Sermon for Sunday, August 9, 2020 – “God’s in Our Boat”

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus, the name of love.

Sometimes it’s hard to connect with the stories in the Bible. The ancient world and all its strange rituals and images can seem so remote from the realities of our lives. Today, however, it’s not hard to imagine ourselves in the same boat as the disciples that night on the lake. They’re alone, in the dark, in a storm, battered by waves, far from solid ground, and the wind is against them.

Oh, can we relate. We especially know what it is to be battered by waves – waves of the virus, waves of layoffs, waves of injustice, waves of fear and worry.

During my recent trip to our family cabin on Lake Superior I was reminded of a phenomenon there called the Three Sisters. The Three Sisters is said to occur on Superior when a series of three rogue waves forms and approaches in rapid succession. These three waves can sink ships. One hits and before it clears a ship’s deck, the second hits. The third incoming wave adds to the two accumulated backwashes and suddenly overloads the ship deck with tons of water. Scientists suspect this phenomenon may have led to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald freighter in 1975.

I was reminded of the Three Sisters thanks to a map on a wall at the cabin. The map marks and tells the stories of shipwrecks on Lake Superior. It seemed a little unwise to be looking at it right before heading out to sail on that same lake. Thankfully, we didn’t experience anything close to rogue waves. We were in a small, safe part of the lake and had a very peaceful time. I’m so grateful.

Yet I can’t stop thinking about how all of us are enduring a kind of Three Sisters experience right now in the US.

We’ve been hit by a series of three huge waves – COVID-19, economic turmoil, and the impact of centuries of racial inequity. The second wave hit us before the first wave cleared and the third incoming wave threatens to overwhelm. And even though we in the US are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. People of color are impacted to an even greater extent. The Three Sisters are coming at us. Yet once they hit on Lake Superior, the waves roll on and move out. In contrast, we keep being battered about this way and that by these three powerful waves. They just keep coming at us. Like those first disciples we feel alone, in the dark, in a storm, battered by waves, far from solid ground, with the wind against us.

The disciples in the storm are not actually alone. As the waves keep rolling toward them, threat- ening to overwhelm, Jesus is also coming toward them, coming to get into the boat with them.Except, the disciples can’t recognize Jesus in the storm. They panic – What else is coming at us? Is this a ghost, something else that will cause us harm? They’re terrified. They cry out in fear. Jesus comes near and says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” That phrase, “it is I”, should actually be translated as “I am”. Jesus uses the ancient name of God, I Am, to assure the disciples that God, the great I AM, is with them; they need not be afraid. Jesus has come to get in the boat with them. They can stay in the boat and not abandon ship. They can risk leaving the boat when that’s helpful, as Peter tries to do. They can have courage for Jesus is present and his abiding presence brings peace even amidst the storms.

Jesus has also come to get in the boat with us. Jesus has come to us to share all that it means to be human – the storms, the battering winds, the rogue waves. Jesus has come to enter the depths of human suffering to assure us of God’s presence with us always. Yet like the first disciples, we sometimes struggle to recognize Jesus in the storm. We panic. We’re terrified. Is this just something else coming to do us harm?

So, Jesus draws near and speaks to us the same promise he spoke to those first disciples – Take heart, I am here, do not be afraid. Jesus speaks these words of promise to you today in this worship service – through scripture, sermon, song, and prayer this promise is spoken to you, for you. Take heart, I am here, do not be afraid. Hearing this promise during worship helps us to recognize Jesus’ presence amidst the storms of our world, the presence that brings peace. As one wise Good Shepherd member reminds me – sometimes God works to calm the storm, sometimes God works to calm us, but God is always at work.

Hearing this promise, “I am here, do not be afraid”, also helps us to discern what in this world is of God and what is seeking to do us more harm. We can discern by asking: Is this leaving me more afraid or is this helping me to take heart and be courageous? So many powers in our world today are trying to increase our fear for their own gain. Some politicians claim only a vote for them can keep us safe. They try to stoke our anger and fear. Some corporations seek to increase our anxiety so that we’ll use their products – generating fear for their own profit. Some media outlets act like a map of shipwrecks on Lake Superior with added neon lights flashing, “Be afraid, be very afraid.” All of this can leave us feeling paralyzed and terrified. The message “be afraid” is not of God. Over and over in scripture we are told, “Do not be afraid.”

