Seeds, Sowers and Top Soil: Who are we? The Parable of the Sower

Seeds, Sowers and Top Soil: Who are we?

October 17 – Metro Baptist Church

Cláudio Carvalhaes

Mark 4:1–8


The Parable of the Sower

Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land.

2 He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them:

3 ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow.

4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up.

5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil.

6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away.

7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.

8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ 9And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that

“they may indeed look, but not perceive,

and may indeed listen, but not understand;

so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” ’

13 And he said to them, ‘Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? 14The sower sows the word.

15These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

16And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. 17But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

18And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, 19but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing.

20And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’




I am so grateful to you all for the gift of having me here this morning. When Troy invited me, I couldn’t say no. I have heard of you and the wonderful work you do here. Besides, Troy has been a fundamental part of my education. He has been my teacher, my sage, my friend, my colleague. When I was doing my PhD at Union, Troy expanded all of my senses and taught me how to do rituals. I do believe Troy is one of the most knowledgeable scholars in the field of rituals, one with a very generous heart.


I’ve heard you are following a seeds/growing theme through the month related to a current art exhibit you have. I was very excited when I heard about it. So that is why we have this text for today.

But I must confess, when I started to think about the seeds, I first had to wrestle with issues of the soil in order to fully understand the place where the seeds thrive. BUT This parable is not only about the seeds, or the soil. It is about the sower too. There is a deep relationality between them, that one cannot live without the other. The seed depends on the soil to die and resurrect. The soil depends on the seeds to continue to be alive and the sower desperately depends on the seeds and the soil to survive.


So let us look at the soil first. Top soil. To be honest I have a difficult time with the ways we call soil in US: dirt. For my foreign ears, I cannot disconnect dirt from uncleanness, filthiness. And soil is never dirt for me. Dirt is never related to soil. Soil, topsoil, is as fundamental as the water for us to survive.

Top soil is a fragile composition of several elements. A good topsoil has earthworms, fungi, bacteria, protozoa, arthopoos and even mamals. The composition of these elements, collected for many years to create a rich topsoil that gives conditions for the seeds to give birth. In fact it takes 500 years for a topsoil to be rich and good to be planted.


However, we are losing top soil at alarming rates right now. Among the human causes are industrial farming, destroying forests and building roads and cities. Along with water and seeds, top soil are among the most important sources of life. No wonder big corporations and so called rich philanthropists are buying the best lands in Africa, Asian and South America.[1] Bill Gates knows that and is buying the best lands in United States. Bill Gates whose nice philanthropy is destroying communities all around the world. Ask Vandana Shiva who calls him the Christopher Columbus of our times. Read her book “Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom” and you will understand why she calls him that.





Top soil is fundamental not only for seeds and sowers but also for democracy and the any minimal notion of a common good.  Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize understood the power of top soil in its fulness. Maathai played an active part in the struggle for democracy in Kenya. In 1977 she started a grass-roots movement aimed at countering the deforestation that was threatening the means of subsistence of the agricultural population. The campaign encouraged women to plant trees in their local environments and to think ecologically.


The so-called Green Belt Movement spread to other African countries, and contributed to the planting of over thirty million trees. Maathai’s mobilization of African women was not limited in its vision to work for sustainable development; she saw tree-planting in a broader perspective which included democracy, women’s rights, and international solidarity.

However, we have turned topsoil into business and a commodity for profit. We have received lies from big corporations who have told us technology and agribusiness were the only ways out of hunger for the 8 billion population! We believed in the green revolution, we thought that “sustainable development” was the way out. We bought the idea that GMOS were the future of our food and that efficient machinery were going to give us food security!


Lies! All lies!


The intrusion of agribusiness in the fields is actually threatening food security all around the world. Industrialized agriculture uses massive amounts of land and its resources to produce very little food for people to eat. A highly inefficient system that is producing a massive collapse in many ecological systems.


