You Just Never Know

Genesis 25:19-34

Psalm 119:105-112

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine


13:1 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 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. 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.” (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; NRSV)


Let us pray: O God, the first gardener, your holy word is planted in our hearts as good seed in fertile soil. So, nurture us that we may bear abundant fruit. Amen.


It is very clear that Jesus is not a good farmer.   No good farmer would throw his or her seeds around, so indiscriminately and wildly, the way the sower in this parable did.  It is a bad idea to sow seed on a beaten down path or in the rocks where there is no soil or in the briars which make it awfully hard to harvest.  Besides that, did you notice the sowers lack of success?  He states that sowing the seeds of the kingdom results in failure three out of four times.  Did you catch that statistic?  Seventy-five percent of the time the work done in the name of God will yield absolutely nothing.  Zero, zilch, nada.   Imagine that stat for on annual stockholders meeting for a fortune 500 company.  They wouldn’t be fortune 500 for long and people will lose their jobs over such a poor statistic.  Come join us and fail – not sometimes but more than half of the time!   See your challenging work and your efforts result in absolutely nothing!   Not exactly the way to build confidence or gain a bunch of converts!  Which leads to the questions: Is Jesus being a realest and preparing people for the hardships of Christianity?  Or is he hedging his bets and making sure no one expects too much? Or is he simply stating the facts that Christianity and following Christ is not for everyone?  Is it good news?  It is bad news?  Is it scary news?  Is it just simple reality?


Now of course Jesus isn’t really talking about farming and that this is all a metaphor for his listeners. He is talking about the kingdom of God, but quite honestly, that only makes me approach this text with any more trepidation.  Dare I look hard at myself and wonder what kind of soil I am?  Have you been kind of pondering that yourself?


We usually make the interpretation of this parable about the three types of soil, the path, the rocky and the thorny soil.  Interpreting the parable in this way would divide up the congregation into the diverse types of soil.  That means a third of us have a chance of being the good soil.  But then two thirds of us are the rocky, thorny bunch with no chance of survival.  Whoa.  Look around — you might have to battle it out with your neighbor.  Or maybe we could say that we are the good soil and those who didn’t show up today are the thorny soil — pretty harsh.  Not sure I want to go down that path and I am not sure that is the path Jesus is intending.


That is the classic three-point sermon that always ends with the preacher admonishing the hearers to be good soil and not to be bad which usually ends up sounding like, “Be good Christians and listen to the pastor and come to church a lot and be on a committee and your faith will grow.”[1] Sounds more like a self- help book than the Gospel.  Sounds like it is all up to us.  Get yourself out of bed, come to church, and you will thrive.  Not so much.


So, if this gospel reading is not about farming and it is not about what sort of soil to be and how to be better soil then what exactly is Jesus talking about?

I think Jesus is painting a picture, not so much of the soil, but of the sower.  Just imagine this sower throwing handfuls of seeds without so much as a glance at the ground where it would land.  Just imagine this sower, who is God, smiling and even laughing with reckless abandon and boundless joy, excitedly tossing handful after handful of seeds every which way.  Not at all concerned with running out of seeds.  Not even concerned where the seeds might land.  Not concerned with the odds and the statistics of how many of the seeds will take hold and flourish.  Never cautious, not judgmental, not even particular about the soil or how it has been cared for.   Just joyfully tossing out seeds, assured that some will take root and thrive.  That is how this sower works.  He tosses his word, the seed, out over and over trusting that eventually the seeds will land on good soil.  It might start off on rocky ground, but he will just reach back into his bag and toss a few more and this time they might just land on fertile soil.


This parable is about an extravagant God and how we are to respond to such a God.  It is a great image for what is happening right now, right here with you and me and what happens week after week in churches all over the world.  It goes like this:

Each of you come to church with experiences and all issues of life going on.  Some Sundays you come in these doors dog tired, with a bad night of sleep, a worry lingering in your head from a difficult week at work, a hurt festering or a need that has gone unattended for far too long.


Or you might walk in these doors, empty, with no energy to listen or pay attention because you have been down this road too many times and you are tired of getting your hopes up that something might put a spring in your step.


Or, maybe you come through these doors eager and ready and willing, expectantly waiting for what God has to offer you today.


No matter where you find yourself in life and in faith today, you show up, you come into God’s house to worship.


And the preacher comes too, having prepared to speak the Word of God.  Some weeks it comes easily and poetically and feels inspired.  Other weeks it is a struggle, the sermon is flat and he or she is not sure it is what to do with scripture passage.  But the preacher gets up here and preaches the Word.


And all the while with you showing up and listening and the preacher preaching, there is the sower in the middle of us, laughing and smiling and tossing seeds.  As the words come from the preacher’s mouth, the sower tosses them out to you.  Sometimes they fall flat, they fall on rocky or thorny ground.  For whatever reason, you can’t listen, the word doesn’t seep in or the soul doesn’t hear, but it just drops out on rocky ground and withers.


Sometimes, however, the seeds fall on fertile soil, and your mind starts going and your heart perks up and you listen and you hear and you hope and you believe.


And some weeks, that fertile ground really takes hold and the Word continues to grow as you walk out of these doors.  And it sprouts and it grows and gets bigger and bigger and then you might be walking through the grocery store and bam, right then, right their God’s word might come to you.  And an idea or a thought or an action might take hold as your faith gets put into action. You just don’t know what will happen when God sows his seed.


And the clincher is, when we go out in the name of God to do God’s work, we take encouragement from this image of the sower.  We take encouragement that the statistics aren’t always great, and the success rate isn’t stellar, and we won’t end up at the top of the ladder of success, but that is not the point.


The point is we hear the Word and let the Word take hold and then we live out our faith by loving your neighbor, by visiting the imprisoned, by clothing the naked, by feeding the hungry, by offering a cup of water to the thirsty, by healing the sick, and sitting with the grieving.   We do these things and we don’t worry about the results. That is a tough message for us results oriented people.  Us type A behaviors that want answers and want to be on the positive side of the balance sheet and win at life.  To be told that the results don’t matter is a letdown, a cop-out and feels like failure.


But this parable shows us that we are to focus on the action of the sower and not the results.  When we do that we catch a glimpse of the radical nature of the kingdom of God. Crazy abandon of this ridiculously wasteful farmer.  The kingdom of God is a place where God’s love and God’s word are scattered with equal abandon, with no regard for how any of it will be received.   It’s as if God just can’t help but share love and grace and mercy and will do so recklessly, even wastefully, because God alone knows that grace is never exhausted and love never wasted.[2]


Let us pray:

[1] Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, Lectionary blog: Sowing the seed,


[2] Reverend Dr. David Lose, Pentecost 6 A: Enough!…In+the+Meantime%29