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A God Who Won't Give Up

Text: Matthew 13:1-9

Tradition calls this “The parable of the Sower.” Most sermons, though, preach this story as the “parable of the soil.” “Be like the good soil” is the general point the preacher makes. Read the Bible more often. Pray every day. Come to church on Sunday. Serve others without making a big fuss. Learn the wisdom of Ghandi, “Whatever you do will never be enough, but it matters enormously that you do it.”

The awe and wonder of this parable are muted when we focus mainly on the soil and turn the story into a sweet moral lesson: “Be like the good soil.” When the focus is on us, the good or whatever soil, we run around like busy religious bees trying to be good, pious soils. Or, worse, we point our fingers at other less active members as being rocky or weedy soil. We even develop churchwide plans to combat problematic soil.

We are in good company. The first followers of Jesus did the same. In fact, I have often wondered how Jesus resisted firing the first set of thick-headed disciples and searching for a replacement twelve. I have wondered how he put up with their thick heads and their thin faiths? I wonder how Jesus does the same with us.

Preaching this as “the parable of the soil” has some real problems. Despite my most sincere resolutions, I have found that it does not take long before my soil quality degrades into rocky soil where the seed withers in the summer heat. Or it degrades into the soil tossed amid thorns that chokes the seed to death. I have learned the hard way that as much as I strive to be good soil, I just cannot pull it off for long.

After reading the parable again this week, I have decided that the traditional name for this parable is the best one, “The Parable of the Sower.” I am not a gardener but I do know enough about the good earth to realize that soil is something that is acted upon. Unless someone clears it of rocks and weeds and thorns, and then adds nutrients to it, the seed has little chance.

In this parable, the Sower casts seeds in every direction, indiscriminate of the soil quality upon which she casts the seed – rocky, thorny, nutrient poor, nutrient rich. Skilled gardeners would chide the Sower for being wasteful or at least advise the Sower to cast seed only on soil where it is likely to grow.

The good news of this parable, no, the remarkable news of this parable, is that the Sower does not listen to gardeners or those of us who are not. The Sower in this story is not wasteful, nor is she prudent, efficient, or measured. The Sower is extravagant, almost embarrassingly so. Such extravagance is not good business. It is not even sound environmental policy. But it is the true nature of the Sower. It is the true nature of our God.

What if you and I focus our sights less on what kind of soil we are and more on the nature of the Sower? What if we set our sights on our God who casts seeds of hope, faith, forgiveness and love on us regardless of our rocky, thorny, eroding, sometimes shallow selves? What if you and I set our sights solely on a God who does not quit on us even when we are quick to quit on God, quit on others, quit on ourselves? What if we wake each morning and climb into bed each night confident in a God who refuses to give up on us, no matter the quality of our soil or better said, no matter the quality of our soul?

One of my favorite novelists is Gail Godwin. In her book, The Finishing School, there is a conversation between two characters about how to go about living our one and only life. The conversation reminds me of someone who has grasped the parable of the Sower. One character named, Ursala, instructs the narrator, Justin, with these words:

“’There are two kinds of people’, she once decreed to me emphatically. ‘One

kind you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their

final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more

surprises from it. Whereas the other kind keeps moving, changing. With these

people, you can never say, ‘X stops here’, or ‘Now I know all there is to know

about Y’. That doesn’t mean they’re unstable. Ah no, far from it. They keep

moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps

them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You

must be constantly on your guard, Justin, against congealing.”

Jesus tells the parable of the Sower to combat congealing—to invite us to be open to God’s

seed finding fertile ground in our lives. If that is true, then you and I can move forward on the balls of our

feet rather than digging our heels into the ground. We can approach life convinced that because of the

generous and extravagant grace of the Sower, no situation is unredeemable, no person is

unredeemable, and that includes every last one of us.

We can rejoice that this parable is not about us, about how good we are or are not. This parable about our God who dares us to live un-congealed lives not because we are the good soil in the story that never fails to produce dramatically abundant crops, but because God never fails us. God never stops tossing seeds of hope our way, seeds of second chances, seeds of undeserved love. David Lose puts it this way, God “hurls a ridiculous amount of seed even on dry, thorny, or beaten soil. . . you get the feeling this God would probably scatter seed-love-mercy-grace on a parking lot!”

If you and I worship that kind of God – and I believe we do – then how can we keep from singing and playing instruments of praise and composing new music that others have yet to dream of? How can we resist every urge to congeal into the “always been that way, always will be” kind of joyless souls?

When I read this parable, I imagine the Sower not in gardening attire, but in an evening gown, ready to go out in joy and scatter joy wherever she walks. I imagine the Sower in the poetic cadence of Mary Oliver’s words in her poem, “Don’t Hesitate”:

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There

are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise,

and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some

possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes

something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be

anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway,

that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is

not made to be a crumb.

As the Sower casts seeds extravagantly, joyfully, wildly, she knows that “joy is not made to be a crumb.” Now that is a God I cannot wait to worship, a God I cannot wait to tell others about, a God I cannot wait to follow.

Come join me.


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