The monoculture of corn and soy, which goes mostly to cattle and fuel, is depleting topsoil. The engine is simple: we deplete the biodiversity of any biome, plant and harvest one monoculture time and again, time and again, time and again. The soil starts to lose its power. Weeds come in which shows us that the soil is trying to fight back.


Weeds are actual signs of both the death of topsoil and its struggle to survive. We then use pesticide to kill the weeds. But this same pesticide start to destroy the rest of the soil’s life. In no time the soil is DEAD!

Besides, pesticides kill the pollinators, destroy all of the bees, and eliminate the biodiversity that is necessary for a rich topsoil to continue. Vandana Shiva tells us that “most of the agribusiness corporations that are coming to the fields, have roots in Hitler’s Germany, when they were creating gases to kill people. The aim was to make chemicals to kill people. After the war, they said “why should we stop making these chemicals. let us use this to kill pests, and create fertilizers.” The fertilizers were produced in the same factories that made explosives, ammunition for Hitler’s wars. The companies’ processes are all the same. The rhetoric might change but the death aim, the structure and the making of it are the same. The materiality of it is the same.”[2]


As I said, it takes 500 years to build a rich topsoil and we are losing it 17 times that rate because of modern industrial agriculture. The heavy machinery compresses the soil and kills the wealth all of the micro-organisms hidden to the naked eye.  The intense cultivation of the soil continues to degrade the soil. Some people are saying we are living a looming soil crisis.[3]

Around the world almost 40% of the topsoil is already lost. And let us not forget that topsoil holds 3 times more carbon than forests and other vegetation and it contributes to climate disasters.


But why am I saying all that? Because we have lost our relationship with the earth. The death of the soil is our own death. The big leap happened when we lost contact with the earth, when we started thinking that nature is something out there, beyond us, away from our bodies. Tending the earth, touching the earth, caring for the earth, living in reciprocity with the earth, were all replaced by heavy machinery, by the need to make money, to feed cattle for our desire for meat. And today, I’m not even addressing the inhumane ways we treat animals.


The only way to survive this crisis is to orient ourselves back to the land where we came from and where we belong. For the earth is the body of God and we come from the body to God. We have to support our small farmers who actually have a deep relation with the land and are always struggling to survive due to the incentives given to big corporations.


Now we are ready to talk about the seeds.
Seeds love good soil, like we love our comfy beds. They like other sustainable forms of farming: they like crop rotation, conservation tillage, contour farming, strip farming, terrace farming,  grass waterways, diversion structure, with lots of other different seeds near them. Let us see this video from Vandana Shiva




Whomever control the seeds control our lives. Seeds are the forms of joy in many colors and shapes. They are wonders! These living organisms are always giving themselves endlessly. The earth works in cycles and these cycles are about seeds finding good topsoil and sprouting in thousands of fruits. Then the seeds of the fruits, the trees’ leaves, other vegetations and fungi find a way to spread their own seeds through the winds, through the bees, through birds and other pollinators in order to continue its cycle, find good soil again, and then give itself back again! Endlessly!


The same way that we evolve, seeds evolves, farmers evolve with the seeds to bring varieties of plants that are so vast. Seeds are evolution and they show us how we all move along with the seeds’ evolution! However, we live in a world that doesn’t like diversity in any form or content. The same way we can’t live with foreigners, is the same ways we can’t live with a diversity of grains and agri-diversity.


* Today, 75 percent of the world’s food is generated from only 12 plants and five animal species.


* Of the 4 percent of the 250 000 to 300 000 known edible plant species, only 150 to 200 are used by humans. Only three – rice, maize and wheat – contribute nearly 60 percent of calories and proteins obtained by humans from plants. [4]


As Vandana Shiva says: “For the farmer, the seed is not merely the source of future plants and food; it is a vehicle through which culture and history can be preserved and spread to future generations. For centuries, farmers have evolved crops and produced an incredible diversity of plants that provide life-sustaining nutrition.”


