“The Generous Sower”
“The Generous Sower”
Psalm 119:105-1112, Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
July 16, 2023
Sunday school in the 4th grade. I was in a class of about 20, and our teacher challenged us one day: “If you read the entire book of Genesis, you will receive a prize.”
I remember saying to myself, “Oh yeah, absolutely.” Didn’t everyone kind of wonder what the Bible said and goodness – add a prize to the mix – I assumed we were all 20 of us blitzing through Genesis Monday-Saturday.
This should have been my first clue that I was different.
Turns out nobody else took up the Genesis challenge. When I came to the Sunday school teacher and told him three weeks later that I’d done it, he was delighted to have had someone, one person, actually do it.
“Next week, I will have your prize.”
Next week rolled around and he finished the class by declaring, “We have someone here who has finished the Genesis challenge.”
He had baked me a fresh sheet of brownies.
And as he is handing them to me in front of the class he says, “Bobby, you can do whatever you want with these. You can take them home for yourself. Or your family. You can share them with the class – or not.”
Every fiber of my being wanted to race off and have the brownies for myself. That was one of the clear options!
However… if you are child of the church, at least two things you know by 4th grade:
Love your neighbor
And this one time Jesus took a few loaves of bread and a couple fish and he multiplied them to feed 5000 people.
I was soon in the corner of the classroom cutting each brownie into thirds in order to have enough for everyone – and really this, mean we were all holding just a little mini-brownie.
But the whole time I held onto this shred of hope that because this was Sunday school and because I was doing the generous thing and because Jesus had done it before with bread and fish…maybe somehow these brownies would multiply…?
They did not.
We all ate very small pieces of brownie, and I remember it being one of the earliest times in my life where I lamented, There’s just not enough.
The brownies are great, but we need three sheet pans, not one.
And that is a feeling that has taken hold time and again in my life, and I think many of our lives. This sense that…
• There is just not enough time to accomplish this – we need one hour, one more day.
• There is just not enough in the bank account to feel secure – just x amount more.
• There are not enough resources (not enough water) to meet the acute needs that plague corners of this world…and our city.
• We’re not enough… for all that we do and want to do and need to do… We need to be better, smarter, stronger to do this project. This work. This parenting. This life.
Truly, I think this sense of ‘there’s not enough/we’re not enough’ weighs regularly on us and so I think it when we hear Jesus says “Let anyone with ears listen!” what we most naturally hear is,
“We want that “more-than-enough 100 or 60 or 30 fold yield”
Let’s figure out how to be that good soil! Soil that does what Jesus says.”
That’s how to make brownies multiply.
But then…how do you ensure you’re really great soil?
Because honestly, if you read through the Gospel of Matthew, it’s not clear at all who is good soil no matter how faithful or dedicated they are at times or seem at times.
There are many in Matthew’s Gospel who “hear the word of the kingdom and do not understand” (3:19), including the very devoted, studied, knowledgeable religious leaders.
There are the crowds of people who respond positively to Jesus, especially to his miracles of healing (9:8; 15:31; 21:8-9) and then turn against Jesus at the end and demand his crucifixion (27:15-23).
The disciples – his very closest followers – are all in and tell Jesus that they understand what he is about when asked “Have you understood all of this?” – but then when trouble and persecution arise they betray him. Deny him. Quietly turn away.
The point is: If you read through the Gospel of Matthew, for the most part it is difficult to find great, on-gong examples of good soil that yields this remarkable multiplication of God’s goodness, justice, love.
Except, of course, in Jesus himself.
Because even though people react to Jesus in all these different ways, even though people fail to understand his message or do his message, even though his closest friends betray and deny him…
Jesus keeps teaching.
Keeps walking with them.
In fact, do you know what Jesus says in the very final verse in the Gospel of Matthew?
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
How striking that throughout his earthly ministry and then very clearly at that the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus gives no consideration to the soil condition of his all the people around him…but rather he says, “I am with you. Period. I am scattering the seed of God’s way, God’s love, God’s justice, God’s truth, God’s compassion, God’s steadfast faithfulness…”
Which sounds a lot like that Sower in the parable we heard. The one doing all the action, the One we sometimes forget is the Main Point of this parable.
It’s this Sower who goes out and throws seed all over the place. He throws it not only on good soil but even soil that non-farmers readily recognize are terrible for seeds: thorny soil, dry soil, and even a beaten path where people regularly walk.