And over and over in scripture we see that God gives us what we need to not be afraid. Great waves are coming at us – yes, but God, in Jesus, is always coming toward us. Jesus comes to get into the boat with us. Jesus comes to speak words of promise to us again and again so that we can take heart and have courage. With Jesus’ presence, we can stay in the boat rather than abandoning ship – when that is needed. We can get out and risk as Peter did – when that’s helpful. We can work to shore up others whose boats are far more impacted by the storm.

Take heart – God the I AM is here. Do not be afraid. Jesus is with you. You are not alone.

Sermon for Sunday, August 2, 2020 – “The Feeding of the 5,000”

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Pastor Marion Pruitt-Jefferson, Preacher

Scriptures: Isaiah 55:1-5, Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21, Matthew 14:13-21

Beloved of God, Grace to you and Peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The feeding of the 5000 is one of the best known of Jesus’ miracles and it’s the only miracle that’s recorded in all four of the gospels, which tells us something about the importance of this story. Since the beginning, the church has understood the Feeding of the 5000 to be about the sacrament of Holy Communion.  Jesus’ feeding the multitude points us to the deeper reality of how Jesus continues to feed us today – in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

So, there is an obvious problem with our hearing of this story today. What can we say about the feeding of the 5000 when we can’t experience Jesus’ feeding us here at this table today – when we can’t hear the invitation to “Take and Eat” and taste the bread which is Christ’s very life given for us?

About six weeks after we went into lockdown due to the pandemic, I was saying to my husband, John, how much I missed going to church, being together with everyone in this place, singing and praying together and especially sharing in Holy Communion. John said, “Well, you’re a pastor, why not just have communion here at home? We have bread and wine, you know the right words to say, what else do we need?”

I thought about that for a bit. Technically, John was right. We did have bread and wine, and as a pastor in the Lutheran Church, I do have the privilege of presiding at Holy Communion. We could do it.  But somehow, the idea of us having our own little private communion at home felt a bit off. It just seemed somehow incomplete – like something important would be missing. And then it came to me. For this meal we call Holy Communion to be the fullest expression of God’s love and grace and mercy, it needs the Holy Community – all of us sharing together in the gifts of bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood, given not just for me or for you, but for us.

And that’s really hard for us right now.  Our Holy Community is living in a kind of exile. We have been separated from one another, from this beautiful gathering place, from the regular pattern of receiving Holy Communion, from the joy of singing and praying together, and even from sharing the “little sacrament” of fellowship with one another over a cup of coffee and cookies. And I miss all of this so much – and I know you do as well.

The children of Israel knew a lot about what it felt like to be exiled from their place of worship, to be separated from their community, even to wonder if God had forgotten them. For 75 years they were held captive in Babylon against their will. They longed for that day when they would be able to return home, to rebuild the temple, and gather once again as God’s holy people for worship. To sustain them during their exile, God sent them the prophet Isaiah who reminds them with beautiful and powerful words that God was still with them, still planning for them an abundant, hope-filled future.

The passage we heard a moment ago from Isaiah 55 is part of a larger section of Isaiah that begins at chapter 40. This middle section of Isaiah, sometimes called “Second Isaiah”, is just brimming with the promises of God – promises that renewed the people’s hope that indeed, the day was surely coming when God would deliver them from exile and bring them home. There are so many well-known and beloved verses of scripture in these 15 chapters of “Second Isaiah” – verses like these: Comfort, O comfort my people says your God … Get you up to a high mountain O Zion, herald of good tidings. God will feed his flock like a Shepherd and he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom … Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old, for I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

There is SO much beauty and hope and good news in Second Isaiah you can hardly take it all in. Finally, in Chapter 55 we hear God say: Listen up people – everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come buy and eat! I’m putting on a great feast and everyone is invited. Come over here and eat what is good – bread and wine and milk – and delight yourself in rich food! Incline your ear and Listen to me and feast on the good food of my Word. 

These words and so many like them sustained God’s people during their exile; and these same promises sustain us yet today. While we still have to remain at home, not knowing when our separation from this place of worship and from one another will end, God speaks to us and says: I am doing a new thing! Don’t you see? I am making a way through the wilderness of the pandemic. I am with you and will feed you with words of hope and promise.

God always finds a way to us, even in these days of physical distancing and the necessary dis- ruption in our in-person worship. God can take the words of a prophet and restore hope to people living in exile for nearly two generations. God in Christ can take a mere five loaves and two fish and transform it into a meal that feeds thousands. And in these days when we cannot be with one another for worship in this space, God takes what we have – a camera, computer technology, the internet, YouTube, and the labor of skilled hands – and through those means, God creates a new kind of Holy Community and feeds us with grace and mercy.

