First United Methodist Church
July 16th, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
Seeds in the Dirt
When we think of the parables Jesus told, the parable of the prodigal son and the good Samaritan come quickly to mind. My hunch is the parable of the Sower would be third on our list, especially since I brought it into a sermon just a few weeks ago. Recorded in both Mark and Matthew, this parable is not only one we remember but also one of the few parables that Jesus actually interprets. In case you are already saying to yourself, “I can’t believe she is preaching on that again,” I dare you to listen just one more time. You might just hear another twist on this old story.
As Jesus told the parable, a farmer put a heavy seed bag on his shoulder and went out to his field to sow seed. In those days, farmers broadcast seed across a fallow field before plowing. [That’s how these Chia seeds were planted]. That’s right; seed was first sown, and then gently plowed into the ground. You might find it interesting that this methodology is being reclaimed today by farmers wanting to better care for God’s earth. When I once pointed out that some of my favorite scripture passages have less and less relevance in a world that no longer understands what shepherds do (Psalm 23) or uses swords in war (Isaiah 2:4, beating swords into plowshares), a Purdue Agriculture Professor reminded me that in a few generations, even the use of plows will not be seen as a good thing as “No-till” farming is becoming the more acceptable method for caring for the earth. Using refined technology, a farmer can sow and cultivate a corn crop without deep-plowing the field. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Imagine that!
If Jesus had been trooping around northern Indiana while he told his stories, he would talk about dirt that wasn’t really dirt; it was hard-packed clay. That’s the kind of dirt you can’t even dig in. And once you jackhammer enough of it to drop in a seed, chances are it won’t grow right because it never drains, and things just rot in the ground because no one thought plant and water plants in the middle of your lawn. Or maybe he would mention the thin topsoil hiding a stratum of sand. And not the sand that yields oil gushers (we should be so lucky), but the sand that doesn’t provide enough nutrients and can’t hold its water any better than a leaky diaper. Or maybe he would talk about the dirt that is twisted up with so many roots it is like digging in a log pile. Or the dirt that is filled with rocks and is like digging what you thought was a flower bed only to discover a gravel pit. And then maybe he would talk about the rich, black glacier melt soil that seems to allow anything and everything to spring up when a seed comes near. There’s some of that around here too.
The point is, dirt is dirt, regardless of where you live, and some soils are going to produce more fruit than others. But as I read Jesus’ explanation for this parable, I don’t think we are supposed to throw our hands up in despair when we plant seeds in rocky ground, or on the beaten path, or in Indiana clay. I think Jesus is asking us to consider what kind of soil we are going to be.
We get to choose what kind of dirt we want to be. Maybe that makes us smarter than dirt, because we don’t have to accept the soil conditions of our soul; we can change them and adapt them and grow them if we pay attention. Because the truth is, I think we all find ourselves in all of these categories at one point or another.
A few weeks ago, I suggested that we take the focus away from the seed and see ourselves as the sower. In that particular role, Jesus’ parable reminded us to scatter the seed everywhere, not worrying about where it landed, because God has already acted in our lives to prepare us to receive the Holy Spirit. Within the job description of the sower is to trust God to nurture the seed no matter what soil it falls into. Today I’m going to add to that interpretation by suggesting that perhaps the disciple has been entrusted with yet another role. As with all our Lord’s parables, the key is to listen and let the word take root in our lives.
If we go with the first interpretation, we make the assumption that much seed will be planted, and a small portion will reach good soil and mature. While I appreciate the idea that I must have been what Jesus considered “good soil,” I’m disturbed by the thought that there are many people out there who are classified as something other than good soil. Of course, this is Jesus’ interpretation that I am arguing against, so give me a minute to explain myself.
I don’t believe that God creates anyone with a hardened heart, which would prevent any spirituality from taking root. But I do believe that people can be brought up in an environment that develops a hardened heart. And in Jesus’ time, there were certainly people around who would not become his disciples based on the reasons he states in this parable. In fact, there are people in our time who will not become his disciples for the very same reasons. But we live in a world where environments can be changed.
