Thursday, August 07, 2014

Jesus is a Goofy Sort of Gardener!

Friends, so wow, it's been an amazing last couple weeks, but it's been pretty busy too, as I was recently called to serve as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam, New York. I meant to post this sermon a while back, but am only getting to it tonight. I preached this a few Sundays back on Matthew 13:1-23, the Parable of the Sower. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

- Dustin

If there’s one thing that today’s gospel message tells us my sisters and brothers, its that Jesus is a really, really goofy sort of gardener. That’s right, Jesus is a really goofy gardener… He acts seemingly imprecise, laissez-faire, unconcerned, perhaps even foolhardy and wasteful with all those seeds of His. At least from our human perspective, Jesus is a really goofy gardener. Has anyone here done any gardening? Or spent some time on a farm or orchard? Perhaps you’re one of those folks who likes having really nice lawn? Even if gardening isn’t your thing, I imagine you pretty much have a basic idea of what it typically entails… you carefully choose and then cultivate your soil… you work in some fertilizer or compost, maybe test the pH levels, break it up or till the soil if that’s your practice… in short, it’s a very precise operation with a lot of choices that begin long before you even start sowing seed. And why is gardening such a precise operation? As human beings, we don’t want to waste our limited amount of resources, nor do we want to waste our limited amount of time or effort. There’s a pride element too of course… we want to have the sweetest lawn, the most vibrant flower garden, or have the biggest pumpkin at the county fair. And finally, let’s recognize there’s an altruistic element… we want to feed our families in a less costly, healthier manner than our supermarkets can provide. We want to grow the best zucchinis so we can make grandma’s famous zucchini bread recipe to share with friends and neighbors. As human beings, we have a whole lot riding on those seeds, and hence, we’re real careful about how we choose our soil.

From our human perspective then, Jesus’ manner of gardening is really goofy. If you Google “parable of the sower” you get all these images of a stern guy with a beard slowly placing seeds in carefully drawn rows. And that’s often what we tend to picture when we hear this well known parable too, but its simply not what’s going on in the text at all … Jesus is not being selective, but is rather rapidly dancing all over the place, tossing seeds just about everywhere. In thorns, on hard paths, on rocks, Jesus is making long bets with most of his seeds too, entirely against human logic, only throwing a few on what seems like good soil. While it’s not particularly clear in the parable, it strikes me that for Jesus this is largely a joyful process, not a stern, overly serious one like all those images would like to make us think… Jesus is planting and nurturing the bounty of God’s creation, which by the way, is immense. Historians have recently argued the largest harvest one could ever expect two thousand years ago in Palestine was fifteen times what one planted. This parable however tells us God’s yield in Christ is much larger than humanly possible… thirty, sixty, even one hundred times what is planted in the good soil alone. Jesus is a really goofy sort of gardener, whose manner completely goes against human logic to be sure, but He’s also amazingly amazingly successful, joyfully dancing about, celebrating in God’s immense abundance.

Ya know, throughout much of Christian history, right down to the present day, in our sinful human tendency to make things about ourselves we try all too often to spin this parable around. We spin this parable around… we simply can’t help it. We sometimes read ourselves into the story as the seeds, either worrying we’re not doing enough for God or at other times smug that we’re super-perfect Christians, reaping a huge bounty for our Creator. Either way, when we read ourselves as the seeds, we end up stressing the importance of our own work instead of God’s.We try turning ourselves into mini-gods in fact, something that while incredibly vain is also way too much responsibility for any of us to bear. Other times we get it partially right by seeing ourselves as the soil, but once again in our sinful human tendency to turn ourselves into the central character of God’s story, we start worrying about what kind of soil we are. Are we the thorny soil, too distracted by other worldly cares to see what God’s doing in our lives? Or are we the rocky soil, getting super excited about God’s work only to burn ourselves out? We worry about whether we’re saved, or one of the elect, these sort of things that turn God’s story in which we’re only minor characters into a story just about us.