On Sunday mornings when we open that email message from Pr. Amy and hover our cursor over the “click here” link, instantly we are transported to the Good Shepherd YouTube channel. We can say hello to one another on the Chat page and then, after watching that strange little countdown with the mildly annoying electronic music, suddenly we’re here. We can see our beautiful sanctuary and our dear Pr. Amy standing in this spot, smiling and greeting us in the name of Jesus. And while we recognize the limits of this kind of togetherness, we also know that because of the wonders of the internet God can use this technology to reach beyond the bounds of time and space to bring comfort, encouragement and hope to people anywhere. And in that moment our Holy Community is no longer limited to this physical location, but can draw in people from across town, across the state, even across the country.

And so, we can be together to hear God’s Word, sing hymns of faith, receive grace and encouragement through Pr. Amy’s faithful preaching, pray for the needs of the world, even give our offerings. It is not all that we would hope for; but by God’s grace it is enough to sustain us. And I can tell you, when the last notes of Brooke’s postlude fade away and my computer screen goes dark, I don’t want to let go of that connection that’s been created. I don’t want to leave that virtual space where God is at work gathering this Holy Community and feeding us in Word, Song, Prayer, and in our virtual presence with one another.

I am so thankful for these gifts and for the continuity of our Sunday morning gathering. And I’m even more grateful that next week, after that computer screen goes dark, we can get in our cars, or on our bikes, or on our feet and make our way here – well, out there. We’ll be able to gather in what Reg Laursen has called “The Cathedral of Spilde Woods” to be fed not only with the Word, but also with the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This Holy Community – physically distanced and masked, but together – will receive the gifts of Christ’s body and blood given for us and for all the world.

Sermon for Sunday, July 26, 2020 – “Good Trouble: God’s Call through John Lewis”

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

These parables Jesus tells have lost a bit of their punch over the years, so it may be helpful to use images that are more familiar to us.

The kingdom of heaven is like someone who plants a stinging nettle seed in his garden. It grows until it’s eight feet high. Some rejoice because they can use it for making tea and cheese and herbal remedies, but others get angry – it’s an invasive species, a noxious weed, it leaves painful bumps.

The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who takes and hides a red sock with a load of white clothes and turns everything pink.

The kingdom of heaven is a treasure that’s found by a thief who’s gone digging around in someone else’s field. The guy hits gold, hides it again and buys the field without disclosing what he’s found.

The kingdom of heaven is like a used car salesman who’s always on the lookout for that ultimate sweet ride. When he finds it, he sells the whole dealership just to be able to own that one car.

The kingdom of heaven is invasive, sneaky, subversive and surprising. We miss that when we hear Jesus’ parables that have been tamed over the years. We’ve interpreted them to mean that great growth can come from small things and that the kingdom of heaven is a great treasure.

That’s all true, but there is something more going on here.

When Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his garden, his hearers would have been shocked. In Jesus’ day, a mustard seed was a weed a farmer would pull from his garden, not a seed he would intentionally plant. If a farmer let it grow in his field, it would take over everything. So, the kingdom of heaven is like a noxious, invasive weed that someone sowed in his field?

The parable about the woman baking bread is even more striking. Jesus isn’t talking about nicely packaged, controlled yeast that we use now. He’s talking about leaven – rotting, moldy bread that was mixed into flour. In Jesus’ day, leaven was a sign of impurity, something that irreparably tainted bread. Leaven was mixed into flour to produce larger loaves for daily life; but unleavened bread was for the holy, the sacred, feasts. This woman was making enough bread for a feast. She had three measures of flour, equal to 144 cups today. So, she ruined a lot of good flour by adding leaven to it. Also, the Greek here doesn’t say the woman mixed in the leaven – it says that she hid it. So, the kingdom of heaven is like a woman who hides corrupting leaven in order to infect a huge amount of flour?

Jesus goes on to say that the kingdom of heaven is a great treasure – there we go, that sounds more like something we expect. However, the guy who finds it is not totally on the up and up. He roots around in someone else’s field, finds treasure, hides it again and then rushes out to buy it before the seller knows what it’s worth – fairly suspicious behavior. So, the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that someone claims using dubious means?

