So this farmer went out with a bunch of seeds. And he scattered them far and wide. Some fell on the road, so the road runners ate them. Some fell on the red rock; those seeds sprouted quickly, but their roots didn’t go very deep. The saplings whithered and died in the blazing sun, and the remains were trampled by coyotes. Some fell in the dry and thorny weeds; those seeds never had a chance. And some of those seeds fell on rich, fertile, life-filled soil, and grew forth abundant harvest.
Well…maybe that farmer didn’t live in Arizona, after all.
Still. You know this story. Most of us learned some version of it when we were very small. As one of my elders said, ‘ it’s so rich and visual. You can just see the flannel board.” Even if you didn’t grow up in a faith community, you’ve probably heard a secular translation. These images can be easily applied to academics, business, family life, investment, you name it.
Now, go back for a minute. You’re five years old, and your Sunday school teacher or your pastor says, ‘now, children, which kind of soil do you want to be?” Repeat after me now… THE GOOD SOIL. (‘Jesus’ might also be a correct answer, as Jesus is the appropriate answer to any question asked in a children’s sermon). Yes, we want to be the good soil. Well done. Now go back and sit quietly with your parents and LISTEN–be good soil– and God will grow something beautiful in your heart.
Hey, don’t pull your sister’s hair in church. And that quarter i just gave you is for the collection plate.
Anyway…it’s a lovely message. An important one. We need spiritual practices to make us ‘fertile soil’ for God’s word and God’s will in our lives. Prayer. Scripture. Kindness and generosity. These things will make us the kind of ground where good stuff happens. God stuff.
Now you’re a grown up. Let’s change the story.
What kind of farmer do you want to be?
The right answer, of course, is the KENTUCKY kind. You want to farm in Kentucky where the ‘corn tops ripe and the meadows in the bloom,’ and the tobacco leaves are bigger than your head, and the tomatoes are really tomatoes, and the strawberries are crayon-red, and a five-minute run to the garden is all the dinner prep you need. That’s what kind of farmer you want to be.
But the facts of life are, mostly we are farming in Arizona. (Stop being so literal. This is a metaphor).
In the desert, you have to scatter your seeds–the potential of life and growth and transformation–far and wide. Because in reality, much of what you have is going to land in a barren place. You can’t always be sure that the place where you stand is going to bear fruit. It might look green enough right now…but wait till July and see where the sun hits it. See what other-terrestial bugs and reptiles and rodents come crawling out at night to graze. See what a few months of no rain does to that promising corner of the garden.
But there…just over there, that spot that looks so utterly desolate and dry? There, exactly, is where the wildflowers come up singing in April. Where the winter grass pops up in December after just one hard rain. Where the cactus has been storing water, all year long, for just such a time as this.
You don’t know where your stuff is going to land. In ministry, in relationships, in business, in art. The landscape of our every day is broad and varied. If you want life to emerge from what you have in your hand, you’ve got to toss it far and wide, and trust God for the growth.
That’s what kind of farmers we want to be, if we are people of faith. We’ve got to sow generously, knowing that we are letting go of much more than what we hold in our hand. In good faith, we let go of our possessions, we let go our agenda, we let go our experience and expectations of ‘where the good soil is.’ We let go, and we watch in awe, as God takes our small seeds of faith and transforms them…10, 20, 100 times over.
We harvest in gratitude, and then we go plant some more. In the desert, and anywhere else we might be.