Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I spent the early years of my life on my uncle’s farm in southern Minnesota. It was there that I learned some of the down to earth pragmatic sayings of farmers. Perhaps, you’ve heard a few. “Keep skunks and lawyers at a distance. Life is simpler when you plow around the stump. The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with watches you shave his face in the mirror every morning. A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor. If you get to thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.” Farmers aren’t necessarily portrayed as bright and witty figures. They are, however, always perceived as honest, solid and faithful. And so it should be no surprise, that Jesus portrays God as the great farmer, the sower of the seed.
In this morning’s gospel we read that the crowds who had once heard Jesus in the synagogues, now followed him and gathered about him as he taught along the Sea of Galilee. The crowds had grown so great that Jesus got into a boat, pushed out into the sea and sat there. The whole crowd stood along the shore, and he told them many things in parables, beginning with the Parable of Sower and the Seed.
My friends, let me share with two convictions drawn from Jesus’ familiar parable of the Sower and the seed. First of all, Jesus is not demanding great sacrifice and servitude to share the word of God’s kingdom. He is inviting you like the Sower of the Seed to do faithfully the little things you can. Second, with that said, even these little things may lead to days of disappointment and discouragement, but there will be a harvest one day.
Let us begin with Jesus’ invitation to do the little things. The Parable of the Sower and the Seed portrays the farmer as one who sows the seed, and then goes home to sleep and wake up, day after day, and then, when the grain is ripe, he commences the harvest. The sower does not reflect too much about the fate of the seed. He knows that the seed will grow. It’s what I recall from childhood as The Farmer’s Creed for Living. “Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.”
Now at first glance, you may be rather surprised by this passive nature of the Sower. Is this really, how we are called to be workers in God’s kingdom? After all, the sower doesn’t seem to be driven or motivated by the prospect of a good harvest. Indeed, he seems almost reckless in the casting of the seed. He scatters his seed carelessly, seemingly wasting much of the seed on ground that holds little promise for a fruitful harvest among thorns and rocky soil where the birds can eat it. And then the Sower rests. To some the parable might seem to say, “Don’t worry about your life and the quality of the work that you do.” Just be who you are and do as you please. It reminds me of the old farmer’s warning, “When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.”
Now you may be wondering; so how can the Sower be so trusting and almost care-free? How? Because he trusts in the deep-seated, natural confidence that the seed will grow. It is the very nature of the seed, just as it is the nature of God’s kingdom.
Sometimes, when we meditate on the parable, we focus too much on the harvest and its yield, or perhaps the various tops of soil. But I believe that Jesus’ parable is truly about the Sower. In the parable, Jesus likened the farmer to God. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Surprisingly, he invites us all to follow the example of the farmer. You and I are invited to be God’s sowers of the seed doing the little things we can do now. You can’t sow every field you see. But you can drop a few seeds by the way as you pass along. Jesus’ parable teaches us that wherever these seeds fall, they grow, take roots and sprout. Growth just happens, and apart from the sowing the seed, the farmer has nothing to do with it.
There’s an old saying, “The best sermons are lived, not preached.” The saying is true for every Christian.Doing little things well is the best lived sermon-and it is all that is asked. It is the same sage word of advice a farmer offers advice to a son or daughter, “Live a good, honorable life doing little things well. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.” None of us can accomplish all we would like to do. After all, for many of us, it takes a life-time to learn the simplest truth, “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.” But still, we are invited to do the little things.
Let us turn now to my second conviction. Even the little things that we do may lead to days of disappointment and discouragement, but rest assured there will be a harvest one day. The fear of discouragement should not cause us to be selective and calculating in our planting seed. I am reminded of the zealous soul-winning young preacher who came upon a Norwegian farmer working in his field. Being concerned about the farmer’s soul the preacher asked the man, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord my good man?” Not even looking at the preacher and continuing his work the farmer replied, “Naw, these are soybeans.” “You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?” With the same amount of interest as his previous answer the farmer said, “Nope my name is Johnson. You must be looking for Ole Christian. He lives a mile south of here.” The young determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?” “Naw! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer. “Are you prepared for the resurrection?” the frustrated preacher asked. This caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?” Thinking he had accomplished something the young preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.” Taking a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.” It would be good for that young preacher to learn that, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.”
The Sower’s approach to life and planting in Jesus’ parable is at odds with our play-it-safe instincts. The sower takes risks for the sake of the gospel. He shows extravagance in sowing the word, even in perilous places. Though we may wonder about the wisdom or efficiency of his methods, Jesus promises that the end result will be a bumper crop. Twenty, thirty, one-hundredfold.
Oh, how I wish we could all have the confidence of blurry eyed sower of the seed, and that our witnessing to God’s grace and mercy could be just an uncalculated and unrestrained. Instead, our vision for life is dominated by failure, discouragement and questions. You have tried so hard to show kindness and charity to others, but you wonder if in the little things that you are doing, you are merely casting seed upon the wind. Some of the seed lands on the beaten path. Your witness simply passes over those you would help, but their minds and hearts are closed. Prejudice, pride and personal history can erect a barrier with an unteachable spirit. Perhaps your witness falls upon shallow ground. Friends and neighbors are at the mercy of every craze. They are enthusiastic for a while, they are excited and active, and then one day, they move on suddenly to something new. Or perhaps your witness falls upon thorny ground. Your loved ones have so many interests that far too often the most important things in life, get crowded out. Too busy to pray, to worship together, to spend time with family.
But my friends, do not be discouraged. No person who dares to sow the seed of God’s grace is spared disappointment and frustration. Remember, how recklessly the great Sower cast the seed upon you and your life. No doubt, there were moments when your life was parched, and when the obstacles for growth were myriad, but God did not give up on you. If you are blessed, the little things you do, will land as seed on good soil. The mind of the hearer will be open and prepared to listen. Then the miracle of growth occurs. The promising good seed becomes the harvest one hundredfold.
Let me tell you why I find this parable so encouraging – indeed, it is central to my daily journey as a pastor. It speaks to that fundamental question: where is God in all that is happening today? I don’t know how things are with you, but most of the religious and spiritual things I do, don’t seem all that dramatic. They seem to be like seeds in the wind. I am busy. I run around, lead Bible studies, go to meetings and visit with people; I think and write and pray – but I never see a flow chart that tells me where the profits have increased or where my work has made a difference; I say a prayer for the sick, I offer encouragement for families that are struggling, and I volunteer to help others. I do the little things God has called me to do.
In those moments, the parable of the Sower echoes again in my thoughts. The seed of Christ’s love and mercy, justice and peace, forgiveness and rest, has been planted deeply into the soil of humanity. And it can never be removed. By the miracle of God’s unseen power, the seed will grow into a harvest one day. No farmer expects every single seed he sows to take root, to germinate and to bring forth fruit. He knows that some will be blown away by the wind, and some will fall into places where it cannot grow; but that does not stop him from sowing. Nor does that diminish his hope that there will be a harvest. And neither should you.
My friends, we may not look for quick results. The harvest may not come tomorrow, in the fall, or next year. Indeed, we may not see the final harvest. Thankfully, it does not all depend on you and me! Understand me right: it is a privilege to be called to be partner with God in his work in the world. And it’s your privilege and invitation as well. We may joke that you can always tell a good farmer- he’s outstanding in his field. But the saying is true for you. If you don’t fulfill your calling, sowing the seeds, some things simply will not get done. God needs you, he needs your hands, your heart, your sweat and your toil, for the work of his kingdom Remember, it’s just the little things you and I have been called to do. And then, as a good farmer would say, “Leave the rest to God.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.