Text: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Tomato vines. If there is a single nostalgic scent that captures the essence of my childhood summers, it’s the smell of tilled earth and tomato vines.
Growing up in Fawn Grove, a rural small town with more corn fields and fruit orchards than people, summer always meant fresh fruits and vegetables in my family. My mother painstakingly cultivated an enormous garden in our 2 acre backyard. We had a strawberry patch, blackberry bushes, blueberry bushes, cantelopes, watermelons, cucumbers which were always canned into pickles, green peppers, hot peppers, carrots, green beans, a huge square herb garden at the center and rows upon rows of different varieties of tomatoes!!! We had beefsteak tomatoes for eating, cherry tomatoes for salads, roma tomatoes which my mother canned up for the winter to make sauces and chilli. Everyone delighted in the abundant fruit that our garden produced. Even the dog would steal tomatoes off the vine and go running across the yard to eat her treasure.
I’ve never been much of a gardener myself, the bugs and creepy crawlies that come with the process of tilling the earth have never exactly been to my liking, but since I enjoyed the fruits of the garden, I always tried to help my mother plant and harvest the garden. I’ve heard that there are stores where you can go and buy small plants to plant so that they’ll grow and produce fruit… but when I was a kid, we always planted from the seed…
It was painstaking and precise. Each Spring we dug out a long row in the garden, then laid down a string to keep the row straight, then took out a ruler and measured how many inches apart each plant had to be, then planted seed by seed by seed. Then measured how many inches apart each row had to be, dug another row, planted more seeds. It took hours to plant the garden. It seemed like forever! At the end, all we had was a large plot of dirt. Seed planting is not for those who like instant gratification… It’s an act of faith. And it takes time to see the fruits of your labors. We watered, waited, and prayed…
The sower in our parable this morning, does not measure out his rows or how much distance he should have between each seed. In fact, he appears to be quite careless, quite reckless with his resources.
He’s not using painstaking precision, but rather appears to be launching handful upon handful of seeds in every direction.
If he were planting with precision, his seeds would never end up on rocky soil because he’d only plant them where he’d already prepared the earth, his seeds would never fall in amongst the thorns which choke them because he’d precisely place them in the rows where they belong.
If he were planting with precision, his seeds would certainly never end up on the path to be scorched by the sun, because WHO PLANTS SEEDS ON A PATHWAY? Anyone with a lick of sense would know that a garden will not grow out of seeds planted on a pathway…
But the sower in our parable today is not planting with precision, the sower plants with extravagant abandon. The sower is not stingy with the seed, but absolutely extravagantly generous.
This is the way of God.
God does not plant seeds of grace in our lives just here and there, just once or twice, but every single day in a million ways. God does not give us a few precise chances to “get it,” but cultivates the soil of our hearts throughout the lifetime. Our God is a God of abundance, our Sower is extravagant. Instead of sowing precisely, he launches handfuls upon handfuls of grace seeds at each one of us on a daily, weekly, lifelong basis.
The word of God’s kingdom does not just touch us and change us once after a precisely sown seed, but over and over and over again throughout our lives. Thank God!
Because in life, we experience seasons of joy and seasons of pain, seasons of prosperity and seasons of great anxiety, seasons of ignorance and seasons of understanding. The seed of God’s word is that to which we cling in both joyful and tragic seasons.
God’s planting season is not limited to 2 weeks in April, but God sows over and over and over again. God’s planting season is eternity, God’s planting season is EVERY SEASON you experience in your life. And in every season, every single day of your life, the God of Abundance, the sower who showers us with seeds of grace and mercy, and constantly cultivates our hearts.
God cultivates you tenderly through word and sacrament, through the love and support you receive from fellow Christians, through the word of forgiveness spoken to you through the church’s confession. God is constantly at work in you, deepening your faith and guiding you.
God’s seeds of grace, fall where they may and meet us at various seasons of our lives. Sometimes we’re too parched, rocky, or strangled by thorns to receive the gifts of grace God’s trying to work in our lives. Other times God’s word touches us at just the right time, and like a seedling emerging from the earth, we are awakened. The word of God’s kingdom takes root in our heart, reaches out through our vines and leaves, flourishing and producing abundant fruit out of the abundant seeds that were sown in us. Through the grace seeds sown in us, we reach out and nourish the world through the fruit of our faith. We become God’s grace seed sowers. And the abundance continues.
As a church, we at St. James are entering into a new season in our life together. Most folks know that it’s budget season, and so our faithful committees are actively planning for the ministry of the coming year. But beyond budgets, we enter into a year together of strategic planning. We begin this year with a new council, visioning with God what the ministry of St. James will look like in the coming years. As we embark on this discernment journey together, we will be attending to the example Jesus shares with us in the parable of the sower. There is not a limited number of seeds to be planted, but handfuls upon handfuls. We do not have to fear that God’s seeds of grace or resources will run out, because the Sower graciously heaps them in abundance upon us all. God will give us what we need to carry out the ministry we are called to.
Jesus said that the seeds sown in good soil produced impossible yields. A bumper crop in first century Palestine was 4 or 5 fold grain at most… here Jesus says that the seeds that were planted in good soil, that took deep root and produced fruit produced a harvest of not 4 or 5 times, but 100, 60, and 30 fold crops… the abundance Jesus speaks of is almost unimaginable. The way the seeds which happen to fall on good soil –at just the right time- change lives is similarly something to marvel at, delight in, and thank God for.
God is cultivating us with grace and will never stop sowing the word of the kingdom within us so that it will flourish and produce abundant fruit. God will never stop loving us, God will never stop cultivating us, God will never stop sowing grace in our lives.
When I was a child, late Spring was full of wonder and impatience. I’d run down the garden in my bare feet and check the progress of the plants. Each day they’d be a little taller. Each day, more buds would appear. Then blossoms. Then unripe fruit. Since I’ve never seen the appeal of fried green tomatoes, those last weeks of ripening in the sun always seemed the longest. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into fresh tomato. Then one day, all of a sudden, there would be seemingly millions of fresh, ripe tomatoes.…. From tiny seed to bumper crop….
God is waiting with great delight to see you -and the church as a whole- blossom and produce abundant fruit out of the abundance of grace God has sown in your life. Amen.