Listen! A sower went out to sow…This past summer I graduated from the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. I completed their Herbal Medicine Making Course where we were taught the medicinal, first aid, cosmetic and culinary use of herbs. Some people might think it’s strange for a pastor to study such things. But I believe that every once in a while you have to teach an old dog a new trick. You have to challenge yourself and move out of your comfort zone in order to keep your brain sharp and active.
During the fall and winter I continued to practice what I learned, using dried herbs I bought from the store. I also began making plans for a medicinal herb garden that I began to plant in April. My goal was to be able to go all organic and have control over the entire process of medicine making from start to finish.
The first things to go into the ground were berry bushes: Elderberry, blackberry and blueberry. Next were a number of medicinal herbs that were interspersed among the flowers that are already growing in our front yard. I also had to nurture several perennials I had planted the year before, including clary sage and St. John’s wort.
It’s now July and as this sower went out to sow I gave each plant the loving attention it deserved. I made sure they had enough water and kept weeds from growing around them. I verbally encouraged them when I saw them growing and sprayed Neem oil on my calendula when a herd of aphids tried to move in. This is the first herb garden I have ever planted in my life. The interesting thing I noticed about it is that while I’ve given every plant lots of love, some things have flourished while others have not.
My clary sage did really well in the spring but completely died this past month for no apparent reason at all. My peppermint looked puny and I came to the conclusion that it didn’t receive enough sunshine.
In contrast to these, my lavender shrub went absolutely crazy. It was a haven for bees and butterflies for several months until I harvested it this week. My biggest success story was my calendula. It’s a wonderful healing herb for the skin and makes great tea in the winter. It has filled my garden with a plethora of beautiful yellow and orange flowers that have bloomed solidly for 6 weeks now and show no signs of slowing down.
The reason why I’m sharing my gardening story with you is that it has given me a new perspective on Jesus’ familiar parable of the Sower and the Seeds. This week I found myself identifying with the sower instead of the seeds or the different types of soil. The question I kept returning to was “Do my efforts to sow seeds of love really make a difference in the lives of those around me?” Perhaps you’ve wrestled with the same question. Perhaps you are wrestling with it now. What my medicinal herb garden has taught me is the honest truth that sometimes it makes a difference, and sometimes it doesn’t.
For example, I gave my clary sage lots of love and attention. I checked on it every single day. I tied its stems to stakes to give it extra support. It was fertilized and watered to perfection. I even prayed over it..but it died nonetheless. In contrast to this my bloodroot perished in last summer’s drought. About a month ago, I walked by the bed where I had planted it and, ta-da, there it was! Resurrected from the dead! It had developed more shoots and deeper roots. I did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to make this happen! I didn’t even water it!
I see the same thing happening in the parable. The Sower planted each of her seeds with the best of intentions. She had hoped they would produce a harvest of good things. She gave each seed the love and attention it deserved. Yet, the harsh reality of the situation is that some seeds were stolen by birds while others germinated and died in the heat of the sun. Some plants were overtaken by weeds while others produced a crop that wildly exceeded her expectations.
Of course, we are talking about way more than gardening here! We are talking about the acts of love and service we offer in the name of Christ. We are talking about the hopes and dreams God has planted in our hearts. The truth this parable teaches us is that sometimes our acts of love and service go unappreciated. Sometimes our dreams die before they ever have a chance to germinate. No amount of love or sweat can affect this outcome!
I don’t mean to be a Debby-downer here. Because I think Jesus is trying to tell us that while this is true, we should not give up in despair. The acts of love and service we offer in the name of Christ, the hopes and dreams God has planted in our hearts, are tougher than we think they are! If they can find the tiniest patch of good soil, they will grow like crazy. The yield will sometimes take our breath away!
In 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul offers a word of wisdom that helps us to understand the parable better: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
One of the false impressions this parable can give us is that if we work really, really hard, and keep on sowing seeds, God will bring about amazing things in our lives and the lives of others. While this is sometimes true, it’s not always true. Did you notice that three quarters of the parable are about the failure of the seed to produce a harvest? It’s only the last two sentences that speak of a miraculous yield.
I believe this is there to remind us that we are not always going to be successful at everything we do in the name of Christ. Every prayer we earnestly pray will not be answered the way we want it to be answered. Every act of love and service will not be appreciated or change someone’s life. Every dream we dream will not come true.
Friends in Christ, I hate to remind you of what you already know is true but not every seed we plant is going to make it. My medicinal herb garden has taught me this. Life has taught me this as well.
There are some Christians out there who have the false impression that God will grant us whatever we ask as long as we keep on praying for it and believe it’s going to happen. If the Parable of the Sower teaches us anything, it’s that we better be prepared for quite a few disappointments along the way. Some people we love passionately will betray us. Some goals we work hard to obtain will never happen.
When these seeds fail to germinate, our job is not to blame ourselves. or think that God has abandoned us. Our job is to keep on plating seeds like Paul, and keep on watering them like Apollos, and leave the grow up to God. The good news is that God is an excellent gardener. It’s amazing what the Creator can accomplish with the tiniest patch of good soil. Some relationships we thought had withered on the vine begin to sprout new growth. Some dreams we thought were dead and buried begin to resurrect themselves without any effort on our part whatsoever. This is the mystery of life. This is the mystery of faith.
Let me give you two examples in the life of our church. A number of years ago our Outreach Team decided to do a random act of kindness for the people of Fairview. Our goal was to give away free coffee to commuters who were heading to work and parents who were dropping off their children at school. We put up signs a week in advance. Volunteers arrived at the church at some ungodly hour in order to set up a big tent in front of the church property. We brewed pots of delicious Fair Trade Coffee. We planned to serve it in lovely insulated to-go cups that would make Starbucks envious.
Guess what happened? Not a single person stopped for coffee! We tried everything including waving signs to those who passed by but our random act of kindness was an utter failure. To add insult to injury, we even had someone walk by our church on foot and we couldn’t even get him to take a cup of coffee. I can laugh about it now but it was a sad state of affairs the day it happened!
In contrast to this, we have a wonderful group of kids coming to church these days whose infectious energy has graced our congregation. We didn’t have a master plan to accomplish this. It just sort of happened. We are loving every minute of it as we try to catch up with what God has already planted in our midst. Together, we will water these precious young seedlings and trust that God will help them to grow in their relationship with Christ.
My final word of encouragement for you this morning is to prepare yourself for disappointments in life but also leave room for miracle and mystery! Remember to keep on planting and watering seeds in your life and in the lives of others. Don’t let failures and disappointments get the best of you. Don’t beat yourself up over seeds that fail to germinate or yield anything useful. Instead, have confidence in the One who gives the growth. Trust that the Almighty will find patches of good soil in our lives and in our world. These fertile places will yield a harvest that will surprise and amaze us. Amen.
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck