Sermon - Mark 10:13-16 “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” …
“Behold: A Sower Went Forth”
(God’s Work: Our Hands)
“Behold, a Sower Went Forth…”
What may come as a surprise to some of you what was a surprise to my family and friends was that after two years of going to seminary, studying to become a pastor, I quit.
The following fall, after college I enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky about 17 miles southwest of the city of Lexington. When I arrived I was a part of a new seminary pilot program which immediately placed first year students into a field position.
We had several possible positions in churches surrounding the Wilmore and Lexington area to choose from. But another student and I, Leo, both from upper middle class backgrounds, chose the Nathaniel Mission a small United Methodist Church located in an impoverished section of Lexington called Irish Town.
At the turn of the 20th century Irish town had been settled by folks from the Appalachian region of Kentucky who had moved to the city to find work in the tobacco warehouses. I remember the first time I turned off the major thoroughfare that runs through the city of Lexington into Irish Town with its narrow streets, abandoned cars with missing wheels, dilapidated wood clad shotgun houses lining each side of the road and children and stray dogs filling the street.
A small cinderblock building with glass metal doors Nathaniel Mission sat on a corner of Dehood Street. Behind the church was a large scrap metal yard encircled by a cyclone and barbed wire fence and in the center of the yard stood a huge crane which loomed above the neighborhood.
A small congregation of about thirty or forty on a Sunday
When you would walk through the front glass door of the tiny church the smell of dust and mildew would shock you awake.
My responsibility was to teach children’s Sunday school and lead the Boy’s Club. On a Sunday morning I would have five to six children ages 7-10 meet upstairs in a dark paneled room.
The Boys Club met on Saturday mornings. Most Saturdays there were six or seven boys including Claude and his younger brother Michael and Ricky. Claude, 14 or 15 at the time, was the largest of the boys and Ricky, also 14 or 15 whose face showed signs of fetal alcohol syndrome was the undeclared leader.
Their world was much different from the one I had known while growing up. They all came from broken homes. All of their parents like their parents before them had fallen into a cycle of poverty and illiteracy of drug, alcohol and domestic abuse.
In the winter time many of the boys would come in t-shirts because their parents couldn’t afford coats for them. There were times when I could overhear them talking about having skipped school, of Claude having to protect his younger brother Michael from their drunk raging father of not knowing for sure where some of them would sleep that night, of huffing paint or glue from a brown paper bag or the exhaust from a car.
For two years, Leo and I met with this small group of boys every Saturday for a Bible Study, games and activities. We joined a youth basketball league, went to world wrestling foundation live events, played touch football in a lot not far from the church.
I had come prepared to sow the Word, the power of Christ into their lives to make all things new again overcome their parental oppression to reach their full potential to experience a full and meaningful life.
But after two years, of working with them every Saturday Claude was still often truant from school and still having to protect his younger brother Michael from their drunk and raging father. And Ricky was still huffing paint and glue from a paper bag and none of them seemed to be the least bit interested or hopeful of ever breaking free of the cycles of poverty, illiteracy and substance abuse that had plagued their parents and their parents before them.
I had come to a spiritual crossroad, a crisis. I began to question myself as a Sower, my motives for entering the ministry. I had grown weary of sowing seed on what seemed to me to be hard ground. And I began to question the power of the Seed, of Christ to change lives. So, I quit school at least for awhile.
Thankfully, in the Parable of the Sower and the Seed and through my brief lifetime of experience I’ve come to better understand and appreciate that
God never quits.
The Parable of the Sower and the Seed is a parable about God. God is the Sower and the Seed is God’s Word (capital “W”), or, in other words, Jesus who is God made flesh
The four soils do not represent any particular group based on race, creed educational and economic status but rather the human condition which all of us share. All of us – at one time of another have been all 4 soils: worn down and down trodden; hard hearted and shallow; thorny and stunted by bad luck and bad choices.
Each of us having received Good News has had our early enthusiasm for a new life snatched away. Each of us has had Good News get worn down by the unrelenting cares and troubles of life? If soil cannot change itself, is there then any hope for the hardened, rocky, and thorny soil?
In the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, the Sower sows his seed carelessly, recklessly, seemingly wasting much of the seed on ground that holds little promise for a fruitful harvest. Jesus’ listeners would think that any respectable farmer would not be so careless as to waste so much good seed especially that is sown by hand
The seed of Jesus is invested in disciples who will betray him and fall away. The seed of Jesus is squandered on tax collectors and sinners, with lepers, the demon-possessed, and all manner of outcasts. Yet God promises that his extravagant sowing of seed of Jesus the Word made flesh, will produce an abundant harvest.
If there is any hope for unproductive soil, for you and I, it is this: that the Sower,
God chooses to keep sowing generously, extravagantly, even in the least promising places.
In spite of our many failings, God simply will not give up on us, but will keep working on whatever is hardened, rocky, or thorny within and among us. You and I may choose not waste our efforts on the down trodden, the thorny, and the hardened, but God does and will and God chooses to sows God’s seeds his love made flesh through human hands.
The Seeds which God sows through our hands may often seem insignificant. In the words of Mother Theresa, “there are no great acts of love, only small acts with great love.”
But having fallen to the ground dying and lost from sight, covered over they begin to do their work. And every seed of love sown, the Bible declares will never return empty, but will accomplish that for which it was sent forth. Even seeds snatched up by birds can be redeposited and grow in the most unlikely places and soils.
In his parable Jesus declares that such extravagant wastefulness will not be punished in the end, but yield 30, 60 even 100 fold.
We may wonder about the wisdom and efficiency of his methods, Jesus promises that the end result will be a bumper crop.