Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Gogh, Vincent van, 1853-1890. The Sower III (version 2), from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58327 [retrieved October 3, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vincent_van_Gogh_-_The_sower_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.
Mark 4:1-9 The Parable of the Sower
Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’
This year was one of the toughest gardening seasons I’ve had since we moved to Maine. When it was time to clear and plant, I had only been walking on both feet, without a boot, for a little more than a month and I was still going to physical therapy twice, sometimes three times, a week. I had also planted a lemon balm plant right in the middle of my favorite vegetable plot the year before. I didn’t realize that lemon balm will grow wildly and abundantly, like mint, and take over a whole plot. There was an oregano plant there, too, that was enormous. I have zero memories of planting it the year before, but it was there, nevertheless. I’d have to remove lots of both of them if I wanted to plant there at all.
I opted for just a few cucumber plants and some tomatoes that Sarah, our former intern, had started for me. So, I cleaned took out the oregano and a bunch of the lemon balm, and planted a small garden. And, then it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. I have the leggiest, least productive tomatoes that I have ever seen. One of the cucumber plants produced kind of normal looking cucumbers, just not many of them. Another other one grew these little blunt, stubby ones that taste ok but are not very big at all. Even though I’ve worked to enrich the soil in this spot, the over-abundance of rain, the lack of sun, and the competition with some freewheeling, fast-growing herbs were challenges my garden just couldn’t overcome. Sometimes there are things that get in the way of a rich harvest.
Even though it rained a lot here this summer, I never was tempted to preach from a boat the way that Jesus is portrayed as doing in today’s reading. It says that the crowd was so big that he had to get on a boat for enough space to be seen and heard by the people gathered. In her commentary on this text, Deb Krause notes that, in the book of Mark, Jesus is only shown delivering two long sermons. One is here, in chapter 4 in Galilee. The other is in chapter 13 in Jerusalem, just before he is crucified. Krause argues that each sermon is a good summary of the Gospel as Jesus taught it in each place. Today’s reading is the first of three parables about seeds and soil. This parable, according to Krause, is more about the quality of the soil than how the sower spreads the seed.
This is a sermon Jesus preached at the beginning of his time in Galilee. Throughout their time in Galilee, Krause notes, the disciples will worry that they won’t have enough. In Mark 6 and Mark 8, there are two different stories where there are a whole bunch of people who need to be fed and the disciples don’t think they have enough to feed them. Jesus takes what looks like just a little food and makes sure everyone has enough to eat and that there are enough leftovers to take home. There’ll also be a time when they are alone in a boat with Jesus and worry that they don’t have enough food. Krause reminds us that Jesus’ response to their concern is “Have your hearts hardened?” Which can be read: have you forgotten? Remember the crowds. There will be plenty.
When beginning a new season, it is wise to examine the resources you have as you make your plans. It can be tempting to concentrate on what you lack. We only have a few loaves. We only have two fish. The path is hard as a rock. Look at all of these thorns. We will never feed all these people. We will never have a decent harvest. Krause invites us to assess what we have a different way... more like the sower or like Jesus with the bread. She states the lesson of this parable this way: “take that which we have, bless it to God’s purposes, break it open to make it shareable, and to share it.” When we share what we have... when we plant all the seeds in the packet... we make room for the Spirit to provide more than we can imagine.
It is true. Some of the seeds don’t grow. There’s too many rocks or not enough soil or it’s just rained too much. If all we look at are the rocky paths and thorny thickets, we might never plant at all. We must remember that not every seed we plant will grow. But, because of the soil, the good soil, some of the seeds will grow. May we be surprised by God’s abundance that is thirty, sixty, and hundredfold times greater than we might first imagine. Oh, and does anyone need any lemon balm? I have plenty.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
The Sermon Exegesis titled “Resisting Fear with Trust in God’s Abundant Provision,” by Rev. Dr. Deborah Krause, From the “Because of You, Our Church Changes Lives” stewardship materials
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.