Oh my friends, there is an ethical imperative to go against genetically modified seeds patented by Monsanto, Bayern, Syngenta and other agri-business and love and support small farmers. Small farmers are often alone in their struggle while agribusiness have the government in their hands. I always remember Oscar Romero, the bishop of El Salvador who said before he died: “They tried to kill us, but they forgot we are seeds.” And seeds comes back again, it gives itself again.



Jesus is God’s seed! We are seeds of God’s earth, just like the seeds who go into the ground, we are seeds. Our cities are our soil. Too bad we love more concrete than soil… We cover up all of the riches of the land with cement that crushes the richness of the ground.  But underneath this concrete pulses a soil that perhaps is not dead yet.


To be seeds is to learn that all we have is the present. All we need to do is to be fully present here! If we are fully present here, the memory of who we are will find a way into the future. The seeds don’t know what will happen to then tomorrow but within them, there is the memory of a past and of a future yet to come. Emanuelle Coccia says that seeds are the symbol of reasoning: seeds produce the conditions of their own living, seeds organize its own environment and live with other beings!


Today they lay down in the soil until the spring. When they sprout, they will give us fruits and then they will find a way back to the land. This knowledge is all stored in each seed. Isn’t this a wonder to behold?


As sowers, we have to care for the soil of our families, the soil of our churches, the soil of our communities. But are also the soil of our community gardens, of our small farmers, the soil of our houses where we live.  Let us live fully into this present! The future will come and we live in God’s hands.

When I used to listen to this parable, the preacher would always ask: what kind of soil you are? Now I have to expand it and ask: what kind of farmer am I? What am I sowing? What kind of seed am I? And then what kind of soil am I? All of these questions must be literal! For we are not detached from soil, seeds and the sower. In fact, we are the sower, we are the seeds, and we are the soil.


Unfortunately, we lost that sense of who we are… The most fundamental sin of our time is separateness. We are so completely separated from the earth that we don’t sense that there is a war against the Earth and this war is against ourselves! The contemporary GMO seeds were sown when the living Earth was transformed into dead matter to facilitate the industrial revolution. The earth became profit and we lost our sense of belonging.


As I talk about topsoil and seeds and small farmers I am talking about you! You as a sower! You as topsoil! You as seeds! The domination of topsoil, control of seeds and destruction of small farmers are wars on us, on women on the poor, on diversity, on small communities, on immigrants, on children! It has been harder and harder to live in community as it is harder and harder for small farmers to survive the attack of agri-business and the absence of care from the state.

No soil can survive without other organisms! No seeds can survive with soil! No sower can survive without the soil and the seeds. We are deeply interrelated and interconnected.

In our communities, we can only survive if we tend each other’s soil, if we give ourselves away like seeds, if we spread seeds into each other’s hearts so we can have a whole diverse biome of thoughts, prayers, gestures, music, wonders and sustenance to live! We are God’s garden and we must use the reasoning of the seeds to help us live better and deeply related to the earth.


Chief Seattle of the Suquamish and Duwamish people’s reminds us: “We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and humankind (man) all belong to the same family.”


As your art exhibition says: “Seeds in the City.” Ah if we learn to be seeds in the city, we will care for the soil, the rivers, the birds, the pollinators, the neighborhoods…. If we truly learn how to be seeds, we can hear people say about you: They are “Seeds in the City,” they have finally learned how to live together. Oh my friends we are responsible for the land, for the seeds and for the sowers. As we are responsible for each other.


How are you going to tell this parable now. I will start today and you continue during the week.


When we the sowers went out to sow…

When we the soil prepared the way for the seeds to nest…

When we the seeds went out to give ourselves away…


What a joy! The gospel telling us who we are! To ourselves, to one another, to the world!

May the triune God:

the sower,

the soil

and the seed

bless us all.


[1] Ask Vandana Shiva who calls Gates the Christopher Columbus of our times. Read her book “Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom” and you will understand why she calls him that.