August 3, 2014: Pentecost 8

Let us pray: Dear Savior, teach us today the importance of preparing the soil of our hearts in order to receive the abundance of Your Gospel. For unless and until we pay attention to the soil of our hearts, Your seed of forgiveness cannot grow, flourish, or bear a crop. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE SOWER OF GODLY SEED!

TEXT: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Dearly Beloved By Christ:

August is my favorite month. I love the bounty of August—fruit, vegetables, and the meals that go with it. I love the smells of August: orchard apples and peaches emitting a redolent aroma in the orchards, the musty smell of the woods, and the heady smell of freshly baked peach pie. Of course, I also love August because I was married on one of its warm days.

August is all about bounty. It’s all about the bounty of the farm, orchard, and table. It’s when the fruition of all that hard work preparing the soil, planting the seed, and trimming the trees comes together. August is about fulfillment for the body and the soul.

I

I’m glad to see the “locavore” movement taking hold, even in our citified environment. “Locavore” means local agriculture and the consuming of locally grown food. It saves the environment, creates a healthy work ethic among people, and tastes a whole lot better, too. And it all begins with soil, dirt, and seed. Early in February I peruse seed catalogues and plot out what type to plant with visions of a bountiful harvest dancing in my head. I plan out my space restrictions, the type of vegetables we enjoy eating, and also pay heed to my soil. After all, unless the soil is “good dirt” and contains the proper nutrients, the plants will struggle. Eventually comes the actual planting of the seed. But before it can occur, I till the soil, get rid of weeds, and try to determine if the soil needs additives. In New England that means you have to get rid of the rocks and add lime or compost. Then comes the actual planting, watering, weeding, trimming, staking, and the constant vigil for bugs or diseases before actual fruit and harvesting can occur. It’s time consuming. You sweat a lot. But, during the entire process the hope of the harvest is always there driving me on. And then when August arrives I’m usually a happy camper if everything goes well. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes nature doesn’t send the rain just right, the weeds take over, the heat cooks tender plants, and my harvest isn’t optimum. I know that going into the game of gardening. But, hope, hope still drives me on each year. Sowers always rely on hope.

II

Christ lived in an agricultural based society. Everyone knew the importance of raising food and the importance of good soil. Here He uses that innate knowledge to give us a parable about God planting the seed of Gospel-centered faith in our hearts. All of you know this parable very well. It’s one of the most beloved parables in the Bible. But I fear we get hung-up on certain aspects of it which can lead to a faulty understanding of it. Let me explain.

When Jesus applies the truth of the parable talking about the four types of soil, or human hearts, upon which the seed of God’s grace falls, the average believer can come away either disheartened or smug. Every one of us has shared our Christian faith with others and been disappointed because they rejected it or ignored Christ’s saving grace—rocky ground. With some, Satan sent weeds of temptation to block any real spiritual growth. With others, they were “flash in the pans.” That is, hearing about how their sins were forgiven and how they possessed eternal life as a free gift from God got them excited and involved.—But only for a short while. Then their commitment to Christ fizzled. Their root structure was emotion-based and had no real roots. Then there are those who seem to flourish, for a bit longer. But they fall into “weedy company” and those weedy souls crowd out their faith and they flounder and eventually die out. Watching such situations play out in the lives of people you care about is a huge downer. It can almost make you quit trying to be a gardener for God.

Ah, but how about the good soil? Invariably Christians think of themselves when they hear those words. That’s where the smugness comes into play. “Since I’m a believer and go to church, obviously I must be good soil! Aren’t I wonderful!” Is Christ’s point here to get us pat ourselves on the back? NO! And now I’m going to tell you why.

III

When it comes to the human heart, no soil is good and fertile on its own. My potted cucumbers are grown in store bought compost with some home-made compost added to it. They reside in the best soil money can buy. And yet recently they were turning yellow. Upon research I discovered the dirt had a magnesium deficiency so I had to add Epsom salts. It worked. Now they are producing.

Rocky ground can be fixed, albeit with hard work. Weeds can be killed and smothered or pulled. Beaten down hard-pack can be carefully tilled with compost added. Bad ground can be turned into better ground and finally good ground. It takes time and energy. It takes hard work. So it is with human hearts.

God provides us with tools to accomplish this task. We have His Law and His Gospel. Working the soil means using God’s Law. Telling people about the killing nature of their sins is politically incorrect, but it breaks down hard hearts. And you don’t have to sledge-hammer them, either. No, the steady rain of your Christian example can slowly erode such rocky ground. Sometimes you need to add a word of kindness and love coupled with encouragement to souls who are struggling. Show you care. Vocalize your concern when they are playing with weeds. Drip, drip, drip, chip, chip, chip. The soil is prepared. And yes, even good soil needs to occasionally receive a shock treatment of powerful fertilizer to jump start it. That’s where the personalization of how God has impacted you and gotten you through similar tough times comes into play.

In our own lives and in the lives of others, we need to take the long view of things. Christianity is a long, slow race towards heaven. It has its ups and downs. It has its doldrum times. It has many disappoints along the way. Some seeds are lost, too. But that doesn’t mean we give up—on ourselves or on others. No, our task is to keep enriching our own soil and trying to improve the lives of those around us. To be hearers and doers of the Word. And then when August time arrives: “it produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

And lest you think this is all pie in the sky, listen again to God’s promise to you in Isaiah 55: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes forth from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” That, my friends, is why we keep sowing the seed of God’s gracious love in Christ, and it’s also the reason why we never quit working the soil of the human soul. The Chief Sower is still working on us and we need to “go and do likewise.” Amen