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veggies.jpg (1910 bytes)Good Soil Lives
a sermon based on Mark 5

This spring I’ve joined the ranks of vegetable growers. I own four plants: a tomato, two yellow peppers and an eggplant. My repotted friends sit in earthenware jars on the deck in rich (and expensive) soil while I sit inside and fantasize about a bumper crop. Each leaf requires close scrutiny, each blossom beckons celebration. With skillful mentoring, cultivating, pruning, watering, and the pole-things that you tie tomato plants to, plus gallons of Miracle Grow, these fragile seedlings will produce a mighty harvest. That’s the plan.

Not surprisingly, Jesus draws on a similar image. We call it the Parable of the Sower, but I think we could also call it the Parable of the Soils, for in the parable, seeds fall on various kinds of soils but with very different results-

footpath soil = birds gobble it up

shallow soil = sprouts quickly, wilts quickly

thorny soil = root competition: weeds win, plants lose

good soil = produces fruit-like my tomato, two yellow peppers and eggplant

More is riding on this little garden tale, of course, than tossed salad ingredients. The parable teaches us that God like a gardener delights in bringing growth into the soil of our lives. More than that. I wonder if maybe this parable of the seed and soils really functions as the frame through which we’re supposed to view every episode in Mark’s story. Let’s try it out on the three stories in Mark 5, the chapter from which our gospel lesson comes. Every one of the three stories are stories of faith and strangely enough, seem to be Mark’s best examples of "good soil" in the ministry of Jesus.

Story #1: Plundering Satan’s Troops

The first story begins "on the other side of the lake." It’s important to know what side of the lake we’re on. Suddenly the disciples find themselves on the other side in the land of the outsiders. Easy to tell. Pigs-lots of them. Squealing, grunting, farting animals. Unclean. Just like the uncircumcised were-unclean on-the-other-siders. A solitary figure commands the story’s focus-an outsider even to the outsiders. No wonder. His apartment was a tomb. He was virtually unrestrainable. Not that the villagers didn’t try to rehab him. Chains locked his hands and shackles held his feet. Yet he always broke the chains and smashed the shackles. Maybe on full moons the villagers even heard him howling. Squealing, grunting, farting animal. Mark attributes the behavior to demon-possession. Not sure what that means exactly, but Scripture attests to an evil so personal and malevolent that it could cause people to twitch and writhe and shout and throw themselves down and destroy themselves.

The twice-outsider runs to Jesus and shouts, "What have you to do with me, Jesus son of the Most High God? For God’s sake, don’t torment me." Jesus squeezes the demonic name out of the man: Legion-"for we are many." That’s for sure. A Roman legion boasted six thousand troops, one hundred and twenty horsemen, and additional technical help. A lot of self-destruction inside this man.

He had lived with fear-cringing, tormenting, self-destructive fear-for as long as he could remember. But the outsider had come to Jesus out of desperate need. With a word Jesus transfers the evil powers to pigs and they stampede to destruction. But not the outsider. Within hours the man has regained his mental health-he sits there like a repotted tomato, carefully watched and on his way to growth. The seed has been sown. The outsider believes in the Sower and gets his wits back.

Story #2: Jesus and the 12 Year Old: Part I

This story begins on the other side of the other side-back in insider territory. What a study in contrasts! No sooner out of the boat than Jesus is accosted by a local celebrity. While the guy in story #1 was a down and outer, this guy would have driven a Beemer and sat in a corner office on the 17th floor. The office of leader of the synagogue was given to wealthy patrons. Jairus, the local leader probably organized meetings, decided who prayed, tutored Torah readers, and planned almsgiving fund-raisers. Yet, just like the guy on the other side of the tracks, he too, comes to Jesus and falls at his feet, a desperate man. "She’s about to die, my daughter is, please come and touch her so she can live."

Jairus believes in the Sower. And so together Jairus and Jesus go to his home.

Story #3: The Hemorrhaging Woman

But just as the entourage sets out for Jairus’ home, a tragic new character interrupts the story. We’d have a hard time trying to pick her out at the airport. The limo drivers at least can hold up a sign, "Ms. ______," but this woman is nameless probably because of her illness. An embarrassing hemorrhage has kept her out of society-shut up and shut away like a leper or the elephant man. She can’t attend the synagogue, can’t even touch another human being without making them defiled. A social outcast.

But she is resourceful-has tried everything money could buy in healthcare products and prescriptions, but in the end, she’s impoverished and still sick. And desperate. So desperate in fact, that when she hears about Jesus, she slinks up behind him low and grasps the bottom fringe of his robe. That act of desperation would have made Jesus unclean as well.

Euthus! Immediately Jesus is aware of a transference of power. As the womyn touches Jesus she feels . . . As Jesus’ robe is touched, he feels . . . "Who touched my clothes? he demands. The disciples understandably downplay the outburst as being totally unreasonable. Not all touches are the same. Our society has painfully recognized that even among religious folks, some touches are not healthy. Many jostled and pushed and shoved that day-there was a large retinue of followers-but none drew any response from Jesus, except one.

Faith offered sometimes even out of desperation will eventually bear fruit. The Sower sows the Word. The woman hears. She believes. "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." Literally, "Your faith has saved you," Jesus says. Wellness for this woman is more than a healthy body; it is restoration to the human family and the invitation to enjoy the life of worship again.

The woman no longer slinks among the sandals of the crowd, but stands proudly healed and whole as a tomato plant tied to a stake.

Jesus and the 12 Year Old - Part II

Jesus’ words to the woman are still reverberating as people come from the leader’s house to report that the delay has been fatal. "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" Now this is awkward. Because he had taken time with the woman, a child had died. The shock of loss hits Jairus, but Jesus tells Jairus, "Do not fear, only believe."

Ever had that experience - this strange mixture of fear and faith? Max Lucado says, "Faith is trusting what the eye can’t see. Eyes see the prowling lion. Faith sees Daniel’s angel. Eyes see storms. Faith sees Noah’s rainbow. Eyes see giants. Faith sees Canaan. Your eyes see your faults. Faith sees your Savior." Into this strange mingling of faith and fear-the Sower sows the Word.

Like ambulance chasers that look upon the macabre as a lucrative business, professional mourners enter the story. In first-century Palestine, the more mourners, the more you honored the departed. They provided a full spectrum of options in their package deal: they cried, sang, played instruments, danced, clapped, and wailed. As someone quipped, nowadays we call this a rock band. Into this confusion Jesus enters and says, "The child isn’t dead but asleep." The true depth of the sorrow of the mourners surface as they switch from lament to mocking laughter. Pushing the mourners from the room, Jesus takes the family and his three disciples in and raises the 12-year old from death.

Learning Curve About the "Good Soil"

Each of these stories contrast fear and faith. Hurtful fear comes in all forms-fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of death, fear of embarrassment, fear of failure. But faith is also within reach, for the Sower sows the Word-and when we read Scripture in order to listen deeply to our lives and to what God is speaking to us, faith comes alive. These stories call us to come in the midst of our fears to the Sower.

Hear the Good News! Come and bring the soil of your lives to the Sower. Such is faith-believing that God can repot faith within our fragile human soil and make good things to blossom in our lives-thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. Though I celebrate every leaf that my tomato, two peppers, and eggplant sprouts out there on the deck, their fruit will happen not instantaneously, but gradually over time.

Good soil people - that’s who you are! If you don’t see any fruit today, come back to the Sower tomorrow and the next day. One day we will produce the good things that God has planned. Not only that but the Sower has the power to bring our fragile human soil out of the grave and make it blossom forth thirty fold, sixty fold, and a hundredfold throughout all eternity. Amen.