Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Listen! A sower went out to sow.
Karsten Lundring is an alum of California Lutheran University who really loves his alma mater. Karsten attends every CLU football game and when the Kingsmen score he throws out handfuls of Jolly Rancher candies to the crowd in the stands. Some of those candies fall through the bleachers and land on the ground. Some are caught by people who are dieting or diabetic so they get passed along to someone else. Sometimes people catch the orange ones but they just don’t like the orange ones, only the red ones so they give them away. Some are caught by fans of the opposing team. But a lot of the candies are caught by hungry children and CLU fans who are enjoying excitement of the touchdown and are delighted to celebrate with a taste of something sweet.
A sower went out to sow.
Jesus doesn’t usually explain his parables, but because his disciples pestered him about it he explained this one. Well, partly. He explained about the ground where the seeds landed. The different places where the seeds end up serve as analogies for the different people who will hear the message that Jesus and his disciples are proclaiming, the announcement that the reign of God is about to begin. Some will get it, some won’t. Pick your reason. Some are too shallow or too self-involved. Some are too busy. Some are too worried. Some are misguided by their own misconceptions—these are all things that can keep the domain of God from really taking root in your life or, to put it another way, that can keep you from taking root in the domain of God.
We have an natural habit when we read the parables of asking “What does this mean?” Please explain this. We want to read them all as allegories—sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not. We want to translate the analogies, to solve the riddle and walk away from the parable knowing The Point. But Jesus tells parables not so that we can ask questions of them and arrive at some moral maxim like an Aesop’s fable, but so that the parable can ask questions of us. Jesus tells parables to help us see the world, ourselves and God differently.
When I’ve preached or taught on this Parable of the Sower in the past, I’ve always focused on the soil since that’s the part that Jesus explains. My sermons were usually some version of “What Kind of Soil Are You?” with sometimes a side order of “What Are You Going To Do To Become More Productive Soil?”
If you ever heard me preach one of those sermons, I apologize. I messed the point. I also missed the point. Don’t get me wrong. It’s always a good thing to be looking at what we can do to let the love and life of God take deeper root in our lives. It’s always good to pay attention to how our faith or lack of it is manifested in the lives we lead. But that’s not the point of this parable. There are other parables for that. The fig tree in the vineyard comes to mind.
Parables ask us questions, and as I sat with this parable and listened to it again, the question it was asking me was “What do you see here that you haven’t seen before?” Jesus is giving his disciples some answers, but not all the answers. There’s more to see here. And then I saw two things that made it a whole new story for me.
The first was this: the soil can’t change itself. It is what it is. The pathway is going to be the pathway as long as people are walking on it. The rocks are going to be the rocks. Thorn bushes don’t uproot themselves.
Jesus is telling his disciples and “anyone with ears” who will listen to not make themselves crazy trying to talk people into signing up for the reign of heaven if they’re just not ready to do that. Just sow the seed. Go out and announce it: the Domain of God is within reach. Live it. Be it. Those who are ready will get it, and it will surprise you how many of them there are. As for the rest, let the Holy Spirit work on them. Rocks can be moved or worn down. Pathways can be rerouted or tilled and fertilized. Thorn bushes can be removed in any number of ways. But right now that’s not your job. Leave the Holy Spirit and the circumstances of life to soften them up. You sow the seed.
The second thing I saw that absolutely turned this into a new story for me is this: this is a story of unbridled abundance and generosity. There is no shortage of seed. The sower throws it everywhere with no regard whatsoever about where it’s landing. The word of the kingdom, as Jesus calls it in his explanation to the disciples, is an endless resource and when it lands with someone who hears and understands it, it reproduces itself even more abundantly.
God has created this world to be a world of abundance and generosity. As Gandhi said, this world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. The earth itself participates in the generosity of God. The generosity of God was spoken in the word of creation. The word of the kingdom is a word of perpetual regeneration. Genesis. Generation. Regeneration. The creative love of God is grounded in Generosity.
“God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars,” wrote Martin Luther, and surely God’s message of generosity and abundance is written in every harvest and planting.
I remember being on our family wheat farm in Kansas once in the spring when the new wheat was standing bright green and knee-high in the fields. I looked out and saw a family of deer grazing on the new shoots down by the creek. I asked my mother’s cousin, Frank, if we shouldn’t maybe do something to shoo them away. He just smiled and said, “Oh there’s plenty for them and us. We’ll share it.”
There was good soil there in Kansas where my family grew wheat. The harvest was plentiful. There’s good soil for the word of the kingdom, the domain of God, in many, many hearts out in the world. Many people are already living in the heart of the kingdom whether they know it or not, living lives of generosity that produce more generosity in others.
When Michelle Brenner was furloughed from her job at a menswear store in Gig Harbor, Washington, because of the Corona virus, she was, naturally, upset, so she went home and made herself a big pan of lasagna using her grandmother’s recipe. Nothing works like comfort food to soothe the soul. Michelle realized that if her grandmother’s lasagna was making her feel better, it might lift other people’s spirits, too, so she posted on Facebook, “Hello favorite friends… if any of you want some fresh, homemade, no calorie-counting lasagna, let me know and I will gladly prepare it.”
A few requests trickled in—a retired neighbor, an out of work friend… Then Michelle took it on herself to deliver a few pans of lasagna to hospital workers and first responders, a few struggling single parents and others she knew of who were just scraping by. Word began to spread. Soon she had so many requests that making homemade lasagna for others had become her full-time job. When the president of the Gig Harbor Sportsman’s Club got wind of Michelle’s mission, he offered to let her use their commercial kitchen which had been closed because of Covid-19. Three months later she’s still at it. So far she has given away more than 1200 pans of homemade lasagna, although she’s lost track of the exact number.
Michelle initially used her $1200 stimulus check to pay for lasagna ingredients but that money was soon gone. Fortunately, without being asked, people began to contribute what they could. Some would give a dollar. One person gave $100. Somebody set up a Facebook fundraiser for her that raised $10,000. All in all, people have given about $22,000 to the woman who is now known affectionately as The Lasagna Lady. Every penny goes into lasagna while Michelle, herself, gets by on unemployment insurance.
“It’s a pan of love,” says Michelle. “A lot of the people I make lasagna for have lost their jobs, and this is my way of saying, ‘I understand and I’m here for you.’ ”
When Jesus explained the Parable of the Sower to his disciples he said, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” Or 1200 pans of lasagna.
I don’t know where Michelle Brenner heard the good news of the kingdom of heaven, the good news of God’s abundance and generosity. I don’t know if she ever attended any church or is part of any faith. Maybe she learned it from the earth itself. Maybe it was layered between the noodles and the meat and the sauce and the cheese in her grandmother’s lasagna recipe. I don’t know where or how she learned it, but she learned it. And she’s passing along.
And a sower goes out to sow.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Thanks to Pastor Kirsten Moore, Calvaray Lutheran Church, Rio Linda, California for this story.