Preparing the Soil

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 8/Proper 10
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.
Matthew 13:8

REMEMBERING THE PARABLE

The scripture that we are going to be studying this morning is a rather odd one. It’s a parable. The fact that it’s a parable isn’t odd. Jesus told many parables. The difference with this parable is that usually when Jesus told a parable, he then expected that those who heard it should think about it a figure out what he meant by it. Not so with this parable. In this one Jesus tells that parable in Matthew 13:1-9 and then he explains what he meant by it a few verses later in Matthew 13:18-23. This is one of the few parables where Jesus does this which makes it unique and also makes it most helpful.

Most of us are familiar with it but just to remind ourselves, it is the story of a farmer who planted his field. Farmers in those days did not seed their fields quite the way we do today. There were no tractors or multi-row  cultivators and seeders . The farmers in Jesus’ day simply walked through the field with bagfuls of seed and tossed it to the left and right. Once the seed was spread over the surface of the field, the farmer would then hitch up his oxen and plow the seeds into the ground. It might have been primitive but it worked and it was the best they could do at the time with what they had.

That’s why, in the parable, some of the seeds fell where they weren’t supposed to fall. In an effort to throw seeds to the very edge of the field some of the seed would land in other places like paths and rocks and thorns. The trouble with that is that they didn’t grow very well. The only seeds that produced a crop were the ones that fell on the good ground.

The whole parable, of course, is a teaching that Jesus wanted his disciples to hear. The basic message is this: the seeds of faith will only produce an abundant harvest if they are sown in good soil. As far as the seeds of faith are concerned, the soil is our lives. If we want those seeds to grow then we have to make sure that the soil is good which means that our live must be in good shape. And that, of course, is the point, to make sure that our lives are in good shape.

This morning, we are going to talk about the different types of soil that are found in the parable. We are also going to be challenged to consider what kind of soil we offer with our lives. Finally, we are going to think about how to make sure that our soil is the good stuff that will produce the abundant harvest that God desires.

UNFRUITFUL SOIL

Let’s start by looking at the various types of soil that Jesus talked about. Listen carefully, because you might just discover a hint of those soils in our own life.

a.       The Path

Matthew 13:3-4 (NIV) says this:

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell in along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.”

The first soil that Jesus talked about was the part of the field that had been turned into a path. What happened there? What happened there was that the seeds could not grow because the ground was so hard that they could not take root. The birds came and ate them. No more seeds. Too bad, so sad – except maybe for the birds who got an easy lunch.

I didn’t realize the significance of this part of the story until I pastored a church in Manitoba right after I was ordained. I was out visiting one of the farming families one day, walking along the edge of the fields, when I noticed that there was a path at the side of the field where nothing was growing. “That path must see a lot of traffic,” I said to the farmer.

“As a matter of fact,” he said, “it’s the path that the cows used to take to the barn to be milked. It’s hardly ever used anymore.”

I was a bit confused because I knew that he didn’t have any dairy cows. “When did you sell your herd?”

His answer surprised me: “Oh, about ten years ago.”

It had been ten years since there had been a dairy herd on that farm and the path was still clearly visible. That’s because it had been walked four times a day by generations of cows for decades. It was as hard as cement. It wouldn’t matter how good the seed was that fell on that ground. The ground was so hard that there wasn’t a chance of anything growing in it.

Now let’s turn to Matthew 13:18-19 (NIV) to hear what Jesus meant by this:

Listen to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.

What Jesus meant is that there are always going to be people who just don’t get it. That doesn’t mean they’re stupid or greedy or arrogant. It doesn’t mean that they’re not nice people or that there is anything wrong with their moral fiber. It simply means that they’re not ready to receive the seeds of faith in their lives. They have been hardened to the Good News. They’ve had cows walking through their lives for years and it’s going to take some time and effort to soften them up. That doesn’t happen over night but it can happen and, until it does, it doesn’t matter how many seeds of faith are sown into their lives, nothing is going to take root. They’re just not ready and that’s all there is to it. Maybe you know a few people like that. Those are the seeds that fell on the path.

b.      The Rocky Ground

The parable continues in Matthews 13:5-6 (NIV) which says:

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered because the soil was so shallow.

