Make Good Soil

Posted on

9th Sunday After Pentecost 
July 13, 2008 
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Peder Stenslie

The seeds of grain Jesus speaks of represent the spirit of God. God’s spirit is given as a priceless, but free gift to all. But it is the special nature of the spirit of God that it must take root in us and grow… there must be a sort of grafting onto our hearts… in order for its power to fill our life with grace and strength and light.

In my yard, many things grow. Some of these don’t bring me much joy… for example, sweet clover, dandelions, Creeping Jenny, and various invasive grasses. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that grow in my yard that give me great joy; and I work hard to encourage and nurture the growth of these plants. There are flowers, honeysuckle vines, lilac bushes, berry bushes, apple trees, a couple conifers and a Russian Olive.

As I try to nurture good and healthy growth in these plants, I spend a lot of time tending the soil… the place where my plants grow. I have learned how important that is.

When I plant, I always remove the old clay soil and replace it with a mixture of top-soil and potting soil. Forever after, I tend this soil by watering, weeding and fertilizing it. Usually, I see good results from my efforts at making good soil. I see strong growth in the things I plant.

Jesus, in today’s Gospel lesson, emphasizes the value of good, healthy growth. He uses the images of seed and soil, but he has his eye on us. He wants us to think about how we become the kind of person God intends us to be… the kind of person he calls us to be. How can we come to have in us strength and life that doesn’t wither away to nothing under pressure, conflict and temptation?

“Be good soil,” Jesus tells us in this parable.

What does it mean to be good soil? And what difference does good soil make?

Last Sunday, I was in my old hometown for my 30 year high school reunion. We did, of course, a lot of reminiscing… remembering days gone by and all the things that happened when we were young.

At one point, the conversation at my table turned to the town bullies we were afraid of when we were small. Five names were brought up. Of those 5, I was told that 4 were now dead… one from cancer, one from AIDS, and 2 of them committed suicide.

We talked about how mean these boys were to us and others. We also talked about what was going on in their lives as they were growing up. They had all been deeply wounded by various circumstances of their lives. We strongly disliked them when we were young; but now, 30 years later, we were able to have some sympathy for them.

It really made me think about everything that makes up a life. There’s the family and circumstances into which we are born. There’s the stuff that happens to us in our lives. Then there’s our decisions and choices as we respond to the circumstances of our lives. And finally, there’s the consequences and realities created by our decisions and actions.

All of these things together make up the soil of our lives. The circumstances of our lives, the things that happen to us, our decisions and choices, and the resulting consequences… these all come to shape the place where we live and grow.

Scripture makes it clear that God, our creator, cares a great deal about this place… the soil of our lives. He cares because, like a good gardener, he knows that good, rich soil produces strong growth. Poor soil results in weak growth, or no growth at all.

In his parable today, Jesus speaks about differences in soil, which strengthen or weaken the growth of grain so that when hard conditions befall, the grain can either endure or it cannot.

The seeds of grain Jesus speaks of represent the spirit of God. God’s spirit is given as a priceless, but free gift to all. But it is the special nature of the spirit of God that it must take root in us and grow… there must be a sort of grafting onto our hearts… in order for its power to fill our life with grace and strength and light.

Jesus’ parable suggests a certain unfairness in life. The differences in soil represent differences among people; and the spirit of God is not able to grow equally well in all people. Certain things about our character, or perhaps social attachments, certain experiences in our lives can hinder the growth of God’s spirit in us. And that is disturbing because it seems unfair.

But as good gardeners know, there is much that can be done to strengthen and enrich soil. This is true also of our lives. We begin with what we have control over in our lives… our decisions and choices… our actions. When we change our decisions, choices and actions, the circumstances we live in begin to change. The soil of our lives begins to change, making good, healthy growth possible.

At my reunion, I also had a long talk with one of my former classmates who had had a terribly painful childhood. His father, a chronic drunk, was physically and emotionally abusive to both his mother and himself. For some reason, he was also a favorite target of the town bullies. He struggled in school. He struggled in life.

Through no fault of his own, the soil in which he was growing… the soil of his life… was not good and healthy. And soon his life began to reflect that. He was filled with pain and anger. As a young man, he repeated the behaviors of those who had shaped his life. He began abusing alcohol and drugs and these things took control of his life.

He told me how, after a few years, he realized he was dying. He came to a point that he was desperate for a chance to live again… to be something other than what his dad was.

In order to make this happen, he made very difficult decisions to change the soil of his life. He moved far away, cut ties with friends and family, got himself into treatment, opened himself to God and sought God’s help. He found people who could help him.

This time of change was incredibly difficult. It was painful; but he got through it. Today he is 20 years sober. He is happy and healthy. He has a wife and daughter who have never known abuse… have never known the pain of alcohol or drug addiction in the family.

The soil of his life, which once gave no growth, was changed and now gives good, healthy growth. For this new chance in life, my former classmate is deeply grateful.

Jesus’ parable of the sower emphasizes the importance of soil. It focuses on the relationship between the quality of soil and growth.

Good soil, however, is still only soil. Good soil is not an end in itself… and being good soil is not the full picture of God’s will for us.

That we might be a new creation… that we might know God-given growth…. That is the will and purpose of God. It is so that our lives might be marked by compassion, strength, courage and hope. It is so you and I can have a life that not only is fed by God’s grace, but also feeds others with God’s grace.

It is only by the spirit of God working in us that we can become who we were created to be. We can’t do it ourselves. We can’t, by our own power, cleverness, or effort make ourselves to be “good” people. That is the work of God, just as surely as creation is the work of God.

Our calling is to be good soil, so that the spirit of God can work in us. That’s why Paul — in today’s 2nd lesson — encourages his readers to set their minds on things of the spirit. Because to do so is to make oneself good soil.

To set our minds on things of the spirit is, first and foremost, to acknowledge in all aspects of our lives that we are, in truth, creatures of God, not gods unto ourselves; and so in order to live well, we must look to our creator in everything and for everything. We must understand that God will teach us how to live. God will give us wisdom, strength and courage to be who we need to be. God will be with us always and preserve the life he has given us, from the day we draw our 1st breath until (and beyond) the day we breathe our last.

God calls on us to be good soil because suffering, despair and death are not what he wants for his creation… not for you, not for me, not for anyone. God’s will for creation is joy, love and life. So he calls on you and me to be good soil, so that he can work in us, producing good growth and delivering his rich treasures of life.


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