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Mark 4: 1-20
September 27, 2020
Rev. Nancy Talbot at Mount Seymour United Church
Our scripture reading today about the sower and the seeds comes to us from Mark’s version of the story of Jesus’ life. One of the primary characteristics of Mark’s gospel is that the disciples are never really portrayed in the best possible light. Over and over again they seem to miss the point Jesus is trying to make to them in his teachings. They are slow to catch on to what his ministry is all about. They seem to live predominantly from a place of fear. In short, they never really seem to live up to the best example of how a good Christian should be.
And there’s something about this parable about the sower and the seeds and the rocky ground, the thorny ground and the good soil that seems to be addressing the way the disciples and others just don’t seem to really get who and what Jesus is all about and therefore grow into their full potential (at least not during Jesus earthly ministry with them.)
We have a farmer who by many people’s standards is reckless at best and a bit of a failure himself. He’s tossing out seeds trying to get something to grow and it takes him four trys before he gets any traction in the soil. First he throws his seeds on the path and the birds eat it, then he throws them on the rocky ground where there wasn’t enough soil, so the sun scorches them and they die, then he throws it into the thorns and they get chocked, until finally he hucks some into good soil and bingo, he’s got a winner. That’s a 75% failure rate by my count.
Later on, when Jesus unpacks the parable and seems to suggest that God is the sower of the seeds, we might wonder just what kind of a gardener God is if God can’t seem to figure out the best place to plant a seed without that much trial and error, but there it is.
What we have in a nutshell, according to Jesus own interpretation of his parable, is a story about a bunch of human beings who can’t grow into their full potential because they are shallow, unable to go the distance when trouble arises, distracted by greed and many other desires as well as being driven by their egos. Then there are a couple of good seeds who bear a lot of fruit. And finally, a God who is so bent on bringing things to life, God just keeps on tossing out seeds regardless of the failure rate just in case even one of those seeds lands in some good soil, takes root and grows.
So really, this is a story about us and our lives.
I like to start my day nestling in good soil. Sometimes I read a piece of scripture, or I sit in silence or prayer, or I simply set an intention for the day. In fact, I did that this morning. And then by 7:45 am, my son was telling me that I was stressing him out because I was so worried he was going to be late for band I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to help him to get ready. In other words, by 7:45 am, I was no longer nestling in good soil. I had been almost completely uprooted.
Some days I can make it much longer than an hour before that happens. And then there are entire weeks where I’m stepping out on nothing but rocks and I just can’t seem to get rooted or grounded.
Some of us have had entire years and even decades of our lives that have felt like a barren wasteland.
If we step back and consider our global garden we see lots of thorny places and prickly people. We see some shallow, superficial interaction. We see decisions being made out of greed or a grab for power. We see lots of people and lots of places choking on fear. I think we all feel like the world as we have known it has been completely uprooted. Some days lately it feels like we are operating at a 75percent failure rate.
One of the good things our parable today reminds us is that it just takes a bit of good soil for good things to take root. Good soil can be found even in the broken places and the cracks in our sidewalks. Anyone who has ever tried to grow a new company or a new ministry or even a new human being, knows that it can take hundreds and thousands of new ideas or attempts before something takes root and grows to the fullness of life. People looking for jobs sometimes have to send out hundreds of resumes to find just the one right position.
Trial and error is built into the fabric our our humanity. We make mistakes. Sometimes we make lots of them before what is really wanting to grow in us and in our world comes forth.
And all the while, there’s the gardener tossing out seeds of new life, here, there and everywhere watching and waiting for something to grow.
Now I want to say something about this reckless gardener that was recently pointed out to me. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the way we have contaminated so much of the soil of our world both literally and figuratively. Those of you who live in the lower mainland might remember how the soil around the expo lands were so contaminated after 1986, they had to be de-contaminated before new housing could be built there.
Some of us have been raised on contaminated soil. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that we are all living on a certain amount of contaminated soil. We’ve contaminated it with inequality and war and unchecked progress and we’ve literally contaminated it with poisons. There are those among us as human family who have not been able to flourish in the way they should be able to flourish because of the colour of their skin or the poverty into which they were born or the land on which they live or the family into which they were born. Some of us through no fault of our own have had a much harder row to hoe in life.
The gardener tosses out seeds and some of them land on rocky, shallow and thorny ground and others land on good soil. And it is absolutely no fault of the seeds that land in the briar patch that they landed there and it is nothing but the luck of the draw that land others on the good soil. There are no bad seeds in this parable, only poor soil conditions.
Did I mention that the gardener doesn’t seem to be much smarter than the foolhardy disciples sometimes? You’d think that God, the Great Sower of Seeds, would have figured out a way by now to plant us all in good soil. But that isn’t the way it is. So we have to work together to decontaminate the soil in which some of us have been planted. We have to work together to lift out the rocks and cut back the thorns that have grown up and choked the life out of far too many of our brothers and sisters. We need to re-till our global soil so life can flourish and not just for some, but for all including our flora and fauna, our oceans and our forests. We need to tend our own soil at the same time so we can flourish as individuals even when the circumstances of our lives are not particularly favourable for good growth. Remember, it only takes a bit of good soil for life to take root.
As I was thinking this week about the seeds we are planting today that will become tomorrow’s future and the soil in which we are planting them, I found myself thinking about the banner that we have here at the church called Holy and Fertile ground. Perhaps you have seen it hanging in our sanctuary. It’s an image of a seedling that has taken root in the ground and is beginning to shoot up towards the sun. Here’s what Karen Brodie the fabric artist says about the banner as it relates to our community of faith: “You strive to provide a place where all can be planted, all can find the nutrients for growth in the Spirit, all can find welcome in the garden of life, and all can be inspired to the transformations we are called to by God.”
There words capture beautifully our call as church as well as our call as human family, to tend the garden in which all of us have been planted, no matter what the condition of our soil may be.
Inherent in the action of planting of seeds is the belief that something will come of our effort. This is our work for the sake of future generations. To plant the seeds for a future with hope. Whatever we plant today, during this time, will make a difference for generations. So what is is we are planting?
Perhaps we need not worry too much that we get our planting absolutely right the first time that we try. What seems more important is that like the great Sower of Seeds and Holy Gardener, we persist and if at first we don’t succeed, we try and try again. After all, look how persistent and how forgiving and how loving the Gardener has been with each of us.