GOOD SOIL

 

Isaiah 55: 10-13

Romans 8: 1-11

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

 

Two very bright young people graduated from the School of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech.

They decided to go into the chicken business. They wanted to try out some new methods of raising chickens that had been demonstrated at the experimental farm. Their instructors helped them develop a detailed business plan.

 

With borrowed money, they bought some fertile land in Rockingham County. That’s chicken country. They worked up the soil and planted 300 young chickens in very neat rows. The next morning they were very upset when they went out and found that all of the chickens were dead.

 

So, they called Blacksburg and discussed the situation with the head of the department. He asked a lot of questions and suggested that perhaps they had planted the chickens too deep. He also told them to plant the chickens feet down and water them. Following these instructions, they planted 300 more chickens, which lived for two days.

 

They called back to Tech and asked for the dean of the school of agriculture. The dean was quite perplexed and called a meeting of the faculty. He also consulted with the department heads at Texas A&M and Nebraska.

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After a thorough exchange of ideas he called the young people back, and said, “Can you send us a soil sample?”

                                                                               

I know there are some Tech students and alumni here. I beg your forgiveness. I heard the story from a man whose daughter was an agriculture student at Tech.

 

This morning, we are going to think about soil—dirt-- the stuff things grow in. Our gospel lesson today is a parable Jesus told about a sower, seed, and soil. Jesus often used stories to illustrate His message about His new kingdom. The people were having a difficult time understanding His message. They were hoping for a messiah king who would overthrow the Roman rulers and establish a new kingdom in Israel.

 

Jesus was proclaiming a kingdom of heaven, a spiritual, rather than an earthly realm. He had said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” It would be a kingdom where God ruled in the hearts and lives of His people.

 

Jesus had first presented his kingdom message in the synagogues, the local centers of religious study and worship. But he was chased out of the synagogues. He began speaking out in open places. Large crowds  of people followed him, anxious to see him perform miracles and hear him teach.

 

 

 

 

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One day Jesus went down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd gathered, so Jesus got in a boat and sat down and began to teach, using parables to illustrate his lesson.

 

His first parable began like this. “The sower went out to sow.” Jesus used everyday people in his stories and in his work, shepherds and builders and fishermen. This story was about the work of a farmer.

 

My great uncle, Woody Hoffman, was a farmer in Madison County. He worked his fields with a team of mules. He sowed his crop seeds with a contraption which consisted of a wooden box, a cloth bag, a crank, and a propeller. It was a lot of work and took a lot of time, but it got the job done. I accidentally broke it one day, and he was very upset with me. I ended up working for him all summer, and my only pay was a lesson learned and some good food.

 

Here is the parable Jesus told. “The sower went out to sow. Some of the seed he scattered fell on the path, and birds came down and ate them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where the soil was shallow. The seeds sprouted quickly, but when the sun rose the seedlings withered, because the soil was shallow and they could not put down roots. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns choked them out. But some seed fell on fertile soil. Strong, healthy plants came up which produced an abundance of grain, one hundred, or sixty, or thirty times as much grain as had been planted.”

 

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Later, Jesus explained the story to his close followers, his disciples. He said, “Listen to the parable. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand, the evil one comes along and snatches away the seed which was sown.

 

As for the seed which was sown on rocky ground, this is like the person who gladly receives the word, but because of the rocks they have no root. They endure for a while, but when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, that person immediately falls away.

 

As for the seed which was sown among thorns, this is like the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.

 

Regarding the seed which fell on good soil, this is like the one who hears the word and understands it, and who acts upon it. This person bears fruit; one hundred, or sixty, or thirty times as much as was sown.”

 

What was Jesus saying to his followers?

 

First, I think he was warning them that not everyone was going to have a positive and fruitful response to the word of life, the message of the kingdom.

 

Many people were following him around. He was the most exciting show in town. But, some just did not understand his message.

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They were expecting a messiah who would be an earthly king. Jesus was talking about a kingdom of heaven.   

 

And certainly, their king could not possibly be an itinerant rabbi from Nazareth. This Jesus picked grain and ate it on the Sabbath. He even did lunch with sinners.  He didn’t fit the mold. The seed of the word fell on the hard ground of prejudices and pre-conceptions, and the evil one plucked it up.

 

There were those who liked what they saw and heard from Jesus. They became happy followers. But, they were shallow soil, not totally committed.  Below the surface, there were the rocks; fears and doubts and unresolved questions.  When trouble or persecution came along, they fell away. The disciples would see this happen first hand, as first the Jews, and later, the Romans, persecuted the followers of Jesus.  

 

Others had a problem with thorns and weeds. They heard the word of life, and it took root  in them. But then the cares and troubles of life, or the lure of wealth overwhelmed them. They were not prepared to make a total commitment and put God first in their lives.

 

But, thanks be to God, many people heard and accepted the word and made a life changing commitment.  They lived abundant lives and they, in turn, produced seed which was sown in the lives of others. The disciples who listened to Jesus that day by the sea would soon see this all come to pass.

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One day, Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified. Many who had followed him and shouted Hosanna fell away. Some cried out, “Crucify Him.” But then, the disciples saw an empty tomb. They had fellowship with the risen Lord. They heard Him command them to go and make disciples, to baptize and teach. They were commissioned to sow the seed which He had planted in them. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. On that great day and the days which followed they preached boldly. Thousands of people became followers.