The next group of seeds missed the path but fell on rocky ground. These weren’t quite as badly off as the ones that landed on the path because at least they take root. In fact, they took root very quickly because the rocks absorbed the heat from the sun that was needed to enable the seeds to germinate. Initially things looked great. But then the summer heat came and the rains stopped. Because the roots were shallow, the plants withered and died.

Then, in Matthew 13:20-21 (NIV) Jesus explained this part of the parable:

What was sown on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

Jesus told us that this soil represents the people who initially take quite easily to the seeds of faith but because their roots are shallow, when something comes along to challenge their faith, it disappears like teenagers when the dishes need to be washed.

Guess what, all of us have rocks in our lives. They’re the things that get in the way of growing a solid faith because we are constantly stumbling over them and stubbing our toes. Those are the rocks that scare us away from following God’s plan and purpose for our lives. Here are a few examples. Peer pressure can cause people to stumble. Lots of people trip over it. Sometimes coming to Christ means that we have to change our social circle because our old friends just don’t fit in with the life that God calls us to live. They aren’t willing to change and you know that all they’re going to do is keep you in the gutter. Still, it’s hard to leave them because you have a history.

How about getting teased about your faith? I remember a teenager who came to Christ and was given a wooden cross to wear to remind him of his conversion. That was great until he went to school the next day wearing the cross. His classmates teased him so much about being a Jesus Freak that he took off the cross and left it in his locker.

There are those who think that faith is a great idea – as long as it doesn’t interfere with the things that they want to do, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of their chosen lifestyle and as long as it doesn’t cause them any grief. Those people are ‘good time Christians’. They’re not ready for deep faith. They’re too concerned about other things to give God the highest priority in their lives so, when they are challenged, faith withers and dies. Maybe you know a few people like that. Those are the seeds are fell in the rocky places.

c.       The Thorns

Jesus then talked about the seeds that fell among the thorns. This is what he said in Matthew 13:7 (NIV): “Other seed fell among the thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.”

What happened to them? They started to grow but got choked out. There are enough farmers and gardeners in this congregation to know what Jesus was talking about. What do you do with weeds? You pull them out or spray them with a herbicide. Why? Because weeds rob the soil of the moisture and nutrients that you want for your fields or your garden.

Jesus went on to explain this in Matthew 13:22 (NIV) where he said:

What was sown among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

Jesus said that this thorny soil represents the people who hear the Word but do not respond because they are too busy with the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth. They’re all caught up in the weeds of this world and they just can’t seem to get their priorities straight.

I want us to notice that Jesus didn’t just say there were ordinary weeds in the soil; he said there were thorns. Thorns are particularly nasty weeds because, not only rob the plants, they’re also prickly. The things of this world can be very prickly indeed. Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you do a few things that pricks at your conscience? What gives you a little jab every now and then? You know you shouldn’t do it but you do it anyway. And you know it’s wrong because it’s like one of those thorn bushes. Every time you do that thing, you get a prick of guilt. Those are the things of the world that are getting to you.

When you think you are about to get pricked here’s something to remember: When in doubt, leave it out. If something doesn’t feel right, the Holy Spirit is probably trying to tell you something. And if you can’t resist it all on your own, then get down on your knees and grab onto the strength of God. And just for good measure, find a good, non-judgmental Christian friend who will help you through your time of temptation. Stay away from those prickly situation. Keep your heart and mind focused on God. Maybe you know a few people who have a few thorn bushes in their lives.

FRUITFUL SOIL

So, what kind of soil do you offer God? Is your soil like a cement hard path? Maybe there are a few rocks in the field that you trip over from time to time. Maybe your soil has some prickly thorns. Or maybe, just maybe you can offer God good soil.