The good news my sisters and brothers, is that we’re all every type of soil at once. We’re all sinful, we all get distracted from what God’s doing in our lives by other worldly cares. We all burn ourselves out at times too. You are all sinful people. You are bad soil! I’m a sinful person too, bad soil, no better or worse than anyone else here today. We’re all sinners. But we’re also all saints, we’re all good soil too! You are good soil! You are good soil! This congregation, Messiah Lutheran Church, is good soil. The town of Rotterdam, the city of Schenectady, indeed the whole Capitol District, is good soil. God has worked amazing things in all our lives, in the life of this congregation and in the life of our local community and will continue to do so, through the best of times and the most broken of times as well… It’s absolutely amazing, when you stop to think about it, the powerful works God can pull out of the most dire of circumstances.

It’s certainly good news, that we’re all every type of soil at once, but its not even the best part folks. It’s not even the best part! My sisters and brothers, the really good news that Jesus proclaims to us today through the parable of the sower has nothing to do with wondering about whether we’re chosen or elect or good or bad soil. The truly good news is that in the end, the parable of the sower is not really much about us at all. It’s about God in Christ. Our God in Christ is the main character in this parable, who by human standards might be a really goofy gardener, but who is also a God of abundance, immense care, and indeed, joy. Through this parable Jesus teaches us how God is constantly casting seeds everywhere, sometimes in the places we’d least expect it. Ya know over the past few days I’ve had amazing conversations with you folks here at Messiah Lutheran, and the part that got me excited the most was hearing about the dreams you have for this congregation. One person told me how Messiah should be a known resource here in the Rotterdam community, where neighbors no matter their religious affiliation know they can go if they need help. Another said really profoundly, I want my daughter to be just as excited about church when she grows up as she is now as a small child. Other dreams included doing more service projects, adding an adult education program, a youth group, perhaps a vacation Bible school in the summer for the kids and of course welcoming new members into the community here at Messiah.

Yesterday afternoon I was blessed to take a drive with Bill around town. He told me how GE outsourcing many of its jobs over the years really hurt the Schenectady area. He also told me though about how good planning and a revitalized Proctors Theatre downtown has really starting improving things. Even more importantly, Bill talked about growing up in Rotterdam, living in this very neighborhood, the town’s good schools, its friendly faces and how amazing the folks are here despite working through all sorts of changes and challenges. Whether its dreaming and praying for your daughter to grow up strong in her faith or whether its a city trying to figure out how to be a city again after decades of decline and struggling about the idea of a casino coming to town, these things are all seeds my sisters and brothers. Joys and challenges alike, they’re all seeds in God’s hands. Seeds, opportunities for us to do God’s work in our little corner of the world despite all our human imperfections. Seeds, opportunities God constantly presents us with every day of our lives, as individuals, congregations and wider communities, opportunities to do God’s work with our hands. Opportunities to put a smile on someone’s face, to strengthen someone’s faith, to make our community just a little bit stronger.

And remember, God in Christ is one goofy sort of gardener. Our parable today teaches us God ain’t sternly and slowly walking in neat little rows, plopping down seeds in only the most choice of soils. Our God in Christ is a joyfully gardener, a God of abundance, dancing about and scattering seeds everywhere, often in the most unlikely of places. We’re aren’t going to be able to take advantage of all the seeds God tosses us, by the way. To be fair, sometimes in our humanness we’ll be bad soil. Mostly though, its the shear fact that in God’s abundance, there’s simply too many seeds for us to plant. Our God is a God of abundance, a God who takes chances, and God who dances about joyfully making amazing things happen. In Jesus, God has promised us this is the sort of gardener God is, no matter how good or bad soil we think we are. And our God, my sisters and brothers, is a God who keeps promises. Amen.

Dustin serves as pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church, a vibrant congregation ministering with the local community in Rotterdam, New York. An evangelist, urban gardener, mountain climber, community organizer, saint and sinner, Dustin spends most of his profession time wrestling with God and proclaiming liberation in Christ. Otherwise, Dustin likes hiking, playing frisbee, hanging out with an amazing woman named Jessie and pretending to know how to sing.


  1. I suppose this seems to be a funny way for you to make your point, but in my view it is disrespectful and irreverent for you to create a cartoonish exposition. You, Sir, should be ashamed of yourself because you make jest of The Lord of glory.

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