Martin Luther King Jr.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kindom and does not understand it, evil comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
Message – “Sowing Hope”
I grew up in agricultural communities, rural Kansas, small towns whose livelihoods relied on crops that surrounded the communities in which we lived. I have never been very good at planting or raising “crops” so to speak, mostly that is my fault. In general, I enjoy digging in the earth, preparing the soil, planting the seed… I just do not have much commitment to tending the plants. I do not enjoy weeding, I get busy and forget to water, and soon my efforts are drooping to the ground if not dried up all together.
Here during these times of distancing and staying in and conscious of not spreading the COVID-19 virus, TruDee and I have taken to going for a drive out of town. One early evening we drove north from our home… just drove with no particular place to go. Another evening we drove west and another south. I love the city with so many opportunities for entertainment, ministry, outreach, connection, so many activities and new people to engage and with whom to build relationship. Though I confess, there is something about the crops, watching the corn grow… knee high by the 4th of July was the comment…though with today’s farming practices that is usually well exceeded by July 4… the lush rich green of the soybeans, the golden grain of wheat, the smell of fresh cut alfalfa… neatly terraced fields and the rows of crops planted with precision rolling over the gentle… and sometimes not so gentle hills… there is something that draws me there, though I could never be a farmer, I have worked for them, driven tractors, etc. I know I do not have the gifts and graces to do what they do… yet there is something that takes me back home when I drive through the countryside and drink in the scenery and practice of farming. It is soul food for me.
Jesus used a great deal of agricultural illustrations in his stories according to the storytellers of our texts. He did so because that was the context in which he lived. He too lived in an agriculturally based environment. We encounter one of those stories this morning in the parable of the sower. He tells of a sower who sowed seed and some of the seed fell on rocks, some fell on the road, some fell among thorns, and some fell on good soil. I have heard… perhaps even preached on this parable with a focus on a question such as… “What kind of soil are you?” However, as I pondered the story again in preparation for today, I tried to hear it again with new ears. And it occurred to me… at least for this telling… the story isn’t so much about the soil. The soil in the story is a given… It simply is… it is present., it is just there. The soil in the story doesn’t get to choose whether it is stony, hardened, shallow, thorny, or good and rich… in some respect, perhaps the story isn’t about the soil. So, I looked elsewhere… maybe it is about the seed… that which the sower is sowing. This seems a little more appropriate. It matters what kind of seed one sows. One can sow seeds of community, compassion, empathy, … one can sow seeds of love… or one can sow seeds of division, disunity, misunderstanding, bitterness, hate, and derision. It does matter what one sows.
However, as I thought deeper, at least for me, perhaps the message is really, at least for today… about the sower. While it is important to consider the seed one sows… it is also important to consider how one sows it. Granted, farming practices today are much advanced over Jesus day… the understatement of the century perhaps… depending on the farmer… there can be a lot of judgment making in the practice. I remember the times I worked for farmers… generally my job was driving tractor pulling disks or sweeps or driving the grain truck during harvest… while there is some, obviously, there is not a lot of precision to these tasks… it is okay not to be able to pull a set of disks or sweeps in a straight line as long as one corrects for it now and then. Eldon and Vern would NEVER let me pull the planters for corn or wheat… they wanted their rows straight! I am not so good at that.
For the purposes of today, I hear in this parable of the sower … a sower who is not so much concerned with the soil that is to receive the seed… one might presume the sower knows what kind of seed is being cast and planted… one might presume, since Jesus is telling story… the seed points to things such as the fruit of the spirit from Galatians… love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… I am guessing that would be a safe bet. However… watching the sower in this story… this one is not so concerned with straight rows, to some degree not exacting about where the seed lands… this sower is simply sowing the seed and one might presume this sower is sowing with the hope these seeds that sprout, take root, and produce fruits of the Kindom. The sower in the story is sowing hope.
Which perhaps, in our current environment can be a challenging task. To be hopeful in a world filled with skepticism, bitterness, distrust, false information, denial, despair. The adjectives are far too many… to be hopeful in a world as such, can be seen as Polly Ann-ish, living in an illusion and in denial, disconnected from reality, putting forth pipedreams. However, I have to wonder if Hope is exactly what we are in need of in days like today? Not a hope that denies the struggles, and the grief, and the difficulties of our world and lives… rather, a hope that proceeds from just those things….
Fear, struggle, denial, grief, distrust, hate can be realities that too often drive and control our lives. Choosing to hope while acknowledging these things is not a sign of naïveté or weakness but rather a driving force that refuses to let the current struggles of our community and world overwhelm us, fill us with despair, or dampen our dreams. Hope is a choice, as much a choice as faith, or fear, or compassion, or bitterness, and/or love. Let our faith garner a response to the struggles of the world that reflects our hope.
Such a thought brings me to Paul’s thoughts in the letter to the Romans when he writes… suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… not that we should desire to suffer… not that God would give us suffering… Rather… in the midst of such difficult times to trust God is at work in the suffering of the world around us… in our suffering… To bring about good… which produces HOPE!
Jurgen Moltmann, German Theologian speaks to this in his book, Theology of Hope, when he writes., “The Christian hope is not focused on what has happened in the past, Nor even so much the present moment, but rather a logos (a Divine reason) of the future. Aristotle calls Hope a “waking dream.” Moltmann cites over and over again in the Judeo-Christian tradition the struggle, despair, and suffering that occurs… and it is precisely out of this narrative comes our hope over overcoming. “Everywhere in the New Testament the Christian Hope is directed towards what is not yet visible; it is consequently a ‘hoping against hope’. In this sense he writes, “This hope becomes a passion for what is possible, because it can be a passion for what has been made possible.”1 In an article entitled – “Could a revived ‘theology of hope’ restore faith in hopeless times?” by Martin Marty citing Moltmann he posits, “The atmosphere in which the “theology of hope” prospered was when the accent was not on the immediate or, for that matter, on the longer past, but, instead, on the future.” 2
Mark K. Made a comment the other day at staff meeting listening to a program where the presenter cited how in tradition Christians should be known for our love… which is true… however, perhaps in the times we live in today… perhaps those of us who follow The Way should be known by our Hope! Such a theology of Hope, a Hope driven life and faith, can be, at best, a difficult and treacherous road in our current environment, however it is our calling I believe, as followers of the Way… to be Sowers of Hope, casting those seeds where ever we go, without judgment upon where or upon whom they may land. And because it is a difficult task those seeds may not sprout and take root… yet that should not dissuade us from our calling… Martin Luther King Jr.’s words today still ring true… “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope!”
Walter Brueggemann sets forth our task in his book, Reality, Grief, and Hope when he writes – “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”3 We must continue to wrestle in our sufferings, our struggles, listening for the truth of the Divine presence, grieve our current struggles, AND Express hope for a world in despair. What brings us hope? How do we share that with our hurting community and world? Let us be Sowers of Hope. Amen.
1 Moltmann, Jurgen, (1967). Theology of Hope; On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, NY.
2 Marty, Martin E., (2019). Could a Revived ‘Theology of Hope’ Restore Faith in Hopeless Times? Ministry Matters.
3 Brueggemann, Walter, (2014). Realty, Grief, Hope; Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.