Look what happens when God gets good soft soil, free from rocks and thorns. In Matthew 13:8 (NIB) we read these words:

Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty and thirty times what was sown.

Jesus explains this part of the parable in Matthew 13:23 (NIV) where he says:

But what was sown on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

Isn’t that what God wants from us? Isn’t God’s desire that we produce an abundant crop in our lives? Sure it is. We all know that.

“But,” you say, “I’d love to offer God that kind of soil but, if truth be known, I know that I’m not that kind of person. I can be hard as a cow path. The rocks in my life are better described as boulders and I’ve had more thorns in my life than most people have had hot meals. I’m such a mess. You may not see it. My neighbour may not see it. But I see it and so does God. What can God possibly do with me?”

Think about it. Let’s take the analogy to the next step. What does a farmer do when his soil is not up to par? Does he give up on it? Does he sell the field and buy another one? Does he just keep on throwing seeds in the hope that someday it will eventually improve all by itself? No, the farmer does none of these.

When a good farmer comes across a patch of ground that will not produce, he doesn’t throw up his hands in despair. He pays special attention to it. He plows through the hard patches to soften it up. He picks up the rocks and takes them out of the field. He weeds out the thorn bushes so that they will not choke the young plants that will sprout from the seeds. He does other things too. He fertilizes the field to enrich the nutrients. If he lives in Essex county, he might put in a drainage system to take away the excess water in the spring. There are all kinds of things that a farmer can do to improve the yield of the land. A good farmer will do everything that is necessary so that the land will produce a crop of a hundred fold, sixty fold or thirty fold.

Just as the farmer will not give up on his land, so God will not give up on us. Are we hardened to God’s word? God can soften us up. I don’t care how hard you think you are. If you think that you’re greater that the Creator of the heavens and the earth, then you have another thing coming. The hardest, driest cement-like soil in your life is nothing to God. God can poof it away in an instant.

You think that you have rocks and boulders in your life? No problem. God can get rid of them faster than you can shake a stick. Remember that the biggest, heaviest rock on your life is a feather weight to the one who moves the mountains and the valleys.

What about those prickly thorns, the ones that remind us every time we stray from God’s plan and purpose for our lives? What can be done about them? First of all, we need to stop doing the things that cause us to get prickled. Then we need to know that God is able to take away those prickly situations and place our feet on holy ground. The point is this: none of us is so hardened, so rocky or thorny that God cannot make the soil of our lives fertile again.

I want you to notice something. The field does not improve all on its own. If the farmer left the field to itself, it would never soften up and there would be no end of rocks and thorns. The only reason the field gets cleaned up is because the farmer does the work. But who’s the farmer? God’s the farmer. That’s what God does with us.

We can’t clean up our own lives. Sure we can make better choices and we should do that. We can get better at following God’s way. After all, God’s way isn’t a big secret. If you want to know what it is, just read the Bible. It’s all there. We need to do everything we can do to prepare the soil of our lives for God. But that won’t do it all. As hard as we try, we know that there are areas of our lives that we just can’t seem to clean up. The temptations are too great. The bad habits are too hard to break.

That’s the bad news but here’s the Good News… the stuff that we can’t change, God can. Why? Because God’s the farmer. God will plow up the cow paths in our lives. God will cast away the rocks and rip out the thorns. God can take all of that and clean it up.

But here’s the catch – we have to let him do it. As great and as mighty and as loving as God is, God will not clean up the fields of our lives unless we let him in. God will not force the Holy Spirit on anyone. If you don’t want it, all you have to say is, “No.”

In my experience, however, there comes a time in each of our lives when we say, “Yes,” to God and allow the Spirit in. We’re tired of trying to do it on our own. The cow paths are too hard. The rocks are too many. The thorns are just too prickly. The time comes when we realize that on our own we are helpless to clean up the mess. That’s when we invite God’s Spirit in to make us whole and prepare our lives for all of the good gifts that he wants to give us.

