Pre-convention sermon preached on July 10, 2011 at Trinity Tavistock
The Good Soil – Steve Hoffard – Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
I was raised and have lived in this area all my life. I come from just over the highway in the rolling hills of North Easthope Township. It’s funny I’ve never been a farmer or even lived on a farm, but this is where I can find the fondest memories of my youth. Growing up I spent a lot of time on the farm. My best friends lived on a pig farm across the road from my house and my grandmother’s dairy farm was always only a 10 minute bike ride away.
Smell is a strong trigger of memory and at this time of year the strong scent of fresh cut hay takes me back to the farm. I loved helping with haying. I often wonder why that would be, after all many of you know haying is long hours of back breaking hot sweaty itchy work.
Looking back I realize my memory is not of the hot sweaty work involved. My memory is of the work done, and I don’t just mean that rewarding feeling of accomplishment. It is the memories of what came after the work was done. The reward of giant jugs of ice cold Kool-aid with that sticky sweet orange smell my grandmother would have ready for us when we came back from the field. It is memories of diving into the cold clear earthy smelling water of the neighbour’s pond at the end of the day. How refreshing it was to rinse off the dust and sweat, and to sooth the sunburnt patches of skin I had missed with the sunscreen. I can recollect late suppers that satiated big hungers on the front porch, and falling asleep as day faded to night in the cool sweet evening air.
Maybe your memories aren’t as romantic as mine. Maybe farming only evokes in you recollections of harder times. Perhaps the lean years, crop failures, falling farm prices, mad cow disease, and such are what come to mind for you. Maybe none of this is even a memory. Perhaps this is your life now. Maybe some days you hate how the farm ties you down and you dream of a career change, but have just way too much invested. Maybe you are just tired of the long hours which don’t change no matter what the market price is. Hopefully on most days farming is what you were called to do, maybe you connect with the earth in a spiritual way, and you know you wouldn’t give it up for anything.
What is certain is that agriculture stirs up something in people, creates all kinds of feelings or memories that speak without words. A lot of Jesus’ parables involved agriculture. There is the parable of the weeds, the parable of the mustard seed, the lost sheep, the vineyard workers, the fig tree and one of the best known the parable of the sower. Agriculture was something people in the first century really understood, it was everything to them. They didn’t have a Valumart they could pop into on the way home from work and grab something quick for dinner. So we assume the parable is being used to explain something about the kingdom of God in a way that they can understand. Yet even Jesus knows they aren’t likely to get it.
The disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables and Jesus quoting Isaiah says, “ so that they may look and not see and listen and not understand. Jesus gets the fact that people are going to be very slow to perceive what he is saying. The kingdom of God is so radically different from what we are expecting that we just can’t get our head around it.
Those who hear the parable are quick to place its meaning in what we do to make sure we are good soil for the word of God. We don’t want to be a hard path because when the word of God comes it will just be snatched up by evil. We don’t want to be rocky soil that has no depth allowing us to hear the word and then letting it just wither. We definitely don’t want to be thorns allowing our human actions to choke out the word.
No we want to be good soil. We have to make sure our soil is well tilled, well drained, fed and fertilized; we have to do a lot of prep work to make sure the word will sprout, grow, thrive, and produce. After all; God is counting on us, we have much to do to ensure God’s word is fruitful and will have a bountiful harvest. This is how we hear the parable, and when we hear it this way, Jesus stands up and says, “Isaiah sure knew what he was talking about, they listen and do not understand, they look and they really don’t see”.
And we wonder what is it that we are missing? What is happening in the parable that we miss? What is Jesus trying to show us about the Kingdom that we are so resistant to?
The followers of Christ are no different today than they were in the first century. We receive the parable as rules or advise. We are unwilling to see the kingdom as Jesus described it. We still hear the parable of the sower and see and hear the description of the soil types as the difference that keep us, and others out of God’s kingdom.
The ELCIC national assembly is this week and we have some very important issues to discuss that will have an effect on how we move into the future. How do we approach this convention knowing there are differing views on how our church should be structured and live out its mission. We all want to make sure that the church is “good soil” for God’s word. Do we envision those who have different opinions from ours as the thorns that are choking out God’s Word? Do we continue to listen and not understand, look and not see?
Focusing on what God does in the parable will help us see God’s image of the kingdom rather than our own.
If we imagine that God is the sower, We must look at how God sows. God scatters the seed into the world. Scatters it making no careful distinctions or choices of where it lands. The seed is scattered on all types of soil. The seed is for all without exception. The places the seed is gifted with doesn’t have to be prepared first, doesn’t need to fertilized ahead of time, there are no conditions placed on where the sower sows. If we imagine ourselves as the soil, it is hard to accept but we don’t have to believe certain things, don’t have to behave in a certain way. We are all freely given the seed, regardless of who we are. The sower does not separate who receives the gift of seed and who does not.
And what is the seed? Jesus in his explanation of the parable tells us that the seed is the word. If we turn to the first chapter of John we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Yet a seed is so small and mysterious how can it represent the word? If we were telling the story, how would we have described the “word”? Would we have used a tiny quiet seed. Not likely! After all, sown seeds once placed in the ground all but disappear. We more likely would have used something more powerful, a tsunami, an earthquake, or at least a thunderbolt to represent the word. However, notice the size of the seed has nothing to do with what it can potentially produce. Notice in the story the seed no matter where it is sown, still does its appropriate life giving work.
It sprouts. Even the ones snatched up and eaten by birds give the birds sustenance and then, through a remarkable system of creation are deposited elsewhere, where they will sprout. Throughout the entire parable, the seed is always and fully active. Everything that needs to be done is done right from the start. Even those things that seem to deter the effectiveness of the seed really don’t. It is the word alone that counts and nothing else.
This parable is hard to understand because the kingdom Jesus describes through this story is a kingdom that our consumer driven world has made us resistant to.
We have trouble hearing that it is a kingdom meant for all people, not just those we decide are worthy.
We have trouble seeing a kingdom comes into being not with a huge thunder crack, but in mysterious ways that are sometimes barely noticeable.
We have trouble accepting a kingdom that comes about not by what we do or in spite of what we do or don’t do. It comes about only because of what God does.
And what is this seed that God gives us to usher in the kingdom? What is it that had to die to give life? What is it that doesn’t bring about change by loud clanging military might, but by working in small often unnoticed ways?
This seed my sisters and brothers is the good news. The seed that is sown into our world is the Word and the Word is Jesus. It is what God has done through Jesus Christ that counts, and nothing else. There is nothing in all the world that is able to separate us—any of us, from the love of God expressed through Christ Jesus. The kingdom of God is at hand. The seed has died and sprouted so that we may all have life, abundant life.
As we enter this important week of convention, I ask that you pray for the delegates and all those that will be affected by the decisions made. Pray that we will all be able to make and face those decisions without fear. Pray that we are able to look beyond the floods the droughts, and the harsh winters and see and hear what God has sown, remembering that God will take whatever happens and turn it into harvest. An abundant mid-summer farmer’s market type of harvest. A bustling market place filled with all the colours and smells and tastes of God’s diverse goodness. Pray that we come to believe the words from one of our favourite hymns. We plow the fields and scatter good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.