Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Planting fields, gardens or even window boxes tests one’s inner spirit. Why plant if nothing results because birds, bugs, weeds, blight, or bad weather could ruin the crops? And yet, despite all the potential for failure many of us optimistically plant something every year. Good farmers and gardeners live on that confident hope that despite the odds, there will be a rewarding harvest. Not every seed may produce, but enough will to make it all worthwhile.
In our Gospel reading for this morning Jesus compares sharing God’s Word with planting a field. Using worldly realism that includes some failure he calls us to faith and action. We are to sow the living seed of His Holy Word in the field he has put before us. How do we approach this task? Is it with pessimism or optimism?
I suppose that if we were totally honest with ourselves we would have to admit that most often, we look at the task of Evangelism with something less than textbook optimism. Indeed, for many good Christians Evangelism is known simply as that dreaded “E” word. The thing we all know we should be doing, but don’t want to be reminded of because we probably aren’t (or at least we are not doing a good job of it). We’ve all heard the horror stories of evangelism calls gone bad, of families and friends torn apart, of ridicule and failure. When God calls us to sow the seed of His Word, telling us it will grow; it is a promise that can easily test our faith.
No wonder Jesus would be so very blunt in the telling of this parable. “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.” In other words, make no mistake, this will not always work out 100%. There will be times when we will encounter soil that is not ready to receive God’s life giving seed, of the Gospel. There will be the beaten paths on which the seed merely bounces off, to be greedily gobbled up by the devil. These are the individuals who hear the Word, but don’t understand it. Why not? They are hard-hearted or hard-headed, or both!
The message of a God who loved them enough to die for them is either repugnant to them (after all that just isn’t logical!) or it simply isn’t enough. They need more. They want signs and visions and revelations, here and now: not some dusty old legend of 2000 years ago. These are the people made blind and deaf to the message through disbelief, sin, and self-importance. These are the people St. Paul spoke about in 1 Co. 1:22-23 when he said: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles …” These two mind sets are still around today. Their hard-hearts and hard-heads keep them from hearing the Word, and makes them easy targets of the devil.
And yet, there is more to be contended with, when it comes to sowing God’s seed. “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away.” These individuals are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Jesus described these individuals as those who hear the Word joyfully and burst forth with life, only their roots aren’t deep enough. When trouble comes on account of their new life, their faith withers and dies. They are more than willing to try anything, and gladly, but only while it is easy. The problem is that they are shallow. They never fully commit. When things get tough, whether through ridicule, or peer pressure, or disappointment, they quickly find that their roots aren’t deep enough to see them through the dry times.
And if these first two groups weren’t enough to frustrate our efforts and our patience, Jesus is kind enough to show us a third group. “Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” The sad truth is that you don’t always know what’s lying under the surface waiting to spring up and take control. These individuals are those who are full of the worries of life. Those who have been duped by the deceitfulness of wealth. You know the kind, they are genuinely interested, but just don’t have the time or energy. Their lives are too full of other things which for whatever reason, seem more important at the time. And the sad truth is that they always will. They have so much stuff going on in their lives that the one important thing is literally strangled. They are so busy living that they have lost out on life.
Now I know you’re saying to yourself: Exactly Pastor! As usual, you are so right! (you were saying that weren’t you?) Evangelizing to these kinds of people is just too much! They are hard-hearted, ungrounded, and their minds are elsewhere. It’s a waste of time and effort that could be placed somewhere much better, like with our own people. And I agree, wholeheartedly, because in many ways these hard-hearted, ungrounded, minds elsewhere kind of people are our own people. They are you and me!
Who here has never been hard-hearted toward someone less fortunate? Never once shirked your duty to help out if you could? Who here has never once been hard-headed enough to have not done what they knew God wanted them to do, like share the Gospel? Who here can truly say that they have in every way firmly rooted themselves in private and group study of the Word, and in prayer? Never once slacking off, or taking your faith for granted? Who here can say that in any given moment in any given day NOTHING is more important to them than Christ’s wishes, and promises? Or that you have never been too busy with “something else” to worship on a Sunday. No one, that’s who. Not even the pastor! At one time or another the soil of our hearts has been just like any or all of the ones Jesus spoke about. At one time we were all lost causes and hopeless cases.
But we aren’t anymore are we? NO! We are certainly not perfect, but we are changed. For each and every one of us has been touched by the living, and life giving seed of God’s Word. And that Word of Law and Gospel has forever changed the soil in our hearts. We were shown how sinful we really are, but we were also shown just how much we can be loved and forgiven. And if the Word of God can change sinners like us, He can most certainly do it to anyone! He as much as promises us that in our reading from Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” The reason He sent us His Holy Word was to show us our salvation in Jesus Christ. And give us faith in the same.
The living seed of God’s Word is not withheld from anyone. In the parable Jesus makes it clear that the seed is spread on all of the kinds of soil. Good and bad alike. And even where the soil is bad, and some seed is lost, others will grow. And it doesn’t depend on the abilities of the one who is sowing. The living power of the Gospel will make it happen. Only the Gospel can soften hardened hearts by showing the depths of love to which God was willing to go for us. Even to the point of having his own heart broken upon the cross. Only the Gospel can provide sufficient grounding, to root a person deeply and daily in that fathomless love. God gives faith, and hope, and strength to endure through his Spirit and the Word. And these he plants in people’s lives through The Scriptures and the Sacraments. And only the Gospel has the power to forever remove obstacles to life and faith by giving us more to look forward to than just this hectic and materialistic life. The Gospel shows us the eternal glory of heaven which is ours right now through the resurrection of our Lord from the dead.
Regardless of the soil, the Gospel will bring forth fruit. And abundantly. That is also God’s promise to us. “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Not everywhere we plant the Word of God will bring back the same results, but it WILL bring back results. People’s lives WILL be changed. Some of the lives we will encounter in this venture will be hard-packed. Some will be rocky and some will be nearly choked off by other things. But God’s word will be shared with them. And it will have an effect. We may never see it here within these walls, but it will happen. God’s Word will be planted, and it will grow. Nothing can stop it. That is his promise to us.
Gardening of any kind can be frustrating. Plants wither and die, endless weeds demand attention. Birds and other pests may rob you of seed, plants, or ripening fruit. Yet despite these losses, when you pick and eat something like a vine-ripened tomato from your own garden, all the time and effort become worthwhile. If planting seeds in a little dirt can be this rewarding, how much more rewarding is the planting of the seed of God’s word. Sure the devil may plunder, the heat of tough times can kill, and worries or wealth may choke some, but God’s harvest is certain. Today, as we prepare to sow the living seed of life, the Word of God, let us celebrate this unshakable truth. When we plant God’s Word, It WILL grow!