Take this plant, for example. It was once a good, healthy plant with a lot of potential. But something bad happened to it. It wasn’t planted in bad soil, in fact, it thrived for awhile. But it wasn’t nurtured properly. I put it outside and ignored it. While there may be no hope for this particular plant, there is hope for people.
Imagine for a minute that this parable could be applied with equal power to every individual life, to everyone who listens? If this is so, then at any time, all of our lives may have worn, rocky, or thorny soil in which seeds will struggle to germinate and grow. These are the times in which we, as a faith community, must be even more intentional in our nurture and love for one another.
If your life is anything like mine, then you know that daily living creates times when our lives seem more like well-worn paths, rocky soil or full of thorns. At these times our receptiveness to God’s blessings is compromised and we tend to resist God’s call in our lives. But even during these times, some seed falls on our good ground, and as long as we don’t allow the thorns and the rocks to completely overwhelm us, God’s word may take root and we may still yield a generous harvest. As the church faces more and more controversy, it is becoming more and more important for us to manage our gardens more effectively.
Every day we encounter people in our community – in our work, in our homes, in the marketplace, in our ministries. During these times we plant seeds – God’s seeds. I tend to believe that when our Lord empowers us to plant seeds, there is an expectation of a harvest. But we also have to realize that some of the people we encountered this week will go home to an environment that will not nurture Christian growth. We can make the assumption that the unharvested seeds fell on unsuitable soil, or we can place our faith in the idea that God created all people to be good. God’s desire is that all people will grow to be disciples and that we will nurture one another in order to make more disciples. If we are to truly live out our faith, as Christians we need to do more than simply plant seeds. When seeds fall on poor soil, we need to figure out ways to cultivate that soil into good soil, so that all of our seeds will mature, and none will be wasted.
It's important for us to figure out what it takes to cultivate the good soil of our souls. Engaging in practices that break up the stones in our rocky soil – practices that get rid of the hard edges, or even the sins we savor far too much is a great starting point. Just as our ancestors cleared the land to create acres of farmland, there are times when we are called to remove the rock and thorns in our soil, breaking up the hardened soil, and in some cases, adding fertilizer in order to create soil that is suitable to produce a harvest.
One thing I have learned over time, however, is that before we can plan for a harvest, we have to plant the seeds. Just getting the seeds into the soil changes it from a pile of dirt into a potential harvest. In your bulletins this week, you will find a card of “seed packets.” I challenge you to spend some time over the next few weeks being intentional about spreading Christ’s love throughout the community. And take note of what you are doing. Write it on these cards and place your cards in the offering each week. Let’s see how much love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control we can plant amidst the chaos around us. The more intentional we are about planting seeds, the more likely the soil of our own soul is going to bear fruit.
There will always be people who are worn out, rocky, wasted, and yes, even good. But the gospel reminds us there is far more good in all of us in which God’s grace can take root than any of us can possibly imagine. Within this story there is a serious point, or an important truth; namely, that disciples do live in the real world, but they also envision and work toward a better one. Like good soil, disciples look forward to a crop a hundred-fold. We see a harvest when others see only seeds in the dirt. Let us pray:
Loving God, Sower and Reaper of love, there are times when we are like stony fields, capable of growing goodness and sharing it around,
but also we allow goodness to wither and weeds to flourish.
Your mercy has taken root in us, but we do not share enough of it with others, your justice has grown on us, but we have inadequately implemented it, your truth has showered on us, but we have let it run to waste, your love has blossomed among us, but we have been slow to set fruit.
Most loving God, please open our hearts to receive again the seeds of your Gospel. Rain your mercy upon us, shine your warmth and light into every dark place, and bring forth in us not the harvest we deserve but the harvest that in your glorious love you have destined for us. Through Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen!
Beloved, remember: you are dirt. May you go forth and receive the Gardener’s tending so that we may all become good soil ready to receive, nurture, and grow the seed of the gospel wherever we go. Amen.