Scripture – Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.
13:2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
13:3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.
13:4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
13:5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.
13:6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.
13:7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
13:8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
13:9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
13:18 “Hear then the parable of the sower.
13:19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
13:21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
13:22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
13:23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Sermon – “Of Seed and Soils” — Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
I so very much wish I was a gardener. My dad was a gardener. Folks say that in some ways I am very much like my father, Donald Elmer Nelson, but I did not inherit his gift for the garden. He went to his glory 13 years ago now. It was July 30, 2004. I of course miss his presence and his counsel but I also sure do miss his garden. At this time of the summer we would be full of cucumbers and beans and new potatoes. Fresh tomatoes and sweat corn that was so good you didn’t even need to cook it. Fresh peas and onions. We always had a garden.
Some of you may remember that when I was little my dad and mom raised strawberries. People would call and place orders for berries. Mom and dad would spend hours in the morning picking. There was one year when they picked almost one thousand quarts of berries.
He bought a little Cub Cadet 10 hp garden tractor in about 1965 or 66. He had a plow and a cultivator that mounted on it. He would turn the ground over late in the fall and then run the cultivator over it in the early spring. Later he bought one of the Troy Built Horse tillers. I have the tiller in my garage but it needs some TLC.
Donald grew up working on his uncle’s farm. Back when everything was done behind a team of horses. Plowing and tilling and seeding. When he was in his teens Uncle Roy either bought, or maybe borrowed, a seeder for corn and oats. A seed drill. Before that dad talked about walking along behind a single bottle cultivator and dropping corn seed into the furrow and then raking the dirt back over the seed. The drill made sure the seed went into the good tilled ground. For oats the seed was “broadcast”. You had a big burlap bag that was attached to a sort of spinning wheel. The whole contraption hung over your shoulder. As you walked back and forth across the turned over ground you cranked the handle and the seed would fly out in front of you. Then you had a drag that was pulled behind the team as you covered up the seed.
There was a connection that many of us have lost with our earth, the ground. I guess when you are physically closer to something you become emotionally closer. See, just 70 or so years ago, folks were farming and scattering the seeds in a very similar manner to our sower in the scripture today. Many, many families had gardens. Just like when Jesus taught this parable, folks were familiar with things like seeds and how some ground is hard and packed and some is full of thorns and some is thick and moist and some is thin and dry and weak. We knew how birds would swoop in and eat up the seeds before they could be covered. There was familiarity with a good crop and fear of a poor crop. Today we go to the grocery and get lettuce and blackberries in January. Or we go to the local farmer’s market and enjoy the freshness of a cucumber picked that morning. Without the sweat of the hoe and the sore back of picking.
But when Jesus told this parable, there was an understanding of the amazing marvel that is seen in gardens and fields.
There is a miracle in every seed, and wisdom in the sun, and rain, and soil. They reveal to us the deeper things of life. Jesus knew about gardens, and about gardening. He is, after all, the Master Gardener. He wrote the book. So when He tells us about gardening or about life, we need to stop and listen.
Jesus tells us today about seeds and soils. A farmer goes out to his field. The farmer, we know, is God. He goes out with intent – to raise up fruits – refreshing and nourishing, from the field of souls which are His possession. As I described about my dad and the seed drill, there are two basic ways to sow seed into the soil.
If you garden now, you can go to Lowes or Walmart or a local hardware store and purchase little packets of seed, they cost anywhere from seventy-five cents to perhaps two and a half dollars per packet, so, when you put them out, you very carefully make drills – little holes in the soil – and carefully place the seed from the packets at precisely the right depth and distance so that you can get the most out of the packets. That is one way to plant, when the seed is expensive and scarce.
But there is a way around buying a lot of those expensive little packets of seeds. You can let one or two plants go to seed. Or you can keep some of the produce and let is dry and collect the seeds. One plant or a couple cucumbers left to go to seed can generally produce more seed than a gardener can use. In that case one needn’t worry so much about how these seeds are planted. The gardener can just aim them in the general direction where they would like to see them grow, and let the breeze and the soil do the rest. That’s called “broadcast sowing.”