Maybe that sounds like you this morning. Maybe you’re still hardened to the word. Maybe there are a few rocks and thorns in your field. And just because you go to church, don’t think your field is perfectly clean. Even mature Christians can run into problems because none of us is perfect. All of us probably have a rock or thorn or two that we need to give over to God. That’s because, when we do, then the seeds that God wants to plant in our lives will take root and sprout. They will grow strong plants that will produce a plentiful harvest – one hundred, sixty and thirty times what was sown.

I just want, right now, to look at the very last verse of the parable in Matthew 13:9 (NIV) which says this: “He who has ears, let him hear.” What about you? Do you have ears to hear? I want to tell you something. Jesus says that you do. In Matthew 13:16 (NIV) he said this to his disciples: “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and you ears because they hear.” Jesus said that to his disciples. Do you know what you are? You are his disciples because you follow him and have put your faith in him. So watch and listen and open your life to the amazing work of God that he may produce a harvest in you.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We give thanks that you are as close as a prayer. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out to us offering hope and help and healing. We give thanks for all of your precious gifts.

We put our lives in your hands. On our own, we are helpless to clean up our lives. The temptations are too strong, the bad habits too engrained. But you, O God, can do anything. You can take the meagre gifts in our lives and use them for your glory. Just give us the faith and the courage to let you do it.

We pray for the people of British Columbia as they deal with forest fires in various parts of the province but especially around Williams Lake. Bring rains and safety, we pray O God. Provide safety and strength for those fighting the blaze. But also keep us aware and in awe of the power of your creation.

We lift up in prayer those who are suffering from broken relationships. Heal their woundedness, O God of life, that they may move on to experience the abundant life that you promise to all those who put their faith and their trust in you.

Summer is here and the activities of the season are upon us. We are grateful for cool lakes and swimming pools, good friends, refreshing walks, fish flies, early morning fishing and refreshing evenings spent on the front porch.

Holy God, we know that all life is valuable in your sight. We are grateful that your love and compassion are limitless and unconditional. When we are faced with difficult decisions or situations, help us to remember that you are always ready to help offering guidance, strength, patience and wisdom. You provide the example of how we should treat others. Keep us faithful as you are faithful. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

July 16, 2017 / Pentecost 8 / Proper 10

SCRIPTURE

Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Romans 8:1-11

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE:   God’s word is a lamp to our feet;

ALL:   it is a light to our path.

ONE:   The ways of God are awesome;

ALL:   the power of God is pure.

ONE:   Let us worship the One who saves us;

ALL:   let us worship the One who gives us life.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Hear our prayers, O God of Life. Enter our worship as you enter our lives. Instill within us a new sense of your praise and glory. Give to us a passion for justice for all people. Remind us of our responsibility to share your Good News of salvation and reconciliation with all people. Your testimonies are pure. They fill our hearts with joy and give us the courage to continue down the path of your making.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

We put our lives into your hands, O God of Mercy and Compassion. We acknowledge that we are unworthy of your love. The paths that we travel are not your paths. The creations of our hearts are not of your making. The thoughts in our minds are not worthy of your thinking. Cleanse us from our self-centred ways. Forgive us of our sins and enable us to always look for the good of others.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

There are times when we think that we are too sinful for God’s mercy. There are moments when we think that we are too hopeless for God’s grace. In those times, know that God’s power to forgive is greater than any power on earth. That is the strength of forgiveness that we receive. That is the strength of forgiveness that we are called to share with one another.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

For all that we have, for all that we are, for all that we will become, we offer our thanks and our praise. Enlighten us and encourage us to use these gifts that conflicts may be solved and peace may be found.

COMMISSIONING

As children of God, we have worshipped in faith and truth. As followers of Christ, we are called to go forth from this place to share the Good News of salvation and reconciliation in Jesus’ name.

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