The Prodigal Sower
Sunday 16th July 2017
~~Jesus said: “What do you make of this? A farmer went out to plant seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams. Are you listening to this? Really listening?” Matthew 13 : 1-9
We know the story so well. And we know - because Jesus explained it later for his disciples - that this story is about the Word of God - the Good News - being sown in the hearts and lives of God's people, and how that Word either perished or flourished depending on the reception and the nurture it received. And usually this gives rise to a sermon about making sure that we are the right sort of soil, so that the distractions and the evils and the fickleness of the world is avoided, and the seed produces fruit 30, 60 100 fold. And there's nothing wrong with that sermon - that's one way of reading the text.
But today, I want to think about the Sower. The one who goes out with his precious seed to sow for the future harvest.
That's the first thing - the seed is precious, valuable, if it was not thrown on the ground to take its chance in the place where it landed, it could have been turned into food. So (1) let's not forget the sacrifice involved in planting seed.
But this seed wasn't actually planted. Planting suggests preparing the ground, taking out the stones and the weeds, digging a trench, or a hole, placing the seed, and then carefully covering it with earth, maybe watering it in. That's planting. That's what we do in our gardens, that's the way farmers generally plant their crops today - albeit on a larger scale.
Sowing is something else entirely. Sowing was taking a big handful of that precious seed and flinging it out in a wide arc to land where it will. This sower is not being careful with his seed, he is being extravagant, reckless, even careless. We hear from the story that a lot of his seed seems to be wasted. We could call him the prodigal sower. Prodigal meaning extravagant.
If we think of the sower as God, then God is showering his Good News of love and salvation everywhere - he's not being careful and specific about where it lands - he's flinging it far and wide; lots of it; to any and all who will receive it.
Of course, some of it is bound to land in the hard barren places where the hostile birds peck and grab at anything that is offered; but they are hungry and in need, and the Good News is meant for them too.
Of course, some of the seed will land in the rocky places where the sheer effort of life dries up hope and makes it so hard to find nourishment and encouragement to learn and grow as a Christian, and those people need the Good News too.
And of course, some of the seed will land among weeds where the thorns of financial worries, stressful jobs - or lack of them, difficult relationships, sickness, try to crowd out and choke every good thing, and those people need the Good News too.
Perhaps this reading of the parable gives us some questions:
How can we feed the hungry birds who are hostile to the message? How can we encourage those whose faith is shrivelling up as they cope with dry and rocky times? How can we understand the choking effect the worldly thorns and weeds have on a struggling life?
We have said that worship reminds us that our story is held within God's big story, which grounds us and urges us to share the story with others. And worship is not only for Sunday, but for the whole of our lives. As Romans 12 puts it: 'Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life, and place it before God as an offering.' That's what Jesus did. That's how Jesus worshipped - not only in the synagogue and in the temple, not only on the Sabbath, but every day, with every action, every breath, he flung seeds of Good News into every corner of his community, into every life he touched, into every hand held out to him in need.
How can we do that? the time we spend together in worship before God grounds us, strengthens us for the rest of our week. The gathered church on Sunday enables us to be the scattered church Monday to Saturday, where some of what we do will feel like worship, and some definitely won't, but offered to God as an intentional act of service and witness, for his glory, and in his strength, it will be worship.