Summary: God is the good gardner, working his people into good soil, fit to plant in the seed of his presence.
"Of Seed and Soils"
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
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.