Rev. Sonya Gravlee’s sermon from Sunday, July 16, 2017 on Matthew 13:1-10 and 18-23
Back when I taught at the University of La Verne, a Biology professor and I co-created and co-taught an interdisciplinary course called Women and the Environment. One of the documentaries we always showed in that class features an architect and designer named William McDonough.
McDonough advises business and political leaders about good design, design built around abundance rather than scarcity, around good instead of around less bad or just plain bad. When he talks to these leaders, he often begins by asking them, “What do you want to grow?” Do you want to grow prosperity or poverty? Do you want to grow sickness or health? What do you want to grow? Decide that, then design around it.
I think it’s a good question to ask ourselves. What do I want to grow in my life? What do I want to grow today? Right now? Do I want to grow abundance or scarcity? Peace or conflict? Love or apathy? Goodness or greed? What do I want to grow? What do I want my life to be about?
In Jesus’ parable about the sower, we often focus on the kinds of soils described. And those are important, for sure. But this time when I read this text—and I’ve read this text a lot in my 50+ years—I was struck by the behavior of the Sower. Look at him. He sows everywhere he goes!
He’s throwing out seeds left and right—in the middle of the road, on some rocky ground, in a bunch of thorns and weeds, and then where you’d expect a hard-working sower to sow: the good soil. Not surprisingly, he gets the most yield—and really abundant yields at that!—in the good soil, the fertile soil, the well-tended, nutrient-rich, plowed soil where the seed has the best chance to grow. And it does. It grows and grows and grows, producing yields of 100 fold, 60 fold and 30 fold. That’s a pretty good crop!
So why bother with the other soils at all? Why waste his time sowing where there’s little to no chance of a high yield? Well, why not?
I don’t know about you, but I’m not always good soil. Sometimes I’m a bit hard-headed and maybe even a little hard-hearted. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with my own stuff that I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on with anyone else. Sometimes I’m just not, you know, in the best of places.
But you know what? God keeps loving me. And God keeps loving you when you’re not in the best of places, when your soil isn’t exactly the best it’s ever been. God keeps sowing good stuff, working good stuff, and sending good stuff extravagantly out into the whole world, whatever the condition of the soil where it lands. Thank God.
And the cool thing is, that even when my soil isn’t the best, God’s love can still take root. The fruit may not last forever in me, but it may last long enough until I’m in a better place. It may last long enough for me to reach out and help someone else, even if the effort does me in. It may last long enough for me to catch that glimpse of hope I need to take me a step farther along the path.
Do you know what I mean? It’s important for us to keep growing and learning and improving as we can. As Maya Angelou says, Do the best you can until you know better. And when you know better, do better. I don’t know about you, but that’s really freeing for a perfectionist like me. I mean, I’m a Virgo, for pete’s sake. And a redhead! I was raised believing there wasn’t much room for failure in my life. So on those occasions when I did fail? That was a bitter pill to swallow. Sometimes, I got lost in the failure, even though most folks probably would’ve seen it as no big deal.
Once upon a time, I would’ve felt guilty about not being super good soil 24/7, for not yielding crops 100-fold all the time. But I think that might be missing the bigger point here. As we say in the UCC, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. And we mean it.
There may be times when your soil is like the road—busy and weighed down and hard. There may be times when your soil is kinda rocky—when tough days far outnumber the good days. There may be times when your soil is just plain overwhelmed by sharp edges and feels like it’s choking you. And there may be times, I hope and pray there are lots of them, when life is good, the path is easy, and you have more than you need.
Whatever condition your life, your soil, the Sower keeps sowing. God keeps loving you. And loving me. And loving the whole big bad beautiful wonderful frustrating hard harsh brilliant gorgeous extravagant stingy world.
That’s good news. Not just for me. Not just for you. But for all the yous and mes in our world.
There are people who will tell you that you are not enough. That there is something fundamentally wrong with you. There are leaders who will tell us that there is not enough to go around, that we must do without, give up, let go, in order to survive. There are frenemies who will begrudge good things in your life as if that robs them of good things in their own lives.
All of those messages are bad news. And they do not reflect the nature of God, the teaching of Jesus who said he came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly—not life that is carefully measured and parceled out one morsel at a time. Abundance. Extravagance. Plenty.
That is the nature of God and God’s love for us—it gives even when we are not the best receivers because God’s nature is love. That’s just who God is. That’s what God does. We don’t need to earn love or show we’re worthy of it or prove we should have it. We just don’t. God loves me. God loves you. Here. Now. Then. Past. Present. Future. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Because that is who God is. Thank God.
I don’t know about you, but accepting that love whatever condition the rest of my life is in frees me to learn better and do better. It frees me to choose what it is that I want to grow. If there is more than enough for all of us, then how will I live? How will I love and share and grow and do and be and live and move and have my being in this world?
What do I want to grow? Then that’s what I must plant—not just in worthy soil or good soil but everywhere I can.
Do I want to grow love? Then I will love: myself, others, God, creation, everything and every one. I will want the best for others as well as myself. Do I want to grow joy? Then I will practice gratitude, say thank you, count my blessings, even when I have to work hard to remember them.
Do I want to grow peace? Then I will work for justice, for fairness, for a better life for all. I will try to resolve interpersonal conflicts peaceably rather than always insist on my own way. (I should clarify that I by no means manage all of this—it’s aspiration more than reality, most days.)
Do I want to grow faithfulness? Then I will show up when I say I’ll be there, I’ll do what I say I’ll do. And if I can’t? I’ll let those counting on me know and do what I can to make it right.
Do I want to grow patience? Then I will take my time, be present in each moment, learn to value waiting. Full disclosure: I may never actually grow this one. But I can keep sowing as much as I can where I can. And when I’m impatient, I can keep trying to grow patience on other occasions.
Do I want to grow kindness? Then I will be kind, give the benefit of the doubt, give that cup of cold water or coffee or tea or whatever helps another. And I will be kind to myself, even when I don’t think I deserve it. Do I want to grow goodness? Then I will treat others as I want to be treated, I will join God’s project of working good out of every situation. At the very least, I will try not to cause harm or make it worse.
Do I want to grow gentleness? Then I will care for the least of these, be careful of the fragile within me and others. Do I want to grow self-control? Then I will take a breath, count to ten, think of consequences and injury to self and others before acting out of frustration or anger. This one is tough for me as well.
As God’s people, we have so many gifts, such freedom because God loves us so extravagantly. That extravagance gives us the grace to sow, and grow, and fail, and go again. Learn better. Do better. Nurture. Care. Protect. Love.
Does this mean life will be smooth sailing and good soil for each of us every day? Not even a little bit. Matthew’s gospel also tells us it rains on both the just and the unjust. I guess like seeds, we need both sunshine and rain in order to grow.
I suspect that you and I both think there are some folks whose lives are much much harder than they should be. Together, perhaps, we can make life a little better and easier and kinder for everyone if we focus on growing good in ourselves and in our world.
What do you want to grow? Then plant those seeds, nurture those seeds already planted in and around you.
Friends, may you revel in the abundance of God’s love. And may we all know and share God’s grace with ourselves and one another.