God is a broadcast sower. That’s what the parable says. The Word of god is rich and wonderful, bountiful and full of life, full of possibilities. For the person who would care to notice, it is sowed everywhere – scattered abundantly throughout the creation by a God who loves to bring good fruit from the ground. It springs up from the welcoming smile, the tender touch, in the sunshine and the rain, in holy words and sacraments, in a song or a thought He places on our lips or into our hearts. But sadly, His Gospel is so plentiful that too often we neither notice nor value it, and yet it carries within it every possibility, every potential, every hope, every joy. It is the very stuff of life which He scatters wherever the breeze of His Spirit will carry it. If it does not take root or produce good fruit, it isn’t the seed’s fault or the sower’s – neither is it for lack of seed.
Jesus explains to us that the fault is not in the sower. The seed is plentiful and the sower spreads it everywhere. Nor is the fault in the seed. The seed is good and strong and ready and willing to grow once it finds the proper place. The fault, He says, lies in the ground that receives it.
Good ground is hard to come by. My dad’s garden was on a hillside in an old cow pasture. In some places the top soil was thin. When you plowed you could scrape the hard layer of sandstone that came out of the hill there. The nice thing was that layer of sandstone gave a little flat patch. Another nice thing was that layer of sandstone was a natural barrier for water. The rain would percolate down through the dirt and get stopped on that layer of rock. It would then travel along the rock and out into his garden. Dad would ask the neighbor farmers to bring loads of manure. We always took all of the leaves from around the house and put them along the garden. Then he’d spread lime on them so the acid of the leaves didn’t sour the soil.
Some folks think that all it takes to garden is to break a hole in the ground and put in a plant. If that isn’t enough, they douse it with some chemicals: fertilizers to make it grow, herbicides to kill the weeds, and bug spray to kill the insects. They belong to a society that believes in better living through chemistry, and in instant gratification. That’s the American Way. We believe that anyone who can read a label can be a gardener.
We are just beginning to discover the folly of our ways: how bug sprays and herbicides make their way into the food chain and end up poisoning us; how fertilizers get into streams and lakes and kill the fish; how chemicals deplete the soil, destroy its structure and disrupt its delicate ecosystem. We are just rediscovering the wisdom of patience and knowledge – that it takes a long time to build good soil, and a short time to destroy it. A person has to treat the soil with respect, and be willing to learn, and have a lot of patience to be a good gardener.
The message Jesus delivers about the soils is clear: good soil produces good fruit, and bad soils just don’t produce. But there is another lesson here that may not be as clear to us, although at least as important – that God is the good farmer – patient and wise. He can work even rocky ground into a fine tilth, given time and opportunity. There is hope for bad, rocky, weedy, sour, hardpan soils.
What kind of soil are you? Soil by the wayside? Do you see yourself as outside the pale of God’s grace, not looking or expecting anything of His promised gifts? Then know that His seed does fall everywhere – even in unexpected places, if you will receive it. Expect it, and receive it when it comes to you.
Are you perhaps stony soil? Do the hard places, the hard questions of life choke out the joy of faith? Do you find it easy to become embittered because you cannot understand or accept the hard or difficult things that have happened in your life? Know that it is your bitterness, and not a lack of God’s love, that stands between you and joy. Seeds of His love are continually falling upon your life, if you will accept them.
Or are you thorny soil, with so many other concerns that the joy of being God’s child seems beside the point? Consider this – there is no other real joy in life. We were made to receive Him – that is the purpose of soil – to grow things. If we miss that, we have missed the point of life – to grow into His likeness, as His children. St. Paul said that he considered every other concern in life nothing more than trash that got in the way, like a cluttered closet where we can’t find what we need anymore. Do you need to get rid of the weeds and get back to the basics? Even good soil requires care and maintenance.
The good news is that we have a Good Gardener, the one who works patiently with us, building us up to that rich tilth, that we may produce good fruit. May you trust in Him, and be fruitful.
Amen and Amen.