And seed was not cheap.
This was a valuable, essential resource of living. And here’s a story of someone who is not just being generous with the seed – throwing a little extra in this direction or that – but someone who is extravagantly wasteful. Irresponsible.
That seed has no shot on most of this soil. This is truly ridiculous. It’s a terrible business plan.
Here we were worrying about our soil health and how to be better but honestly – let’s worry about this Sower who reckless!
What are you doing?
Before my family and I ever arrived to FPC many of you began sending us notes in the mail. And then on the first official day I served here at FPC, my mom died. And, many of you sent more notes.
Right off the bat, a whole lot of seeds scattered seeds upon grieving soil.
And then during the pandemic when the leadership was constantly making one decision after another about virtual and in-person and social distancing and masks and sustaining a budget…
…and then the world in general was in this constant space of ‘what’s next?” and “how bad is it?” and my stomach would get so tied in these hard, calloused knots of anxiety – you sent letters of kindness and encouragement.
A lot of seeds scattered seeds upon anxious soil.
And then over a year ago you joined alongside three other Presbyterian congregations to sponsor a refugee family from Afghanistan and help them find a new home in Georgetown. Dozens of you volunteered.
Cumulatively – with financial donations and helping secure a house and car and work with the paperwork and donate furniture – you gave around $75,000, let alone countless hours befriending, advocating, doing paperwork, assisting with driving for errands and jobs.
A lot of scattered seed upon the soil in transition, soil in grief, soil of uncertainty, soil quite different from the one we know best.
Also during the pandemic you knocked out a couple walls in this church and created the Gathering Place out there. You gave generously financially and with your behind-the-scenes time and planning and creativity to create a space that would literally widen the welcome of this congregation – and I think provide visually and structurally what was true about this congregation’s heart: we have space for everyone.
A lot of scattered seed upon the unknown soil of visitors of any and every kind.
Since returning to in-person ministry in 2021, you have met and welcomed and got to know by name the growing population of folks in this area who do not have a regular home of some sort.
Our neighbors in various kinds of need come through the office throughout the week – to them you have given so generously that you founded a food and clothing closet in one of our former Sunday school room spaces. And you keep it supplied and you donate toward HEB gift cards for these folks.
You also partner with Helping Hands to provide larger meals and provide assistance through Laundry Love at the local Laundromats.
A lot of scattered seed upon the unknown soil of visitors who are making it one day at a time.
What I am getting at with just a few examples of the many I could give… is that in my three and half years here, it has struck me just how generously this congregation scatters the seeds of God’s kindness and goodness and love.
And in every case it would be so easy to raise the question: But is the soil on which we throw generosity – is it any good?
Can anything grow in grieving soil?
Soil that is not Christian or Presbyterian in the same way as us?
Soil with the past?
Soil rife with an addiction?
Soil that kind of news running in the living room 24/7?
Soil that young?
Soil that old?
I for one give great thanks to know a people who have not spent their time discerning who is truly good enough
and correct-believing enough
and right side of the aisle enough
and right income level enough…
and generally right-soil enough…
…but rather, like the Sower, a people who scatter seeds unto one another and their community with abandon… “always, even to the end.”
Maybe that is one of the great gifts of being a congregation 169 years old ….For there exists among you a deep, invisible knowledge that ours is a God with whom the seeds of love can land in the most unlikely places and even upon the bareness of death itself…
…and whether it takes three days
or three years
or three generations…
…life shall rise – and in far greater ways that we could ever ask or imagine.
What is the latest way God is inviting us to trust that hope as we scatter love upon all the soils?
Of course, I recognize that even amid all that seed-scattering, we ourselves are still prone to show up wandering how we can make our soil better, more, enough.
Thanks be to God that the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all the soil, including ourselves:
Whether we arrive today with…
Soil knotted in anxiety.
Or a floodplain of grieving soil.
Or a thick, cynical soil.
Or apathetic soil.
Or angry soil.
Or ashamed soil.
Or addicted soil.
Or tired, dry soil.
Upon that soil – and without regard to how that soil is or is not doing – good seed of God’s…
kindness and encouragement,
God’s light and truth,
God’s provision and joy,
That is being scattered – and generously so.
That’s just who the Sower is and cannot help but be – to the very end of the age.