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"Scatter Those Seeds" - Guest Preacher - Rev. Melanie Hammond Clark

Posted on July 12, 2020 by Kathy Miller

“Scatter Those Seeds”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

July 12, 2020

Covenant Presbyterian, Racine, WI



Some of you know that since leaving Covenant I have been through training to become a Spiritual Director. I love this work. It was one of my favorite parts about being a pastor: spending time one on one, helping people pay attention to God’s presence and action in their lives, learning to trust in God’s love and to discern God’s leading.


As I read today’s lectionary passage, it occurred to me that working with people’s soil is a lot of what spiritual direction is about. Spiritual Directors and look with people at the landscape of their lives, helping them see and hear God at work in and around them.


For as long as I can remember, these have been the passions of my heart, and even in the earliest years of my faith life, I remember studying this passage of the Sower and the seeds, trying to figure out what kind of soil I was.


I would wonder with others: Was I the hard path, at times impenetrable, letting God’s message land on me but never really taking it in? Hard-hearted, as the Bible often names it? Self-protective, afraid to absorb the seed into the soil of my soul because it might change me?


Or was I the rocky soil that had no depth, so the seed of God’s message couldn’t take root and last?  Was I not doing the work required to turn over the soil and work it so something good could grow there?


Was I shallow soil that got excited quickly by a spiritual shot in the arm but had no real staying power?


Or was I the thorny soil, where the seed took root, but was getting choked out by weeds? Where try as it might that seed couldn’t get enough nutrients from the soil because too many other things were competing for the same space? Was I overinvolved in doing things God didn’t intend or desire for me? Did the weeds of my own agenda (or other people’s agendas for me) overcrowd my heart and make it unlikely that the special seed of God’s grace could really bloom in my life?


Or was I the good soil?  Did I have a receptive heart? Was my life bringing forth good grain? Did it yield nourishment not just for me but for others?


That self-examination was good for me.  Still is. But I am less likely now to feel like life (or my own life) is so straightforward that I can easily pop myself into a category – of soil or anything else.


As time went on, and I learned more of life, myself, the scriptures and God, I came to realize that most of our lives are land, are ground, upon which all four soils can be found, or at least a combination of several of them. There is a certain unevenness in the soil in our lives. We tend to be a confusing, inconsistent lot, if we’re honest about it.


I think it’s true of all of us. Our soil is pretty mixed.


Why? Because there are thorns and rocks all around us.  They come in different forms for each of us. My issues are not your issues, and your issues aren’t mine, but as Julia Michael’s song implies, we’ve all got issues.


But we don’t have to be resigned to those issues. The work of being human is to look thorns and rocks and hardness square in the face, to not let the weeds choke life from us, to not let them steal our courage or smother our hope.


No, we have to dig in the dirt. We have to pull up those rocks, we have to root out those thorns. And often it takes a village to help us do it.


Sounds messy, doesn’t it?


I don’t like messy things, at least not when it comes to myself. I like to know that what I’m doing is right, that all nuances are being addressed, that people will know my intentions are aiming for the highest good for all. Often that is what God desires for me. But sometimes, God knows, that has slowed me down in unhelpful ways. My fear of being misunderstood or maligned, of being unheard or sidelined, of seeming unorthodox or too far out of the box has sometimes made it impossible for me to hear Christ’s challenge to awaken to action I needed to take.


Because, well, after all, sometimes important things are messy.


But here, in my 14 years at Covenant, you all and each of my co-pastors, broke new ground in me. Whether in fighting for the dignity and freedoms of God’s beloved ones in the LGTBQ community or facing the church and society’s sins against the Black community, you all – along with my own children and patient, persevering friends from my past—you all received me and you changed me, and God has now sent me, rich in the soil of God’s groundedness, back to my old community, ready to do the hard work of turning the soil there in fresh ways. I’m no longer a pastor, but I am a person, and God isn’t done with me yet!


I will never forget my first meeting years ago here in my study with Bill Hurtibise (now Bill Palmer since marrying Dean). Bill said he and his partner were adopting a daughter, and he was looking for a church to raise her, a church that would be truly welcoming. In that gentle moment, God filled the room for me with welcome. God didn’t just welcome Bill.  God welcomed me, from all my previous hesitant selves, to let God’s Word speak up, to take holy risks and to not impede the Spirit’s work with fears of loss and rejection in certain circles as a Christian and a leader.


And a few years after that, well after Black Lives Matter in 2013 dared to name our systemic sins, Kelly Miller and Lori Jensen (upon Pastor Jenny’s mention of the book) read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and, all of a sudden, I was leading conversations about it!  And then we watched the documentary 13th, and there was no un-seeing that. Action and contemplation were now being wedded in me, in unexpected but long-awaited ways.


As I look back, God had been planting seeds for years, but I didn’t know how to blossom in these particular ways. I hadn’t found my voice. God’s heart had gradually shifted mine to these convictions, but my life had not publicly embodied them.


But then God planted me here, in this soil of all of you, and my co-pastors Mary Steege, and Victoria Millar and Jenny Gleichauf, and new growth appeared. A different kind of thriving in my life took root.


And the older I get, the more grateful I am that God didn’t and doesn’t give up on me, that God keeps working underground through people who love me and circumstances that challenge me, and authentic souls whose courage changes me.


