Message by Louise Burton, Licensed Lay Worship Leader
July 16, 2017
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
At the beginning of each growing season, farmers plant their crops and gardeners plant their gardens. In the 21st Century there is a lot more control over where crops are seeded than in the first century. Farmers are less likely to plant seeds in ground that is known to be inhospitable to the crops they wish to grow. However, there are still forces which affect the outcome of the crop – weather being a major one.
But Jesus wasn’t just referring to crops. His example of the sower and the seeds was in his usual parable style of teaching. So, let us stretch ourselves a little farther as well.
There are times in our lives when we are faced with a variety of choices. When we graduate from high school or university, when we get married or at the birth of a baby, and when we retire from a job. These are all milestones that present us with so many choices. There isn’t just one door open to us but a whole wall of them! The old saying “When one door closes another one opens” comes to mind. However, it usually isn’t just one door in front of us, but an array of them. These are all seeds that have been scattered in front of our potentially fertile soil. Let’s look at one of these scenarios. Let’s pick retirement.
The most common scenario is of a person who has been working at one career for a number of years and now they stop working at their chosen career. That was my scenario. Then a person must figure out what to do with all of those suddenly available hours and days. There appears to be an abundance of time available. To some people this is a daunting task as they haven’t a clue what to do to occupy that time. To others, which door or doors to open! Volunteer opportunities in any number of organizations, a change of career to try something totally different, the time to travel to learn a new sport or skill, to do the fixing and repairing tasks which have been postponed for awhile……well, you get the idea – the list goes on and on – an abundance of opportunity. How fulfilling that phase of life becomes depends on which choices one makes to fill their days.
Some recent studies are indicating that the best use of retirement years includes some form of continuous learning – challenging the brain to learn something new. This apparently assists in postponing the advancement of Alzheimer’s. I don’t know about you, but that is something in which I am definitely interested! So, when I retired from my career of forty years, I did two things. I went back to school to become the LLWL you see before you today and I took up golf. The first definitely has a continuous learning component to it. But some people I know commented that to golf there was nothing. I got thinking about that and decided they were wrong! I had not played golf before- so I learned a whole new language of golf, the etiquette of the game, the physical techniques of the game. And now the regular practice is an attempt to improve the muscle memory and become somewhat more proficient. So, this seeding of the idea of golf in my head fell on fertile soil and is being watered, fertilized and keeps growing. The idea of taking up mountain climbing fell on rocky sill and went nowhere, as did other thoughts. So, learning any new activity, whether it be photography, chess, bicycling, rock climbing or golf is growing those seeds in your life.
That is one type of scenario.
Still another example of this parable in modern day life is to be careful what you say because you never know the effect it will have on the listeners or on which listeners, or when. Just as those seeds of grain that were planted in a field many have lain there for a few years before the conditions were right for germination, so too, can words that you have said. The seeds I the field many have been eaten by a bird and transplanted somewhere else with its bit of fertilizer. How many of you have witnessed a plant in your garden that you knew you didn’t plant? The huge sunflower I had a couple of years ago was certainly the result of that. – probably from one of my neighbour’s bird feeder.! Just as, during a church service, you never know when you walk in the door, what part of the service might mean the most to you today – it might be something in the message, or it might be a line from a hymn or in one of the prayers. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the ground is fertile to let that seed grow and become a fully developed plant.
Sometimes alone from one of those hymns will come back to you at the most unexpected time to prod you to action or be a comfort tin a time of loss. The seed has been planted somewhere and sometime, but now was the right time for it to grow.
If you have noticed wild flowers growing in the ditches at the sides of road among rocks, you will know, too, that not all seeds are killed off by poor circumstances. Sometimes, they not only survive the onslaught of bad weather and terrible conditions, but thrive and grow stronger. So, while it may seem that planting seeds only in wonderfully prepared garden beds or fields is the only way to get results, that cannot be counted on. A seed planted anywhere, might just grip with its tiny roots and hang on, becoming a shining example to all who see it.
Jesus lesson that day may have been directed to the disciples who formed part of a large group on the seashore. Jesus didn’t speak to just them all the time. He often spoke to large groups and taught everyone. It didn’t matter if everyone was even paying attention. I suspect that some of the children just wanted to play and that some of the adults were encouraged to come because their spouse wanted to go. So the teaching was lavished on everyone within earshot even though only some of the people went away having learned anything new at that time.
Imagery of abundance and extravagance are both woven into this parable of the sower. It speaks of the way in which the seed has been scattered. The sower seems to have scattered the seed rather generously everywhere and not being careful to just hit the good part of the field. This extravagance in spreading the seed can easily be likened to the abundance of God’s love for all of us. AS we share the good news of God and Jesus, we can share it just as generously by our actions as well as by our words. However, it would imply that we really don’t have control over how our message or example is received. We all know that! How many times have we told something, explained it carefully and felt we were talking to a wall? Each person’s own life experience opens or closes them to the presence of God. Even different times in one’s life affect the reception of God’s grace in our lives. I read a sentence recently which summed this up nicely for me: “Life with God always remains an invitation, not an imposition.”
All this talking about seeding and growing have focused on what the seed does. But what about us – the soil in which the seed grows? What kind of soil are we? Are we full of rock and weeds? Or do we subject ourselves to droughts and frost? In order to nurture a seed which is planted within us, we should be good fertile soil which nurtures growth – or at least we don’t want to kill off the seed. Maybe it can lie dormant waiting for the right moment to germinate and when it does, we can cultivate, fertilize, prune and water so that the maximum growth is achieved by the seed which was planted.
God’s extravagant abundance has been appreciated by many writers and poets over the years. One poet, a Canadian, Bliss Carmen wrote many poems about the extravagance of God in nature. One poem limits itself to trees. I studied it in school, maybe some of you did as well. I have always enjoyed this poem and would like to share it with you:
Trees by Bliss Carmen
In the Garden of Eden, planted by God,
There were goodly trees in the springing sod,
Trees of beauty and height and grace,
To stand in splendor before His face.
Apple and hickory, ash and pear,
Oak and beech and the tulip rare,
The trembling aspen, the noble pine,
The sweeping elm by the river line;
Trees for birds to build and sing,
The lilac tree for the joy in spring;
Trees to turn at the frosty call
And carpet the ground for their Lord’s footfall;
Trees for fruitage, and fire and shade,
Trees for the cunning builders trade;
Wood for the bow, the spear and the flail,
the keel and the mast of the daring sail;
He made them of every grain and girth
For the use of man on the Garden of Earth.
Then lest the soul should not lift her eyes
From the gift to the giver of Paradise
On the crown of a hill for all to see,
God planted a scarlet maple tree.
If there is extravagance and abundance in each thing such as there is in trees, how can we not have faith that seeds will germinate and grow. We must do our share to plant and nurture the growth of these seeds of the Good News in our day to day world.