Our Gospel reading, the parable of the sower from Matthew 13, will serve as our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

In light of Jesus’ parable, the question that needs to be considered is What makes for good soil?

I’ve learned a lot about soil the last few years.  Last year I was a little rushed during the spring and didn’t do much to prepare the soil, and the results were pathetic.  This year we did a lot more to prepare the soil, and so far things are looking much better.  But I am still not an expert when it comes to soil prep and gardening.

So I had better stick with something that I have a little more experience with (although how it works still remains a mystery,) and that is soil as a metaphor for how receptive our hearts and lives are for receiving the Word of God.  That is the obvious theme of the parable of the sower.

“Listen!”  No, not to me… well, not just to me.  “Listen!”  That’s how Jesus begins this parable.  And we need to start there.  We need to listen.  Not just hear, but listen deeply, from our hearts.  After all, that is what this parable is about… being receptive to the Word of God. 

I hope that you did not come here this morning simply hoping to hear a decent sermon.  I hope that you are not just sitting there right now thinking “Oh, I hope this is an interesting sermon.  I really don’t feel like wasting the next 10-15 minutes being bored, wishing I had stayed home in bed.  Come on, Mark, say something interesting.” 

Listen… I am not here to simply say things that are interesting in the hopes of keeping you from being bored.  I am trying to be a decent gardener… or, really, a gardener’s assistant.  I am hoping and praying the Lord works through these messages to till the soil of your lives so that the Word of the Kingdom might grow deeper and deeper roots in your hearts, minds, spirits, and lives.

That’s what this parable is all about, so please listen.

Before we dig into soil, so-to-speak, we need to consider the seed.  What is the seed that the sower is sowing in Jesus’ parable?  What does Jesus have in mind when He speaks of "the Word of the Kingdom”?  Well, the short answer is “The Gospel,” what Mark in the opening verse of his Gospel called the good news of the Kingdom of God.  And, of course, the good news is really the great news, the greatest news: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus.”  That’s how Paul put it in our Epistle reading.  The good news of the Gospel is that grace has won the day!

So, what does it take for us to listen to that good news… to take it to heart?  Jesus answers that in this parable.  We are told that the hardest soil is that which does not “understand” the “word,” so it doesn’t sink in.  And there are many reasons that hearts may be hardened.  Perhaps a person simply concludes that religion and the idea that there is a God is nonsense.  So they choose to be an atheist.  Their hearts are hardened and the Word does not have a chance to sink in at all.

Or perhaps a person has observed the ways of the churches around them and has paid the most attention to conflicts that seem to constantly be a part of congregations, denominations, and the Church at large. 

Or they have witnessed Christians doing a lot of other un-Christian things, maybe even have had church-goers and church leaders do hurtful things to them, so maybe they conclude that while there may be a God, He doesn’t really seem to be found in the Church, and doesn’t seem to be all that involved in the world, so they may become agnostic, concluding that God’s not really present, involved, or even overly concerned with the lives of people.

One last type of hardened soil, the one that is probably the most common, is the person who has been beaten down time and time again and has mistakenly attributed those beat-downs to God.  Life has been hard, painful, disappointing, disheartening, and the evil one successfully convinces a person to blame God and to harden their heart toward Him.  The word has no chance of taking root in hardened soil.  So, why would God even waste His time sowing the word upon the path?

The next kind of soil that Jesus refers to is the rocky soil… partially broken and initially receptive to the Word, but shallow.  Their first response to the good news of the Gospel is, “Great, sounds good to me.  I’ll buy in.”  But then things happen and they discover that while forgiveness seems easy, following is difficult.  They may find out that following Jesus is unpopular, and maybe they are ridiculed.  In some parts of the world (and what Jesus very well may have had in mind here for His earliest followers), Christians are subject to persecution.  When some believers find the going to get tough, they just stop going.  And so it would seem to be a waste of time sowing seed on rocky soil.

Then there is the thorny soil.  For us, it would be the weedy soil.  This would be those people who hear the word of the Gospel and take it to heart.  They are very open and ready to hear of-- and receive-- grace.  They jump on board with enthusiasm.  But then they get distracted.  “There is more to life than church,” they conclude.  “The cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the Word,” is how Jesus puts it.  As a result, there is no fruit borne of their faith.

So… where’s the good soil? Where is the soil that hears the Word and understands it?  Where is the soil that, upon receiving the grace of God, produces tremendous fruit?  Where is it?  Let’s be honest… that kind of soil seems rather rare. 

This is hard stuff.  Jesus is really working us over in this story, isn’t He?

Ah, but that’s the point!  That’s what the best gardeners, the best farmers, do-- they work and break the soil.  And that, my friends, is the meaning of this parable.  You and I might not waste our efforts scattering seed where it seems to not have much of a chance to take root.  We might not want to sow among the down trodden, the thorny, and the hardened… but God does!

That is the Word of the Kingdom.  That is the good news of the Gospel.  Jesus puts forth His Word to all.  He can work the soil.

The first impact of the Word of God is from the law, which hits the soil of our soul and has the potential to turn it.  It is that part of the Word of God that can make even the best of people recognize that they are not always good, fruitful soil.  Yes… but that’s what makes for good soil.

It is the heart that has been broken, the spirit that is contrite.  We come to hear Jesus speak, and at first His word may cut us to the heart.  The hardened soil… that’s me at times.  At other times I am the rocky shallow soil, and sometimes I am the soil that is full of thorns and weeds.

And knowing that truth, that reality, prepares me to receive the Gospel of grace, the good news that God has forgiven me of my hardness, my shallowness, my propensity to be distracted or choked.  God has covered it all by His grace.

And it is there that the best growth takes place.  It is not by the power of the law.  It’s not about becoming begrudging servants and stewards manipulated by guilt, and feeling like we should do this or do that.  It’s about receiving the tremendous news that God’s love and grace is infinite, that He will continue to scatter the seed of the Word on our hearts and into our lives, and through the Gospel He will produce fruit in our individual and collective hearts and lives. 

Believe that; know that; grasp that, child of God.  Listen in a new way to the calling of the Spirit.  You are loved, therefore you can be loving. You have grace, therefore you can be gracious.  You have been blessed, therefore, in gratitude, you can be blessings.  Open your hearts and your lives to the Spirit, placing everything into God’s hands so that He might bear His fruit through you, the fruits of the Spirit, described by Paul as being “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

God is the best gardener of all, isn’t He?  Amen.

   November 2018   
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