Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, January 22, 2022
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Soil Testing

Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23

One the things that reveals the genius of Jesus as a teacher is that he was able to teach things in ways that were accessible to people. This is a story that every one of Jesus’ listeners would have been able to grasp easily. Most of them were small-scale farmers themselves. And the few who weren’t would have seen it done all the time. Many Bible scholars wonder if this might have even been an object lesson. Maybe as Jesus was telling this story on the shore of the sea, there was a farmer planting his seeds right nearby.

A farmer went out to sow some seed. He scattered the seed as he walked through the field. The name for this kind of sowing was broadcasting. The farmer would cast the seed across the field, and then later plow it under. Obviously the strategy was due to have some waste. But, given the technology of the day, it was one of the most efficient ways to sow.

Some of the seed landed on the path. The path, due to years and years of traffic, would have become very hard compact soil. One of my hobbies is backpacking. And in my experiences of backpacking, quite a few times, I’ve come to a place on the trail where the footpath was relocated. And, even if it was relocated 10 years earlier, you can still see where the old footpath was. The ground becomes so compacted that nothing will grow. Weeds will grow up from the sides and obscure the footpath, but it will still be there. The only thing that will change that is as leaf litter and other plant matter forms new soil over the old footpath. On such ground, the seeds can’t take root, so the birds eat them.

Other seed falls on rocky ground. Now this is not soil that has a lot of rocks in it. Rather, this is a thin layer of soil over top of the underlying bedrock. This thin layer of soil would warm up more quickly than deep soil, so the seed would germinate first. But when the spring ended and the heat of summer came, there would not be enough moisture in the soil to sustain the wheat. A few summers ago, we had a very long dry spell. And where I was living in Brush Valley, it was a short walk to the post office, so I would walk it every day. Brush Valley used to have sidewalks, but they’d fallen into disrepair, and the soil had covered over them. But this hot, dry summer, the grass on top of the old sidewalk died. So you could see perfectly straight lines of green grass and dead grass, showing you where the sidewalks had been.

Some seed fell among the thorns. And while it started out okay, it didn’t last. The weeds just out-competed it. I found out the hard way just how hard it is to get rid of weeds. A few summers ago we tried doing a garden. We tilled up the ground, and it looked great. We planted our garden, but before long, those weeds took over. The first summer we sort of kept ahead of them. But the second summer, we were too busy, and they really took over. So

about the end of June, we just gave up on it. I’m told we needed to till the soil at least once in the fall and several times in the spring before we planted to get rid of those weeds. But I don’t think we’ll be trying again any time soon. My philosophy is leave the gardening to the Mennonites; they know what they’re doing!

But finally, some of the seed fell on good, deep, soft soil. And this seed took hold, grew, and produced an abundant crop, as much as 100 times as was planted.

What was the difference? What was the difference between the seed that produced no results and the seed that produced great results? It wasn’t the seed. That was all the same. It wasn’t the farmer. It was all about the character of the soil. Good soil produces good results; bad soil produces bad results.

That’s an easy enough story, right? Jesus’ listeners understood the story. We may not be farmers, but we can understand it, too. But what does it mean for the life of faith? Jesus goes on to explain:

Some people cannot hear the gospel because of the hardness of their hearts.

When we think about our heart, we think about emotions. We “feel” things in our hearts. But in the Hebrew way of thinking, your heart was the center of thinking and will and decision making. In their way of speaking, you would think with your heart and feel with your stomach. Versus in our way of thinking, we think with our brains and feel with our hearts. Of course, the truth is that both thought and emotion come from our minds. These are just idioms.

So some people are unable to hear the gospel because of their intellectual or emotional resistance to it. Hardness of heart can be caused by any number of things. Tragedy or abuse could certainly harden a person’s heart. The Bible tells us that sin can harden our hearts. If we are too deeply involved in any sin, it can dull our senses to the truth.

