When I found out that my first Parish was going to be a country town in the Wimmera called Minyip I was contacted by the chairman to see if my family and I would like to come up for a weekend to be shown around the town where I would be the Pastor. The chairman drove us around several farmlands and being November the crops were in fine shape. He told us that this was going to be one of their best years. There had been good rain and good sunshine and Minyip had one of the best soils for growing crops. That night at dinner at one of the elder’s, another farmer, dropped in to tell us that the frost from the previous night seems to have wiped out around 90% of the crop. It was devastating. When I arrived early in the year to begin my ministry the fears were confirmed. I asked one of my members what will they do. He said – we’ll put another crop in this year. He said – there’s no guarantees in farming except if you don’t put in a crop then you definitely won’t get a harvest.
Jesus uses the example of a farmer in our Gospel reading to explain how mission works. He uses the example of a sower who goes out to sow and he seems almost foolish in how he scatters his seed. The sower seems somewhat irresponsible.
Why throw seed on rocky grounds or among the thorns or on the path. The point Jesus wanted to highlight was that our results will not always be what we might expect when we plant the word of God in other people’s lives but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sow the seed.
That’s a great message for us for when we get discouraged – such as when we see the results of the latest census with “no religion” being the fastest growing category in the religious section. Jesus tells a comforting story about expectation and discouragement. It says that people will each react differently to the same witness we give. One may be so angry at God and the church that they can’t hear or believe the good news at all. Another may hear the witness, come along to church for a while but then simply disappear without reason or notice. But the comforting message of this parable is the assurance that there always will be those who hear and believe, who grow and mature in their faith. This is a wonderful assurance for us as we try so hard to witness but feel like giving up because of the disappointing results. It was an important message for the disciples because at the time everything looked so good and successful. But before very long the crowds would turn against Jesus and many would turn hostile toward him. A cross would be prepared in Jerusalem to end the life of the one they had put their hopes in. This parable that Jesus told is not so much about soils but about how God uses what we sow and asks us not to think about whether or not God is able to use that seed. This is about sharing the message anywhere and everywhere. There is nowhere that we are where we do not have the opportunity or the responsibility to share the word. And we should not think that God’s word could never grow here and we should not be deterred when our witness seems to fall on barren soil. Nothing is barren to God but an opportunity. That’s good news for us as we seem to be further and further away from the deep, rich soil we want to be near.
The parable of the sower is to give us encouragement in God’s work in mission. If mission were our task we’d either lose heart or give up asking: Why doesn’t everyone who hears the word believe? Why is what is so plain to us so unclear to others? Why, when we can say, “Jesus is Lord,”, don’t others get it? What’s wrong here? Why are churches getting smaller or struggling? Is there something wrong with the word? Is the seed not what we thought it was? Are we wasting our time? Did the sower get it wrong? Whether it’s a baptism where we don’t see the family again or a visitor who doesn’t return or a lapsed member or a member of our own family that has stopped worshipping – we continue to sow the seed of God’s love and hope. We continue to pray for them. We continue to reach out to them. But above all we continue to be ready to receive them. The Isaiah reading reminds us that the Word of God does not return to God without having done its work. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. The Word of God is effective. It creates life.
We do not give up just as the sower did not give up, no matter how hopeless and unpromising the situation may appear.
We sow the seed and leave the results to God as St Paul told the Corinthians: It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7 NLT) We sow the seed even though our first judgment or even common sense says that it isn’t worth the effort. It is worth the effort because Jesus Christ died for that person. God sees the possibilities when we just can’t make them out. When we sow God’s seed we also sow in the most unpromising places. But the Holy Spirit takes control and the response may surprise us because God is at work creating the harvest. Our planting of the seed doesn’t need to be that spectacular. It doesn’t need to be the latest church program being used by the big successful church brands. We can simply tell them about our relationship with God and share the love we have received first from God.
No one is unreachable in God’s sight. God calls us to invite all just as he did in the parable of the King’s wedding feast: He told his servants: Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests. (Matthew 22:9,10) God invites us sow anywhere and everywhere and to not be discouraged at the results. God is the Lord of the Harvest and we trust that he can and will make the seed we sow grow. Jesus is saying, “Sow the seed!”
Don’t worry about whether YOU think the soil is good or bad, receptive or not. Don’t be saving up seed for the places YOU think will be the most fertile. This seed is so precious, it has to be shared, and there’s plenty more seed where that came from.