I felt inclined to share this sermon with y’all and was impressed with my newfound ability to imbed the audio file.
Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. 2 A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. 3 He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:
“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. 4 As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. 5 Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! 9 Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
Guess what guys?! Jesus is talking about gardening again! Now he’s not talking about the gardens you might read about in a Home and Garden catalog and not the ones we drive by and see farmers caring for so purposefully. Nope, the farmer in this parable fits in better with the garden that was over the fence by my college dormitory. Everybody dumped their pumpkins over the fence when they were done with them, so each spring there was a makeshift pumpkin patch where no one could reach it, on the other side of the barbwire fence. If you have any sort of OCD tendencies, or just don’t like waste, or just consider yourself to be efficient and meticulous in any way, shape, or form, then this farmer is not for you. Anybody feeling stressed out already?
We live in a world of limited resources, limited time, we read articles on how to be more productive, how to make the most of our day, we buy planners and calendars, or we did until retirement and then you got to chuck them out the window or sadly discover you still needed it! But we don’t praise the haphazard or the indiscriminate – we want productivity and results! The church can be the same way – we don’t know if we want to help that charity, what if they take advantage of us? Do we have time and energy for those ministries when we’re working so hard to keep ourselves afloat? Do we as individuals have the time or energy or money to throw at things we don’t know will succeed? Do we have extra energy to expend on strangers? And our thoughts sometimes sound like the meme so famously says it, “aint nobody got time for this.” What is this crazy farmer thinking?
I don’t know about y’all but when I heard this story growing up I assumed this was what normal farmers did, just throw seeds around willy-nilly and hoped one or two of them grew. Only later did I realize how ridiculous this story sounds. What kind of erratic farmer just throws seeds around not caring where they land? Especially since he couldn’t go to the store and check out the seed display and buy more. What sort of strange farming strategy is this? It’s one that takes a chance on all of us.
Growing up I heard lessons about the different types of dirt – the rocky dirt, the hard dirt, the shallow dirt, the thorny dirt, and the good, fertile dirt. Of course, we were all supposed to the good dirt, and the understanding often was if you were in church and doing good stuff you probably were. But here’s the thing, none of us are the good fertile dirt all the time, we’ve all had rocky, shallow, thorny, or hard patches in our walks of faith as well and will again most likely. But God took a chance on us. And very likely people of God took a chance on us too, maybe teaching us Sunday School when we were young and rowdy and they wondered if we were even getting anything out of it. Maybe people were praying for us to know about Jesus’ love, and we didn’t know it. Maybe they were showing us kindness and mercy when we didn’t deserve it because they wanted to show us what living the Good News looked like. Hopefully we can all think of people who showed us God’s love in times that we were in a rocky, shallow, thorny, or hard. Hopefully we can think of when God continued to take chances on us and draw hope from the fact that He will continue to do so.
When I look back on times when God or a person showing God’s love took a chance on me, a common thread is that they met me where I was. If I was in a rocky or thorny place, they met me there. God in his love didn’t wait for me to be in a good receptive place, didn’t wait until it would be really “worth it” for Him to show me his goodness and mercy, nope, God took a chance on me and met me with his grace where I was over and over again.
Which is why I love how this parable begins, Jesus says, “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds.” It seems simple but it’s really important – the farmer went out to plant some seeds. The farmer didn’t wait for the dirt to come to him. He didn’t wait for pots with soil to be lined up outside he front door, he went out to plant some seeds, to take a chance on whatever type of dirt he might run into. He threw those seeds indiscriminately as he went.
Brothers and sisters, our heavenly Father, who Jesus tells us runs the Kingdom of God like this erratic farmer, this God took a chance on us, continues to take chances on us, by spreading His Good News of the Kingdom both near and far. Y’all, we’re called to be like this farmer. We’ve got some indiscriminate planting to do.
You know what this means, right? It means we have to go out to plant seeds—we can’t just wait for folks to come to us. And we know this parable is part of the living word of God because this is true more than ever before. Research shows that fewer and fewer people are looking for churches anyone. It use to be you needed to make sure that you were welcoming and had good marketing and people would come to you because they were in the market for a church. Less and less people are in the market for a church. And if they are not going to be coming to us in droves, we better be going out to them.
We are called to spread mercy and joy and peace and love indiscriminately – fling it as you walk, as you talk. Picture yourself spreading joy wherever you go, spreading peace wherever you go. There’s no need to stop and decide if the dirt we’re walking by deserves peace or is receptive to mercy or is prepared for grace. One, we might not be able to tell what type of dirt it is (remember back to how we don’t get to weed in the Kingdom) but Jesus our farmer says it doesn’t matter! Take a chance! Take a chance on grace. Take a chance on love. Take a chance on sharing the hope of Jesus Christ. We do not know what seeds will grow or maybe they’ll lie dormant and grow later. We only know that we’re called to go out and take a chance.
So, Pastor Katie, one might ask, how might one do that? I’m so glad you asked. We can take a chance on people just by how we interact with folks in our daily lives. Are there people we know who need someone to take a chance on them by offering them our friendship or our prayers? I have found through my work with at-risk kids that the children who need the most love often ask for it in the most unloving ways. I think that’s true for adults too. Are there people we need to take a chance on offering them kindness and love when they’ve turned us down before?
The best place to practice taking a chance on people is the church. And y’all are already doing it! We took a chance on opening our Thrift Closet. It’s always a risk to take a chance on folks. We might get taken advantage of. People might come get clothes who don’t need it or who go on to sell it at a yard sale, but y’all didn’t let those fears stop you, you took a chance, and we’ve already served almost 20 people in the two days we’ve been open! We can take a chance by telling people about our church, being honest and sharing both the hard and good in what it means to be a Jesus follower and offering to sit by them if they ever want to check it out. We can take a chance by contributing to missions and helping dream with us about how we can best serve our community, even if the ways God calls us to aren’t foolproof or aren’t easy.
You can take a chance on folks by coming and helping at our back to school bash. Y’all it is a risk to spend money and invite folks to a party at our church. We’re risking it not going as well as we hope or having bad weather etc. But we’re throwing seeds into the dirt around us and being willing to take a chance. Willing to take a chance to meet people and share with them that we at Bethel church care about them and their families. That we want to know how we can help and support them. That we’re willing to put our time and money and effort on the line for what we say we believe in – that God took a chance on us and continues to take a chance on them – no matter how rocky, shallow, thorny, or hard a place they are in right now.
We are turning a corner in the life of our church. We’re coming to the end of our year of Jubilee, we have taken a break from our garden to let the soil be nourished again, to let us have strength and energy for the gardening yet to come. But y’all, it’s about to be planting time. And if we want to be a church that looks like the Kingdom that follows in the footsteps of Jesus, then we are called to go out, to go out from this place and plant seeds. Plant seeds with reckless abandon – seeds of hope and peace and joy and love and mercy and grace. Seeds of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So that some of those seeds we plant might fall on fertile soil, and we are told that they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! There are people who need to know that Jesus loves them. There are children who need to be loved and given a chance to have hope and live in faith. There are families in need of peace and good news. There is a world out there that needs to see the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Are we willing to take a chance on them because Jesus took a chance on us? Are we willing to take the risk because it is more scary to not try than to try? Are we willing to take a chance with our time and energy and money and effort so that the Gospel might be planted in the hearts of people around us? Bethel church, are we willing to take a chance?
And Jesus said, “let those who have ears to hear, listen” amen.