I would also say that a bad experience of the Christian faith can harden a person’s heart. For example, a student at a Christian school who is abused or tormented by fellow “Christian” students may grow up to resent the gospel. Or the employee whose boss professes Christian faith but treats his employees terribly may become hardened in heart. Or certainly a child who is brought up by a parent who gives an appearance of being a Christian in public, but at home, is cruel or abusive, that person would likely have their heart hardened. I know too many folks who want nothing to do with Jesus Christ because of how some people who have claimed Christ have acted.

Just as the birds steal the seed before it takes root, so Satan takes the gospel away before it can take hold.

Other people lack the depth to follow through on a commitment to Jesus.

Maybe, just like the seed that germinates quickly in shallow soil, they are very enthusiastic for Jesus at first. But maybe they did not take the time to “count the cost” of discipleship as Jesus told us to do. Not everyone has what it takes to follow through on a commitment to Jesus Christ. From the time of Jesus on, there have always been a large number of “short-lived” disciples. In my 11 years in the ministry, I’ve seen too many people come quickly and go just as quickly in their walk with Jesus.

One cause of turning back on Jesus may be persecution. Now we are not very likely to experience physical persecution in our society. But we can experience rejection from others for following Jesus. I know a pastor who was disowned by his father for choosing to follow Jesus and choosing to answer a calling into the ministry. His father hated God, and hated anyone who chose God. It couldn’t have been easy for him to keep following Jesus at the cost of losing such a relationship. I know a young woman who was pushed out onto the street for following Jesus. Not everyone has what it takes to choose Jesus over family or other relationships.

Some people allow competing interests to crowd discipleship out of their lives, just as the weeds crowd out the wheat. Jesus singled out two such “weeds” that affect many: the cares of this life and the lure of wealth.

We have no choice but to live in this world. And we have to care about the things of this world. You have to go to work. You have to have a place to live. You have to have food to eat. You’d better make some kind of plans for your future because, for all you know, you might be living in this world for another 40, 50 years. Just recently, we had this big nonsense hollabaloo when some radio preacher told everyone that Jesus was coming back on May 21st. Well, we’re still here. But there were people who quit their jobs and gave up their lives because of his message. I’m pretty sure most of them regret it now.

So you need to care about the things of this world. But be careful how much you care about them. Be careful that you do not become obsessed with the things of this world. Be careful that you do not care more about the things of this world than following of Jesus, or you won’t be following him for long.

The other “weed” Jesus singles out is the “lure” of wealth. I like fishing, so I know what a lure is. A lure is something that looks good to grab hold of, but once you do, you’re in trouble. That’s what wealth is. We need some of it to get along in this world. But if we “grab hold” of it, we’re in trouble. Wealth promises so much: Security, happiness, meaning. But it delivers none of them.

Of all the weeds out there, this is the one that worries me most about our society. We live in a society obsessed with wealth, and it is a temptation to most of us, maybe even all of us. I know it’s a temptation to me.

But we also live in a society that offers a thousand alternatives to Jesus Christ. Most of them are good. Some of them are not so good. But if you want to devote your life to something, there are plenty, plenty of choices: Family, friends, work, recreation, hobbies, sports, possessions, and so on. You can get caught up in all kinds of “diversions:” Television, the internet, video games, etc.

Some of these things are good. The problem is that good is often the enemy of best. I think the best thing we can have is God. But too many people allow the good things to crowd out the best thing. A number of years ago, I remember doing a baptism. The family told me how important “religion” was to them. But as their children grew up and got involved in more and more things, their devotion to God went by the wayside. None of the things that became more important to them were bad, but they were less than the best.

But there are some people in this world who are fertile ground in which the Kingdom of God can grow.

I think we’d all like to assume that we are in this last group, right? We’d all like to think that we are fertile soil in which the message grows. We should not assume that. The growth of the Kingdom of God is certain. But our place in the Kingdom of God is not certain. Never assume that you will never fall away from Christ. Because if we assume we can’t, we set ourselves up for failure.

Here’s the real question for us as believers: If you are so sure that you are fertile soil, where is your harvest? How is God changing the lives of others through you? Because I’m sure that’s at least part of what Jesus meant when he said that the fertile soil produces a harvest of 30, 60, 100 times over. Faithful disciples make new disciples. What kind of harvest is your life producing?

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