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"Of Seed and Soils"
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Gary Roth in New Bern

I would like to fancy myself a gardener, although I've only been at it about thirty years, and am humbled at the presence of some of you Master Gardeners in the congregation. I am also finding out that gardening in the south is a different kind of animal than gardening in the north! So I really don't yet consider myself a good gardener. I have, however reached the same point as the old farmer who was asked by the extension agent why he didn't come to any of his classes to learn new farming methods, so that he could improve his farming. The old fellow replied, "Naw - I already know more than I do!" I do like to work in the garden, though - the garden, I've found, is a microcosm of life, and there's more Gospel in planting and harvesting that there is in most seminaries - more, at any rate, than I can preach!

There is a miracle in every seed, and wisdom in the sun, and rain, and soil. They reveal to us the deeper things of life. Jesus knew about gardens, and about gardening. He is the Master Gardener. He wrote the book. So when He tells us about gardening or about life, we need to stop and listen.

Jesus tells us today about seeds and soils. A farmer goes out to his field. The farmer, we know, is God. He goes out with intent - to raise up fruits - refreshing and nourishing, from the field of souls which are His possession. Now, every gardener, every farmer knows, that there are two basic ways to sow seed into the soil. When I purchase little packets of seed, they cost me anywhere from seventy-five cents to perhaps two and a half dollars per packet, so I very carefully make drills - little holes in the soil - and carefully place the seed from the packets at precisely the right depth and distance so that I can get the most out of the packets. That is one way to plant, when the seed is expensive and scarce.

But I've found a way around buying a lot of those expensive little packets of seeds. With most things that I plant, I let one or two plants go to seed. One plant can generally produce more seed than a gardener can use. So I don't worry about how I plant these seeds too much. I just aim them in the general direction where I'd like to see them grow, and let the breeze and the soil do the rest. That's called "broadcast sowing."

God is a broadcast sower. That's what the parable says. The Word of god is rich and wonderful, bountiful and full of life, full of possibilities. For the person who would care to notice, it is sowed everywhere - scattered abundantly throughout the creation by a God who loves to bring good fruit from the ground. I springs up from the welcoming smile, the tender touch, in the sunshine and the rain, in holy words and sacraments, in a song or a thought He places on our lips or into our hearts. His Gospel is so plentiful that too often we neither notice nor value it, and yet it carries within it every possibility, every potential, every hope, every joy. It is the very stuff of life which He scatters wherever the breeze of His Spirit will carry it. If it does not take root or produce good fruit, it isn't the seed's fault or the sower's - neither is it for lack of seed. The fault, he says, lies in the ground that receives it.

Good ground is hard to come by. The first place I lived was a little duplex. When they built it, they first stripped all of the good soil off of the land and sold it. What was left was hardpan clay. It took me years to get it in shape. The last place where I lived had great soil - the fellow who built there had truck loads of loam trucked in, because his wife was a gardener. You could sink your arm right in to the soil, up to your elbow. Now, where we live, the soil is mostly sand, and it will be years before I really have it in shape.

Some folks thank that all it takes to garden is to break a hold in the ground and put in a plant. If that isn't enough, they douse it with some chemicals: fertilizers to make it grow, herbicides to kill the weeds, and bug spray to kill the insects. They belong to a society that believes in better living through chemistry, and in instant gratification. That's the American Way. We believe that anyone who can read a label can be a gardener.

We are just beginning to discover the folly of our ways: how bug sprays and herbicides make their way into the food chain and end up poisoning us; how fertilizers get into streams and lakes and kill the fish; how chemicals deplete the soil, destroy its structure and disrupt its delicate ecosystem. We are just rediscovering the wisdom of patience and knowledge - that it takes a long time to build good soil, and a short time to destroy it. You have to treat the soil with respect, and be willing to learn, and have a lot of patience to be a good gardener.

The message Jesus delivers about the soils is clear: good soil produces good fruit, and bad soils just don't produce. But there is another lesson here that may not be as clear to us, although at least as important - that God is the good farmer - patient and wise. He can work even rocky ground into a fine tilth, given time and opportunity. There is hope for bad, rocky, weedy, sour, hardpan soils.

What kind of soil are you? Soil by the wayside? Do you see yourself as outside the pale of God's grace, not looking or expecting anything of His promised gifts? Then know that His seed does fall everywhere - even in unexpected places, if you will receive it. Expect it, and receive it when it comes to you.

Are you perhaps stony soil? Do the hard places, the hard questions of life choke out the joy of faith? Do you find it easy to become embittered because you cannot understand or accept the hard or difficult things that have happened in your life? Know that it is your bitterness, and not a lack of God's love, that stands between you and joy. Seeds of His love are continually falling upon your life, if you will accept them.

Or are you thorny soil, with so many other concerns that the joy of being God's child seems beside the point? Consider this - that there is no other real joy in life. We were made to receive Him - that is the purpose of soil - to grow things. If we miss that, we have missed the point of life - to grow into His likeness, as His children. St. Paul said that he considered every other concern in life nothing more than trash that got in the way, like a cluttered closet where we can't find what we need anymore. Do you need to get rid of the weeds and get back to the basics?

Even good soil requires care and maintenance. The good news is that we have a Good Gardener, the one who works patiently with us, building us up to that rich tilth, that we may produce good fruit. May you trust in Him, and be fruitful.