My sermon on Mark 4.1-20, at the Grace Cathedral daily Eucharist on 30 Jan 2013.
Since college the parable of the sower has presented a challenge for me. Up until that point the point of the parable of the sower seemed so obvious based on how it had been preached to be: You need to be the good soil that receives the Word and bears fruit, thirty, sixty, or a hundred fold.
I grew up Southern Baptist, and in that tradition there is a strong emphasis on the role of the individual in salvation, so sermons on this focused on you. What do you do? How are you bearing fruit? How are you avoiding being rocky soil, not having root to endure? The emphasis was always on us individually and how we were being good Christians.
Then I got to college and the absurdity of this parable was pointed out to me. Even if you haven’t done much farming, some of the things in this story make sense: seeds can’t grow that well on 101 or in the middle of a desert. Seeds need life and a helpful habitat to grow in short, good soil.
But if you’ve tried to grow things you know that for the most part, seeds need a lot more than good soil actually, and that’s part of where this parable gets absurd — and loses its focus on how we ourselves are soil to fix on our own, what I grew up with: striving to be the good soil. If you’ve tried to grow things you also know that you probably wouldn’t throw seed on California Street or on the Great Steps. No, you’d throw it into soil where it would grow.
This is a shift in looking at this passage: rather than looking at what we’re doing ourselves, we’re looking at the sower who sows the word, God who shares Good News and sends Jesus to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. In Jesus God has come into the whole world, to the rocky soil, the trampled paths, the scorched earth, and the good soil to share the Good News, over and over again.
This text, while not an invitation to make ourselves better is an invitation to do things better. Rocky soil doesn’t just turn into good soil, and a trampled path won’t automatically be made into something on which seeds can grow. These plots don’t have to be stuck as they are, though. While this passage speaks to God’s generosity — which we experience in grace at the font and the table, in the prayers and the word — this text is also an invitation to us.
Rather than thinking about how we can fix ourselves, I think this text invites us to think about how we can get rid of the rocks in the soil, how to cultivate and form people so that they have a root and endure for longer than awhile. This text invites us to be community to those on a spiritual path and teach them about Jesus. The best way to do that is by loving them and loving those around us. More actively, though we can tell them our stories of Jesus’ change in our lives and invite them to share theirs.