A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, February 12, 2017
Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23 ESV
When I was a boy of 12 or so, it was about this time of the year when fruit tree catalogs and vegetable and flower seed catalogs started to appear in our family mailbox. My Dad was the one who was most interested in the tree catalogs. He has tended a small apple, pear, and peach orchard for as long as I can remember. My Grandmother was the one who was most interested in the seed catalogs. She was an avid gardener of flowers, and when she was able she made sure that our lawn was adorned with flowers and flowering shrubs of many varieties. Well, it was only natural that I would inherit some of my Dad’s and Grandmother’s love for plants and trees.
But another thing that came in the mail about this time of year was a business offer from the American Seed Company for a young person like myself to fill out an order form for 50 packages of vegetable and garden seeds and order them on consignment. Often my Grandmother would help me choose which seeds would be most popular. I would place the order, and when the box of seeds came in the mail I could then go door to door in our neighborhood selling the packages of seeds at retail cost, and when all the seeds were sold, I would send the American Seed Company about one-third of what I had collected, and I got to keep the rest. The seeds came in a nice, little rectangular box, which made them easy to transport on my bicycle. Such was a good exercise in helping an adolescent gain some early business experience.
But those multi-colored, attractively-packaged packets of vegetable and garden seeds also represented a world of possibilities. Each one of those tiny seeds in each one of those fifty packets represented potential – stalks of sweet corn and hills of green beans, English peas and carrots, summer squash and stalks of okra; yellow zinnias and blue, climbing morning glories; and much, much more.
That is the way with seeds – they contain worlds of possibility and potential. And such is one of life’s miracles and great mysteries – how such tiny seeds produce such wonderful things to eat and such magnificent natural beauties that brighten our world.
Such brings us to Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. This familiar parable reminds us that the potential and possibilities are always embodied within the seeds that are sown. But sometimes environment has everything to do with the seeds’ failure or success. Seeds that are dropped on rocky ground, the hard footpath, or among weeds or thorns don’t hold much promise of living or reaching their potential. One of the sad truths of life is that many good seeds are lost.
Of course, in Jesus’ parable, the “seed is the word of the kingdom” of God. It represents the good news Jesus embodied and taught. Jesus realized that there would be mixed reactions to his message and mission. Some of his followers would take Jesus’ words of living in the realm of God and plant them and produce a wonderful harvest in the world. In fact, the person who was to become Jesus’ most ardent disciple – Paul of Tarsus – draws on the seed-planting analogy in his first Letter to the Corinthians. Paul wrote regarding preaching the good news and planting new churches, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Because of Paul’s efforts, and others like him, in sowing the good seed of Good News and planting churches, the Jesus movement spread across the world.
But Jesus also realized that not everyone would be receptive. The number of disciples that Jesus actually gathered in his lifetime probably was much smaller than we might imagine. Several reasons could be cited for this; among them is the fact that Jesus was not the only itinerant preacher or messiah figure of his day. And also, perhaps because the message of Jesus was so radical, too radical for many people to embrace, especially the political-religious establishment. It may very well be that some of Jesus’ radical words helped get him crucified.
Nevertheless, the potential and possibilities of the Good News of the realm of God as Jesus saw it were always present in those metaphoric seeds that he passed down to us.
But let’s expand the box a bit as we think about the seeds we sow. Let us include as seed possibilities the kind words that we speak to others, the positive example that we set, the altruistic acts of compassion that we perform, and the counsel and encouragement we provide others for their lives. Every time we go out of our way to say a kind word to someone who is really needing one, we are dropping a good seed into the soil of life that may make a difference in the future. Every time we counsel another person, or encourage others to stretch themselves, follow a dream, or utilize their gifts and talents, we are dropping a good seed into the soil of life that may someday produce astounding results. But sometimes it may take years for us to see the positive results of our actions.
Allow me to share a personal example. In the late 1980’s, I was minister of a congregation in Denton, Texas. Now, Denton is a university town, with Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas being two of the largest influences and largest employers in town. It is not surprising that the congregation we served almost always enjoyed the attendance of a few university students.
Well, there was a nice, young university couple named Jeff and Janine who started attending our church. I befriended Jeff and Janine and got acquainted with them as I participated in some of the young adult activities sponsored by the church. Jeff and I talked a few times about his interests and such and future plans, but there was nothing definite.
Well, some years later, after we had long left Denton and moved to a new church start in Franklin, Tennessee, I heard from Jeff. He made contact to inform me that because of my influence upon his life, he, too, had decided to become a minister and had recently been ordained into the ministry. I had had no idea. But the seeds I had dropped evidently had taken root and grown. Now, that is just one life example. Many others could be cited.
But dropping seeds of possibility into the soil of life certainly is not limited to ministers of churches. All of us – in our daily routines and sphere of contacts – have the opportunity to drop seeds of possibilities into the lives of others.
Actor Denzel Washington compiled a book titled A Hand to Guide Me. It is a collection of several dozen stories contributed by famous, successful people about how their success in life was based on the positive influence and encouragement of others. In the Introduction, Denzel says, “Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who didn’t want for positive influences in his or her life. . . . We’re all destined to leave some kind of mark . . . . we all get where we’re going with a push from someone else. . . . you can draw a line from every great success back to some rock-solid foundation. A parent. A teacher. A coach. A role model. It all starts somewhere.”1
But there are a few things we need to bear in mind as we think about dropping positive seeds of possibility in the soil of life. One thing is, as pointed out earlier, not every seed we drop will take root and grow. That is a fact of life. But we should not let that fact make us lose heart.
A second thing to bear in mind, as already noted, is often it takes time for a seed of possibility that we drop to germinate, sprout and grow. It may be months or years before anything good comes from the positive influence we exert or the encouragement we share.
And then a third thing to remember is that some positive seeds we drop will make a difference. And this is a point that we need to remember as we seek to be a positive influence and work for positive change in today’s climate. It would be so easy for us to get discouraged as we think about the state of our country and world today and decide that anything we might do is useless. But of the positive seeds that we sow, some will take root and grow and will make a difference. It may take awhile for a positive outcome to come about, but the good deeds that good people do in the world, and positive influence we seek to exert, will not be lost in the end. We have to have faith that this is so!
And so, the time for planting vegetable and garden seeds may be a few months away. But the time for planting seeds of possibility in the soil of life and in the lives of others is now. There is no better time than the present, as they say. May we all be more alert to the opportunities to do so, trusting that the positive influence we exert, the good deeds we do, and the seeds of possibility that we sow will, indeed, make a difference. May it be so. Amen.
1Denzel Washington, A Hand to Guide Me. Des Moines: Meredith Books, 2006.