Flourishing Creation: Land

Flourishing Creation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  21:14
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The New Revised Standard Version The Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower

(Mk 4:1–9, 13–20; Lk 8:4–8, 11–15)

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

After church today, I have grand plans to work in my yard. I have a lawn to mow, leaves and brush to rake, and all other sorts of general clean up and Spring work that need to be done. I have lofty goals, set against hopefully more realistic expectations of what is possible. I’ve had a sore back all week, but it’s eased up and it might just be time to get back out there.
And I know it’s time to get after these projects. I know because the past few mornings, I’ve woken up with a dry, unproductive cough — the welcome sign of Spring allergies and life in the air.
I am grateful, despite itchy eyes and a nagging rattle in my throat, that I have the privilege of cultivating a small piece of land. It is a great privilege to care for God’s creation and even in my small plot of Alabama Hill neighborhood grass is a touchpoint with the lands God has made and is calling us to steward and restore.
But each piece of land we occupy has its challenges. Like the parable with the birds, the brambles, and the scorching sun, so our lands require work. When Stacy and I purchased our home, we knew up front that maintaining the yard would be a decent bit of work. We live on a hill, with trees and cascading vines and bushes. We have deer and squirrels and birds. We have drainage issues and overgrown weeds. We have sodden, mossy grass and beautiful rhododendrons. It takes work to care for.
And when I am honest about the land I occupy, I know that the work will never be finished. Instead, I realize that I live on borrowed land, a space that is only my home for a season. Step back a few hundred years, and this land belonged to the Coast Salish people, the first nations of our land, and so the land isn’t really even mine to begin with. We are all occupants of the land. And so, we must care for it to the best of our ability, with the resources we are given, to help it to flourish in the time that we are given.
This morning, we continue our series on Flourishing Creation. We are looking at a number of different aspects of the created world: forests, trees, lands, mountains, streams, wilderness, and sky — all from the perspective that God calls God’s people to care for the Earth, to repair what has been desecrated, to restore and cultivate our lands to their fullness of health and thriving, for the good of all creation.
This Thursday, we celebrate Earth Day. This day reminds us that we are connected to the Earth and the lands we stand upon and tasked with doing this restorative work. For the people of Jesus, we commit to caring for the Earth because it is the physical site of God’s resurrection life, the place where we see new life and redemption physically lived out. Last week, we talked about how Creation can be seen as the Body of God — the place where we encounter the handiwork of the Creator up close.
Today, we focus on the land. The ground under our feet. The expanses we survey from our windows or at the top of a mountain trail. That land is the contour of God’s body, the rippling, rolling spaces where we see the characteristics of our Creator as it is revealed in hills and forests and streams and grassy patches and fields and the life they hold.
To draw us into focus on the land today, we have heard Jesus’ parable of the sower. This parable speaks to the life and death and resurrection of the seeds that God sows upon the land. The invitation of the parable is to see the land for what it is…to hear the message for how it is spoken…and to find the opportunity to cultivate and restore where we are.
The Parable of the Sower
We often listen to the parable of the sower and immediately do a self inventory. What kind of soil am I? Does the seed fall in my life and grow up strong, planted in good soil? Or do I have distractions like thorns or rocky ground in my life that makes the seed’s life harder to sprout?
Or we hear the passage and externalize it, look for others who it applies to. Maybe there’s a friend or family member who you’ve tried to share the seed with or who you’ve seen receive the abundant life of Christ — perhaps they are the ones who bring forth good crops or perhaps you’ve watched their lives get choked up by inopportune conditions.
The beauty and difficulty of parables is that they can be read many ways. We can hear Jesus’ words for ourselves, for others, or in another way entirely. Like a prism turned in the light, the rays of meaning in a text like this can refract many directions, opening up the story of how God is at work in so many beautiful and challenging ways.
Seeds and sowers are prominent images throughout Scripture and can prove helpful keys in decoding this parable’s meaning, as well. For instance, as Jesus tells the disciples of his impending death, he talks about how a grain of wheat must fall to the ground to die in order for a plant to sprout, meaning he must die to complete the work of destroying death. Think about this metaphor in the context of the parable, though. There are seeds falling and dying all over in the Parable of the Sower. Is it possible that God’s story is one where sacrifice and self-emptying death take place in many ways — that there is actually hope in all the parts of this parable, even where it speaks of the seeds being eaten or choked or scorched…that these are actually sites of the early parts of the resurrection cycle, the birth that comes from the death they must undergo?
