Sunday, July 10, 2005

good soil

In the name of Jesus; amen.

I am not what you might call a successful gardener. If you’ve seen the backyard of the parsonage lately you might be aware of that. When spring finally arrived this year I made the decision to wait and see what would pop up before making any decisions about what I might try to grow in a garden.

To my surprise I have all sorts of plants back there including bleeding hearts and rhubarb; I know this because my parents told me that’s what they were on one of their visits.

I like the idea of having a garden, of seeing beautiful things grow in my yard, but whenever I begin the process of trying to plant one I get frustrated by the conditions of the soil and all the work it takes to get it ready for planting.

Now I have tried in the past. Scott and I lived in a parsonage in Jersey City the summer after we were married and valiantly cleared out the back yard with the help of a friend. No one had lived in the house for some time and it took all day just to clear the trash and debris before we could start to plant anything.

I was excited because I had sunflower seeds to plant; so I dug a shallow trench and lovingly placed seeds in the dirt at even intervals. I watered those plants every day. I cleared the weeds that occasionally popped up and I measured their growth with anticipation at the bright yellow flowers that would adorn the yard.

They bloomed about a week after we moved back to seminary and ever since I’ve found the dream of a beautiful garden to be more practical than the actual planting of one.

It seems to be such trouble wherever I have lived. In New Jersey it was dealing with sandy soil and too much sunlight and here… well, let’s just say there are a lot of rocks in CT.

So, when I read this parable that Jesus tells I get somewhat excited. A sower went out to sow… and it seems his idea of planting totally disregards all the work that I once thought necessary to planting anything. He doesn’t clear the ground of debris and rocks, he doesn’t dig holes or trenches; he just goes out and indiscriminately tosses seed. Now this is my kind of planting!

(The Sower
Vincent van Gogh
oil on canvas 73x93cm
E. G. Buhrle Collection)

Except that some of the seeds fall on the path and the birds eat it. (Well, let’s just say that I bought a bag of birdseed 2 months ago and I still haven’t had to refill the birdfeeder.)

And then some seeds fell onto rocky ground and their roots couldn’t go down deep enough for much of a plant to grow. Well, that may explain why the bleeding hearts in my backyard aren’t all that tall.

And other seeds the sower sowed fell among the thorns and the thorns chocked them. (I should now mention that I can’t tell what are the weeds in my yard and what are the actual plants anyway.)

Oh, the sower did get lucky. Some of his seeds hit good soil and they sprang up, but if this was a story about gardening it would seem that the moral would be don’t use shortcuts when planting.

Jesus went out of his house and sat beside the sea. He had had a hard day. He had gotten into a fight with the Pharisees over working on the Sabbath and whether or not he was in league with the devil.

He probably just wanted to sit by the water and listen to the waves lap up against the shore when a crowd began to gather and grow so big that he had to climb aboard a boat to have them all see him.

“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” And the people quieted down to hear his story because Jesus had a way with stories. And what’s really great about this one is that Jesus himself explained it so that everyone who heard it would understand what it meant and he didn’t always do this; sometimes people walked away from one of his stories scratching their heads and wondering what the heck he was talking about.

His stories, his parables were how he explained things about God or the kingdom of God. And he told them in such a way that you knew that you were in the story too.

Well, we are not the sower in this parable Jesus tells the crowds that gathered at the sea to hear him preach. This was a story about God and so God is the sower; the one that tosses the seed indiscriminately onto the ground is our creator.

We are also not the seeds. In this parable the seeds are the Word of God and the Word of God is his story of grace for us. It’s the message of his love for us, forgiveness for us, and his desire for us. This is the stuff he tosses randomly onto the soil in hopes that it will grow.

Not the sower, not the seeds, we aren’t the soil either. Oh, traditionally this might be how one would interpret this parable. It would make sense and could certainly be argued. But soil is the situation, the environment we find ourselves in, not who we are… but where we are and what is happening at the time.

So where are we in the story? Can you guess?

I would say that we are the thing that grows from the seeds that are planted.

Listen now. Some people get eaten up by believing in the wrong thing or by not believing at all. Some people don’t root themselves in their faith and they never grow and ultimately don’t survive. Some people forget their faith and turn to things that only destroy them. And some people just keep replanting themselves in hopes of finding a better spot to no avail.

And some people find themselves growing out of good soil and they produce fruit.

Still listening? We are supposed to be fruit producing people and this community is supposed to be good soil otherwise we wouldn’t have been planted here. It might seem like God sowed with no plan at all, that his gardening skills were erratic at best, that it was all luck…

…but God knows about gardens and proclaims through the prophet Isaiah: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

We have been cultivated for God’s purpose: to share the Word of the Kingdom with others; to act as scarecrows when the devil comes to eat up the faith of others; to clear the land of rocks and to pull up the weeds which choke faith.

Do you hear? Are you listening?

We have been planted by God who loves us, watered by our baptisms, fertilized by the body and blood of Christ, and rooted in faith so that we might fulfill the purpose of God. The sower is not random, but generous in how he plants so that we too might be generous in how we bear fruit.

We are fruit producing people and God glories in the garden he has planted.


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