Here is the sermon that I gave today at the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa. Hopefully it makes some sense....
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Back before farmers had grain drills, they used an end gate seeder to seed oats or other small grains. Imagine a small wagon with a fan blade on at the end. The farmer drives his tractor or horses across the field, and the seed is thrown out across the field. Normally, the ground is plowed then disked to get the seedbed ready then the oats are seeded and then harrowed in with a drag. But in Jesus' time, in rural Judea and Galilee, the seed was sown by hand in a broadcast fashion and the sowing preceded the plowing or harrowing. The sower deliberately sowed the seed everywhere in the field, including any paths, in the rocky places, and among thorns and weeds as well as in the good soil. However, if the plowing was delayed for any reason, then they got the results that Jesus mentioned in this parable. It was that act of disturbing the ground that made all the difference.
The kingdom of God broke into the entire world when Jesus came. It was the seed that fell on many different kinds of soil in the human heart. The reception of the seed depends upon the receiver—where they are in their lives, and if they hear that tugging of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Romans reading today. The message then was received in a variety of ways just as it is today. The number of fruitless hearers was very great then even among those who heard Jesus speak in person.
Jesus often used parables or stories to relate spiritual truths to things that people were familiar with in their every-day lives. In this way he illustrated the word of God by calling it seed. The soil represented the receptivity or lack of receptivity of the human heart to receive the seed or Jesus' message. I find this image of us as soil, as dirt, hearkens back to the words we hear when we receive ashes at the beginning of Lent “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Today’s gospel reading in Matthew focuses on the soil rather than on the sower. Although there was no harvest resulting from three of the four types of soil, this parable points out that a person’s heart, like soil, is capable of improvement and capable of bearing a good harvest.
This parable calls to our attention the fact that although the soil is not the way it should be or the way that it can be, it can still be made into productive soil. That is the job of the Spirit in our lives. We can relate the soil of our hearts to this parable and know that change can begin to take place in spite of the
1. hardness of our heart
2. the shallowness of our experience
3. the many thorns that choke out the God's message in our lives
Today, I believe that we can learn some valuable truths from this parable that Jesus told to the crowds along the shore.
The effect of the word is dependent on the state of the heart. T Let us take a look and see if we can identify some things that need to be improved and where we need a bit of fertilizer, maybe some “Miracle Gro” in order to produce a better crop. If we find ourselves in one of the soils that is not producing a good crop, let us know that there is hope for us; Jesus can add the Miracle Gro to make us what we need to be. It's as if the reading of Isaiah is giving us a recipe, talking about the Word of Jesus nourishing us like water, helping us to bud and flourish. Jesus can change the hardness of our hearts, he can give us the stability and roots we need, and he can help us to aerate and work that patch of dirt that is robbing us of abundant life.
The first place the grain fell was on the pathway. It was a common thing for the paths to run through and around the unfenced fields. Any seed that fell on the paths never entered the ground and was trampled underfoot or the birds came and ate it. The path was so packed down that the seed couldn’t begin to get its roots into the ground. Here, the Spirit needs to aerate...use one of those plugger to pull out chunks for change. This sounds painful, and yet pain in our lives is one of the ways that we grow and soften. What will break up this hard packed ground? Many things happen in a person’s life that cause the hardness to begin to break up. It is not an overnight process. Most of all the Holy Spirit begins to bring about changes in the outer surface as prayer is constantly sent up for people.
Something can be done with even packed down soil; something can be done to plow up the hard, compacted soil of people's hearts. You might know people who have no interest in spiritual things whatsoever. You might say, nothing is getting through to them. The gospel message is not getting below the outer surface.
As we heard in Paul's letter to the Romans today, the Holy Spirit says we are God's children. And since everyone here today was a child at one time, is a child now, or had children in their family at one time, I think we can all relate that sometimes children just won't listen and will do the opposite of what their parent says. That is like the hard ground of the paths, everything bounces off and nothing gets through.
It is up to us to give proper value to the things of God. To guard the word as we receive it. To plow up the hard unplowed ground that is in our lives. In what ways is your heart like the soil along the pathway? In what ways have you become a little bit hardened and indifferent?
The second type of soil was rocky. This represents soil that is OK but it is a bit thin and has a lot of rocks just beneath the surface. The seed takes root quickly in the shallow soil but there is not a secure root structure. People often go to revivals and crusades and they receive the word in a thoughtless way. Maybe they are too eager to receive but it doesn’t last over the long haul. They hear and receive with joy and at first give promise of a good harvest but something happens. When they come down off of that 'spiritual high'. Here, we need to have the Spirit fertilize our souls, so that when trouble or persecution comes, we don't quickly fall away. These temporary disciples are numerous in times of revival when things are going great. Sometimes people receive the word and for a time are doing great. Then they become 'offended' by something. It could be rather trivial. They quit going to Church. Then they forget about God's message. The sun beats down and the plant withers and dies out. There is no moisture.
Many people are glad to hear a good sermon and they hear it and don’t turn their backs on it. Yet they don’t profit from it. Their lives are not changed by it. They are pleased but not changed. I believe too many people today just want a little 'taste' of Christianity. They want something to say they are Christian and they belong to a Church, but they don't want any of the responsibility that comes along with it.
The third type of soil is infested with thorny weeds. This represents the ground that has not been thoroughly weeded of the thistles. The soil is good enough and deep enough but other things draw the moisture and nutrients away from the plant, and it crowds and starves the plant out. This speaks of the cares of the world coming in and choking out the plants that are trying to grow making the plants unfruitful. Today in our society there are so many choices and these things use up so much of our time that only the leftover time remains for spiritual things. If this is our patch of dirt, we need to think hard about what is happening in our life that is infesting our spirit—whether it is a nettle, or a ragweed, or a nettlesome friend. Our spiritual lives are being choked out so subtly that sometimes we are not aware of what is even happening. Although there is some growth taking place with a promise of a harvest, it never materializes.
What cares of this world are using up all your time. It could be lots of things and not necessarily bad things. The deceitfulness of having many things means trusting in those things or putting our confidence in them so that we are no longer trusting God very much. When we allow thorns or weeds to take over our life, we don't allow the message of the gospel to be a priority.
The last type of ground is the good ground. It hears and accepts and produces. It doesn’t say that the good ground doesn’t have stones or thorns or weeds in it but it is ground that has been cultivated and is continuously being tended to. The ground is guarded from allowing anything to come in and take over, choking out the intended harvest. The truth is simply this: it is hard to have a patch of earth that is like this. Gardeners are constantly working to get that special, sweet loam that takes on the seed and produces a great harvest. It is toil, but a joyful toil for the person who is spiritually mature, and sees the end, the harvest, in his or her dreams.
Our spiritual life is an ongoing process. You can’t stay away from church weeks or months at a time and expect to see the harvest spoken of here; 30, 60, 100 times as much as was sown. The soil of your heart can’t just be neglected and expected to automatically produce a good crop.
And as we heard in both Isaiah and the Psalm today, God provides the necessary water and sunshine for a good harvest. It is our job to cultivate the soil to see what we get from God.
What is interesting is that the soil that produces only a small crop, Jesus still called good. The 30 fold small crop is OK as well as the 60 fold or 100 fold bumper crop.
Let us remember that the kingdom of God advances slowly with varied responses depending on the individual. What kind of soil are you today? Remember that soil can be cultivated, a bit of Miracle Gro added, proper watering and with patience and change a crop can be produced. We must get rid of the things that choke off the fullness of life.