In our Gospel reading for this morning, we hear the Parable of the Sower. We’ll be hearing several more parables over the next couple of weeks, which is always a treat.
All the parables are great. But this one is special for me. Not only is it the very first parable Jesus told, at least the first that any of the Gospel writers record for us. It is also my own very first sermon of sorts.
I went to a Christian high school, and we sometimes had student-led devotions during home room at the beginning of the day. To my horror, I was asked to lead one in the ninth grade. Ironically, given what I do now, the idea of speaking in public terrified me, even if the public was just my classmates. But I figured out something I could handle. I read the parable of the sower to my class. I said Jesus himself tells us what it meant. I read the explanation. And then I sat down. My first “sermon.”
It was NOT a great triumph. I was not asked to lead another morning devotional. For that I was very grateful. Ever since, this parable has had a special place in my heart!
In virtually all of his parables, as in this one, Jesus starts with the ordinary stuff of life, with things that his hearers could immediately understand, and then he uses the parable to help his hearers see their lives a little differently.
So, in the parable of the sower, Jesus says, to “a great crowd,” a man sowed seed on different types of ground: on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and in good soil. Depending on the type of ground it fell on, the seed might produce, or it might not. Jesus concludes, “Let anyone with ears listen!” That’s it for the crowd. The explanation comes later, and it is just to his disciples.
If we had been there, in that crowd, what might we make of that?
As they must have done, we start with our own experience.
I am fuzzy on the details of farming practices in first-century Israel. I have read that this kind of broadcast sowing was common. People would spread seeds broadly and hope for the best. I have also read that this kind of broadcast sowing was not common, that it would have been seen as wasteful.
In my own very limited experience, it depends on what you are planting. I don’t do much gardening these days, just what Carrie makes me do. I did help to plant a few seeds of cilantro this year, and I carefully pushed each one into the soil. Even I knew I shouldn’t just strew those seeds, and besides Carrie was watching me. But one year, Carrie had me sow grass seed, and I did just throw it on the ground like the sower in our parable. I believed that was right. If it’s not, don’t tell me. And definitely don’t tell her!
But it’s clear in the parable that sowing is just the first step. There are lots of ways things can go wrong on the way to hopefully producing good fruit.
Jesus’ sower had to contend with birds eating his seeds. Birds have not been a big problem for us. But I have already complained in a mean-spirited way about the groundhog who feasts on our vegetable plants. I can add that something—probably a deer—ate our pansy blossoms a couple of weeks ago. Most recently, for the first time in our experience, something, presumably a bear, tore down and mangled our spiffy and pretty expensive bird feeder.
So I am familiar with the problem of unwelcome animals snatching away what we have sown. And I definitely associate them with the evil one. As Jesus does!
Jesus’ sower also had to contend with thorns. Again we don’t have exactly the same problem in our yard. But we have plenty of weeds.
For the last few years, Carrie’s father has come down nearly every week in the summer to help weed in our yard. He is in his 80s, but he is a mighty weeder. He also has a very strict definition of what counts as a weed. At least a few times I have come home to bare patches of dirt where there used to be greenery. But as long as Pat was around, weeds were not a problem for us.
Unfortunately, my father-in-law is not coming down this year because of the pandemic. Carrie is doing her best. I offer a little feeble help. But I get the whole seed-getting-choked-by-weeds thing!
Thinking about the distractions of the world as weeds that choke out our ability to hear and respond to the Gospel makes good sense even to a very occasional gardener like me. And we are certainly surrounded by potential distractions, even during a pandemic. I am spending more time on my phone and computer than I ever expected to do. And not all of it is work. A lot of it is distraction.
But the part that speaks to me the most in our parable is the seed that fell on rocky ground. It sprang up quickly enough. But it didn’t have good roots and so got scorched on hot days.
We’ve had a good bit of rain in the last two weeks. But even in these rainy weeks, poor Carrie has spent a significant time watering in our yard. And in the hot days before the rains, Carrie was watering almost constantly. If she hadn’t, our plants would have died. Some died anyway.
As Jesus explains the parable, this is the problem of people who hear the Gospel with great enthusiasm and joy. But when trouble comes, the person falls away for lack of a strong root system.
Well, we are certainly experiencing troubles these days. Our challenges are real, and we don’t have a consensus on how to meet them. The danger Christ points to, the danger of getting discouraged, of losing sight of the good news of God’s love, of effectively ignoring God’s invitation to deeper relationship with God and all the true joy that comes with it, that danger is real.
But Jesus’ parable, and Carrie’s example!, points to a solution. When times are hard, we need a LOT of watering. And what waters our souls better than anything else, is prayer.
On Sunday mornings, some of us can come together physically while others join us online so that we can pray as one.
This week we expanded the opportunities to pray the Daily Office on our Facebook page. Monday through Friday, we are now hosting Morning Prayer at 8:00, noonday prayer at 12:00, and Compline at 8:00 in the evening.
Of course we can all pray on our own anytime and virtually any way. A Franciscan chaplain encouraged me to spend more time in relaxed, silent prayer. He suggested sitting by the little river near our home and watching the water go by as a form of prayer. Mostly I have been too distracted to do it!
What my chaplain recognized is that I need a little watering these days. I think we all do. Now more than ever, we need to stay rooted in God.
And so my prayer for us, in this troubled time, is that we can find the spiritual nourishment we need, that we can continue to develop deep roots in God, and that with God’s help, we can produce rich fruit, a hundredfold or sixty or thirty.
And I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan