The wife of the previous pastor at RCC used to serve lemonade and cookies on the lawn after church during the summer (because there is no formal fellowship hour). When Bruce heard that he jumped on the opportunity to be a good pastor’s spouse and has made sure it is set up every week.
My favorite part is the fact that I get to drink the leftover lemonade!
Here is this morning’s sermon. The audio is available here. xoxo
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sowing Seeds Of Faith
There is a widely popular blogger named Ree Drummond who runs the blog, The Pioneer Woman. She lives on a working cattle ranch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is married to a fourth-generation cattle rancher and home-schools her four children. She blogs about everything from life, cooking, photography, homeschooling to keeping up with household chores, both inside and out.
Drummond did not always live life on the prairie. She grew up on a golf course in an Oklahoma city, attended college in Los Angeles and fully expected to attend law school in Chicago. She was a city girl through and through until she had a clandestine meeting with a cowboy one night in a smoky bar. The rest, you could say, is history. And one of the reasons thousands and thousands of fans flock to her site everyday is because she is honest to a fault about her life on the ranch – and chronicles both the joys and the disappointments of living and working in the agricultural world.
Last Thanksgiving Drummond appeared on Bobby Flay’s Food Network Show, “Throwdown”. In a pre-throwdown interview, Drummond said the following about her family’s take on Thanksgiving: “You know, when you live in the agricultural world,” Drummond said, “you really learn to be thankful for every single thing that you have. And we take the concept of Thanksgiving really seriously.”
When I read through the lectionary text this week, I couldn’t get Drummond’s thoughts on Thanksgiving out of my head. “A sower went out to sow,” the Gospel says. “Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain.”
Now those of you who receive my email updates on weeks when The Epistle doesn’t go out know that on Friday I was finding it ironic that I was looking at the parable of the sower while the rain that was falling outside of my office window was also watering our vegetable garden at home. It was even more ironic because the day before Bruce and I had been talking about whether or not the soil had reached a point of dryness where we should water it ourselves. The rain, I assumed, was just God’s way of laughing at me and urging me to let go of my need to control outcomes and to be patient for the rains to come.
That would have been a great sermon, right? “Be patient and God will grow the seeds that you plant.”
But of course it was not that simple. Yesterday morning when the rains had cleared I went outside to check on the garden. And I noticed that while the rain did nurture some of our plants, causing them to seemingly sprout up overnight, it also essentially drowned out some of the other plants, causing them to collapse in a heaping pile on the ground.
So then I got to thinking: There might be more to this parable than simply, “trust and God will provide.”
So here’s a question: Was Jesus really talking about sowing seeds?
No. He was talking about life. He was talking about journeys of faith. He was talking about growing communities of faithful individuals who are all different from one another and finding ways to make that community thrive.
The reality is that Jesus was living in a very dangerous time. He defied authorities, he fought for change and his actions put him on a cross. His entire life, Jesus was sowing seeds of outreach, of service, of compassion, of mission and of change. Some of them flourished; some of them wilted; some of them were washed away; and some of them landed on rocky ground. But he continued to sow – even to his death on the cross.
Jesus knew that the only way to pass on his message of peace and of service was by planting seeds of faith – and by encouraging others to do the same. Those seeds would need to take root – and those roots would need to be strong enough to withstand the harsh storms that they would face.
Over the years, those roots have been tested. There have been times of growth and there have been times where the community struggled to hold it together. Some of the seeds that were planted eventually did not make it. In our own 300-year piece of Christian history here at Rehoboth Congregational Church those roots have been tested. There have been times of growth and there have been times where the community struggled to hold it together. Some of the seeds that were planted did not make it.
As a minister, planting seeds and fostering growth can be one of the most frustrating parts of my job. Because you can do everything right – you can have the perfect website, great sermons week after week, a polished communication system, fascinating bible studies and adult educational opportunities, a thriving youth group and fabulous programming that brings in the community – and sometimes you do not see results. The same thing happens in the garden, right? You can do everything right – you can plant when you are supposed to plant, water when you are supposed to water, put up a fence so that those pesky little bunnies stay out – and yet sometimes you have a bad season and you end up with a disappointing crop.
