likewise toss about this promise of grace this way and that through our words, our resources, and our work. We can expect that the seed will land in good soil and God’s work will be done.