January 7, 2018: The Art of Randomness

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Mark 4:1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

I know nothing about farming, or gardening, or growing stuff.

But I live with a pro. Judi has been gardening all her life. She grew up in a massive garden plot that is her family’s side yard hoeing and weeding and planting and harvesting along side her mom and dad and siblings. Gardening was and is a way of life for her.

And in 38 years of marriage, I believe she has had a garden every year in every place we have lived.

A couple weeks ago they began to arrive in the mail. Catalogues from places like Territorial Seed Company, R. H. Shumways, Seeds n Such, Grower’s Supply, and so many others advertising seeds. Judi will order the seeds she wants.

When they arrive, she will take her tomato seeds and pepper seeds and plant them in seed pots, and place them in our little indoor greenhouse. And as they begin to sprout, she will replant them into cups and place them under grow lights in our basement.

And when the time is right, she will move them out to the yard and plant the seedlings in large pots or in holes she has prepared.

Her other stuff, green beans, lettuce, onions, potatoes she will plant in rows that she has rota- tilled, hoed out and prepared for planting.

Her cucumbers, she will plant in mounds of soil. I asked her once why she planted her cucumbers in mounds. She told me because that is the way her daddy plants them.

In Judi’s gardening, there is planning, there is preparation, there is hard work.

Compare Judi’s approach to gardening to the approach to gardening of the farmer in the parable Jesus told.

The farmer scatters seed. He or she doesn’t till the ground, or prepare the soil, there is simply the scattering of seed.

It seems like the sower would have a bag full of seeds, and just walk here and there and to and fro, throwing the seed around.

Now this method of planting, while probably the norm in Jesus day, is not very efficient. Not all the seed takes root- some is lost in rocky soil, some is lost in weedy soil and some will be plucked off the top of the ground before it seeps into the dirt. In fact, probably very little of the seed actually takes hold.

Of course that which does grow is useful and productive and tasty.

Now when Jesus explains this parable, he focuses on the quality of the soil that receives the seed.

I am rather interested in the randomness of the farmer. There is no criticism of the farmer and the method used.

The farmer just scatters randomly. While it might be better if preparations were made and it might be more efficient if soil were selected for its receptivity, that is not what the farmer does. The farmer randomly sows the seed, and decides to let Providence take it from there.

Of course, by interpretation, the seed spread in the parable is the gospel of Jesus and his love.

And the farmer, who may be identified as God, but by extension, is surely those people who believe in the gospel and want to share it with others, dispenses the gospel freely and randomly.

And when I talk about dispensing the gospel, I am keenly aware of Jesus’ admonition that people will recognize us by our love. So while some folks might define sharing the gospel as passing out pamphlets about spiritual laws or leading someone in a sinner’s prayer, I believe that we share the gospel by loving others and acting on that love by being kind, being merciful, being gracious, being generous.

If the parable gives us insight into the way the seed is planted, into the way the gospel is shared,
we would have to say that there is supposed to be a randomness to it.

Love, as defined by Jesus,
in random settings with unsuspecting people.

Love isn’t reserved for family,
or friends,
or church members,

love is meant to be shared freely and randomly.

to those who are like us
and to those who are not like us

to those who act like us
and to those who do not act like us

to those who believe like us
and to those who do not believe like us.

to the stranger, and the friend,
to the outcast, and our neighbor.

Love, and its action points- kindness, mercy, graciousness, and generosity are not just expressed among friends in good standing, but wherever it is possibly expressed.

in the check out line,
in traffic,
at the restaurant,
in the pews,
in the work place,
in the school hallway,
in the board meeting,
to your subordinate,
with your neighbors,
with strangers,
with the homeless,
with friends struggling with loss and sorrow,
by protecting the environment,
by standing with the bullied,
by walking alongside the hurting (and remember, we are all hurting at some point.)

And you never know, when love, and its action points, kindness, mercy, graciousness and generosity are randomly shared, what the outcome might be.

I was walking in a neighborhood in San Salvador, El Salvador 10 months after major earthquakes had produced a landslide that covered that neighborhood with dirt and rock and debris to the point that only the tops of the homes, second floors and roofs were visible. There was total devastation there, with many deaths.

We walked along in the debris in this decimated and deserted place.

Fabi, a little girl who was with us that day, caught my attention and told me to look down. There, in the debris, the rock, and garbage, and dirt, grew a single daisy. Probably dropped by a bird’s beak. A random result. In the incredible bleakness, it served as a reminder of hope, and of the randomness and freedom of love.

Be a farmer. A sower. A seed tosser. Throw some seed of love and kindness and mercy and graciousness. Don’t worry so much about where the seed lands, just spread it.