13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 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. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.9 Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.[a]22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
It’s been said around here at Fleming Road UCC, and at other places where I’ve been in community and ministry, that I have a lot of ideas. Some are even good! It is true, I have lots of thoughts and ideas. I also come up with lots of thoughts and ideas in conversations with folks.
Many of those ideas that we come up with sometimes are good, sometimes not so good. But, I believe that God’s Spirit acts within and outside of us, sparking us to have dreams and visions…to form processes for cultivating ideas even as we take some risks. Ideas often start out small, need some time to grow and mature. When the time is right, it’s good to plant those ideas and see what happens.
That’s one of the reasons why I love the church. We have processes and procedures, we have community, we have faith, we have all of the ingredients for imagination and to make things happen for the good of our communities.
The church needs to be asking itself questions: What are we passionate about, what makes us get up in the morning and face a day, what gives us hope? I know I have a passion for running, I have a deeper passion for seeing community happen and for energy being driven from community for growth and change.
But, I also know that in order to run well, and in order to see community built, I need to listen and to see. I also need to make sure that I am able to cultivate an understanding of myself, others, and God. God is a mystery, so am I and so are you. That’s what makes life interesting, we have mystery, we are curious, we ask questions, we lead and we follow, and we grow. It’s not stagnant. Growth happens or we die.
The parable of the sower has much to say to us. Jesus spoke in parables oftentimes. Parables are words for the audience that do not carry their meaning on the surface. They are meant to be shared, chewed on, thought upon, and then their meaning grows within us.
This parable was spoken right after Jesus had been encouraging his disciples with their being a part of his family, a part of God’s kingdom. As we’ve said before, Kingdom of God talk is about God’s Presence in our lives and in the world. God’s working out God’s purposes in all things, and for good. And, we know that God’s Kingdom is an alternative kingdom to the kingdoms of this world. That our allegiance as Jesus followers, to the kingdom of God, supersedes any allegiances to any other kingdoms, systems, political beliefs, countries, nationalities, ideologies, etc.
That’s especially important for us to remember as we live through this pandemic and look for ways to respond to systematic racism that has permeated our culture…and as we live in an election year.
Jesus was also sharing that the Kingdom of God is participatory. It’s not idly watching or consuming something. So often, we in the church have followed along with the idea that we need to create programs or services that we can consume or others can. That’s not the idea that was planted in the church by God. We have created a consumer based church that may gives a brief respite from the craziness of life from time to time, and maybe that’s good for a season, but God wants to plant within us a vision for church that is life-giving, energizing, and involves us in relationship with each other and with the world around us…and with a God who is very much present with us.
For example: I like giving sermons, I like music…I like worship services. There is a place for them, but if all we do is come and consume on Sunday morning, or produce a product, then we will all eventually come to a point of burn-out or hollowness. We need something more, we need to be full participants in looking at ways that we can experience real life, eternal life…a life that has much more to with the quality of life that we live than the quantity. We are so often enslaved to a system or a way of doing things in our culture, that we miss out on the freedom that God wants us to have and to share with others.
So, we come to this beautiful passage in Matthew about the parable of the sower…it starts with an image of folks being on a beach, listening to Jesus. I think they are also looking at the water, the waves, they’ve been encouraged by being with Jesus and now they are sitting, listening, but their minds and hearts are engaged and they are thinking…about life and about possibility.
Jesus uses the imagery of a farmer laying out seed. Some seed is planted and eaten up immediately, some seed falls on the rocks where it grows quickly, but also dies quickly because of lack of soil, some falls among thorns and it’s choked out, but, other seed falls on good ground, it produces a crop that yields large results…100 fold, 60 fold, 30 fold.
I believe that Jesus is saying to his listeners, and to us now, that he wants us to grow into the people we were called to be, that we have been given opportunities to understand who we are and how we relate to one another. Opportunities such as meeting together for worship, for forums like the ones we have with the 3:33 Forum and the New Parish Roundtable, conversations with authors, church retreats like what we had right before the pandemic, amazing and bonding chats with members via phone calls, zoom, and in other creative ways. God has given us other opportunities during the pandemic as we’ve stated often, working Finneytown Schools and Tikkun Farm, and engagement with leaders of color like what our council president, Pat Young, did with going to Rev. Daniel Hughes’ church on Juneteenth and my shared work with gathering clergy together across the area during this time, and Tom Hathaway’s work with other UCC churches through SONKA and the conference, our church has truly been engaged with the community in beautiful ways.
These opportunities help us to grow in many ways, but the real work is in between the events, in between seeds being planted and coming to bear fruit. The work is in cultivating an understanding of the ideas, imagination, relationships, and new creation being formed and reformed within us and in the quality of our relationships with each other and with God.
Seeds are being planted within us and all around us, seeds that will bear fruit towards seeing the Kingdom emerge within us, God’s Presence within us, and around us. Some of those seeds are being consumed, aren’t being given enough water, don’t have deep roots, but some are falling on good soil. Can we hear what Jesus is whispering in our ears? Can we see what God intends to do?
Friends, I believe that God has given us good soil here at Fleming Road UCC. I believe that this soil does require tending, plowing, and cultivating. But, I think that the seeds God is planting will grow.
I’m also grateful for the conversations we’ve had this week around here and in the community that affirm that we have a lot of gardening to do, within us and in this church, but we are committed to seeing what God wants to grow through all of the many seasons that we will be walking and working together in.