I appreciated the privilege of guest-preaching yesterday morning (virtually!) for a dear friend’s congregation. The Lectionary Gospel Text was the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13:1-9 (explained in vs. 18-23).

It was a meaningful, challenging text for me to pray over and ponder last week. What especially resonated with my heart in recent days was the connection between our ears and the soil to which Jesus refers – our ability/willingness to deeply listen and the various forms of resistance Jesus names. Listening actively and attentively is what will initially determine whether a seed of God’s truth and hope finds any lodging, and Jesus names this – “Let anyone with ears, listen!”

A quick overview of how I see these soils….

  • The first soil is, well, not listening much at all. In one ear and out the other. Looking compassionately at these ears (which I recognize often in myself), they just aren’t ready.
  • The second soil (rocky) appears to be “shallow” listening. We genuinely take in the transformative message Jesus offers, but it just doesn’t stick. We get exhausted or skeptical or both.
  • The third soil (thorny/sharp) can be thought of as “choked” listening. Maybe we accept what Jesus says, but we backslide into complacency when other things take front and center. I’m especially compelled by what this means for us in a time of such debilitating anxiety in our news – from COVID to racist policies to violence in my own city of Chicago making national headlines. It’s not just the lure of wealth or self-sufficiency that can choke our listening. What about all the handwringing we do over the world going to hell in a hand basket?
  • The last soil (good!) connotes what we all pray and strive for – active, deep, heartfelt listening. True listening builds on openness to being changed and transformed by what we hear. And it’s intentionally and continually giving that message continued room to grow (lots. of. work.).

We greatly miss out if we take this parable on solely an individual/personal level. The communal undertones are strong, as we we also collectively form an environment with others that builds or breaks down resistance to the Gospel’s spread.

Living out God’s message of liberation and transforming love is similarly difficult when it comes to the foundational blocks of our society. Cries for racial justice are a powerful example. There’s the hard path of white fragility, the rocky soil of fading out after a sprint of temporary attention, the thorns of sacrifices and reparations some feel are too much. Are we listening? What a call to use our ears!!

The Sower was where I drew my greatest hope in Jesus’ parable. This untamed and creative Sower is a lot like the wild nature around us. Beautiful flowers can grow in the sidewalk my kids roll over on their scooters and bike every single day. “Good soil” doesn’t have to look manicured.

The harvest of our active and deep listening may be to do some sowing ourselves, following in the footsteps of the Sower who gives freely without expectation and scatters resources without regulation. Every kind of soil is work the investment. We give ourselves to the work without getting too attached to the results. Because God cares more about our faithfulness than our success. If it were otherwise, we’d have a completely different parable and Sower.

Here is a fresh prayer inspired by this hope-filled word….

Wild and Lavish Sower, 

Your pockets overflow with redemptive seed 

which you grasp by the handful – 

scattering hundreds of hope-filled truths

in every direction, on every soil. 

You laugh with joy in the abundance of it all, 

stretching your generous hands 

toward a world hunkered down with 

questions of scarcity and skepticism. 

Make us ready for your seed, God, 

make me ready! 

Till and break and shake the 

hardened clumps in my own soul – 

the too comfortable heart 

or complacent attitude,

the rock hard opinions calcified 

over years of narrow gazing. 

Open me to change and growth.  

Cultivate courage in me to embrace

the inherent loss that will catalyze 

my best transformation. 

I want to truly see and deeply hear

what you so graciously plant…

to sprout the roots needed for

my nourishment when I become 

exhausted, bored, or overwhelmed. 

Nurture in me the staying power

to give your message room to grow, 

even as it asks for my greatest humility

(and at times, humiliation!). 

You will never stop sowing, 

nor ask for my readiness before 

tossing some seeds at me. 

And so today, 

I will slow down 

to seep in this quiet miracle – 

the potential wrapped 

in your Spirit seed 

settled in the soil of me. 

Amen.