 

But, hard times came all too soon.  Non-believing Jews

persecuted and killed Christians. Some Christian Jews  insisted that gentiles must accept Jewish laws and customs when they became Christians. They could not accept the concept that God’s kingdom was for all people. Later, Roman emperors persecuted and killed believers. Followers with shallow roots soon fell away

 

What Jesus had described in the parable became reality. Many people heard the word of the Kingdom. Some fell away, but others  endured and spread the word. In spite of persecution and controversy, doubt and fear, pain and prejudice, the seed was sown and bore a bountiful harvest. 

 

In the parable, Jesus told the disciples, “This is how it is going to be. The word of the kingdom will be proclaimed. Some will reject it out of hand. Some will accept it, but then fall away. But some will accept and grow and flourish and spread the word to others.”

 

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This was probably a difficult lesson. The disciples were probably wondering why it had to be this way. Why couldn’t Jesus force himself on the world, and make every one accept him? He was talking about a kingdom. Kings gave orders and people obeyed, didn’t they?

 

Are we ever tempted to think that way? Wouldn’t it be nice if every one was a believing and practicing follower of Christ? Wouldn’t it be nice if the Ten Commandments were engraved on the hearts of all people, and everyone lived by the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount? But God doesn’t operate that way. Ever since the Garden of Eden, God has given mankind the right to decide whether to obey or disobey.

 

God clearly spelled out the rewards of obedience and the consequence of disobedience. In Jesus, God offered eternal life in the kingdom to all people, and invited them to come in. Christ went to the cross and rose from the dead to make this all possible. Christ sent his followers out to sow the seeds of the word of life.

 

I believe there are additional messages in the parable of the good soil. Certainly the disciples could get the message that not all people would be receptive to the word; that some would not accept  it, and that others would accept it but then fall away.

 

 

 

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It would have been natural for each of them to think, “I am the good soil. I will hear and accept and flourish.” But, perhaps Jesus was also asking them for a soil sample, to examine themselves for hard ground and rocks and thorns. They were going to be facing hard times, rejection and persecution. Would they be ready? Could they take up their crosses and follow Him?

 

Judas Iscariot was not up to the task. In the end, Jesus did not meet his expectations. Judas not only fell away, he betrayed the Lord. Peter denied his Lord in a moment of stress, but the Lord brought him back and reconditioned his soil. Did others fall away? Perhaps. Some of the original twelve apostles are never mentioned after Pentecost. What happened to them? We don’t know.

 

What does this parable say to us? Should we not ask ourselves, “What kind of soil am I?” Do our prejudices and pre-conceived notions create a hard crust on us so that the seed of the word cannot enter and grow?  Do we, like the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day, have hard and fast ideas about how God should operate?

 

Does our hard ground need to be loosened? It may take a grubbing hoe. I have one in our shed to deal with the hard clay around here. When the Mullins family operated the nursery across the road they sold me bags of something called clay buster, which kept the soil loose. It worked very well. Everything we planted with it has thrived.

 

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Are there hard rocks in our soil that prevent the word from sprouting and putting down roots? Will we thrive in spite of troubles and persecution? Will we be able to handle the trials and troubles of life with faith and confidence? When I was in high school I worked on a farm over on the Rapidan River. I had two jobs. One was to pick up rocks in a field, so the farmer could plant a crop. The other was to load a manure spreader to fertilize that field. It was hard work, but it paid off. Guess what? Part of that farm is now the Somerset Farm golf course.

 

What about the thorns and weeds that grow up in our gardens? Do the cares of the world and the lure of wealth grow up and choke out the seed of God’s word in us? What do we do about thorns? We know that, properly applied, Round-Up will take care of weeds and thorns. It is expensive, but worth it. Could we use some spiritual Round-Up?

 

It is easy to look around and see examples of poor soil. We get frustrated when others do not seem to obey God and place their trust in Christ. But, before plowing up their  fields and picking up their  rocks and pulling up their  weeds, let’s first do our own soil samples. Let’s tend our own crops. Let’s allow God’s word to be planted deeply in our hearts, so we can bring forth an abundant harvest of the good seed.

 

 

 

                                                                                       

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Our Old Testament lesson is from Isaiah, chapter 55, which is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Here is part of what it says:

 

        For as the rain and snow come down from heaven,

        and do not return there until they have watered the   earth, making it bring forth and sprout,

        Giving seed to the sower and bread to the earth,

        so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

        it shall not return to me empty, but it shall   accomplish, and succeed in the thing for which I      sent it.

 

God does accomplish God’s purpose. The seed is not sown in vain. God sends forth the seed of the living word. Showers of blessing come from above, making the seed sprout. This produces seed for the sower, and bread for the eater. So, there is always more seed for the next crop, but there is also bread on the table. It is the bread of life.

 

Thus, we can sing:

 

Break now, the bread of life, dear Lord to me,

As once You broke the loaves beside the sea.

Beyond the sacred page, I seek You Lord.

My spirit waits for You, O living word.

 

In a little while, we will break bread together.

 

Thanks be to God, who sends forth the word of life.