A Story about the Kingdom: The Soil
This message was offered at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, July 13, 2014.
Reading: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Over the course of the next three weeks, we are going to be looking at a series of parables about God’s Kingdom.
Beginning in [Matthew] 13:3, the word “parable” occurs twelve times in the chapter. The word derives from a Greek word meaning “to throw alongside.” That is, basic to the parable genre is the notion of comparison; one entity is set alongside something else to be illuminated by the comparison. Thus “the empire of the heavens” [God’s Kingdom] is “thrown alongside” or compared to and illuminated by the situations that each parable depicts (13:24, 31, 33, 44-45, 47).
This week, we’ll be looking at the Parable of the Soils, next week we’ll look at the Parable of the Weeds, and the next week we’ll be looking at the remaining parables that close out chapter 13 (mustard seed, treasure, merchant/pearl, net). The parables will, I pray, teach us a bit about the Kingdom and how it might come on earth as it is in heaven.
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear that together, we might be inspired to not only speak but to live your Word in the world starting today. It’s in that most holy Word’s name—Jesus the Christ—we pray. Amen.
“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.
“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
This story seems foreign to most of us familiar with modern farming techniques. The 21st century farmer knows that each seed must be carefully placed in rows and given the proper nutrients to grow. The notion that a farmer would simply go out into the field and throw seed everywhere seems ridiculous: wasteful in the extreme. One must be careful where one places the seed. The soil has to be just right or the plant will not grow properly: seed thrown on compacted soil is quickly eaten by birds; seed thrown on rocky soil will eventually burn up; and, seed sown among weeds will, most likely, be choked out. Everyone, even Jesus, knows that if you want to reap a reasonable harvest, one must scatter seed where the land is arable: a place where the soil is loose and nutrient dense.
Everyone, including a poor peasant carpenter in 1st century Palestine (i.e. Jesus) and most especially farmers, knows that to reap a harvest one must tend to the soil. Or, as it says in one of my “go-to” gardening books:
The role of garden steward is not difficult… One of its most important precepts is feed the soil, not the plants.
Feed the soil, not the plants.
18-19 “Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road.
20-21 “The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.
22 “The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.
23 “The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”
“Everyone who has ears should pay attention” (Matthew 13:9, Common English Bible): feed the soil, don’t worry about the plants.
The Good News of God’s unending love has been revealed to the world in Jesus Christ! Like the sower in the parable for today, God’s love is scattered liberally, everywhere (prevenient grace). The Good News that “God is with us” (c.f. Matthew 1:23), the good news that God has come to reconcile us with himself and with one another that we might find hope joy, peace, and love in this world, a world that so often seems to be dark, broken and lonely, is being spread like seed everywhere that all might come to experience and know (justifying grace) the great love of God found in Jesus Christ. The Good News of God’s never-failing love is being spread that all might grow in God’s love (sanctifying grace) till that’s all that there is.
So don’t worry so much about the plants—God’s got the right and perfect seeds all picked out. Instead, tend to the soil so that the seeds of the Kingdom might find a good place to grow and take root.
Feed the soil.
Participate in what are commonly referred to as the “means of grace.” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, “taught that God’s grace was unearned,” like the sower who seems to carelessly throw the seed everywhere. But, that doesn’t mean we should sit idly by. We are to feed the soil. We are to engage in the means of grace so that the seeds of God’s Kingdom might take root and grow. The means of grace are meant to open us to God’s love, grace, and forgiveness “hastening, strengthening and confirming faith so that God’s grace pervades in and through [Christ’s] disciples.”
The means of grace are both personal and communal and they can be broken into two broad categories, works of piety (devotion) and works of mercy (service).
Individual works of piety (devotion) include reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, praying, fasting, regular worship attendance, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others. Communal works of piety (devotion) include participating in the sacraments (particularly, holy communion) as often as is possible, Bible Study, and accountability groups.
Individual works of mercy (service) include doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others. Communal acts of mercy (service) include seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination, and addressing the needs of the poor.
By participating in these means of grace we tend the soil. To be sure, we may find some of these practices to be more enjoyable than others. Some will come naturally, others we’ll have to be intentional about doing. But, if we want God’s Kingdom to truly come on earth as it is in heaven (see Matthew 6 and Luke 11), if we want the God’s Kingdom to take root in our lives and the world then we’re going to have to feed the soil. If we truly want to live in a world that experiences (prevenient), knows (justifying), and grows (sanctifying) in God’s love, then we must make sure that we’re nourishing the soil so that the seeds of the Kingdom have a place not only grow but also thrive. Feed the soil.
We want so desperately for your Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Help us to tend to the soil that your Kingdom might take root in us and bear fruit in this world. Thank you, O God, for the seeds of your ever-present love; and, thank you for the Sower, Jesus Christ our Lord. Help us, O God, tend to the soil of our souls that we might be like the good soil that bears fruit up to a hundredfold for Christ’s sake. It’s in his most holy name we pray. Amen.
 “Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23” by Warren Carter at WorkingPreacher.org <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2071> Accessed July 11, 2014.
 Matthew 13:3-9, The Message.
 The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckla (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2003), pg3.
 Matthew 13:18-23, The Message.
 “The Wesleyan Means of Grace,” UMC.org <http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace> Accessed July 12, 2014.
 Adapted from the list in “The Wesleyan Means of Grace.”