“The Sower”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

July 16, 2017

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


My family and I put in our first garden this year.  Now, I grew up helping in my parents’ vegetable garden, so I’m no stranger to feeling of soil between your fingers or the scent of tomato vines in the sun—but this is the first time Matt and I have done it from scratch by ourselves.

It’s just a little garden, really, but that was all the more reason for me to let my, umm, detail-oriented tendencies run wild as we planned and prepared.  First, the soil—choosing the right medium and the right amendments to create just the right environment for our plants to thrive.  Then, the planning—what would we grow?  How would we organize our limited space?  I made a map and plotted it all out.  Tall plants, tomatoes and peppers, in the center of our raised bed, where we can reach them easily from the sides and they won’t cast too much shade on the littler ones around them.  Salad greens on one side, spinach plants on the other.  Herbs in the back corners, rosemary and sage and parsley and basil, surrounding the carrots, beets, and radishes.  Marigolds to repel pests and delineate the areas for each crop.

Then, of course, there was the planting.  I studiously read the seed packets to make sure I planted each vegetable at the right depth (not a quarter-inch, but an eighth) and with the proper spacing (not one or two inches, but one-point-five).  I carefully drew a furrow in the soil with my finger and dropped in the seeds, just so.  Not too deep, but not too shallow; not too close together, but not too far apart.  I covered them over and patted the soil gently on top—enough to hold them in place, but not so much that it would make it hard for those first little roots and shoots to grow.  I watered—not too much, mind you, but not too little, either.

It turns out that I garden as I do most things:  with perhaps more analysis than is strictly necessary, attempting to proactively address every imaginable eventuality, trying to guarantee the best possible results.

It turns out that God gardens differently.


If you’re like me, when you hear the parable that Darlene read for us this morning, your mind goes straight to comparing the different kinds of soil and locating yourself among them.  Which kind am I?  I’m good soil, right?  I work hard, I volunteer, I donate money, I go to church—I do things right, don’t I?  I don’t have a hard heart like the soil of the path, I promise.  I am definitely not rocky or shallow, no way.  Thorny?  Me?  Please.  Okay, so I might grow a few sharp judgments in the back of my mind… but I am sweet and kind almost all the time.

Or, if I am somehow one of those less ideal types of soil, how can I work hard and make myself good?  Where’s the compost, the peat moss, the manure?  Give me a wheelbarrow and a shovel!  What do I have to do to be counted among the good ones, to bring in the greatest harvest this world has ever seen?

If you’re like me, it’s easy to slip into a moralizing take on this parable, a focus on what I must do to cultivate my heart and make it ready for God’s word to grow.  But I think that kind of reading misses an important part of the point, because it turns out that God gardens differently.


God does not wait until you have your soil just so.  God does not carefully plot out each square foot of God’s garden.  God does not pull out the ruler to avoid wasting seeds by planting them too close together.  God does not run a soil analysis to determine which hearts are worthy of planting and which are too hard, to stony, too thorny, or too shallow to bear fruit.  God scatters seed abundantly, extravagantly, almost wastefully, it seems—more like the wind-blown puffs of a dandelion or a cottonwood, or those little helicopters that spiral down out of maple trees, than like my carefully-plotted straight little rows.

Because here’s what God knows:  there is no soil that is not worth planting.  There is no heart that is not worth loving.  There is nowhere on earth or in heaven where God’s word cannot take root, and germinate, and grow.  A new thing is always, always possible.  It’s like wildflowers that take over vacant lots, or weeds that push up through cracks in the sidewalk, or—as was the case in the apartment where I lived before I came to Woodstock—a several-year-old maple sapling growing up through the concrete floor in the dim light of the basement.

So if God scatters seeds indiscriminately, profligately, not only on good soil, but on paths and rocks and thorns alike, then perhaps God’s love could really take root in a prickly, hard heart like mine.  Perhaps God’s love could actually blossom in a complicated life like yours.  Perhaps God’s love could actually thrive in an imperfect, trying-and-failing-and-trying-again community like ours.

And if God scatters seeds indiscriminately, profligately, not only on good soil, but on paths and rocks and thorns alike, then perhaps I should stop worrying quite so much about which kind of soil I am, and start working on improving the soil wherever I can, because God’s seed has already been planted there.  Where I see God’s love being choked out by the thorns of fear and pain and violence… can I pull a few weeds?  Where I see God’s love struggling to grow through the hard-packed soil of hate and bigotry… can I pull out the cultivator and loosen the earth a little?  Where I see God’s love withering in the parched soil of poverty… can I grab the hose and share some life-giving water?

And if God scatters seeds indiscriminately, profligately, not only on good soil, but on paths and rocks and thorns alike, then perhaps I might find a way to let go of some of my, umm, detail-oriented tendencies and just love everyone and everything, period.  After all, if a maple tree can grow through the concrete floor of an urban basement, who knows what else might turn out to be possible?


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