Pay Close Attention Mark 4:1-34
Given by Rev. April Blaine on Sunday, January 17, 2016
The parable of the sower is one of the central parables of Jesus’ teaching. It’s central for a few reasons, it is found in three of the four Gospels, and it receives the most attention, meaning the most number of verses are devoted to both telling the parable and explaining it, and in the Gospel of Mark it is the first parable told.
In many ways this parable helps us understand all the other parables to come. So if we want to understand what Jesus is trying to teach us through the parables, this parable is a good place to start.
And the parable tells us about a farmer, a farmer who is spreading and scattering seed in a variety of places.
Some of the seed that the farmer scatters falls on the path… where it is quickly eaten up by the birds.
Some of the seed falls in shallow soil and the plants soon sprout up, but because there is not enough depth for them to take root, The young plants soon wither away in the heat of the sun.
Some of the seed falls in suitable soil and begins to grow, but the soil is also filled with thorny plants who choke out the nutrients and the sunlight, so that the plants like the others, are short-lived.
But some of the seed falls in good soil and it takes root, and the plants grow and yield a crop that is 30, 60, a hundred fold.
Now, I'll be the first to tell you that I know very little about farming. I grew up in the mountains where there was very little farming.
And in general, I have a terrible reputation for being able to keep plants alive. My husband will tell you that you are ill advised to ever give me the gift of a plant, if your hope is that that plant would still be alive in three months.
But I do know enough about the basic biology of how a seed becomes a plant, to know that this farmer in the story, is not really very good at their job.
Even I know, that if you want to yield the best possible harvest, you don't start off your planting season by throwing seed around where ever you feel like it. You don't put seed on the pathway. You don't put seed in the briar bushes. You don't put seed in really shallow soil.
I'm no expert, but even I know that.
So, it's interesting to read the commentaries about this passage. Different commentators have perspectives that try to link this story of the parable of the sower with specific farming practices that were used in ancient Palestine. Some try to say that it could have been similar to a rare practice or even a practice used for a very specific crop – but as you read through the various thoughts - it's very quickly evident that this passage has no clear connection to any farming practice that was used at the time. Which seems pretty obvious right? This is terrible farming practice. It's not efficient if you want to yield the maximum crop.
Which is the first point of the parable,
this generous farmer, who we know to be God, even before Jesus explains it to us, seems to care less about efficiency, and more about making sure the seed reaches as many places as possible.
It's not about efficiency, it's about accessibility.
Gods priority, is making sure that the word of God is accessible to everyone.
And so the next part of the parable, is to understand where we fit in.
Because if God is the sower and the seed is the word, then we are the soil.
And the parable is clear that much of the soil, is simply not ready to receive the word.
It's worth noting, that the parable begins and ends with a call from Jesus to listen.
To pay attention.
Part of what Jesus seems to be suggesting, even to his close disciples is that there is some very important work necessary in order to be ready to receive the word that he is offering.
Good soil doesn't become good soil my accident.Good soil has been plowed and tilled.
It has been cleared of briars and anything else that would stop the plants from growing. There is a depth to allow for the plants to really take root.
Good soil has been molded and shaped, much in the same way that Jesus is suggesting that his followers must be molded and changed by the word that he is bringing.
Listen! Pay attention!
Now, I think it’s important to pause here and note what Jesus is NOT saying.
He isn’t telling the disciples and the listeners what kind of soil they are.
He isn’t telling them that any of the soils are inherently bad.
He isn’t trying to make them feel ashamed for their own possible lack of readiness to hear the word of God.
He’s not trying to guilt them into anything.
But he does want them to listen. To pay attention to the things that God is saying to them. To let it take root in their hearts and spirits – into the deepest parts of their hearts.
He wants them to hear what the word is saying –
You are my beloved.
You are blessed.
You don’t have to be afraid
For God is near to you. So near to you.
You have been made for a purpose and called for a life of love and mission and justice.
Turn to God. Because god is
Ready to heal you and forgive you and lead you toward the life everlasting.
Ready for your life to bring forth good and beautiful fruit.
For when the word of God becomes planted in their hearts in the deepest parts of our being, when it really takes root,
Then it will yield a crop that is 30, 60, and 100 fold of what was planted.
And so our job is to till the soil, to be as ready as possible to receive the word that God wants to give us.
For the past few years, I’ve been taking some time for spiritual retreats – often to stay overnight at a Catholic retreat center. And one of my favorite ones that I’ve visited is the St Walburg Monastery in Villa Hills, KY just south of Cincinnati.
The nuns here are remarkable and the peacefulness of the place is deeply contagious. Each morning, noon, and evening they gather for prayer. Now if you’ve ever worshipped with the sisters, then you quickly learn that one of the central parts of the liturgy is that they recite the psalms responsively. In a single day, they recite 5-6 psalms. And the way they do it is that one side of the room says a section then the other side responds. And back and forth they go.
And on these repeated visits I began to notice that there was this long, lingering pause that would come when one side had completed their response and just before the next side is ready to begin. It’s as if no one wants to rush into it, and no one wants to be the leader who starts. The pause lasts for several seconds until it seems that everyone is ready to speak in unison. And then… they do.
On my most recent visit, after slightly embarrassing myself and rushing through the pause –
I asked one of the sisters –
“Why do you have such a long pause after each group recites the Psalm?”
And she responded with this gentle smile.
“Oh April,” she said, “we aren’t reciting the Psalms. We are praying the Psalms. The pause is there intentionally so we might always remember to LISTEN for the word that God has for us.”
So, the parable tells us that this generous God of ours has made sure that the Word of God is all around us. It is accessible.
And when we are truly ready to listen and receive the word… Extraordinary things are possible.
I think about, this weekend in particular, what things have happened in the world, because people, ordinary people – began to listen to the WORD of God speaking into their hearts and lives.
People like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Marian Wright Edelman, Sojourner Truth, and so many others.
Who believed the word when God said they were beloved and when God said they were blessed and when God said that like every other child born into this world, they were born for a life of meaning and purpose and love and justice – and they believed the word, it sunk deep into the fiber of their being, into their hearts and their souls and the word grew and bore fruit in their lives,
30, 60 and a hundred-fold.
I wonder where you are being called to LISTEN more fully.
And I wonder where there might be some briars and thorny bushes that need to be cleared out of your life, because they are blocking the sunlight and preventing you from fully receiving the word and growing in the ways you know you need to.
I wonder where your soil might need some depth. Where you know that God is calling you to a season of learning so that the word can really take root in your heart.
Good soil doesn’t become good soil by accident.
May we be able to LISTEN and PAY ATTENTION to the Word that God is sharing.
I want to close with a reading that will allow us to practice JUST THAT.