Friday, October 26, 2012

Sower, Seed, and Soil Surprise

A post that goes along with my Theology of Surprise writings. I wrote this to share with my church community. Luke 8:4-15

One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled:
‘When they look, they won’t really see.
    When they hear, they won’t understand.’
11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.

This month, I have had the privilege of exploring this passage with the kids here at PUMP. I love that they keep it simple, and I believe they are exploring their way to the heart and meaning of this parable. In fact, a couple of the kids said it’s not hard to understand because Jesus explains it! And, I think they do understand it at a very important level, they are…..fertile soil. Last week, I asked the kids to think of a person in the Bible and decide which kind of soil that person was and why. Their answers were amazing and thoughtful. One of the older boys answered, Cain, and he said that Cain started out as good soil, but that he got jealous and wanted what his brother had, so he became thorny soil. Pretty clever.

Someone else mentioned David, which sparked a conversation about David’s story and how it contains examples of each of the types of soil in it. David was at times packed soil, at times rocky soil, and later in his life, we see a lot of thorny soil. We also talked about David’s heart for God, which we likened to good soil. This led us into a conversation about how each one of us can be any one of the types of soil at various times in our life. Not surprisingly, Noah and Peter were also mentioned as well as a few more of the better known Bible characters. Church, I love having these discussions with our children. Honest conversations about our ancestors in the faith. Their successes. Their failures. Their hearts. The kids don’t make excuses for them and they don’t try to rescue them, or God. They listen to the stories, they mull them over, they sit with the ambiguities and questions, and they find meaning and a means of relating to the Gospel story. In their hands, it is Good News.

And, then, one of our youngest members mentioned The Bleeding Woman from Luke Chapter 8 as someone who was good soil. Then, another of our youngest members followed up with the Sinful Woman from Luke 7, as yet another example of good soil. I was a bit surprised, but the children all agreed and these women were likened to good soil because of their faith in Jesus. Those two comments stopped me in my tracks and completely changed the trajectory of my thinking about this parable.

We have spent time in class talking about soil, and the kind of soil that we want to be. We have spent a lot of time talking about how difficult it is to cultivate good soil, to be fertile soil. We also talked about how tough it can be to admit when we are packed soil, rocky soil, or thorny soil. We talked about the Sower, a lot, and we dwelt in pictures that depicted a farmer hastily and generously throwing out seeds. We dwelt in pictures of evil looking weeds choking out plants. Some significant and beautiful conversations have taken place as we cultivated soil during our time together. I have no doubt that God was generously sowing, watering, and growing seed as we dwelt in this passage and reflected on many of the teachings that we have engaged over the last few months. This has been one of those times when I learned more from the kids they can could ever have learned from me.

I have been doing a lot of thinking about Luke 8:4-15. I think sometimes we don’t want to acknowledge our part in the process of cultivation. It makes sense to me, why not leave it all to the Sower, HE is good at it, and it is HE who really makes the soil good anyway. It is God who makes things grow. Other times, I think we overemphasize our part in the cultivation process - we become the weed that chokes out the work that Christ is trying to produce in us. As is the case with most parables, in our reading, we tend to emphasize a particular aspect of the story. It is natural to emphasize the Sower, or to emphasize the Seeds, or to emphasize the Soil. I have heard good sermons on each! But, this month, dwelling in this passage with children, has helped me to see the relationship between the three.

This parable shows us the divine relationship between Sower, seed, and soil. The truth is….there will be no harvest without a Sower. There will be no harvest without Seeds. And, there will be no harvest without Soil. The relationship between them is special and it is essential to a harvest. The Sower, indiscriminately and scandalously throws out the Seeds, the Word, the teachings, “love your enemy,” “if you want to save your life, you must lose it,” “don’t worry about the things of this world.” That crazy Sower takes a risk, as He sows Kingdom seeds in the Soil, in us, in the world that He loves. It may be good soil, it may not be, but the seeds are sown anyway. And, the good soil, we are told, produces a harvest. A huge harvest. How interesting it is to think about the seeds that have been sown already, in each one of us. Seeds waiting to grow. Seeds in the process of growing. Makes me wonder what God is calling us to do in the process? It makes me wonder, what is the Sower up to, right now, in this room, in this church, in this neighborhood?

