It is good to be back – yup, I missed you all! Let’s not get too mushy here though, right?
For the past 4 weeks I spent 31 days with 29 other Chaplains in the Navy Reserve and Chaplain Candidates in Fort Jackson, SC. 31 days of getting up at 4:30 AM to workout, and then be in a classroom from 7:30 AM to about 4 PM.
Now, when you spend that much time with that many people, not everyone ends up being your best friend. And I think that’s pretty normal. But there was one person in particular who really got on my nerves.
This individual was a seminary professor from California (assume all you want about that) what I can say is that she had very little exposure to the military before coming to training! And it showed – just about every day, she wore her uniform improperly; her hair did not fit Navy regulation standards; she would talk to senior officers like they were her buddies, and would always have her hands in her pockets, especially in public. And the thing that drove me the most nuts: she would often forget to put her “cover” – Navyspeak for the thing that goes on your head – on when she went outdoors.
In short, I thought she was a train wreck. So, in all my infinite wisdom and vast Navy experience, I decided to make it my duty to “help” her out. At first, I tried taking her aside privately and informing her of her mistakes – and that seemed to work at first, but then she reverted right back to her bad habits. So I tried again, a bit more forceful….and she got defensive about it – and didn’t change at all. So, I tried by providing her with the written instructions and regulations for all this stuff…..and made zero progress, and in fact, seemed to give little regard for any of it.
I wasn’t getting through to her…and I finally told myself, “That’s it; it’s not worth my time anymore. I’ll just offer my help and knowledge elsewhere where it’ll actually do some good.”
Thank goodness God doesn’t work like me.
Because if God did, then today’s parable tells us God’s making a huge mistake with this whole sowing the Word of God around. If it’s about producing results, then God’s got about a 25% success rate. And even when God’s Word produces, the results are mixed; some hundredfold, others sixty, some less still at thirtyfold.
If we look at it from our point of view, God needs to change his strategy. Time to stop sowing that seed in those soils that don’t produce, and start sowing it in fertile soil – in the places where the result is guaranteed. Heck, God should even be pickier about the fertile soil – I mean, maximize that production…we’re trying to bring people to faith here!
Jesus’ parables are always these cryptic things – hard to figure out. That’s just how parables work, because we so often think of them in our terms, in our worldview as humans – humans born into and with sin. And so, that’s why if we think of it from our view, the parable doesn’t make sense. God’s seems like a lousy farmer who sows with a reckless abandon.
But again, thank goodness God isn’t a thing like us, and that God doesn’t work like that.
The fact is that the sower sows everywhere, regardless the quality of the soil. God spreads the word of the kingdom – his love and grace – to all people, regardless the quality of the person.
And to people like you and I – who I think have found ourselves to have been all of these four types of soil at some point in our lives – that is gospel. God never gives up on us. God never stops sowing. God never stops casting his grace and love on us with reckless abandon…and does so without ceasing. Who knows? The day might come where we finally produce in God’s eyes. Or, maybe that day never does come. But God has enough faith in us to sow the seeds of love and grace, perhaps never truly knowing what the result might be. God never gives up on the possibility that his grace and love are sufficient for us….and we might actually turn away from our sinfulness, our brokenness, and turn towards a life-giving relationship with him.
I think that’s what Jesus is getting at in the parable today – we might get it right, or we might not. But thank goodness we have a God who sows his love and grace on us either way….unconditional, unearned.
Growing up on the farm, I remember my dad lamenting from time to time how he wished we had better land to farm – the soil in central Minnesota where our farm was rocky, sandy topsoil, with lots of weeds. When asked what we grew on our farm, dad would reply without hesitation: “Rocks and weeds.” It was so different from the land to the south of us – black, rich, heavy…and with few rocks and weeds – land that produced a much better harvest.
That didn’t stop my dad from trying to coax everything he could out of the soil – picking rock, spraying herbicides to kill and control weeds, spreading fertilizer on it – all in an attempt to make the land as fertile as possible, to yield the crops he needed to get out of it. But even in all that, my dad always lamented, his life would be a whole lot easier if he just had some of that good farmland to the south of us.
I think when it comes to being the church and the ministry we are called to, we think that we’re supposed to be farmers. We think our job is to focus on soil – trying to change people so that they’ll come to faith, trying to improve the “quality” of the person so that the Word of God can work. We do that, and more often than not, we find we can’t change a thing – and we get frustrated, maybe even resentful. And we give up on certain people and move on to those who are more receptive to the Word of God, more fertile soil where we’ll know we’ll be more successful in producing results.
But this parable tells us that we’re not called to be farmers – we’re called to be sowers, just like the One who sows the Word of love and grace on us.
The Navy Chaplain Corps has 4 “core competencies” or 4 core commitments to its ministry to men and women in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. One of those 4 core competencies is “care for all.” CARE FOR ALL.
As Navy chaplains, we’re called to care for all people – regardless of their beliefs or values, regardless of their background or orientation, and when they screw up – especially when they screw up. The institution of the military places pretty strong consequences when people screw up – but the job of the Navy chaplain is to care for all, to care for them especially in those moments. We care for them with no agenda or expectation of a particular outcome. We CARE FOR ALL.
When I think of what it means to be sowers, CARE FOR ALL hits the mark. We are to care for all, without expectation or agenda. We are to care for all, with reckless abandon, never ceasing in that care. We are to care for all because that’s exactly what God – the sower who casts his love and grace on us – does for us.
We’re called to simply sow those seeds of care – trusting that the creation and nurturing of faith in those we care for is done by the work of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit – just as it has been done in us.
Thank goodness for a God who sows his care on all of us and all people. May we be or continue to be sowers of God’s grace, caring for all…..being church in the world. Amen.