So, I love this passage about the soil. And I love that Jesus is compassionately concerned about the hearing capacity of our hearts. I love that he knows all about us and the rocks and thorns, what life has done to us and what we’ve done to ourselves to impair the delicate listening ability we’ve been given. As we catch Christ’s eye, he gives us a knowing look. He understands the iron grids that have formed on our hearts and how little can get through.  He knows about our set of ideas and inflexible presuppositions. He is aware of our prejudices, our artillery of excuses, our resistance to truth.


Yes. Jesus knows how out of touch we are with our feelings, about ourselves and others. He is aware of beliefs and convictions which have never been put into concrete actions of following him. Jesus understands what’s happened to our imperfect hearts. He knows the messiness of our lives and the unevenness of the soil within us.


And so he tells of the Sower, who is God, who just keeps tossing seeds our way, who knows our frailty, our deep fears, our passions, our personalities and our pain and stays in the field with us – dropping the seeds of love and mercy and justice and truth all over the place, never giving up on the possibility that we will let them take root.


This is the thing about this passage that I think is the really good news of God: Whether, in any given season or for any given reason, our soil is flat and hard, whether it is rocky and shallow, whether it is choked by weeds, God, the Sower, keeps flinging seed at us.  God does not give up on us!  God doesn’t decide prematurely that nothing will grow.  God’s love is inefficient and extravagant.  God’s love does not turn from lost causes, fearful hearts, or foolish souls, but instead turns tenderly toward them, toward us, flinging seed with holy abandon, feeding the birds, whistling at the rocks, picking a way through the thorns, shouting hallelujah at the good soil – God keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty.


But as Barbara Brown Taylor accurately notes, we would not do it that way. “If we were in charge, we would devise a more efficient operation, a neater, cleaner, more productive one that did not waste seed on snatching birds and rocks and thorns but concentrated only on the good soil and what we could make it do.  But if this is the parable of the Sower” (and not just the soil), “then Jesus seems to be suggesting that there is another way to go about things, a way that is less concerned with productivity” and perfection than with God’s plenty (The Seeds of Heaven, p. 26)


So, yes, no doubt about it, we need to develop good soil in our lives; we need to stop ignoring the weeds that creep in and cut us off from the breath of life; we need to address those things, tend those parts, that keep us from hearing God and growing in Christ’s gracious and courageous likeness.


But we also need to hear in this text God’s amazing and persistent willingness to keep reaching into God’s seed bag for the length of our lives, to extravagantly and constantly cover the whole creation with the fertile, faithful seed of God’s grace and truth.


This is no regular farmer, no sensible sower of seeds.  This is a God who is open to unlikely possibility, who is willing to expect the unexpected result from unexpected places.  This is a Sower who is willing to risk disappointment, who keeps scattering seeds just in case our soil has changed a bit today and is ready to receive something it wasn’t ready for yesterday.  This is a hopeful persevering Sower who never runs out of seed, of grace and truth, Whose abundance is unfathomable to us, but which Jesus says is real.  And I believe him.


I believe him.


Do you?


I think the challenge of believing Jesus about this tenaciously hopeful, loving God is that it awakens in us the sense that maybe, despite all arguments to the contrary, we are supposed to try to be like this God.  We, too, are called to be extravagant life-givers, and it is no easy job in a world so based on productivity and bottom lines.  In our culture, it is counter-intuitive.  But, if you think about it, pretty much everything Jesus ever said was and is counter-cultural!


So as is typical of Jesus, we are not only invited to be receivers of God’s seed, God’s message of undying grace and truth; we are also called to sow that seed in a world whose ground is dull and dry and in need of persevering people who don’t expect a reward for every good deed or a result from every investment.


Those of you who are parents or teachers, social workers or Sunday School teachers, counselors or coaches – you know how tiring it is to keep planting seeds without a guarantee that the ground is good.  You know how tempting it is to abandon the challenging soil and stop believing that God is at work in and through you for the sake of another person’s future yet unseen.


All of us know the temptation to stop wasting our kindness and caring, our good money and good time on people, strangers, friends and family alike, who seem hard-hearted, shallow or thorny, who do not seem to appreciate that this is good seed we’re trying to share.

But I’m guessing all of us can also name someone in our lives who persisted or persists with us, who does not stand over us shouting at us to change but stands with us believing in us even if we’ve yet to change.  They scatter God’s loving seed in our lives and one day, here we come, a flower coming up through the crack of the sidewalk, surprising everyone but the One who keeps scattering seeds.


It is a beautiful and powerful trait of God the Sower that our own uneven ground is never abandoned and that God’s generosity toward us is never canceled. And while we human beings are more limited in our capacities – and often need some solid boundaries for our wellbeing – we are not left to our own resources to till the soil, to generate life, or to break new ground in the world around us. We are created in the image of God and invited to breathe in by the Holy Spirit the traits of God’s extravagant love, to scatter the seeds of a just mercy, even when we don’t know if they’ll take root.


Bryan Stevenson’s words say it well: “We all need justice, we all need mercy, and perhaps we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”


May we receive that amazing, unmerited grace and may we extend it. The Sower is counting on us to be out there and to scatter those seeds – that a world of God’s just mercy might grow…now… and flourish. Amen.

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