The Harvest Timothy L. Carson
Matthew 12:1-10 November 7, 2015
How many of you have had times in your life when no matter what you did, no matter how much effort you extended, no matter the love, devotion, or commitment you offered up, all your efforts seemed to come to naught? At least you didn’t see your efforts materialize immediately. I think most of us have been there before or are maybe there now.
If you have had that experience you will immediately identify with Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. The scene is a familiar one from rural life. In a time before automated seed planters, the sower walked the field, seed bag over his shoulder, and cast handfuls of the seed toward the open furrows of the field. Of course, the seed fell in many places. And depending on where it fell the seed either flourished or failed.
Some of the seed landed on rocky places and the birds ate it for lunch.
Some seed fell in shallow soil and sprouted but the plant could not take root and it withered. Other seed fell among thorns so even though it did grow it found itself strangled by competing plants. Then there was the seed that fell in good rich soil. This seed grew and yielded a great harvest.
When you think of the scattered efforts of our days and years this makes sense, doesn’t it, the mixed reviews on all we’ve tried or done? Which person here hasn’t watched as the things we cherished so much fell on the ground and were whisked away by the birds? Don’t you remember the time when that project started so strong and quickly but soon withered away? And which one of us hasn’t seen the most important things just choked out by the thorns of life’s distractions and demands? Of course we have, all of them. Sometimes the seed – no matter how important – doesn’t seem to have a chance.
If we have experienced that – and we have – then we are well on the way to understanding a truth Jesus was telling in his story, namely, that in the same way a sower casts many seeds, each one of them facing a very uneven chance of survival, so the Spirit casts the wisdom of God to and fro in the world and it has equally uncertain chances of rooting, growing, bearing a harvest, all depending on where it lands.
I am in a men’s Bible study and one of the topics we recently discussed was the tension or balance between what seems to be given/determined/destined and what freedom we have to choose. Though some of us leaned one way more than the other, we all thought there was interplay between destiny and our ability to choose a path. This parable paints a picture of both as well.
What is predestined is the nature of the Divine Sower, namely, that the grace and mercy and wisdom of God are always sown abundantly and made available in the world. We are destined to have the opportunity to receive them and destined to have to choose, one way or the other. But as we find in the parable the choices are based on the many conditions of the heart.
Some hearts are stony and hard and nothing sticks. Some hearts are filled with temporary enthusiasms – excited one moment but not deep enough to have staying power. Other hearts are capable of receiving the seed of the sower but competing concerns and preoccupations crowd out the flourishing of the Spirit. In the right moment of grace the rich earth of the mind and heart host the seed of the Spirit in such a way that it may grow and bear fruit.
That, of course, becomes our guiding image for the life of prayer and the life faith: We ready the ground of our spiritual selves to receive God’s sowing of the Spirit. We mulch and plow and weed and fertilize and water. We tend our priorities and guard against influences that choke out the spirit. All of this is the work of faith preparing the way of the Spirit.
The faster, busier, the more electronically driven we become, the more this is a challenge. So much competes for the attention of our minds and hearts.
The less time we have for quiet contemplation and unhurried relationships and the more we believe we must do to earn our place in the sun, the more that the sown seed of God within us has a hard way of taking root.
Tending the soul is hard business.
This week Kathy received a disappointing report in terms of her health. The cancer was out of remission and she needed to begin a different treatment regime, which she did. We’ve been there before, at the point of bad news, and when it comes, as a way to just settle our minds and hearts and spirits we often take drives through the back countryside.
These drives have no destination in mind; we wander aimlessly, puttering across the rolling farmland, winding through little towns that time forgot. We’re driving toward nowhere in particular, away from something, toward something. We chat about nothing. We keep silent. We look at the places where events transpired 150 years ago. We talk about faith and what we need to do, how we need to keep our spirits dialed on God. All that, more or less.
So this week, departing the hospital and most recent episode in our drama, we decided to take one of our drives. It was late afternoon so we just angled westward, roughly following the setting sun. There is something comforting about finding livestock lolling about in grassy fields, small towns that move along pretty much as they have for generations. Kids play in the streets and older people chat over the fence between their yards.
We were creeping through one town, a town that didn’t even have a stop light. And as we moved out and away toward the next stretch of highway we noticed flashing lights. It was a patrol car. Surely not. We were just creeping along. If we were walking you would say we were taking a stroll. But it had to be us; we were the only car in sight. So I pulled over to the side of the road, pulled out my license and waited.
After a while the patrolman came up to retrieve my license, lights flashing full bore in this itty bitty town with no other cars in sight. To me this fine young man looked like he just graduated from high school. His newly issued blue uniform looked like he took it off the rack two weeks ago. Everything was shiny and nice. I knew this young man had to be in his first job as a policeman, the only law in the area. I also knew he probably couldn’t get a job in any of the larger municipalities around. This was his starter job. And someday, with some more experience, maybe he could escape and find something better that paid better and gave him a better car than the old cruiser they issued him.
He asked us where we were going. We looked at each other and I said, “Well, we’re just taking a drive. We’ll see how far we get by sundown.” He nodded and said, “Sir, I have you going 42 in a 30.” “Really,” I said. “That is surprising.” He went back to the cab again and ran his report.
In the meantime we are just sitting there, thinking about how unlikely this scenario really is, that we would just leave the announcement of an unpleasant diagnosis and drive to this place to get a ticket out in the middle of nowhere. I said to Kathy, “I think you would call this ironic.”
At that, and I’m not exactly sure why except that it was so ironic, we started giggling like little school girls. And we laughed until we cried, all the way up until that young officer came back to our car.
And after he showed us the ticket and had me sign it, and explained the ways we could pay, I said to him “I’d like to tell you a story, but it doesn’t have anything to do with you.” He listened.
I said, “We’ve just come from the hospital in Columbia, from a very disappointing appointment in which we found out that my wife’s cancer is back. And so we took this drive, you see, like we do. And so you have to understand that in this moment, under these circumstances, receiving a ticket for doing 42 in a 30 isn’t much of a big deal for us.”
And he looked in at tearful Kathy and stood for a moment absolutely speechless, this poor guy who was probably counting the hours when he could get off and forget about duty in that little town. And he finally said, “Well, like I said you can mail your ticket in to this address. Now, keep safe out there.” He walked back to his car and we pulled slowly out onto the country road again.
A sower went out to sow. Some of the seed fell on the rock where the birds snatched it up, other on shallow soil where it sprouted quickly but could not endure the scorching sun, other into good soil but among thorns that crowded and strangled it. And some fell into rich soil where it grew and became bountiful.
There is much in this this life that can leave us bankrupt, empty and even shattered. There are cares and concerns and losses that may undo what has taken years to create or build. And the poverty of our faith and hearts often becomes conspicuous in the presence of the deepest threats to our existence.
In all of this we have must know how God’s grace is perpetually seeded among us in the most astounding ways, how it grows in precarious conditions and is persistent in its germination. The task of tending our souls is more like a farmer tending the field than anything else, the farmer, the sower, who trusts enough in the seed and its growth that he casts handfuls of seed into the wind and onto uncertain ground with no more than faith and trust.
We have to trust in God’s determination to continue casting seed in the face of every absurdity and adversity. If God so loves and strives over and over to fulfill the potential of this seed, seeing and hoping on the great harvest, can we not love back in equal and heartfelt measure?
The good news is that seed is resilient in the toughest of situations. The challenge is that we remain vigilant, hearts open, rich, and ready for the sowing of God’s presence among and within us. This alone is our hope.