Then Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. In Jesus’ day merchants were viewed with disdain – more like sketchy used car salesmen on late night TV than upstanding local business owners. Their motives and scruples were suspect. So, Jesus’ listeners likely pictured a disreputable merchant sneaking around, trying to get his hand on fine pearls until finally he finds the one great pearl and then sells everything for it. The kingdom of heaven is like that?

Apparently, the kingdom of heaven is not what we expect. In popular imagination, heaven is a place we go after death. Before we get in, we have to go through a gatekeeper at the pearly gates. That couldn’t be farther from how Jesus asks us to imagine heaven. He helps us to see that heaven is abundant life with God in which we experience peace, wholeness and well-being together with all of creation. Heaven is union with God which brings life and freedom and the flourishing of all that God has made. Heaven isn’t somewhere we have to try to get into. Rather, Jesus works to get heaven into earth so that God’s kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.

Through Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is breaking into this world. Yet, our sin causes us to resist God’s kingdom in all sorts of ways. We want abundance for us but not everyone because maybe there isn’t enough to go around. We want peace, but those people make it impossible. We want well-being, but should they really have it – have they earned it? Strange as it seems, we often prefer the status quo and the pecking orders we create that keep some on top and others on the bottom. If we’re lower down, we want to be able to climb and get what’s ours. In so many ways, individually and collectively, we resist the coming of God’s kingdom.

So, it is great news that Jesus isn’t afraid to use unconventional ways of bringing the kingdom of heaven into our broken world. It’s great news that God’s kingdom is as invasive and prolific as mustard seed and stinging nettle. It spreads and grows and flourishes even when we’d prefer to yank it up. It’s great news that God’s kingdom is like a woman who hides a little bit of leaven so that the flour can feed many, many more people. Jesus isn’t concerned that leaven might corrupt; he just wants God’s kingdom to feed and nourish everyone. It is great news that the kingdom comes in surprising, even sneaky ways – like a thief digging in someone else’s field or a merchant with a single-minded focus on a great pearl.

We need God to get through to us in ways we don’t expect. And that is just what God does. God works in so many ways to get our attention, to call us to repentance, to break into our lives, to bring the kingdom for us and through us. God comes to us, to you, today in scripture and song, in words of conviction and promise to plant invasive seeds of good news, mix things up, and surprise.

And God calls us to join this disruptive, sneaky work. We’re called to get in good trouble, necessary trouble, as Rep. John Lewis described it. John Lewis, the great civil rights leader who died last week, grew up thinking that heaven was about after we die. But, then he learned from Dr. King that, “We must not just be concerned about the pearly gates and the streets made out of milk and honey, but we have to be concerned about the streets in Montgomery, Alabama … We must do the work, and whatever we do it must be in keeping with the building of … the Beloved Community, of what some of us may call the kingdom of God here on earth.”

Lewis always called the religious community to join this work. He said, “Today on some of the big issues, moral issues, [it] seems like we been so silent. Somehow, we need to find a way to reclaim our position as people of faith. We don’t need to sort of give up, or give out or in, or get lost in a sea of despair, become discouraged; we just need to get out there.” When I was growing up, Lewis said, “My mother and father and grandparents used to tell us, ‘Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.’ But during the ’60s, the religious community got in trouble. We got in the way. And it’s time again for the religious community to get in the way. To get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.”[1]

We need to advocate and protest and hold leaders accountable and work to build the Beloved Community in which all know God’s well-being, wholeness, liberation and peace.

We can do this, beloved of God, because God is always working to get through to us. God comes to you today to work the kingdom in you. Because of that, you can join in God’s good trouble.

[1]  https://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2004/01/16/january-16-2004-john-lewis-extended-interview/2897/

Sermon for Sunday, July 19, 2020 – “The Wheat is Not Overcome”

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

What do you see when you look at the world today?
Are you able to see beyond all the weeds, all the evil?
What do you see when you look at your own heart?
Are you overwhelmed by all the anger and judgement and sin within it?

What we see matters.

This parable and my friend, Bishop Regina Hassanally, have been helping me to see differently this week. Regina shared with me what has come for her as she prays with our parable today.

She says, “I picture, in my mind’s eye the field Jesus describes. I picture myself in the middle of this field – with all kinds of greenery growing up around me – an imperceptible difference between the wheat and the weeds and a strange comfort in the knowledge that both are there.”

