I love to go for walks.
Whether it’s out in the woods or even on the city streets, I get so lost in my mind — in a good way — that I can walk miles and miles sometimes.
I do this in Washington, D.C., a lot.
Where my seminary is, there are great neighborhoods to walk.
And it’s so much easier (and faster sometimes ) to walk to dinner or Starbucks or to a store than to drive, depending on traffic.
On one of my normal walks in DC, there is this brick wall that I pass almost every week.
And I always notice this beautiful little purple flower that has sprung from the crack between the sidewalk and the brick wall.
It’s as inhospitable and unlikely as any place for such a wonderful flower to grow, and it presents a stark contrast to the concrete jungle surrounding it.
The flower speaks to me.
And I think, “My, you are an amazing metaphor for everyone who passes by you.”
And I think, “where did your seed come from? How did you get here?”
Well, maybe it was the wind that carried a seed from a potted plant or a garden a mile away.
Maybe it was a bird that carried the seed with her and dropped it in this exact spot.
Maybe some time ago, before the pavement was here, there was a plant in this very spot.
There are many ways that seeds are scattered in nature, and although it’s infrequent and exceptional, occasionally, that seed can grow even in the most inhospitable of places.
We see in our reading today, Matthew 13.1-9 and 18-23, that Jesus is talking to his disciples about sowing seeds.
And Jesus tells this story in parable form.
We probably are all familiar with the term Parable and what it generally does, but I’d like to point out that its root is from the Greek, and it literally means: to throw alongside, or to place alongside.
In other words, the idea is to place these stories next to something else as a comparison, and to illuminate and reveal things about that which it is placed alongside.
Are you with me?
What are Jesus’s parables placed alongside?
The reality of the world. The world in which we live, and what we believe — sometimes traditions and beliefs.
In the parables, Jesus tends to compare God’s empire with the empires of this world.
And in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus is telling us something a little different, a little unique.
Jesus is telling us how God’s empire can be expanded.
So, at this point, a lot of us may be familiar with this very popular parable.
And if I asked you, many of you surely could tell me its meaning.
And you would be right:
The seed is the Good News, and the soil is the people who either receive the Good News, and, depending upon how they live their lives, is either allowed to flourish or wither.
It’s a beautiful metaphor.
Again, as parable means to place alongside for comparison and revelation, this parable means we have to be good soil and reveals to us what the bad soil of the world is.
We might look at the bad soil, and say:
The path in which the seeds are scattered, but the birds come and puck them up before they can take root might be for us like spreading the Good News, but never helping to care for and cultivate them.
That maybe the rocky ground — which really means the shallow soil on top of rocks — is much the same: We plant the seed, but there’s no depth of soil, so there’s no way for that seed to take root.
Or we plant in inhospitable places, like among thorns. We can think of that as maybe telling someone about Jesus, but they return to their group of people who don’t foster the Good News, and instead try to squelch it.
And there are so many other factors, such as our fierce independence and self-pride that tell us we don’t need a god; we believe in ourselves and we are fully in control of our happiness.
And maybe that happiness comes from buying and accumulating stuff and keeping busy in activities or habits that distract us from that pain or longing in our hearts for something real, something good, something lasting.
Maybe because we cannot admit that we’re broken, that we’re hypocrites who are in need of a savior, and instead, we look at the church and see only brokenness and hypocrisy and use that as an excuse to distance ourselves from it.
Hard paths. Rocky soil. Thorny grounds….
Sower, not Soil
All of that exegetical work would be correct.
We would, in fact, be reading well into what Jesus is telling us in this parable.
We would be illuminated to the revelation of what kind of soil we need and we would see the comparison of the soil we need verses the inhospitable soil that a broken world tells us we need.
But what is the title of the parable?
Jesus names it himself: It is the Parable of the Sower.
It’s not the Parable of the Soil, is it?
Did you notice that?
What, then, does that mean for us?
How does that expand the meaning of the parable for us?
Well, we know the good soil is the church.
This is cultivated and fertile grounds for seed-planting.
A place where seeds are cared for, and where harvest can be witnessed.
A place where God’s Empire can be seen expanding.
But, again, the parable isn’t about soil; Jesus emphasizes the sowing — the planting — of those seeds, too.
In other words, where we sow…
Jesus isn’t telling us NOT to plant on those hard paths, in the rocky places or among the thorns.
Look at the image on the cover of your bulletins.
And think back to the opening of this sermon, in which a wonderful purple flower grows in the crack between sidewalk and brick wall.
We’ve all seen these anomalies of resilience and fortitude.
Growing in these hard places is an exception, but it’s not impossible, is it?
If we’re going to be good sowers, then, we have to look to examples like this in nature to see that good does grow even in hard places.
