This week I’m accompanying ten high school students from Holston Presbytery to the Montreat Youth Conference in North Carolina. During this week, students are exploring what it means to be rooted in Christ and reaching out with his love to the world. There are 1,100 high school students at the conference, filling up all the lodges and private homes in Montreat. Church vans can be seen from Charleston and Chattanooga, Grand Rapids and Tallahassee, Cincinnati and Tuscaloosa. There are students from mega-churches and students here as the only youth from their church. And they’re here for a week in the mountains to grow in God with each other.
Each day in morning energizers and keynote presentations, recreation events, small group study, and daily worship, conferees explore scripture together and connect it to their lives and the world around us to see how our rootedness in Jesus nourishes us to reach out to the hurting, lost, and lonely.
On Monday we explored Jesus’ parable of the sower. The keynote presentation reinterpreted this parable in light of contemporary horticultural knowledge. Often we read this parable as a parable of soils, that God (the sower) casts the Gospel (the seed) on all different kinds of ground (humanity). The seeds that fall on rocky ground are eaten by birds. Some seeds take root and spring up quickly but without enough water and deep roots, they wither and die of scorching heat. Other seed grows up with weeds that choke out their life. And finally the seed that lands in the fertile soil yields a great harvest.
In the keynote, however, we explored how some seeds, like raspberry seeds, have to be ingested by birds and released through their digestive tract in order to be able to be planted in the soil and grow. And Sequoyah seeds must be scorched in order to open up and enter the earth. The point was made, then, that just because a seed is eaten by birds or scorched as a young plant doesn’t mean that the soil it was thrown on is worthless. Perhaps the Gospel can only take root through those times of bird digestion and scorching sun. Maybe our lives are like that too, that God’s grace becomes real to each of us in different ways and at different times. Instead of some soils simply being non-responsive to the Gospel, their simply embody the Gospel differently.
In small groups we talked about the character of God that is revealed in the parable of The Sower. I’m always reminded in these settings why I love studying scripture with young people, because there is no pretense, not need to protect the Bible, no fear that they’ll be “heretical” in what they say. I often find in adult studies that folks just tell me what they already thought before we began studying, and I sometimes feel we lack the openness to receive something new from God.
In this youth study, the students said the sower seemed random, throwing the seeds all over the place without careful planning. They labeled the sower as “careless” to throw out that seed in places where it couldn’t take root. Why not just carefully place all the seed in the fertile soil?
And that peaked my imagination. Because really, at it’s heart, isn’t the Gospel of God a careless act? God comes to us in Jesus, lives, dies, and rises to bring us to the realization that we belong to God and our life is shaped by the sacrificial love God gives us in Jesus. And God lives this costly life and death and resurrection without the guarantee that we will respond. God casts the Gospel through all the world through the church with seeming carelessness, not planting in the most “fertile” places but in rocky places, dry places, and weed-infested places.
Grace as gift is by definition careless. It doesn’t fit into our categories of efficiency or profitability. The sower just throws that seed out there and will make use of whatever elements it requires to bring us to the realization that we are loved not because of our soil pH but because of God’s grace.
Grace is free. Grace is random. Grace is careless. May that grace capture us, that we might welcome that news into our soils.
And finally, watch this video used in worship last night to see what a life of careless grace can look like (It’s a life insurance commercial but beautifully illustrates the point):