For many living along major rivers, the effects of flooding has robbed them of planting seeds and anticipating a harvest – not only for this growing season, but for some, the impact will last for years, perhaps decades. One can only imagine the affects this spring’s and summer’s winds and torrential rains have had on the crops. I can only imagine that in other places there will be no haying and no other crops growing or producing for a harvest. In many places there are no cattle or hogs to feed as many drowned in the flooding or had to be relocated. In many places the conditions for what the harvest will be are very tenuous. It’s a critical time. For those who have sown the seed, perhaps there is concern; perhaps they are anxious and downright worried. The seed sown is precious, full of potential.
Today’s parable is preached to a rural community of Jesus’ day. The society was primarily agricultural. Although the nature of the soil, the climate, and other factors made farming a life of constant toil and hardship, it was basic to survival. A large part of the land was desert and rock and could not be farmed. A typical farmer didn’t live on the farm but in a nearby village or town, most often near a fortified city. He owned no more land than he could manage with his family. He probably grew vegetables and herbs alongside his house. When the Israelites first came to the Promised Land, each household was given a plot of land. But as the rich engaged in buy-outs, it became difficult for the poor to hold on to their land. We need to erase our images of our American farms, now 100’s to 1000’s of acreage with big tractors and planters, combines, and round balers. Picture instead a hardworking farmer toiling in a small field with bare hands. There are hard paths that separate his plot from those of his neighbors; there are stones that he unearths or tries to navigate a kind of row for the planting of the seed that he throws from his hand. The pulpit for the telling of this parable is from a boat on the Sea of Galilee, the preacher Jesus is speaking to this rural congregation gathered on the beach. He told them that a farmer went out to sow his seed, but as he threw out the seed, some fell on those hardened paths, and the birds came and devoured them. Later he explained that the seed is the Word of God that is snatched up by the evil one. The devil works overtime to convince everyone that the Word does not have a chance. It is not difficult to find people who have been diverted from the Word, and often the easiest place for that to happen is right here in the church. Jesus wants us to understand that we often get concerned about the wrong things.
We get caught up in all kinds of issues and often forget why the church exists – as a gathering place for praising God, for inviting others in, offering hospitality, sharing a holy meal, a place of being inclusive. It is a place for praying for ourselves and our world, a place for hearing God’s Word, a place to come to give back from our hearts in response to the love and blessings God has already given us. It more importantly exists for mission – the gathering in so that we can be sent back out, sharing the good news of what Jesus Christ is doing in our lives with others. The church is not our field to come and enjoy the beauty of the flowers only for ourselves, to eat the produce only for our own nourishment. The seed, God’s Word, can fall on hard ground when we receive it, having all the wrong expectations.
Jesus said that there are some people who receive the Word with great enthusiasm, open to what the Word can accomplish for them, but unfortunately they are often like the rocky soil – the ground looks good on the surface, but it’s not deep. The seeds quickly germinate, exposed to elements that cause growth, but when the heat of the sun beats down, the new plants wither. They wilt under the pressure of what it means to be more than well intentioned – they wilt when it comes time to be truly committed. To bring it more current to ourselves – let’s think about how riled we get. Do we get riled about sports and other activities getting scheduled on Sunday mornings – traditional Sunday School and worship times? Do we wilt rather than standing up and saying “we can’t come at that time, that’s when we worship, that’s when we have a particular church activity we’re participating in?” Do we get riled when we’re asked to work at the dinner or other event, and are even asked to pay for our own dinner as it’s a fund raiser, or bring our children to church to serve as acolytes, to take part in church programming, but won’t think of missing a ball practice or game? It makes us uncomfortable to say these thoughts out loud or to hear them spoken as we often don’t want to think about the choices we have to make. Are we ready to consider that culture has really changed and that the church is changing as well and we may have to do things much differently to remain viable. Do we sometimes feel like God breaks into our otherwise ordinary daily life and redirects us to fields that we question why we have to tend to? In our honest moments, perhaps we can admit to times of pushing God into the background when it doesn’t suit our schedule or our preferences.
Jesus tried to get this gathered group of rural people to understand that the one who sows the seed shouldn’t give up. “Other seed fell on the good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” The fault in each other case was with the unproductive soil, not the seed. The soil failed to give any kind of yield. The seed is the gospel, which gives life, but if the soil is not receptive, the seed cannot produce – the gospel will not bring forth any fruit in the lives of people who are unreceptive to what it means to be committed and deep in their faith. This parable makes us uncomfortable. We’d rather just hear the story and move on. Jesus tells us to HEAR- but not just hear, really listen. I tell couples in premarital counseling that listening is a gift – we often hear, but much of the time we do not really listen, because to listen means to really hear beyond the surface of what’s said. We need to be careful that we don’t become indifferent to hearing God’s Word. We need to be on guard that we don’t just want to run through the sprinkler and get a little wet. Do we find ourselves defending ourselves: it’s too hard to understand what God’s saying? We’re so busy we couldn’t possibly put another thing like Bible study in our schedules? It would be nice, but I just can’t serve on another committee or sign up for another task. Do we put out hundreds of dollars for sports camps but can’t help with curriculum materials? Do we hunt for a pretty place to be married, but not come on any kind of regular basis for worship and daily ministry? Do we just want to come and shop and take off the shelf what we need and want and not be committed to why the church is here on a daily basis? It’s an easy “black hole” or “hard path” to find ourselves on. Be sure to hear that it’s not a money issue, it’s a heart condition. The condition of the heart may have these afflictions: Hardened Heart, Distracted Heart, Defeated Heart, Weakened Heart. It’s like the condition of the soil – is it hardened, dry and cracked? Does it look good on the surface, but when we look closer, it’s not willing to be committed to what God calls us to be about?
I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say something about good intentions. That’s how most of us are – we really intend to get around to it. But good intentions don’t get it done. To make a difference in the world requires a high level of commitment. To be the church, the body of Christ, to be God’s mission field, takes commitment. It takes a Hopeful and Joyful, Generous Heart. Like the receptive soil, favorable weather conditions, cultivating and spraying bring the hope of an abundant harvest. It’s a big investment. Our hopeful, joyful hearts are filled with the Holy Spirit, open to hearing and receiving God’s Word, and we KNOW that we are blessed and we give back joyfully because we are responding out of love returned to the One who loved us first. God doesn’t limit the spreading of the seed to just those places where God thinks there is viability – but God spreads the Word, grace and forgiveness, an incredible holy supper, and promise and hope generously, lovingly, and without thought of cost – the cost has already been paid through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Like all the beautifully refurbished projects we’ve been about that are meant to be for the revitalization of our congregation, we are planted here for a purpose, and God intends for us to live meaningful, committed and productive lives, sharing with others what Jesus Christ has done and is doing in us and through us. May we give God our very best – not because we have to, are expected to, but because we first and foremost love God and want to! May we be God’s Good Soil! Thanks be to God! Amen
Isaiah 55 : 10 – 13
Psalm 65 : [ 1 – 8 ] 9 – 13
Romans 8 : 1 – 11
Matthew 13 : 1 – 9 , 18 – 23