And we can look to God’s example of freely giving grace and goodness to not just those who are in the churches every Sunday morning, but offering that chance of flourishing to all God’s children.
In other words, we don’t just give up and say, “Well, if they aren’t coming to this good soil of the church, they’re never going to grow, or be saved.”
No, we have to look to these examples in creation and that God gives to us and scatter the seeds in the places where we might not think they can grow, too.
Our chances may not be likely, as Jesus tells us, but they’re not impossible, as we see again and again.
Nothing is impossible for God; We must expect the unexpected.
You see, this parable challenges the church to scatter seed broadly and widely.
How do we know this?
It’s abundantly apparent that Jesus didn’t instruct his disciples to simply preach the Good News in Judea, where people believed in the same God you and I do.
He didn’t say “Go preach to the choir,” did he?
In fact, he said go and make disciples of the entire world.
And what happened?
Paul traveled into inhospitable places where people believed in false and multiple gods. Thorns!
The disciples traveled to places that were hostile toward them, even persecuting and eventually killing them.
They sowed seeds in the least likely places, and what happened?
The early missionaries risked their lives in the jungles of South America, in Africa, and in the inhospitable places of India and the Far East to spread the Good News.
Modern-day missionaries are out in war zones, in disease-stricken places and in places where Christians are put to death in the Middle East, risking their lives to share the Good News.
And even right here, in our own communities, followers of Christ are going into dark alleys where the homeless and addicts live in the shadows; into the bastions of atheism, where they are ridiculed and verbally stoned; and even deep into the American Dream, where, to so many disenfranchised, God has been dead to them for years, maybe even generations.
Why? Jesus calls us to those places.
Those vulnerable and hard places. Those thorn-choked areas.
Because God’s salvation is open to everyone, no matter where they are.
Jesus taught this in how he loved all people, not just those who seemed fertile or righteous — but, again, the lowly, despised, rejected, sick, desperate, weak, drunk, prostituting, lying, addicted and cheating people.
The broken, like you and me.
And the church carries on this teaching in accepting everyone, no matter race, creed, orientation, nationality or beliefs.
Friends, we might not have been good soil at one time either.
And we may look at others outside of this church, this fertile garden bed — even people we love in our own families — and say, “Not a chance. They will never come to love Christ.”
You wouldn't bet your life on it.
But Christ did. Why?
Because even in the most harshest of conditions, in the most inhospitable of hearts, it takes something Supernatural.
It takes God.
Remember, Paul once persecuted Christians!
He would witness and approve punishment and death sentences.
Paul’s conversion was very unlikely, but it happened because God can do the impossible.
I’ve said it before, we don’t save people; we simply plant the seeds of faith, and we let God take care of the rest.
We can — and should — come alongside of people and try to forge real, honest and loving relationships to try to help grow those seeds, but in the end, we cannot do it without Christ.
It’s why passing out Gospel tracts door to door or in crowded parking lots is ineffective.
It’s one and done.
But we plant seeds when we go out into the inhospitable places, the places where we think seeds could never take root, and — listen — we do so in faith.
That’s the most important ingredient.
We have to EXPECT that God can do this.
And what does that look like?
It looks like a warm hello to a passerby on the street.
It looks like an invitation to join you for coffee.
It looks like planting flowers so that other people walking by can enjoy their beauty.
It looks like giving toys to kids on Christmas or giving items to those who are without.
It looks like sitting down next to someone in the soup kitchen and listening to the story of their lives.
It looks like noticing and acknowledging people.
It looks like stopping to say hello to a shut-in in a nursing home who is not part of our church.
It looks like inviting a friend or neighbor to church or to a concert or to a yoga class.
And it looks like proclaiming our faith wherever the Spirit calls us.
But we have to listen.
We have to listen in each one of these places, because, again, we aren’t sowing seeds for ourselves;
We are sowing seeds because this is what Jesus asks us to do.
To bring the love of Christ for the transformation of the world.
To expand God’s empire
Is it a challenge? Yes.
Is it impossible? No.
Does it take faith? Absolutely.
Can we do it through Christ who strengthens us? Guaranteed.
We’ve all witness the purple flower growing though the sidewalk crack.
We’ve all witnessed that person — and maybe it’s our own selves! who we would never think would one day come to Christ and expand God’s empire.
We’ve heard of these stories all around the world for as long as we can remember.
Why would we ever think God can’t make beautiful things out of dust?
We are living proof of that.
So, yes, let’s continue to plant and cultivate this rich soil of the church.
But let’s also go out and cultivate new soil.
Let’s scatter our seeds without discrimination against those whom we think aren’t worthy or cannot benefit from God’s grace.
God never discriminated against them.
And Jesus challenges us by showing us what it takes to grow among these hard places.
We are created in God’s image, and thus, we are designed to do this work.
And we never go it alone.