Is. 55:1-5,10-13; Ps. 65; Romans 8:9-17; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing in your eyes, O Lord, my strength and my salvation.
"A sower went out to sow." With these words, Jesus begins to tell the parable of a farmer who is randomly casting seed on every type of soil imaginable: paths, rocky ground, into bramble bushes, and amazingly, even onto good soil. The seed is being flung out in a way that would be disdained by any prudent farmer or gardener, without any concern for the soils fecundity.
This parable is familiarly known as the parable of the sower, but it really should be called the parable of the soil, as it is to the issue of the quality of the soil onto which the sower casts his seed, that a harvest is dependent. And it is the harvest- the end result - which is the point of the whole parable. For it is the harvest, resulting from the planting of God's word, that will "feed" the people who are dependent on the crops for their life.
For the purpose of this sermon let's understand the sower to be God, the seed as the Word of the Gospel, the soil being we humans, and the harvest as the building up of God's Kingdom. And for the purpose of this sermon as well, let's - like Jesus - focus on the element of the soil in the parable - let's focus on us.
Several different types of soils, or humans, are portrayed, each different in their response, as God the sower casts the seed of the Good News of the Gospel upon them. The Abingdon Bible Commentary says this:
"Different types of soil are enumerated. There is the soil of the wayside that is trampled on and has become a path on which every passer-by walks, typifying the character that has lost all sensitiveness and sympathy with spiritual things; in this the seed cannot find lodgement of any kind. There is the shallow soil - the superficial human nature that lives on the surface of things. Because there is no depth of soil the seed cannot produce the adequate roots to sustain the life of the plant in the face of the hot sun. This shallow soil is typical of large numbers [of people]- the "temporary Christians" as they are styled in verse 6 in the interpretation.
Then we have the unclean soil, typical of men and women in whose hearts the multitudinous interests of life crowd out the ideals of the gospel and prevent . . .[the seed] from growing. Lastly, there are the good soils, which vary in their yielding capacity . . . in the quality of good soils all are not exactly alike, but each one produces according to [his] capacity."
Soil has been much on my mind recently. Both the literal stuff, and the metaphorical soil of humanity that I encounter in ministry. I have been thinking of soil literally, as I plan to do some landscaping in my yard, and must deal with a mixture of rocky soil, thorn bushes and just plain old New Hampshire sand. For the landscaping project to be successful, I will need to develop good soil, so that the seed will grow and bear abundantly, providing me with a pleasant yard.
I have been thinking of the metaphorical soil of humanity, as you and I engage in ministry together - especially as we wrap up our June stewardship campaign, and determine just how the seeds cast during that campaign will germinate and thrive - or not -in the soil of our common life. My prayer is that as God casts the seeds of the Gospel upon us, it will find good soil, so that we can yield an abundant harvest, thereby building up the Kingdom within this parish, and the community in which we live.
One thing you learn about soil is that if you pay enough attention to it - both the human and the literal kind - it can be changed. If it is one particular type, it can transformed into another - either better or worse in quality. I know that in my spiritual journey, I have been more than one type of soil in my life at various times -wayside, shallow, unclean and on my good days, even good. And I am determined with the help of my landscaper to make the shallow and unclean soil of my yard into good . . . although there are moments when I think that this will take more of a miracle than the changing of some human soils! (Those of you who have seen my yard, will know what I am speaking of!)
As most of you know, I was born in The Netherlands, a country more popularly know as Holland. The term "nether" means situated down or below. Netherlands therefore means a land that is below. In the case of The Netherlands, the name indicates the unique quality of a country in which fully 1/5th of the land has been reclaimed from the sea, and is therefore below sea level. For example, Schipol Amsterdam Airport lies on reclaimed land - or polder - and is thirteen feet below sea level. Schipol means "ships hole". When the land was reclaimed many years ago, remnants of Spanish and Dutch warships from the 17th century were found in the mud, indicating that a sea battle had once been fought there.
It can be both a fascinating and an un-nerving experience to walk or drive on top of one of the numerous dykes protecting the county - land, farms and villages many feet below you on one side, and water almost level with the road on the other!
Land or soil reclaimed from the sea is initially pretty useless stuff: muddy goo, filled with tons of salt, among other things. It takes a lot of effort to turn it into good soil: into soil into which seed will take root, and grow, and yield abundantly. The Dutch have excelled at doing this. By laboring to keep out what is bad for the soil - namely sea water - and by adding in what is good - the rich nutrients of fertilizer and fresh water -The Netherlands has transformed itself into a nation of intense agriculture. The land that was once the unclean soil of the sea bottom, is now a land of good soil, that nurtures the seed cast upon it, and produces abundantly, making it the third largest exporter of food in the world, after the United States and France. This in a country that is only about twice the size of New Jersey!
But of course maintaining the good soil is an ongoing endeavor. The Dutch must be ever vigilant to maintain the dykes that protect against the unhealthy infiltration of sea water. And they must continuously cultivate the good soil by adding healthy agents of fertilizer and fresh water.
Whether it is the evolutionary process of living in a land below sea level, or the availability of such abundant healthy food, the Dutch are officially measured as being the tallest people in the world - probably so that the can keep their heads above water. I stand before you as Exhibit A!
Just as the literal soil of The Netherlands has been reclaimed and transformed from unclean into good, allowing it to yield abundantly, so can the human soil of our lives be transformed, allowing us to yield an abundant harvest as well.
The reality of being human is that there are times in life when the saline-laden and polluting waters of malice, wrath, anger, envy, wrangling, slander, enmity, lack of love, and all such impurities, infiltrate the soil of our life, rendering it unclean. Our lives become places where the seed of the Gospel word that God casts upon us cannot grow. As these impurities pollute our soil, we become over-run with the thorns and brambles of anger and hatred, despair and hopelessness, things which choke the very life out of us.
But God in his love and mercy has through Jesus Christ given us the means to make our soil clean and good again, so that it can yield abundantly, and build up his Kingdom. If we add the rich nutrients and pure waters of forgiveness, compassion, speaking the truth in love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, joy, and love, we restore the unclean to clean, productive soil again, allowing the seed God casts upon it to take root, thrive and yield a rich harvest: the Kingdom harvest of joy and peace and love.
Each and everyone of us is responsible for the quality of the soil of our own life. Like for the Dutch, this is an on going endeavor, and we must like them, be vigilant in keeping the pollutants out, while constantly applying healthy nutrients to maintain our soils health. How we will receive and nurture God's Gospel seeds of love is a choice that each and every one of us must make. What is your choice?
God is a total optimist. God will keep casting the seeds of the Gospel on you. God will continue to do everything possible to get you to reclaim your land when it becomes unclean. God is relentless in calling you to transform yourself into rich, fertile, clean soil, so that you may yield the abundant harvest of the fruits of his Spirit, and ultimately have abundant life.
How are you going to respond to God? What is your choice?