Called to Grow: A Parable for a New Year
January 1, 2017
Happy New Year!
This is a nice way to spend the beginning of the year!
Its unusual to have the first day of the year on a Sunday…and really…there are a lot of sermon opportunities…
-I could do a sermon year in a review…and preach one sentence from every sermon this past year.
-I could do a New Year’s Resolution sermon…and we could go around and share our fitness and diet goals for the year.
But before too many of you look for the door…I should tell you that I decided against all of these options…
But knowing I was preaching to you on the first day of the year…gave me a fresh look at an often familiar parable…
Hear the word of the Lord from Mark 4, verses 3-9…
3 "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
This passage is a familiar one…a greatest hit…a top 10…like and shared more than any other parable…
In fact, three out of four gospels prefer this parable…
And for every reading of the parable, there is a sermon to go with it.
These sermons usually begin with a gardening disaster story… Perhaps how the preacher never can grow anything…
-Perhaps how she planted seedum on top of the plastic lining in a flower bed once.
-Or how she scorches her herb garden every summer…
These ‘hypothetical examples’ are how 8 out of every 10 Sower sermons starts.
Usually after said ‘gardening disaster illustration’…the sermon gracefully segues into “WHERE of the seed…the what of the soil…and the who of the Sower.”
And after 21 and a half minutes…with souls warmed and new gardening resolutions made…the sermon ends.
Or so I’ve heard, and maybe you’ve heard.
But not this sermon…there are no gardening illustrations…no graceful segues…no resolutions. And in particular, the where, the what, and who…
Because this morning, at the dawn of the day that launches 2017…I don’t think any of that matters.
I don’t think WHERE the seed falls is important.
I don’t think what the soil is like under the ground is all that important either…(which is pretty much how I approach gardening in real life as well.)
It’s rare for me to speak with such authority over agrarian matters when the closest I get to horticulture is the kettle corn at the Farmer’s Market.
But I ran my alternate interpretation of this text past two New Testament profs, and it passed the text.
So here I go with this morning’s 10 dollar question:
What if where the seed landed didn’t really matter, but what mattered was if we were sowing at all?
The Sower in this parable is often given a bad rap for being lazy or careless, just throwing seeds without any care at all…but actually, where has little to do with it.
I read in a book somewhere that in those days, sowing came before plowing.
And when I read that…I had no idea what that meant. But it sure sounded promising for the purpose of illustrating my point…so I read on…
The seeds would be thrown all over the place, then the ground would be cut and turned up.
So the farmer would have little or no idea what the soil was like underneath…and wouldn’t know until the ground was plowed.
The farmer’s concern wasn’t where or what…it was IF…If there were no seeds on the ground…there would be no harvest.
Yes, there would be many seeds that will be seemingly worthless…the roots wouldn’t go down deep, the sun would scorch them, the thorns
would choke…but amidst all this, there would be seed that will go into the soil, and will reap a bountiful harvest.
After the seed was scattered…some grew…some did not. But the point was…the seed had reached the ground.
This is what it means to sow.
So…What could this possibly mean to a room full of people who are called to serve God?
I believe that as disciples of Jesus Christ…our call is to sow…
…no matter where the seeds that you sow land.
Once you’ve made that connection…now comes the best and most frustrating part…waiting to see which seeds will take off and which ones will wither.
Now as life will often tell you…plans often change.
You may have charted a course for your life…maybe at the beginning of a new year…you marked our a clear plot of land: I will be a social worker, a teacher, a pastor…I’ll get married, have 2.3 children, live in this particular place…
If you live in my house, there’s lots of talk about being a horse rider, a football player, a scientist, a vet, and a ballet dancer (that one is Kyle…)
As parents, we spend a lot of time (and money) helping kids find their plot in life.
