Summer finally seems to have settled in, as it usually does around here: late—sometime after July 4th. But for months many of us with yards and gardens have been sowing seeds and weeding and fertilizing.
One thing is certain about our yard at home down the street. There are many types of soil. There’s some soil that has lots of rocks in it. Some is clay; even hardpan—so hard that it’s like concrete, especially when it’s dry. Other soil seems to produce only weeds. But there’s good soil, too, which produces nicely.
Our yard has every kind of soil. Birds, too, just as in Jesus’ parable of the sower.
Many of us have heard this story countless times. Where do your thoughts go when you hear Jesus describe the different types of soil? For me, the temptation is to go straight to the good soil and think of the ways that my life is good soil.
And yet, is this what Jesus is getting at? Describing the difference between good people and bad people, faithful and unfaithful?
Our yard on Sunnycrest Rd. has every kind of soil that this parable describes. In the story, it sounds like each person is one type of soil or the other. But if I’m honest, I can find every kind of response to God’s word that Jesus describes in the parable, in my own life. How about you? Are you just one type of soil or the other? Is your life a perfect lawn, lush and green, deeply rooted, with no weeds and no stones, no birds to eat up the seed?
Does any one of us believe that we have heard and understood and faithfully responded to every service opportunity that God has sent our way? Or, don’t we all know what it’s like to initially feel excited or inspired by some powerful spiritual teaching, only to quickly become discouraged or uninterested? Or, is there anyone here this morning who hasn’t been distracted or even obsessed with what Jesus calls the cares of the world or the lure of wealth? Jesus taught that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Where do your thoughts lead you? What consumes your energy and time? Gaining more money? Protecting and hanging onto the stash you already have? The parable of the sower describes what is common to all of us. Sometimes we respond to the teachings of our faith well. In other ways, not so well. And sometimes, we fail completely.
But the deeper truth is that this story is not really about the soil. It’s not about us. It’s about the sower who casts the seed of love, hope, grace and salvation every which way. The sower knows that some of that seed is wasted. In fact, the sower knows that most of the seed will be wasted.
Jesus was not speaking to people who lived among the fertile fields of the American Midwest. He was speaking to desert people. Those who heard this story for the first time knew that the best a farmer could hope for was a fifteen-fold yield from the seed.
So imagine these same people hearing a story in which the seed produced thirty, sixty and even a hundred times what was sown. Unheard of! Impossible! No one could accomplish such a harvest in that day.
This story is not about human goodness or faithfulness. It’s a story about the extravagant abundance and generosity of the sower.
It is this truth that flies in the face of our timid faith. For while we long to think of our lives as representing good soil, the truth is that much of the time we don’t trust in the extravagant generosity of the sower. Instead, we choose to focus on our own soil analysis. We decide what is good soil. We decide what’s possible or impossible. We, not God, set the limits by saying, “We don’t have enough money, don’t have enough people, don’t have enough time.” All of this is the language of scarcity, not abundance. The language of scarcity comes within a hair of blasphemy. It ignores the power of the sower to produce 30, 60 or a hundred-fold in fields that contain every type of soil: God’s worst effort is at least twice as good as our best!
So–what does good soil look like? It takes many forms, of course. Those of you who were here to remember and celebrate the life of LaVeda Johnson learned that LaVeda was a tither—she gave 10% of her income to the church. LaVeda was born at the end of WWI, lived through the Great Depression and WWII. After Wednesday’s service I learned that as a young woman LaVeda lost a six-month old baby. All these experiences could have led her to live a life based on a fear of losing what she had. Many people do choose to live cautiously. The average Lutheran household gives less than 2%. LaVeda instead decided over the course of her 94 years to take a chance on her belief in the abundance of the sower to multiply the seed beyond what she herself thought possible. Her spiritual field was like yours and mine. It had weeds and rocks and birds. But LaVeda’s spiritual field also had abundant good soil, cultivated by worship, study, and careful attention to God’s word. It is possible over the course of a lifetime to weed and fertilize and create good soil out of what was once rocks and weeds.
LaVeda’s life was testimony to a simple truth. We share in preparing our spiritual soil by hearing the word of God, trusting that it is true, and living lives that joyfully reflect the extravagant generosity of the sower.