Sermon: Pentecost 5 / Proper 10 RCL A – “Tending Soil”

Tending GroundA priest decided to fashion a new spin on the parable of the sower and have it speak to the vices of the world. To do this he decided that he would use a visual demonstration to make his point for him, so he took four earthworms and placed them into four separate jars. The first worm was put into a container of alcohol, the second into a container of cigarette smoke, the third was put into a container of chocolate syrup, and the fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil. At the conclusion of the sermon, the priest reported the following results: the first worm in alcohol – Dead. The second worm in cigarette smoke – Dead. The third worm in chocolate syrup – Dead. “D E A D. All dead,” he declared. However, holding up the fourth worm from the good clean soil he dramatically pronounced, “Alive!” He then asked the congregation, “What can you learn from this demonstration?” A little old woman in the back quickly raised her hand and said, “As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won’t get worms!” It may be that I need to study my Bible a bit more, but I somehow suspect this was not the point Jesus was trying to get across with this particular parable.

In fact, if the unfortunate priest had a read a bit further, he would have discovered this is one of the few instances where Jesus provides a clear interpretation of the parable. The soil represents the heart. The birds snatching the seed away represent the devil who is snatching the Good News out of the heart of one who hears before they have the opportunity to grow and flourish. The seed that fell on rocky ground represents one who hears the word of God, but has no depth and therefore withers and dies producing no fruit. The seed that fell among the thorns is like one who hears the word of God, but the worries of this world overwhelm them before they can grow. Finally, there is the seed that fell on good ground. It grows. It flourishes. It produces. The Word of God grows within the good soil, within the heart of the believer.

If we are ones where the seed has been planted in good soil, then we may wonder what this parable has to do with us. It seems to be only about those who have not yet come to faith. But we know that scripture is multivalent, that is, it has many levels, so not only does this parable speak to those who have not yet come to faith, it also speaks to the believer.

Think about the sometimes odd progression of dreams. At first you’re walking through this very pastoral scene with little sheep milling about and munching the grass and then, casually turning your head to one side, you see a four slice electric toaster careening towards you with a very scary clown laughing off in the distance. Just about the time you are going to duck to avoid the toaster from smashing into your face, you turn into a duck. Let’s see Freud work that one out! As erratic as that may seem, the human heart in its relation to God, can have the same erratic behavior.

For example: you leave here today and in your heart you feel the presence of God. You feel at peace and my goodness what an amazing sermon that was! It’s all good! As you are headed home you catch the first red light up here and all of a sudden that “Blankety Blank Blank” rear ends you because he was so dang busy texting on his stupid cell phone that he couldn’t be bothered with watching where he was going. In that instant, that bird, the enemy of God’s people, snatched that seed right out of your heart.

You just finished up your prayers on Monday morning and you know in your heart that God really heard you. Soon afterwards the dog starts barking and you know its the mail lady. You go out and greet her with a smile, she hands you a few letters returning the smile, and “Oh. I wonder what the bank wants? What do you mean ‘Insufficient Funds’ and its only the 11th of the month. What am I going to do!” And the worries of the world, like that thorn bush, just choked the joy of God right out of you.

The soil of the heart can be a fickle thing; however, sometimes it doesn’t change as quickly as some crazy dream. At other times it happens more slowly like the seasons of the year.

I’m not sure if it is the case in this part of the state, but in the western part, if you do any digging you will soon discover that the ground is full of rocks. Anyone who cuts hay or gardens knows that one of the first chores of the new season is to go out into those fields and “pick rocks.” It may seem that someone has played a dirty trick on you by throwing rocks onto your land, but what has happened is the rocks have worked themselves to the surface. It’s like a bag of potato chips. All the whole chips – the ones that are the good scoopers – are at the top of the bag and the crumbs, the bit that you know you’re going to tip the bag up in your mouth in order to get, are all at the bottom. It’s counterintuitive, but the larger chips work their way up and smaller ones down. Same principle applies to rocky ground. The soil continues to settle downward, making the larger rocks seem to rise to the surface. Those that like to garden know that you regularly have to clear the ground of the rocks that have worked their way to the surface or you’ll end up with a field full of rocks.

The soil of your heart works in a similar manner. The seed, that is the Word of God, is planted. When it finds the good soil, it will grow and produce good fruit. However, if you do nothing to tend that soil, over time the rocks will work their way to surface and the once fertile soil becomes rocky. It has no depth and can no longer support life. Same is true with the weeds and thorn bushes. If you don’t tend the soil on a regular basis, then the weeds and thorns begin to encroach on the good soil and can eventually completely choke if off, leaving soil unfit for growing anything.

St. Paul wrote, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” St. Josemaria Escriva stated it this way, “The world, the devil, and the flesh are a band of adventurers who take advantage of the weakness of that savage you have within you. In exchange for the poor bauble of pleasure [that is the world] which is worth nothing, they want you to hand over to them the pure gold and the pearls, the diamonds and the rubies, drenched in the living and redeeming blood of your God–the price and the treasure of your eternity.”

The world, the devil, and the flesh want to destroy the good soil of your heart. Whether when the seed was first planted or over time, the enemies of God seek to bring death in places where God has sown life. So how do we defend ourselves?

It – as should everything – begins with God and His providence. His protective care of His people. Speaking of the Lord, the Psalmist declared:

If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
 if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

If I take the wings of the morning
 and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,
 and your right hand shall hold me fast.

The Lord’s providence, His protective care watches over our hearts wherever we may go. We defend ourselves against the world, the devil, and the flesh by asking the Lord Our God to continue in the love and care for us, but it doesn’t end there, because we must also do our part. We cannot buy or through our own works attain salvation, but we must be vigilant in tending the good soil of our hearts, so that we can continue to produce good fruit. We must remove ourselves from areas of temptation and sin, and we must practice those exercises, which assist us in being faithful in our daily walk: prayer, study, Communion, fellowship. And when we fail – Yes, we will fail brilliantly with abounding flare and the wreckage to prove it – but when we do, again consider the words of Escriva: “So you’ve failed? You – be convinced of it – can never fail. You haven’t failed; you’ve acquired experience. Forward!”

Our Father has placed a seed in the good soil of your heart. Guard that soil. Tend it. Water it. Keep it clear of predators and those things that do not belong. Then produce fruit worthy of God’s glory.

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