A Homily for the Second Wednesday in Lent
Text: Mark 4:1-20*
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who teaches the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Amen.
As we move through these forty days, travelling with Saint Mark to Jerusalem, the lectionary is treating us to a wide view of Jesus’ ministry. From his earliest miracles all the way through to Jerusalem, we get to see all of it. Mark’s narrative, already short compared to the other Gospels, is rapidly carrying us towards the event we know is coming. Heading to Holy Week we are being offered a chance to put the fullness of Christ’s ministry into perspective and contextualize the death and Resurrection within the entire Gospel. Last week, we saw some of Christ’s early and holy work healing and casting out demons as he restored people to health and community.
Tonight, we see another key part of Jesus’ work: teaching. There’s a reason that, in Mark, the disciples call Christ “Rabbi” – literally, “Teacher.” In the synagogues, in homes, on mountains and at the seashore, through arguments and parables, our Lord unfolds the mysteries of the Kingdom of God – and, as the crowd at Capernaum reminds us, he does so with authority demonstrated by divine and miraculous deeds.
Here, we get one of Christ’s most famous parables: A farmer went out to sow their field. As they tossed seed about it went everywhere. Some fell on the pathway, where birds ate it. Some fell on the rocky patches, and it was never able to take root; it grew quickly at first but withered in the sun just as quickly. Some fell in the briar patch, where it was chocked out by other plants. And some fell on good soil, where it flourished and produced a great crop.
Just imagine if the sower had been more careful with their seed. How much more could they have grown if none of the seed ended up in the thorns, or among the rocks? How many potential bushels were lost to the birds?
Luckily we know better today, right? We’ve listened to the corporate-styled church growth experts. When we go out to sow, we’re so careful to make sure our resources go exactly where we want them. Who’s our target audience? How can we better reach out to them? How can we tailor a multi-media worship experience that meets their particular tastes? How are we fulfilling our expertly-crafted and narrowly-focused mission statement? Are we synergizing to have maximum glo-cal impact?
The Church seems to have taken the wrong lesson from this parable. We’ve decided to be so extremely cautious in how we proclaim the Gospel lest our seed accidentally fall among the thorns or in shallow soil.
But consider how Christ’s story actually unfolds. In the face of wasted seeds, and potentially wasted profits or crops, the farmer does not very carefully place each seed in a neat row to maximize profitability. The sower doesn’t turn their back on the areas considered “low viability.” They don’t bend over, poke their finger in the dirt, and cautiously drop the seed into the perfect hole. We can assume that the farmer knew what they were doing. That is to say, the sower knew there were paths, hungry birds, rocky soil, and thorns. The average farmer would have been very familiar with their land, would spend nearly every day on it. Day in and day out. Year in and year out. But instead of maneuvering around these obstacles, the sower spreads the seed almost carelessly, without neglecting or passing over any areas. You can almost picture the care-free joy in how this farmer sows.
The preacher Fred Craddock urged his congregation to take the sower’s seeming carelessness to heart.† We should, Craddock said, have faith that the seed will land and sprout under the caring but wildly unpredictable grace of God.
Just as with Christ’s work healing and casting out demons, his teaching reveals an ever-expanding vision of God’s coming Kingdom, expanding the covenant from Abraham and Israel to the entire world.
Time and time again, his teaching includes shocking twists: who in their right mind would leave ninety-nine sheep to get one? Why is the king inviting so many strangers to the wedding banquet? How can a father forgive his son for running off and squandering half the inheritance? To the world’s eyes, this is just as foolish as sowing seed on rocky soil, but that is not for us to judge. Rather, we should sow joyfully and with wild abandon, trusting that God’s grace might take root in a prodigal son or his resentful brother or that the wedding banquet has room for all.
God is sending us to the briar patches and rocky soil of the world to proclaim a Gospel that includes the outcast. When we go in peace to share the Good News, we are sent not to spread the message carefully but proclaim if fully.
*During Advent and Lenten vespers, Church of the Redeemer follows the two-year cycle of daily readings as found in the Book of Common Prayer and Lutheran Book of Worship.
† Fred B. Craddock, “At Random” in The Cherry Log Sermons (Westminster John Knox, 2001).