Does Everything Really Happen for a Reason?

Sunday, July 7, 2024
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Matthew 13:1-9

One of the gifts of my work is meeting with young families as they prepare to have their children baptized here at Augustana. I love getting to know their wonderings and their faith and hearing from them what faithful parenting might look like as they bring their child to the font and the waters of baptism.

In our conversations ahead of baptism, we also share our concerns for these children that we have been given to love and to raise. As you might imagine, there are lots of things that feel concerning these days. A lot of fears, a lot of questions, a lot of ambiguities about how they will navigate the world we have created. The world has always been an uncertain place for us as humans, but so much in our time feels uncharted and uncertain.

As people, we love (and often cling to) certainty; we do what we can to create conditions around ourselves that give the illusion that we are in control. And the hard part with that is that our lived reality as creatures on God’s earth is full of ambiguity; full of unanswerable questions and experiences that cannot be explained or described in easy or simple ways.

Jesus knows a thing or two about ambiguity and complexity. In today’s passage from scripture, we hear a parable, the first of seven that Jesus tells in the Gospel of Matthew. Parables are stories that Jesus tells in ways that sometimes sound like riddles, that seek to answer our questions with nuance and story. Jesus as teacher is one who uses metaphors and analogies to make complex ideas easier to understand and to remind us that things aren’t always as clear-cut or certain as we might like to think.

Jesus tells of a Sower whose seed falls in various types of ground. Some seed falls on the path and is eaten by birds. Some falls on rocky ground and, though they start to grow, die in the hot sun because they don’t have deep roots. Still others fall among well-established thorns, so are choked out pretty immediately by what is already there. And lastly, some seeds fall on “good soil” and yields fruit.

At first glance, this parable actually seems pretty straightforward. The Sower sows the seed and depending on where it falls, we can see the outcome. The cause and effect. And it seems pretty clear that the best option is for that seed to falls on “good soil”, resulting in a harvest. But, a closer look begs us to consider that even that seed – even the seed that falls on “good soil” – differs in the harvest that it brings about. Verse 8 says that the good soils brings forth grain, but “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Things aren’t as clear cut when we look closer.

Maybe that’s because the ground or the soil isn’t necessarily what we are called to focus on today. Maybe it’s the Sower.

So who is doing the sowing? In scripture, God is depicted as one who sows (specifically in Jeremiah) and in Matthew, it is Jesus who sows the “word of the kingdom”.

The question that we ponder together today – the question that many of you submitted while creating this series – is whether “everything really happens for a reason.” It strikes me as a question that isn’t asking about the technicality of cause and effect, but a spiritual question – whether God makes everything happen for a reason.

It’s a well-intentioned response to the pain we experience in life; you may have been told this in the midst of tragedy or bad news or hardship. Of course we want to offer one another some sort of answer when uncertainty hits. Our fear of uncertainty – how uncomfortable it makes us to now know why things happen the way they do – often lead us right into these sorts of platitudes.

But, if we look to scripture and to the God that we know, the answer to that question – “Does everything really happen for a reason?” – simply put, is no.

Because if we believe that God makes everything happen for a reason, that pretty quickly leads us to an understanding of God as a heavenly puppet-master, making some things happen for good and some things happen for bad. It means that God makes bad things happen for the sake of a lesson or a teaching, which isn’t true to the God we know.

Today’s story is about a Sower, not a Gardener. There’s a difference here. The sowing is abundant, even seemingly reckless, which is a familiar characteristic of God: God’s grace is given with abundance, with abandon. The results aren’t predetermined by a gardener or orchestrated; the sower doesn’t plan for or create a condition where the seed will not grow. The Sower isn’t doing the choking or the withering or the feeding the seed to the birds; the Sower is simply providing with abundance.

God is a God of creation and goodness. God doesn’t ordain the things that hurt us. Rather than there being one right or ordained path that we are inevitably and unknowingly following by this puppet-master, instead we worship a God who promises to be with us no matter what. Which leaves room for lament and honesty.

No matter what soil we show up as on any given day, we are always loved. Note that Jesus doesn’t tell the hearers of this parable to “be good soil”, Jesus just points to the Sower. Whether we are rocky ground or fertile soil, God is with us and continues sowing, extravagantly, even in places that seem barren or hopeless. God doesn’t create our pain, God is with us in our pain.

Theologian Matt Schur says this, “Our comfort is that no matter what happens, we are never alone. God will never leave our side. God laments alongside us, holds us closer when we cry and punch God’s chest in despair, and finally slows us to bury our face in God’s shoulder.

Whether we are preparing our babies for baptism or for the journey of parenthood, or whether we’re amidst a situation or moment in our lives that has us crying out in despair, we look to God for our certainty. That there is absolutely nothing – “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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