Rehoboth Congregational Church
September 9, 2018
Be The Good Soil
Jesus said, in The Parable of the Sower:
Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away.
So the basic gist here is that if you plant seeds in rocky soil, nothing will grow.
Well clearly Jesus has never tried to grow a garden in Rehoboth.
I remember the fourth or fifth year Bruce and I were planting a vegetable garden over at the parsonage; Bruce was tilling the soil and then moving the rocks he had turned up to another part of the yard. I was so confused as to why, after so many years of nurturing that soil, we were still finding rocks that I actually asked the question, “Are new rocks growing?”
(It had been a long time since I had taken Earth Science.)
This morning’s scripture reading is a parable. A parable is essentially a short story that gives us something to think about. It has a double meaning; in the bible, the word, “parable” can also be translated from the original Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek as, “metaphor.”
Stories in parables are sometimes historical, but very often fiction. They might not necessarily make sense on a literal level or they might not even be plausible, but there are lessons hidden within the them; lessons about life, faith and about how we should seek God’s presence in our lives. Parables were the sermon illustrations of biblical time; Jesus used them as a way to relate complex theological ideas to every day life.
This is the first time in the Gospel of Mark that we hear Jesus speaking in parables, but it will not be last. Jesus actually follows up the parable of the sower with a little explanation about the purpose of parables. Jesus says in verses 11 & 12:
For those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that “they may look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”
Jesus is quoting the Prophet Isaiah; essentially saying that, from the outside, sometimes these parables do not make sense, but that it is our faith and study that allows us to understand their meaning.
We begin our reading this morning beside a lake. As has been the trend throughout Mark so far, a very large crowd gathers around Jesus to see, hear and bear witness to Jesus for themselves. Jesus teaches to them in parables, beginning with the parable of the sower.
In this parable, Jesus describes what happens to a seed when it fall on four different types of ground – a path, rocky ground, thorns and good soil. When the seed falls on the path, Jesus explains, birds will come and eat it up and it will not have the opportunity to grow. When it falls on the rocky ground, it will spring up quickly, but then immediately be scorched by the sun and die. When it falls among the thorns, the thorns will grow around it and it will not be able to grow itself. But when it falls into good soil, it will grow and thrive and brings forth grain, “increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
The seeds in this parable is God’s word and we are the ground that it lands on. In saying that the soil needs to be good soil in order for the seeds to take root and grow and thrive and bring forth grain, Jesus is saying that we need to be the good soil; we need to be rich and full of nutrients, we cannot be rocky or thorny. To be the good soil we need to be ready and prepared to receive God’s word so that God’s word can take root within us and grow and thrive and bring forth grain.
Because here’s the thing – God’s word is powerful. It is grace-filled and life-changing and awe-inspiring. It can push us to move mountains and accomplish what we once thought was impossible.
But sometimes it is not enough.
Because there is something required of us, as well. We have to prepare ourselves for God’s word and God’s presence in our lives and make sure we are ready to receive it. And yes, this sometimes requires hard work on our end, but we need to do this hard work so that we are truly ready to see and know and tell others about God.
We talk a lot in our church about being a guilt-free environment and not having hard and steadfast rules and I don’t want that to change. But I also do think there is powerful call in this parable to hold ourselves accountable to the level of grace that God has given to us. Jesus is saying here that there is something required of us, that it is not simply enough to listen to God’s word or even to be open to God’s presence, but that we have to be ready, that we have to make our faith a priority so that we can be good soil, ready to soak up God’s wisdom and presence and guidance.
Because if we are not ready, God’s word might not take root within us. God’s presence might not transform our lives. We might not be able to do what God is calling us to do or be the person God created us to be, the person God believes we can be.
Think about it this way: If you never came to church, never read the bible, never tried to learn more about your faith and never got involved in a community like this one – what would happen if God tried to come into your life? Would you be open to God’s presence? Would you have the wisdom to know what to do next? Would you have the courage to follow God’s call?
It is really good timing that this text popped up on Rally Day, because now is the perfect time to re-focus ourselves and make a commitment to God and to our faith and to this church. We take for granted sometimes the fact that they are all just going to be there, but I think the important thing to remember is that so much more will come out of our relationship with God, our faith and our church if we try to be that good soil, if we do the hard work that is required on our end to be the good soil.
So now is the time to do the hard work. Now is the time to prepare our soil. We do this by showing up, getting involved and committing our time and our money. We do this by paying attention in church, maybe taking notes during the sermon and taking the bulletin home and re-reading the scripture when we get home. We do this by tying into the life of the church, reaching out to someone if they make an announcement and need something or by volunteering to organize something yourself. We do this by joining committees, not because we necessarily love to go to meetings, but because we love this church and we want to make sure that it not only survives, but it thrives. We do this by making prayer a priority in our everyday lives. We do this by sacrificing some of the things we want to do – watching TV, playing on our phones, even doing projects around the house – so that we have time for God and church and our faith.
And this is not a one-time thing, either. One of the things I learned very quickly in our pursuit of a vegetable garden was that we constantly had to prepare and nurture the soil. It was not a one-time thing and then we were good to go. Some years were better than others; we took steps forward and sometimes steps backwards.
But that is why we had to continue to nurture it.
And that is why we have to continue to nurture ourselves so that we can be the good soil, ready to receive God’s word and allow it to take root within us so that it can bear fruit and extend out into the world.
We summer’d hard here at the church; a lot happened, some good, some bad. But throughout it all, I was reminded that we are stronger together than we are separately. We are more than simply the sum of our parts; we are the Body of Christ. And it is time for us to gather, as a community, and prepare ourselves for the year ahead. It is time to make a commitment to God, to one another and to our church. Together, we can be good soil. And I promise you our lives will be changed, our faith will move mountains and God’s grace will abound.
So let us be the good soil – and with great expectations, wait and see what will take root.
Thanks be to God!