No Way to Run a Farm

Luke 8:1-15

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the church is a messy place. No, I’m not talking about church bulletins stuffed in the pockets and cheerios stomped in the carpet and attendance cards shredded up and left on the floor – I’m talking about the people. It’s a messy place. We’ve got people with problems – marriages struggling, finances in the toilet, kids who are acting out. We’ve got members who are half-hearted in their commitment, non-committal in their attendance, greedy, immoral, hypocritical, and sometimes just downright hard to get along with. If you come to church thinking you’re leaving the problems out there in the world, well think again. We’ve got them in here, too. And if you are thinking they have their act together better down the street at some other church – they don’t. And if you’re thinking, the first century church was the ideal and they didn’t have to deal with the centuries of apostasy and corruption that have led up to this – well, try telling that to the churches at Corinth or Ephesus or Laodicea. And it kind of makes you wonder whether this is really what God had in mind – and if it is – what was he thinking?

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:4-8)

I don’t know if you grew up around farming or agriculture or if perhaps you grow a garden, but even the novice would know that this isn’t any way to plant a crop. What is he thinking? Everyone knows that if you want to get the best harvest, you plow the field, furrow the cultivated soil into rows, and then carefully place a single seed in the top of the furrow every six inches and cover it over with an inch of soil. Then you fertilize it and water it and weed it and then keep watering it until it’s time to go out and bring in the harvest. That’s how you do it. But this farmer doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo. He just seems to grab a sack of seed, step out his back door and walk around flinging seed everywhere.

And this farmer has brothers. Jesus tells a couple of other parables about them:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Mt. 13:24-30).

What is he thinking? Doesn’t he know he is putting his entire crop at risk? The weeds will take over, the crop will be decimated, the harvest will take twice as long and produce a fraction as much.

And one of his brothers raises sheep: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4).

No, you don’t! You chalk up the one lost sheep to the cost of doing business. You don’t put the rest of your flock at risk just because you have a soft heart. What are you thinking?

That’s no way to run a farm! It’s poor methods and bad business sense… and Jesus says, “that’s exactly how God runs his kingdom.” That’s right – Jesus isn’t talking about farmers, he’s talking about God – and he’s not talking about crops and sheep, he’s talking about the church. I told you – the church is messy business.

So, what is God thinking? Why are his methods random and haphazard and inefficient? Well, of course, he could change all that and become more efficient and run his farm (I mean his church) so that it was spic and span and neat and tidy – but you and I wouldn’t be here. We’d never make it in the door. They would check our credentials and inform us, “I’m sorry, but you just don’t meet our standards.”

And all the rows would be straight and every seed would be accounted for and things would happen on schedule and by the book. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t?

I’m glad that his disciples didn’t get it. If it made sense to them, Jesus wouldn’t have had to explain it. But thank God one of them risked appearing the fool (want to guess which one?) and said, “Huh? I don’t get it.”

And so, Jesus shakes his head and explains – “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:10-15)

We learn something significant about the farmer – he only has one kind of seed – it is the word of God – the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he has it in such great supply that he has no concern that some will be wasted. You never diminish the supply by spreading it. If you give some to every person you meet, when you look in the sack at the end of the day, it is still full.

And we learn something else – he doesn’t consider any of it wasted. Even the seed that doesn’t germinate, or is carried off, or quickly dies isn’t wasted. Seed has a way of lying fallow for years waiting for the right moment and the right conditions and then springing to life. Even the seed that is eaten by birds has a way of showing up somewhere else – ever wonder how the weeds show up in your yard?

They have found seed in some of the tombs in the pyramids in Egypt, stored there with the mummies for 1000’s of years, and they planted some of it and would you believe it germinated and produced grain?

The Word of God is like that. You plant it and it seems to have no effect or is even rejected. And you think, what a waste. But then months or even years later, something happens, the Word springs to life and a life is changed. You never can tell.

What the farmer does may look random, but it is not haphazard – it is intentional. His actions are not for efficiency, but for the greatest possible harvest. It is, in parable form, the essence of the Great Commission in Mark 16:15-16, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

And my first thought is – “all the world?” There are some places that would be wasted effort – too dangerous, too wicked, too closed minded – places like Syria or North Korea or Salt Lake City…. or Aspen? There are some people you think would never be interested or open to the gospel, and so we don’t share it because it would be wasted effort. We have co-workers, friends, neighbors, relatives who would just never be open to an invitation to church or a Bible study, and so we keep our sack of seed tied up tight, because you don’t want to waste it where it won’t do any good.

It’s a good thing we’re smarter than the farmer. He just flings it everywhere – on the rocks, on the path, among the thorns – he just doesn’t get it. He thinks if one seed takes root and

grows it’s all worth it. That’s no way to run a farm! Better methods, focused efforts, efficiency and productivity – that’s the way to farm.

It reminded me of a story I heard recently: The London Transit Authority had a problem. Buses were going right past passengers who were waiting at designated places to be picked up. They were at the bus stops, and the buses were sailing right past them. The London Transit Authority released a statement to explain their actions. The statement said it was impossible for them to maintain schedules if they always had to stop and pick up passengers. That’s the way the world thinks. Schedules matter more than people.

But that’s not God’s way. God’s farm (if you will) – his kingdom – isn’t about efficiency, it’s about people. God will do anything, go anywhere, spend everything to bring the kingdom of God to every person alive. If that means throwing some seed in places where it probably won’t grow so that it might take root in the heart of one individual, that’s what he’s going to do.

The truth is, there are some pretty hostile environments out there for the seed.

Jesus said, some of it fell on the hard packed path. It just lay there and was crushed beneath people’s feet as they trod upon it. The rest of it became bird feed as the birds swooped in for a feast. Jesus says Satan is looking for the life in which the word just kind of sets on the surface. The heart is hard and impenetrable, and the devil just flicks it away before it has any impact.

Other seed, Jesus said, fell among the rocks. It found a little soil and germinated, but the soil was shallow, it didn’t hold moisture and the plant withered. Jesus said that describes those who hear the word and, “Man, that’s just what I’ve been looking for! Something to fix all my problems”, but their faith is so shallow – they do nothing to nurture it – no Bible study, no prayer, no fellowship – and when the first trial comes, they say, “See, I told you it wouldn’t work.”

Other seed falls among thorns. And those thorns are thicker than kudzu. The seed gets a start, but it never has a chance before it’s choked out. And Jesus says, when the Word has to compete against riches and pleasure and is constantly being suffocated by worry, it’s an uphill battle. When people think they can just add a little bit of God in with their already too-busy lives, they find that it never works. Unless God is given first place and top priority, he will always be the first thing squeezed out.

Finally, though, Jesus says, some of the seed falls on good soil – the heart is soft, the life is ready – and the Word takes root and grows and produces a tremendous crop. Not without struggle, mind you – notice in vs. 15, he says, “by persevering produce a crop.”  But God’s word has sunk its roots deep into that life and it has been nurtured and fed and it has grown strong and healthy and it withstands the seasons of drought and it produces fruit even when Satan throws his worst at it.

And that’s where we scratch our heads and wonder. Why doesn’t God just plant his seed in the good soil where he knows it will grow? Why waste seed, why waste the effort when you know the chances are slim of producing any fruit? I’ll tell you why.

I’m a Christian today, because God flung his seed in a pretty hostile environment. The ground was hard, the weeds were thick, and the birds were picking the ground clean. It never should have taken – by all rights, it should never have grown. But it did. Somehow, the seed that was wasted effort found its place in my life and I’m a Christian today because God’s a lousy farmer.

He did it for me.