You see, God is at work throughout all creation and uses all sorts of circumstances and people to carry out the good work of redemption. If, as we recall from last week, Creation can be seen as the Body of God, the site of God’s resurrection work, then the seeds falling on the rocky path are not certainly lost — but they have a different set of challenges to grow up and find life than the seeds on the fertile soil.
What I begin to wonder at in this passage is not the outcome of the seed itself, but, if the sower has sown seeds on the rocky, thorny, hot, and fertile lands, then perhaps the question becomes: how does redemption happen in those difficult places to make space for the seed to grow up? Is it, in fact, possible, that God has use for these seeds?
What seeds have been sown where you are? What is the character of the land or lands you occupy in your daily life? What about our church, our situatedness here on this hill, in this neighborhood, upon this land: what are the seeds that the Great Sower has planted here that we are tasked with cultivating and helping to rise up strong? What are the rocks, the brambles, the birds of our land — how does cultivating and caring for God’s good creation call us to engage with those thorny patches? What does it look like to make space for the seeds among the rocks, or removing the rocks or branches that would choke growth?
This week, your challenge is to take an inventory of the land you occupy. My parents and my inlaws each have homes that sit on a larger piece of open land. For them, the land they are to care for is that living space, but also extends beyond to the neighborhoods and cities they live in, the common land they share with others. Just like you and me.
Perhaps you live in a condo or apartment, so the physical land you care for is minimal. If that’s the case, then think of the seeds and dry or fertile patches in a social, psychological or spiritual way. What is the land you are called to cultivate where you are? Perhaps it is in offering kindness and hospitality. Perhaps it is advocating for the ones around you who are clearly being choked off by the struggles of their lives. Perhaps the seeds you can cultivate require you to till the soil of relationship and care, for others or for yourself, in order to help the seed burst forth from the metaphorical ground.
The challenge is to survey the land you are given and be curious: what is my calling as an apprentice to the Great Sower? What seeds have been planted here that we are responsible for?
As you do this — take a picture of your land or lands. Share it with me and with it, I invite you to share a brief reflection on what seeds you perceive to be planted where you are. What are the seeds of possibility, restoration, hope? What is ready to be cultivated? What is the God calling you to care for in the land you occupy?
After college, one of my first jobs was owning a small freelance web design business. And my first big client was the Whatcom Land Trust. I was still new to Whatcom County at the time, and so getting to work with this amazing organization and support their efforts to steward and protect the natural lands of our county was such an awesome opportunity, even if just in getting to support them by building a website. I learned so much about how I was connected to these natural resources of our county, these protected lands for wildlife and vegetation. Looking back now, I consider those protected lands my lands…not in ownership, but in partnership and care.
Stepping back, I realize that God has sown seeds all over this land we share and my task, your task, is to train our eyes and ears and hearts to perceive where we can care for those seeds and help them grow. When you look around, where do you see possibility? Where do you see challenge? And how are you, me, all of us, called to interact with the land, the people, the place in ways that help water and grow those seeds that are waiting to burst forth with redeeming life?
Hear the good news — the Great Sower’s work does not return void. Sure, we may be on rocky soil — but there is still possibility in what the seeds may become. We entrust the life of the seed to the sower. Our task is to cultivate and steward the lands to help make the conditions for growth and flourishing ready.
I’ll close with the prophet Isaiah’s words, who reminds us of the invitation to abundant life with the Creator, the Great Sower, who’s work does not return void.
Isaiah 55 says...
The New Revised Standard Version An Invitation to Abundant Life

An Invitation to Abundant Life

55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,

come to the waters;

and you that have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without price.

2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

3 Incline your ear, and come to me;

listen, so that you may live.

I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,

and nations that do not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found,

call upon him while he is near;

7 let the wicked forsake their way,

and the unrighteous their thoughts;

let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,

and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

12 For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

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