Of course, we must be cautious about using this parable to label ourselves, or anyone else, or even our churches. We must also be very careful not to think that we alone can cultivate good soil or produce a harvest. Any farmer or gardener will tell you that planting is a humbling endeavor. It IS God who makes things grow. But, we must also be willing to hear Jesus’ words in verses 8 through 10. Jesus says that we need to use our eyes, and ears, to see, and to hear. This isn’t the first time that we see this phrase or phrases like it in Scripture. Truly, the relationship between the Sower, the Seed, and the Soil requires seeing and hearing. I think that can be said of all relationships. As it relates to this parable, I think we can make a strong case that good soil is that which is ready to receive, ready to see and to hear Christ, ready to listen and to act. Perhaps all that is needed for growth is a willingness to listen? The children in this room have caused me to wonder how willing I am to do just that. I hope I am not alone in thinking that I have a market on the production of good soil?! Honestly, it is all too easy to leave this story with a trite understanding of what good soil is.

However, Luke’s narratives almost always contain a surprise ending for those who would listen. It is a great thing for us to decide that we want to be “good soil.” This is the turn that this parable seems to lead us to, right? The question….What kind of soil are you? What kind of soil do you want to be? The “good” Christian wants to be – “good” soil. Right? Absolutely! YET, who is it that hear and see, and cling, and bear fruit? In Luke’s Gospel, the children had it right….it is women who bleed, it is men who collect taxes, and women with sinful lifestyles. It is Roman soldiers, prisoners, and children. It is friends of paralyzed men. The Gospel truth is that the good soil in Luke, the folks bearing fruit in these stories, are not the religious folks, but the poor, the lame, and the blind. Those who have heard the Word, who have seen the Word, who have believed the Word, and who have responded in faith. I am now convinced that the people in Luke who bear fruit are the people who believe they NEED the Sower, and that they NEED the Word. They desperately need God. They desperately need Jesus. They need Jesus to come their home, or speak a word of healing. They need the Sower. Do I? Do you? Do we? God used our children this week to make me consider these questions. They were able to consider Christ’s message and see The Bleeding Woman as good soil.

The kids at our church have me thinking that, perhaps, what Jesus is saying in this parable, is that good soil is a heart that is ready to see and to hear. Good soil begins with the recognition that we too, we too, are in some way, poor, lame, and blind. We are the disciples who fall away when troubles come on account of the Word, we are the rich young ruler, unable to part with our riches. We, are the religious leaders who hear, but do not understand. We, are the believers who struggle to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God. Knowing that, being willing to listen, and recognizing our need for God, makes it possible for us to be good soil.

Church, let us endeavor to be good soil, but let us also remember that good soil is the product of divine relationship between Sower, and Seed, and Soil. Let us remember that it is absolutely dependent on our willingness to see, and to hear, and to recognize our need. Let us stop thinking that Good Soil comes in a perfect packet, let us remember that it is made perfect by the one who makes it grow. Let us be like little children, who are able to read this passage, and see that a hurting and ostracized woman, is, good soil.

Thank God for the good soil that is our children, His children. On numerous occasions, God has used them to humble and inspire me. This week, the most hopeful word in this passage was found in verse 15. It says, “they patiently, produce a huge harvest.” The word patiently has been a word of mercy for me this week. I struggle to see, to hear, and to act in faith. I struggle to be and to recognize good soil. Yet, I find hope in knowing that the divine relationship is one of patience. The fruit that the Lord wishes to produce in me, is fruit that Lord also bears. The Sower is patient. May we be good listeners. May we recognize our need for Sower and Seed. May we be able to look into a hurting world, into the eyes of those who suffer, and see good soil 


contemplatrix said...

i do like the exploration of how we can be different soil conditions at different times along our journey and how the sower is patient and generous with each; like rain upon the just and unjust alike hoping no one should perish.

children are wonderful and it sounds like you have a marvelous community of them. thank you for sharing yours and their thoughts.


Cheryl Russell said...

Thanks Leslie. I never expected to enjoy ministry with children as much as I do.