Proper 10, Year A, 2020: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson, Texas.
What kind of soil are you? What kind of dirt?
I want to be the good soil. I want to be the good dirt. And I know just enough about gardening to get what Jesus is talking about here.
For generations, my people have been gardeners. I planted my first garden as a young child here in Lake Jackson. It didn’t take long for me to discover that any digging in the dirt would produce a few clods of sticky clay. But my memory is also that just about anything I put into the ground grew like mad!
When we moved to Austin, I decided to plant a garden and thought, based on my prior experience in Lake Jackson, that I could do that in the space of a day. But what actually happened was that I cleared rocks … for days.
And when my husband and I bought our house in Dallas, I was surprised when I put my foot to the shovel … it sliced through only a few inches of soil and then hit solid limestone.
This sent me running to Neil Sperry’s Texas Gardening (now in its fourth edition newly titled Lone Star Gardening), questioning everything I thought I knew about gardening in Texas dirt.
Jesus’ parable illustrates the different conditions into which the good news of God’s kingdom is sown — with some conditions being obviously more conducive to receiving, growing, and producing than others.
If we read the Gospel of Matthew before and after this parable, we can see that this is not far from Jesus’ experience. He has been living it. “Let anyone with ears listen!”
He knows well the hazards, the obstacles, the less-than-ideal conditions for receiving this “word of the kingdom.” He sees it daily. I wonder if that was what he was thinking when he “went out of the house and sat beside the sea.”
God, you have sent me to love your people; to show them the way. How do I reach them? Oh, look, here they come…
And he offers this parable to them … to wrestle with … to cause them and now us to ask:
What kind of soil are we? What kind of dirt?
What are the conditions that prevent us from fully receiving and living into the good news of God’s abundant love for all … and allowing it to grow here — within us?
Thanks to Matthew who spells it out for us. Here are the problematic conditions: evil, fear, “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth.”
We return to this parable again and again … to wrestle with it … at different times of our lives, when we are different soil. Different dirt. What am I today? What are you today? What are we today?
I want to be the good soil. Jesus, I want to hear your words and understand! I want to be the good dirt in which your word grows and bears fruit.
On my best days — that’s me! But on other days, it’s not. Same for you?
So, notice what is constant in this parable. Notice what does not change: the sower. The sower graciously and extravagantly sows the seeds … everywhere.
Now what would Neil Sperry say about this method of Texas gardening? What an indiscriminate mess! You know that isn’t going to grow over there. And you know that isn’t going to grow over here.
But the sower sows it here, there, and everywhere anyways. Why?
Does the sower know something that we — and Neil Sperry — do not? Why does the sower take that risk? Why isn’t the sower more controlled in his broadcasts? Why isn’t he counting the cost? Why so gracious, risky, and extravagant, Jesus?
In addition to gardening, another hobby — that I take up in fits and starts — is photography. During a period of my life which was particularly challenging, I found that I was drawn to photographing plants growing in the most impossible places.
A wildflower in a brick wall. A succulent flourishing in the seam of a sidewalk. A palm I’ve watched grow out of the concrete for a decade at the southwest corner of Memorial Dive and 610 freeway in Houston.
I am always amazed and inspired how life can take hold and persist in these unlikely and unforgiving conditions and locations.
Perhaps this is what the sower knows. Perhaps this is why the sower sows, without judgement, on all conditions of soil … because not only will the seed take hold in the good soil, it might also take hold in unexpected places – in you and me – and grow … and amaze us all … as it slowly and beautifully changes the world around it … just by its presence.
And, notice one more unusual thing about this parable: the harvest is not normal. It is, in fact, overly abundant. It is verily bonkers!
We know this because ancient people kept records of their harvests. All kinds of other information are lost to history, but ancient cultures kept record of their crops! … and what Jesus describes here is overwhelming. So, the seeds sown on the good soil yields a ridiculous, unexpected amount.
Every year on Ash Wednesday, we hear the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (BCP p. 265).
While the breath of God animates us, in these days in which we are living clay … these are serious questions: What kind of soil are you? What kind of dirt?
I want to be the good soil. I want to be the good dirt.
But I thank God for the indiscriminate sower!
That whatever our present condition may be, God’s grace, love, and good news is extravagantly scattered upon us all.
Hear and understand! God’s love mysteriously takes hold in us and God intends to bring forth an astounding, verily bonkers, unexpected yield for the kingdom of God.
The video version of this sermon can be found here, at approximately 18:50.