We all love a good story. And so many of the stories we read to our children or grandchildren when they were little were stories that often taught a lesson- like that story of the tortoise and the hare. You know the one where the tortoise and the hare challenge each other to a race and even though we know the rabbit much much faster than the tortoise in the end the tortoise wins. Why? Because he persevered. He kept his steady pace while the hare on the other hand, knowing his arrogance thought he had all the time in the world so he stopped and dallied, and did all sorts of things other than keep his mind on winning the race . Fairy tales and parables share a lot in common. They both try to teach something but Fables or Fairy Tales usually have animal characters that help to carry the story along. Jesus told parables as a way of teaching us about the kingdom of God, what it can mean for us, and how we ought to live in it.
Sometimes though unlike the Gospel where Jesus helps out with an explanation of why he told the stories, not all bible tales about people and their lives are clear as to why? Our first story is a good example. The birth of Esau and Jacob. The Old Testament is really good at just giving us the details and letting us draw our own conclusions. It don’t come with built in explanations. Much of Genesis is about God blessing and who God bestows that blessing upon. Adam and Eve are blessed in the Garden, Noah blessed with safety from the flood, Abraham blessed a covenant that he will be the father of nations and then with two sons. With Ishmael out of the picture the focus is on Issac, but Issac’s role is quite short. The story is really about these two brothers and principally, Jacob. Thus, with this reading we begin a series of Bible stories about Jacob. And we should know from the outset that Jacob is a very flawed character as we see here in the story. It’s all foreshadowing- the turmoil in the womb, the grabbing of the heel, and now his deceit and trickery by making his own brother give up his birthright for a bowl of soup is all foretelling the relationship that Jacob will have not just with his brother, but with his father, and eventually his own sons and daughter, and to a degree with God. Jacob is not his father, nor his grandfather. Still the seed of faith is planted in him and God grows it into Israel itself.
And it is to this agricultural series of parables that Jesus offers us in the coming weeks beginning with this parable of the sower. There are a number of ways we can begin to approach this parable: the soil, the Sower, the seeds. Some might come way from the this parable thinking it is about us being the soil, leaving us wondering if WE are the hardened path, or the rocky ground, the thorny patch or the fertile ground. Jesus is there sowing the seeds of God and here we are the ground upon which it lands.
The truth of our own experience is that we are all those types. At times we are openly receptive to God, at other times we make no room for the seed to germinate. There is just something in the human condition that will find a ay to screw up a good thing. That is our sinful nature. As Paul is so good at describing his own struggle between the life in the Spirit and death in sin, he is talking about the forces that animate us. And the force that animates you and me as followers of Jesus is NOT in the flesh, but in the Spirit- meaning then our life and our existence lies within the heart of God.
And so perhaps we can re-frame our place in this parable. The seed is indeed the kingdom of God. The seed is the good news of God’s dream. When it takes root it can grow and develop into something wonderful and beautiful.
And Yes, we might be the soil at times and at times I think we are all the types of soil being described. But I would like to suggest dear friends that we are the sower. We are the ones with a bag full of seeds of the kingdom throwing it out there flinging it at random not knowing or caring where they land.
For farmers this would not make any sense. Seeds are costly and valuable. Why would they sow anything in an area that they knew would have little chance of growing? Which brings me to my point about this parable not being only about the soil.
Imagine then that we are the sower. As Christians we have, as Paul says, the Spirit of Christ and carry with us all the seeds of the Spirit. The potential of all that God is and can be in this world. Wherever we are, through acts of service large and small, our job is to sow the seeds of God love into the world. We do not care where such seeds land for we do not cause the seeds to grow. We don’t know the hearts nor the soil that lies in others. It’s not up to us to decide who merits the seeds of the Spirit of God.
Seeds sown in the good soil of our hearts blossom into the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it is these same fruits we know our desperate and broken world needs
and the very fruits we hope will grow in others.
If the seeds of God’s love flower into the fruits of the Spirit, then what do those new seeds look like? There is pollination, cross-pollination, and new growth all over the place! The cycle of sowing begins again. God’s abundant love sees to that. We go about our daily business, living in faithfulness in God’s abundance and being sowers among those we encounter. We don’t often get to see where the seeds fall, but the point is that we continue to sow. The Church’s mission and our mission is to spread the Good News to every end of the Earth. Archbishop William Temple said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” This still holds true for us today.
There are infinite ways for us to be the Church he describes: by giving a smile to someone who is feeling lonely, watching the kids so a couple can have some time to themselves, donating money to an organization that helps those who are marginalized, speaking up for a neighbor when you witness an injustice occurring, praying for those you dislike- even in how we care for one another during this time of COVID – the list can go on and on.
We are both the sowers and the soil. Without the one, the other would not make sense. When we go forth today, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit, may we sow abundantly, and may the seed that is sown in you bear the plentiful fruit of God’s love. Amen.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.