Good Soil

Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9 (Parable of the Sower)
Title: “Good Soil”
Preached: Pioneer/FPC – 07/16/17

As we listen to the Parable of the Sower, we often listen to this parable in reference to our own lives:  We are the fortunate ones where the seed of faith fell on good ground and grew into a healthy crop of a hundred fold.  If we are honest with ourselves, perhaps our lives have multiplied only sixty fold or at the very least thirty fold, but certainly our lives are not those of rocky or shallow soil.  We hear it in this way because of a principle known as the fundamental attribution error.  As humans, when we see or hear something, we are far more likely to be more understanding and generous in explaining away our own faults than we are the faults of others.  While others might exist on rocky soil, certainly I live on good soil.

If we understand the fundamental attribution error, then we can begin to see ourselves and others more realistically and with compassion.  We begin to perhaps understand that each of us at times finds our lives on different types of ground. Sometimes, our lives are like the seed falling on the pathway.  Our lives are so busy that we don’t take time to receive the word of God.  How many of us find time to listen to the Word of God daily, let alone once a week during worship?  Our lives are busy these days.  And I know that there are a hundred good reasons we have for not spending time listening to God.  I am not here to pass judgment upon your schedules.  I feel the cultural and family pressures myself.  However, we need to be careful not to let the evil one distract us from what is truly important.  Satan and his dominions want us to keep focused on the tasks at hand.

One of my favorite books that I have mentioned before is C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters, a fictitious set of letters written by a demon named Screwtape to his nephew, Wormwood, a lower demon, on how to entice his “Patient” away from God and faith.   Screwtape encourages his nephew to keep the patient distracted through pleasure, work, even good times with friends talking about trivial matters, anything to keep the patient focused away from matters of the soul.  I find myself returning to this book throughout my lifetime because it reminds me how easy it is for me to get distracted from God.  There is a wonderful audible version of the Screwtape Letters narrated by John Cleese that you can find on YouTube.  Take a letter at a time and see how your life relates to that of the Patient.

There are other times in our lives where the word of God falls upon rocky soil.  We accept the word of God with joy, but we have no root to let the word flourish when persecution or strife comes our way.  This often happens when we see that something is not working in our home, church, or work place.  God has placed upon our hearts that there is a better way, but when we introduce a change in our behavior, others criticize us for rocking the boat.  They are used to things as they are.  Others might even agree with you that there is a problem, but when you want to try something new, they quickly sabotage your efforts.  If our roots are shallow, we give up. Ed Friedman, a Jewish Rabbi and change advocate, calls this “a failure in nerve.”  It is easier returning  back to the status quo.

That is why it is important when introducing a new behavior or practice to be rooted in our faith and stay connected with others.  We need the Spirit to strengthen us when others start to challenge our new behavior.  We also need to find encouragement from other Christians who can encourage us from the outside.  As the Body of Christ, we are here to encourage one another as we seek to change our lives and be more Christ-like.  How often have we been the ones telling loved one’s, “Oh, you don’t have a drinking problem,” or “everyone cheats on their taxes.”  It is too convenient to take the easy way out, but we are called as brothers and sisters in Christ to “speak the truth in love.” Sometimes, that means speaking the truth to ourselves and reflecting upon why the new behaviors of others makes us uncomfortable.

If we are encouraging change, we need to find those deeply rooted people that can help us weather the scorching sun.  They can pray for us and encourage us.  They will remind us of God’s Word and challenge us to keep connected to God’s Word.  We need those nutrients of the Spirit to keep us strong.

We also need to stay connected to those who are challenged by our new behaviors.  Remember that we too were just like them before we received the Word placed upon our hearts.  When someone reacts to our change, it is natural for us to want to react back, but God calls us to be like Christ and instead lean into those people with understanding and compassion.  If we stay connected and persevere, they will see our deep roots and convictions.  They might change themselves but if they do not, at least you will show them that a new pathway is possible.  But if you give up or argue with them, you only validate their reasons not to change.

Sometimes the word of God within our lives falls among thorns.  How often have we found ourselves lured away from the word of God because of the worries of the world?  When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say, “And give us this day our daily bread. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  We are asking God to provide us with what we require, no more and no less.  God does not promise us an easy, perfect life.  There are going to be worries and obstacles.  To receive the word of God is to trust that God will provide what we need even amid trial and temptation.  God will see us through.

As mainline Presbyterians, we have often found ourselves tempted towards relying upon our wealth and prestige to get us through rough times, but this is a lure away from relying upon God.  As a church, our greatest riches are not found in the number of wealthy members or our endowments.  As we have seen, those can quickly fall away.  Both wealthy and poor members pass away.  Yet it is our faith in God which will endure and keeps us strong.  These riches can never be taken away from us.

And by living out our faith within all aspects of our lives, that is when the word of God is most likely to fall upon the good rich soil.  We do not have to be stuck with bad soil.  My neighbor has a beautiful lawn.  I am often envious of his lawn, for he has put a lot of time and money into his lawn that I have not.  Originally, we had the same soil to begin with, but he brought in good top soil and seed.  He invested in a sprinkler system to water his lawn and he thatches, aerates, and fertilizes his lawn.  It is not rocket science to understand why his lawn looks so much better than mine.

Wouldn’t it be great if we as a church took care of people as well as my neighbor takes care of his lawn?  If we invested our time and money helping our community to grow in their faith.  If we tilled the ground before us, helped them to remove the rocks in their lives, and provided the nutrients of faith that they require to be healthy?  The good news of Jesus Christ is that God is constantly sowing his seed within the world.  And although we can’t determine the kind of soil that exists around us, we can still prepare the soil, within our own lives and in the lives of those around us.  Are you tilling the soil of faith in your own household, work places, and neighborhoods?

And when others look at your faith, do they see the fruits of your labor in Christ?  Are they witnessing a bountiful harvest that the Word of God produces.  Do they find you to be a man or woman of faith, hope, and love.  If they ask you what is different in your life, are you willing to share the secret of your success? Are you being a sower of God’s word?

Friends, we all find ourselves upon rocky or thorny ground at times, but let us not be satisfied with our condition.  Let us till the ground of our own lives and the lives of those around us.  Let us till the soil around us and sow the seeds of faith within our households, work places, and neighborhoods.  Let us daily seek the nutrients of faith by praying regularly and reading God’s Word.  And let our lives be watered by the spring that flows from the River of Life found in Jesus Christ.  Then when the Word of God falls upon the good soil of our lives, it will produce a bountiful harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred-fold.  Amen.