She writes, “I am calmed and steadied by the truth that there are both wheat and weeds among us and – in this parable – both are allowed to grow. This truth reminds me that though there are discouraging realities: poor leadership, systemic injustice … things that can seem too overwhelming to overcome, the gospel truth is that the wheat – the work of God – is not hindered or overcome by the weeds. In the end there is a harvest of both.”

The weeds are there, yes, but so is the wheat – the work of God. And the wheat is not hindered or overcome by the weeds.

This summer, Americans have been taking a hard look at really pervasive evil weeds within and around us – the evils of racial injustice and structural inequality. We need to do this work. Racism is not what God intends. It is the work of evil, not the work of God. We need to acknowledge the evil within us and in our society. Please stay with this work. Read, listen, learn, examine the racism within and around you and take action for racial justice. Work to be anti-racist.

Yet as we do this work, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the weeds and the evil. So, Jesus calls us to fix our attention on the wheat, on the growth that God is bringing in the world. What we see matters.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey talks about how he learned to see differently. I’ve shared this story before, recently even during a Wednesday night worship service, but it continues to speak to me, so I want to share it with more of you today. Just after graduating from law school, Cory Booker moved into a low-income housing area in New Jersey because he wanted to make a difference in a disadvantaged community. He sought out Ms. Virginia, the building president, to say, “Mam, I’m here to help.” Ms. Virginia looked skeptical. He made sure to tell her he was a graduate of Stanford and Yale Law School, mentioned that a few times actually. She didn’t seem overjoyed by his presence, so he just kept talking.

Finally, she interrupted him and said, “Follow me”. She led him down to the street and said, “Tell me what you see.” Booker described the crack houses, the crime, the things that had been stolen from his car the night he moved in – all the problems, all the weeds. The more he talked, the more disappointed she looked. Finally, she shook her head, “You can’t help me”, and she walked away.

Booker ran and caught up with her, “What do you mean, what are you talking about?” he asked.

Ms. Virginia turned and said, “Boy, you need to understand something. The world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside you. If you’re one of those people who only sees darkness and despair and problems, that’s all there’s gonna to be; but if you are one of those stubborn people who every time you open your eyes you see beauty, you see love, you see possibilities, you see the face of God, then you can be one of those people who helps me.”[1]

What we see matters. Jesus must so often look at us the same way Ms. Virginia looked at Cory Booker – grieved at inability to see the good.

Jesus must so often want to take us out on the streets of our country and ask us, “Tell me, what do you see?” If Jesus asked us this, I think we’d tell him about all the racism, all the problems, all the weeds. I imagine we might place special emphasis on the difficult people who just don’t get it, who need to be corrected. “They are so angry, so judgmental, so extreme.” “They are evil, they are the problem, if only we could root them out.”

And then I think Jesus would say something like, “The world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you.” Jesus sees all of the weeds inside each of us and it grieves him. But that isn’t all he sees. Jesus also sees so much wheat, so much that can nurture others, so much of God in each and every one of us, in you. Jesus sees you for who you truly are: beloved, precious child of God and beautiful to behold. Jesus gazes upon you with love.

Being regarded in this way, with love, can change how we see the world. It can help us to focus on the wheat rather than being overwhelmed by the weeds. The loving gaze of Jesus also helps us to grow and produce good fruit – it can change the field of our hearts. With the love and forgiveness and presence of Christ Jesus with us, then the wheat, the good fruit, the work of God, can flourish within us.

As Bishop Hassanally puts it, “Jesus calls us to continue to grow – in spite of the weeds around us – to continue to grow on up in the field in which we have been planted …” And, in our following after Jesus we are taught to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit: loving kindness, peace, patience, gentleness and self-control. Through the work of the Spirit we grow in faith – the work of God undeterred by the weeds around us.

Beloved of God, today and each day, Jesus gazes upon you with love, with mercy, with forgiveness.

With this gaze, you can bear good fruit.
You can shine like the sun.

[1] Story shared by Senator Booker at the 2019 Festival of Homiletics “Preaching and Politics” in Washington, DC, May 2019.

Sermon for Sunday, July 12, 2020 – “Extravagant Joy”

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Did you catch all the joy in the scripture readings today? These texts are overflowing with just extravagant rejoicing. There is abundant joy busting out all over the place.

The prophet Isaiah proclaims to the people living in exile, “You shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

The Psalmist praises God saying, “You make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy. May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; let them shout for joy and sing.” 

