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Gardening, the Gospel, and God: Finding Fertile Fields for Faith


There was once a farmer who had discovered a wonderful seed. It grew

bountifully and adapted to the soil. It produced a wonderful harvest. But

the farmer knew he had a problem: his neighbours were not so lucky. For

some of them it was their own fault – they had not been as diligent as he

had. For others it was just bad luck – an illness had distracted them from

their fields, or they had fallen on hard times. But if they continued to grow

poor quality seed his own would be in jeopardy. The bees or the wind

would blow their seed into his fields and mix up with his. His only

solution was to share his seed with them: they would benefit from the

bounty and his own seed would be preserved. All the farms would flourish

because of his generosity; and someday, when he needed it, they might

also share their seed with him.


The farmer was just practicing good agricultural science: as gardeners will

know, seeds often cross, with mixed results. But of course, the story is

also a parable for neighborly behavior: when we share what we have with

others, we enjoy a fruitful bounty that often returns to us two-fold.


Our parable in the gospel this morning would have resonated with the

crowd before Jesus, who lived and ate the success of their farms. They

understood the cost of seed tossed carelessly, so it is eaten by the birds, or

falls on rocky soil, or is lost in thorny bushes. Without the time to grow

roots, without the ground that welcomes it, that seed fails. But seed grown

where the soil is good and substantial, thrives.   


Jesus uses the parable as a lesson in faith. A shallow understanding of the

gospel cannot endure; the person who hears the gospel and receives it

joyfully, but does not take on the responsibility of it, cannot sustain their

faith. The ones who find a good place to grow, and tend carefully to that

growth, that seed will bear fruit.


Yet this gospel is not only a definition of strong discipleship. We are not

only the seed, but the sowers. Indeed, if we grow our faith well, we are the

farmer with the wondrous seed, enough to share with everyone, and called

to do so. “Go out to sow,” Jesus tells us. Try to share the fruits of our faith

in word and deed – the kindness, generosity, and hope of the gospel - with

those whom God puts in our path; to share the love of God so abundantly

given to us. 


A seed doesn’t thrive on its own. Even in nature it needs bees and wind,

sun and rain. And so it is with our own sowing. We must be intentional

and deliberate with it. Some days, the sun will not shine; some days the

nourishing rain will fall too hard, or too lightly. Yet without those strong

roots, that seed will perish. To sow requires action. It involves reaching

out to people; it involves serving, and caring, and risking—all sorts of

things like that. However, if we try to do this - if we try to offer ourselves,

our time, our energy, our caring - to others, then before very long, we’re

going to wonder whether it’s worth it; we’re going to wonder whether

anything of value or meaning is going to come from all of our efforts. We

might neglect our sowing, our fields lying fallow. So sowing requires not

only faith and action, but endurance. 


The first people who heard this story knew all about a sower going out to

sow. They saw it happen, they did it, year after year. They knew that seed

was usually sown by broadcasting it. Meaning, the farmer would walk

along and toss it out in every direction. The land was plowed later, after it

had been sown. This means that when you were tossing out the seeds, it

was virtually impossible to tell what sort of soil it was landing on. It all

looked pretty much the same from the point of view of the one who was

out there planting. 


So, everything that Jesus said about problems—thin soil, rocks, fat birds,

thorns, weeds, whatever—this was old news to them. That was the way it

always worked. A lot of what they sowed was wasted. They knew that.

Now, if the important part of this parable were about the soils, and the

difficulties that come with planting anything, and the dangers involved,

and the seeds that would be wasted, then there was nothing new or

interesting in it—the people listening already knew all about that.

However, there is one thing that was really shocking to the first people

who heard this parable. That was the yield, the harvest. Seven or eight-

fold was hoped for. Ten-fold was phenomenal, and anything above that

was simply unheard of. 


The poorest yield in the parable was beyond their experience—and the

greatest almost beyond comprehension. To promise this sort of result was

more than optimistic—it was to live in a whole different order of creation,

a completely different kind of vision.


To sow with this sort of hope and vision is to have the perspective of the

Reign of God. With this vision you don’t mind the rocks or the birds or the

thin soil or whatever else may get in the way. All of that stuff just doesn’t

matter. It is swallowed up in the promise of the whole enterprise. This

perspective, the promise of a vast harvest, is the heart of this little story.

After all, we already know that much of what we do is wasted. We know

that very well. We already know what it is like to try and try and try to

care and to make a difference and not get anywhere, or not be noticed, or

not succeed, or (perhaps worst of all) not even be appreciated. We know

what it is like to reach out a hand and pull back a bloody stump. We know

all about that. If the parable is only about that, then it doesn’t have

anything new or interesting to say to us, either.


Instead, remember that the point of the parable, and the point of what we

do, is that, by the grace of God, the harvest will be great beyond measure,

great beyond belief, great beyond imagining. What God will make of our

efforts is more than we can imagine. Much will be wasted, but that’s all

right.


And the one who sows—that’s us—does not need to worry about that. The

one who sows is simply called to scatter the seed—to love and to

serve—and to trust. The rest will be taken care of. This is not because of

our abilities; it is because of the grace of God. The task that falls to us is to

plant the seed well, tend to it, and share it. To find community that has

good soil; to reinforce our faith with the diligent practice of the gospel; to

spread that among the space we inhabit in this world. 


This perspective of hope and confidence is the gift of the parable.  We are

to love and to serve in broadcast fashion—knowing full well that most of

what we do won’t amount to anything, that bad things are going to

happen—planes go down, bombs go off, children in Africa will not get

proper education, tyrants will sometimes win. A lot of what we sow is

wasted on fat birds and wicked weeds.  But that is not ours to control; it is

not ours to fix; and our parable this morning would go so far as to say it is

not even ours to worry about.


Each one of us individually, and all of us together, have at our feet fields

to walk and seed to sow. We are called to do that. This parable is a gift to

lighten our step and extend our reach in those moments in life when we

feel we cannot even move. It gives us the wonderful gift of perspective. So

we can wave at the birds and smile at the weeds—they are not our

concern.


Our task is simple: to be the farmer who, having grown her own bounty,

shares it with her neighbors. The seed of the gospel will find a way.

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