So what is the point? If we can do everything right and we still cannot guarantee that we will grow our community; if we can do everything right and we still cannot guarantee that we will spread strong roots that will sustain us always, then why do we even try to sow those seeds in the first place?
Well, first of all – plain and simple, Jesus called us to. Jesus modeled a life of service and of healing and of commitment to growth and he urged his followers to do the same. We are called to sow seeds of faith because that is what Jesus did in his lifetime; we are called to grow communities of faith in our lives because that is what Jesus did in his lifetime.
Second of all – Jesus did not say that it was going to be easy. In fact, he modeled – all the way to his death on the cross – that it was not going to be easy. And yet he told a crowd this parable. He told the crowd that had gathered that when you – when you – sow seeds they will not necessarily take root.
When we sow seeds – any seeds – we cannot always control where they will fall. In fact, one day earlier in the summer Drummond posted a photo on her blog of a raised bed vegetable garden. Weeks prior she had planted lettuce and had spread it evenly throughout the garden only to have harsh rains and winds come through and move the seeds around. When the plants started to grow, half of the garden was completely empty and half of the garden had clusters of squished-together lettuce. We cannot always control where the seeds will fall.
We cannot control the rain that will fall, the sun that will shine or even the pesky little rabbits that will find their way through the fence and nibble away at our lettuce. We do the best that we can, we plant where and when we should, we water when the soil seems dry and we weed when we think the roots need room to grow.
We prepare ourselves and the garden itself for any scenario or bump in the road that we and it might face. We nurture seeds that land on rocky terrain because we think there is a possibility that they could possibly overcome the bad soil and still flourish. We put in a lot of hard work and energy. But in the end, we cannot control the outcome.
It is the same in churches. It is the same in this community of faith. You want to grow. You know that; I know that. It was one of the reasons I was hired and it is one of the reasons that ‘A New Beginnings’ is hanging on the door out front. And there is only one way to do that. We – as a congregation and as a community of faith – need to sow seeds of faith. We need to nurture those seeds wherever they happen to fall. We cannot be discouraged by where they fall or how well they might be growing at first. A slow first crop – or even subsequent bad ones to follow – cannot discourage us. We need to prepare ourselves for difficult seasons and trust that God will provide to us in our darkest hours. We cannot expect absolute perfection, rather we need to continue to do the best that we can. And we need to know that our seeds will grow.
You could read the parable of the sower and take away the lesson that if we put our faith in God that God will provide. And I think that’s true.
You could also read the parable of the sower and take away the lesson that you need to plant sow seeds in good soil in order for them to grow. I think that is also true.
But I think if you really dig deep you will realize that this parable is about so much more than those two things. This parable is about the community that sustains each other when nothing seems to be growing. This parable is about standing beside your brothers and your sisters and holding them up when their roots have not yet taken. This parable is about looking at where the seeds – all of the seeds – are and finding ways to nurture them wherever they have fallen. Seeds will fall on rocky grounds, rains will drown weakened roots and droughts will dry out soil, but the real test of faith is what we do after that happens. This parable is about finding grace in unexpected places. This parable is about seeking God’s shelter and protection when the seeds do not seem to be growing and this parable is a reminder to give thanks to God when you are experiencing a time of growth and abundance.
One final thought. The parable starts off by saying, “A sower went out to sow.” Well, clearly – that seems obvious, right? He has a job and he does it. But it is not that simple. When Drummond talks about life on the ranch one of the most striking things to me is that not matter how hard they work one day, no matter how late they get to bed, no matter how tired they are when the alarm goes off the next morning, they get up, they pull on their cowboy boots and they do it all over again. And they always aim to do better, to be more efficient and to grow their operation. That doesn’t mean that it is easy. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t often capture photos of tired-looking cowboys in the morning sun. But they have a job to do – and they do it. And they do it together.
Sowing seeds of faith is not an easy task to take on. It is exhausting, it can be frustrating and there will be bumps along the road. But we have a job to do; and we need to do it; and we need to do it together.