Paul proclaims good news of great joy to the Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

And Jesus tells a vast crowd a parable about a sower who goes out to sow. This sower flings seeds everywhere with joyful abandon, and they bring forth an incredibly bountiful harvest.

All this exultation may seem a little disconnected from the challenges we are facing today. How can we rejoice as the pandemic surges, as loud, angry voices rage, as people prioritize their own comfort over the common good, as racial injustice persists? Extravagant joy and delight feel out of reach and a little inappropriate, maybe. We’ve got some big issues to address after all. Our Gospel reading today does paint a vivid picture of our human challenges. We’ve got a lot of hard, thorny, and rocky soil within us. The conditions are not so good for growth and change.

Evil and sin eat away at the truth and it doesn’t flourish in our lives. We hear a summons to justice and receive it eagerly, but it doesn’t really take root. As soon as something hard is asked of us, we turn away. We want to do what is right, but the cares and lures of this world are persistent thorns that block our growth.

The landscape is pretty bleak. When you look closely at the human condition, there’s not a lot of cause for rejoicing. There’s much that can lead to despair, judgement and anger – at ourselves and others. So, we better get to work digging and fertilizing and tending the soil to try to improve ourselves and others, right? We should attack those thorns and clear out those rocks and not be afraid to get our hands dirty. Maybe, but as anyone who’s spent time gardening or farming knows, soil can’t make itself into good soil. It can’t weed out the thorns or clear away the rocks within itself. Soil can’t just pick up and move to a less trodden path.

The good news is that this parable isn’t instructing us about how to be better soil. It isn’t telling us how we should improve the landscape around us. This parable is about Jesus, an extravagantly generous sower who scatters seed with abandon. This sower flings the seed of God’s word everywhere – the word of justice and mercy, challenge, forgiveness and love, the word that changes lives and brings new life.

This sower doesn’t storm around angrily declaring, “You better clean up your act if you want any hope of change.” He doesn’t shake his head muttering, “Can you believe this thorny, rocky, shallow soil?” The sower doesn’t even do a careful analysis of the soil to determine where the seed has the best chance at growth. Common sense would say you shouldn’t sow seed on the path, or the rocky or thorny ground.  You should conserve and be frugal and sow just enough seed only on the good soil. 

This sower approaches the human landscape very differently. He goes out walking, sowing seeds everywhere. Author Debie Thomas has helped me to picture this extravagant sower, Jesus.[1] She writes, “Imagine it — a sower blissfully walking across the fields and meadows, the back alleys and sidewalks, the playgrounds and parking lots of this world, fistfuls of seed in his quick-to-open hands. There is no way to contain that much seed. No way to sort or save it. Of course, it will spill over. Of course, it will fall through his fingers and cover the ground. Of course, it will scatter in every direction. How can it not?”

The good news is that this marvelous seed, the seed of God’s word, does work change. People are changed, we are changed, when we hear of God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s justice, God’s welcome.

This good news of great joy matters in the world. “God’s Word will go out from God’s mouth and accomplish what God purposes for it, no matter where it lands … God has an endless ability to soften hard ground, clear away rocks, and cut through the most stubborn of thorns to make way for a harvest.”[2] God is at work in the soil of your life, in the soil of our world to bring growth.

With such an extravagant sower flinging this good news everywhere, we can let go of our own despair at the human condition. We can instead practice abundance and joy. Debie Thomas writes,

“How I wish that the Church was known for its absurd generosity. How I wish we were famous for being like the Sower, going out in joy, scattering seed before and behind us in the widest arcs our arms can make …. How I wish the people in our lives could see a quiet, gentle confidence in us when we tend to the hard, rocky, thorny places in our communities, instead of finding us abrasive, judgmental, exacting, and insular. How I wish seeds of love, mercy, justice, humility, honor, and truthfulness would fall through our fingers in such appalling quantities that even the birds, the rocks, the thorns, and the shallow, sun-scorched corners of the world would burst into colorful, riotous, joyous life.”[3]

Beloved of God, we do have hard work to do in this world. Yet, we also have an extravagant sower who scatters love and forgiveness, joy and abundance freely and fully into our lives, into your life. When you consider the landscape and are tempted to despair, fix your eyes on the sower and rejoice. Open your hands, lift up your heads and bask in this joyful abundance. Let it flow through you to this world God so loves.

[1] The Extravagant Sower by Debie Thomas posted on JourneywithJesus. net https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2687

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.