Several years ago, when our daughter Madeline was four, we placed her on the same t-ball team as her brother because her little best friend Ruby was going to be on the same team as well. Right from the beginning, we could tell that the baseball diamond was not her plot of land…she would sit in the outfield and pick wildflowers…she would sit on the bases while
infield…and then came the day when she went up to bat with her purse and plastic cell phone.
The coach said, “Madeline, can I hold your purse for you?” And she casually answered, “No thanks, I might get a call.”
Faithfulness means sowing…
But life has a way of telling us…rather than us telling life…
…and we need to be careful not to mark our boundaries too firmly.
Before coming to Fellowship, I had the great privilege of working at Western Seminary directing a grant in preaching. And one of the best parts was organizing a monthly gathering called “The Pulpit”…a place for women to consider preaching. Its a role I have continued since coming here to Fellowship…guaranteeing me a free lunch and great conversation every month.
The Pulpit started because in my first few months at the seminary, I was surprised by the number of women in particular who diminished themselves as preachers. They would dismiss themselves…No, no, no…I’m not a preacher…
Several months ago, I had participants take an unofficial survey. I wanted to gauge their relationship to preaching. I had them chart their feelings on preaching on a continuum…beginning with…I) I would rather eat dirt (kind of an ironic given this passage…all the way to…4) I welcome the opportunity (keep your dirt).
I was happily surprised by the number of students who over their time in Seminary had moved from eating Dirt to some measure of curiosity about preaching.
By venturing out of the plot they had imagining for themselves, they found possibilities beyond what they thought ministry could be.
When we define our own plot…and set our own boundaries…we are diminishing the ways God can surprise us.
This passage says…”Just Sow!”
That class you’re thinking of leading…that Bible Study you’ve been wanting to join…the Kids Hope student you’ve been thinking about mentoring…even though you’ve told yourself that you’re not a leader, a scholar, or a tutor…THOSE COULD BE THE SEEDS OF A LIFETIME OF MINISTRY.
But you won’t know it until you’ve sowed…until those seeds have touched the ground.
I love to stories of people who stumble into their joy.
A Seminary professor recently told me that he had so much fear and dread wrapped up in taking language classes in seminary…and wouldn’t you know it…he teaches Hebrew now.
Our job is to sow…and see what harvest God will bring about.
It’s important to remember that even once you’ve found your sweet soil… it’s literally not all sunshine and roses. There will be time when you feel like all that you are doing to is a waste.
Your Kids Hope student didn’t click with you……a small group that never went deeper than a superficial level, a sermon you toiled over that landed like a lead balloon (I’m speaking in past tense by the way).
Seeds that were choked, trampled on, and scorched.
But here is a crazy thought: “That’s okay.”
Such is the path of following Jesus.
A life in ministry is not one bountiful harvest after another, it is a long obedience in the same direction. Your plot may change…but the sowing continues. Your yield may look pretty small…but the sowing continues.
Some sowing will yield very little…and others will yield a lot…but in all sowing…in all experiences, we learn, and we grow. And frankly sometimes we learn more from the bad crops than the good ones.
Jesus does not paint a picture for us that says, “Sow, and everything will be perfect.”
No, he says, “Sow, and keep sowing, no matter what.”
As 2017 begins, we want to draw your attention to a season we’re in a Fellowship centered around ‘Growing.’ Really, you could say ‘Sowing…’
This is a season to try something…read through the gospels…join a Wednesday Night Class…commit to a Spiritual Discipline like prayer or
Yes, the ground is frozen outside but in here there is a harvest to be had… Just sow…
Now this is usually the point in the typical “Parable of the Sower” sermon when the preacher turns back to the garden disaster story that she opened with and redeem it for the big finale…(it seemed to work pretty well for me last time.)
But today I’ll just say this… Here’s the best part:
The sowing is your job…the harvest is God’s job. And He’s already promised us a bountiful harvest.
Let’s pray...God of the harvest, wherever we have staked our plot, give us the imagination to sow beyond our own borders…and to keep sowing our whole life long.