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Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Well, you might be wondering, Which is it? The assurance of Isaiah, or what might feel like a reality check from Jesus?
Lord knows we want to believeIsaiah—that God’s word is as reliable as rain, as sure as snow, a transformational power that makes things happen, a life-giving promise we can take to the bank.
And yet we know at least part of the truth of Jesus’ parable—that, despite a parent’s wise and unconditional love, some children will struggle; that, even in our dream job, some days will be just plain hard; that we can work our talented fingers to the bone and still be stymied by the injustices of racism, sexism, and greed; that our most creative, heartfelt, high-energy ministries might not bring in any new church members or pledges.
And so the question becomes—or, the question remains: How, then, shall we live? How will we let God’s promises and life’s odds shape us? Will we choose to hedge our bets, limit our love, protect our heart, be prudent in hope and modest in dreams? Or will we, like the Divine Sower, spread the Good News of love and healing with abandon? Can we, too, be profligate in love, indiscriminate in our investments of hope and energy, throwing both fear and caution to the wind? Can we trust that, even when times are tough, even when we’ve lost all hope, that somehow, some way, God’s love is at work in us, that it will not fail us? Can we live as if that is true, whether or not we feel it?
Our lives ask these questions of us every day, right? Each day we have a choice: to hunker down or open our hearts, to settle for what is or work for what could and should be, to hold on to what we have or give freely of ourselves.
Every day, it seems, we are just trying to make our way through this world. Sometimes we are right where we should be, ankle deep in rich, dark, moist, fine-textured soil that oozes between our toes as we walk along the way. Other times we feel that as much as we want to grow and change and move closer to God, we get stuck in the way things are, tangled up in life’s demands, disappointments and downright thorny patches. Sometimes we lose our way, and sometimes the way is so hard that our hearts become like rocky ground. Sometimes we are the soil and sometimes it feels like we are the seed, getting tossed this way and that, not knowing if we will get eaten up or whether we might finally take root and grow into something good.
Jesus knows this. Jesus understands. And so he tells a story, a parable.
“Let anyone with ears listen!” he says. “Let everyone alive pay attention to how our God works.”
Jesus is, as always, pointing to God. Jesus is, as always, both telling us who God is and explaining how things work. He is revealing God’s indiscriminate, generous and persistent love and, at the same time, acknowledging our limitations. Jesus is, as always, showing us the way to life abundant and telling us that the journey will be challenging. Jesus is offering both blessed assurance and gentle understanding. Notice that there is no judgment, only explanation and promise, only tenderness and encouragement.
There are many different ways to slice this parable, and, more often than not, we try to run through them all. Likewise, we can wrestle with Isaiah’s promise.
But this morning I want to leave you with a few simple observations:
God’s word is right as rain and sure as snow because the Sower never gives up. The Sower does not hedge her bets or limit her love. While the Sower grieves injustice and hard-heartedness, the Sower does not quit or dial back. The Sower assesses the situation and keeps right on sowing, loving, resisting, helping, marching, praying, working. There is no end to the Sower’s supply of love, and so she scatters is widely, always and everywhere.
No matter what is going on in the world, no matter what is going on in our lives, we can trust that the Sower is on the job, sowing love and mercy, grace and forgiveness, hope and transformation. No matter how discouraged we may feel, we can remember that God’s giving is not based on the odds of success. God sends rain on the just and the unjust. The Sower scatters good seed on both rocky ground and good soil. No matter how empty we may feel, we can trust in God’s abundance. The Sower never runs out of seeds, and God never gives up on us.
God’s transforming word of love does not come up empty because it lives in and through us. Jesus calls us to be as profligate with our love and good works as the Sower is with seed, to base our life choices not on the likely rate of return but on the transforming power of a love that is working even when we can’t see it. Jesus calls us to be sowers, too.
We just commissioned a group of sowers. We will be taking our seeds—our love, our tools, our hopes—to Appalachia in a few days. We go intending to share ourselves with people we haven’t yet met. We go knowing there may be thorns and rocky ground along the way. We will drill and hammer, build and repair, measure and dig and get to know our homeowners—and when we leave the work will not be finished. We won’t get to see the harvest or know if and how the homeowners’ lives will be changed.
And still we go. Still we scatter seeds of love and work and hope, trusting that God’s love will not return empty, expecting that we will be changed, learning that true success has much more to do with faithfulness than outcomes.
Still you go out into your life, out into this beautiful and broken world, loving, giving, hoping, and sowing seeds.
A sower went out to sow—seeds of healing in a hurting heart.
A sower went out to sow—seeds of sanctuary in an anti-immigrant atmosphere.
A sower went out to sow—seeds of home repair in poverty-riddled Appalachia.
A sower went out to sow—seeds of love in a broken world.
A sower went out to sow—seeds of joy where once there was sorrow.
Praise be to the Sower for the bountiful harvest. Praise be the Living Word that sends us out in joy and brings us home in peace. Praise be for singing mountains and clapping trees.
Let anyone with eyes see! Let anyone with ears listen! Let all with longing hearts receive!