Sermon Text: Psalm 119: 105-112, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Hymns for the Day: For the Beauty of the Earth, Thy Word is a Lamp, Stay in Love with God
This morning, we have the chance to explore Wesley’s second rule… Do Good… but before we do – I have a quick pop quiz for you all… Who remembers what the first rule is? Who remembers what we talked about last week?
That’s right… Do No Harm… Last week, we began this short series by talking about the things that we should avoid if we want to keep our hearts and our minds and our bodies focused on the Kingdom of God. And while the list of “don’ts” in our faith can sometimes be discouraging – we were also comforted by the notion that Christ will teach us and guide us – that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
This week – our general rule is to do good. And we get the chance to explore our rural roots as we think about what it means to not only do good – but to become good soil. Matthew’s parable of the crazy gardener – the one who threw seed everywhere – on the path, on the rocks, among the weeds and finally in good soil – helps us to understand what kinds of things we need to cultivate in our lives for the good news of God to grow.
I love these parables of Matthew – probably because I love the earthiness of them. I love the fact that they make you think about getting your hands dirty. You see, even before we moved back to Iowa, I knew that one of my top priorities wherever I would land would be to plant a garden. Planting a garden – putting roots into the ground – meant a lot to me for quite a few reasons. First of all, it makes me think of my paternal grandparents – my Babi and Deda. Deda passed away in October of 2006 and almost all of my memories of him are walking around with a shovel and tending their rather large gardens. And then whatever came out of the ground, Babi would prepare and we would eat fresh or canned fruits and vegetables whenever I was at their house. I wanted to plant a garden because I wanted to grow things like they did and then eat the fruits of my labor. Let me tell you, there is NOTHING like a tomato fresh from the garden.
I also wanted to plant a garden because it meant that I was putting down roots. From the year 2000 and on, I moved a total of twelve times. Every summer it seemed like I was moving to a new place and in all of that time, the longest I stayed anywhere was two years. I remember at one apartment in Nashville, a place where I thought I might stay a while, I planted flowers alongside my windows. But I moved before they ever came up. Putting down roots – finding a home – and claiming your little spot of the world – it feels important to me somehow.
I’m reading a book right now called “A Blade of Grass.” It is set in the southern part of Africa and much of the book has to do with the tension between African natives and the Dutch farmers that have settled their lands. One of the characters in the book, a young woman named Tembi, takes seeds from a fruit that her father has sent her and carefully dries them and then plants them in a secret place on the farm. It is her little corner of the world – a place where only she knows about – and with deep care, she travels there every day to water the ground, to nourish the seeds, and to watch them grow.
I am the daughter of farmers. And that yearning to grow things lies within me.
Actually growing things – that can be a different matter all together!
This spring, I started with the flowerbeds in front of our house. I got some beautiful flowers at Marge’s and set to work in the beds. And spent all afternoon breaking apart the soil, digging holes, and getting things just right. And the flowers have grown – right along with the weeds. And there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to tend those little flower beds – to pull the weeds and to water the flowers and to take care of the soil the way it should be taken care of. But the flowers are growing.
In the backyard, there are two patches in the middle of the yard designated for growing things (besides the hostas which I have left alone for the most part). One is a patch of flowers and weeds – that I can’t tell the difference between and so they simply grow as they wish… and the other is a bare patch of dirt right next to them.
Oh, I had grand intentions for that little plot of dirt. My neighbors can attest to the many afternoons I spent pulling out the weeds that I had started growing there, using the claw to break up the clumps, and raking out all of the roots that had made their home in that little patch. So many hours and days spent in that little patch of ground to make it suitable for growing. To turn it into good soil. And then, no time to actually plant anything. My sister in law started a whole bunch of seeds growing for the two of us – but when the floods came, and we weren’t sure if we would get up there to see them, she planted it all in the garden behind her house.
All of that work this spring has reminded me about what it takes to become “good soil” – to be the kind of people in which God’s word takes root and becomes fruitful. It takes WORK to become good soil. Just like the ground needs to be tilled, weeded, watered and cared for – so our spiritual lives need to be tended… it doesn’t happen all on its own!
While we can sit around and just wait for the Holy Spirit to do its thing and plant seeds of love in our lives, if we aren’t a little bit proactive, then we run the risk of becoming like all of those other types of soil – in which the gospel didn’t bear fruit.
You see, some of us just sit on the path and don’t take any risks at all. Doug Dauenbaugh reminded me that a path is made by many people traveling the same patch of ground over and over again. On Babi and Deda’s farm, cattle were always kept in the pasture and I remember as a child following those cow paths to get to the creek or the back fields. The problem with being a “path person” is that you kind of have one purpose – to be walked upon… and whatever seeds fall upon you are easily picked up and taken away by the breeze, by a bird, or by the wheels of whatever truck happens to be passing by. “Path people” have a sort of one track mind – one way, one purpose, one truth and everything else just fails to stick.
Then there are people whose soil is crowded with rocks. As Matthew explains this gospel, these are people who may joyfully embrace the love of God into their lives, but the ground that they live in is not a place where seeds can grow – and when trouble arises, the new growth quickly fades. During my time in Nashville, I had the opportunity to take a class at Riverbend State Penitentiary and one of the inmates there knew that he was a “Rock Person.” He had grown up in a very troubled home, a troubled neighborhood and town really and no matter where he turned, he was led into a life of crime. In prison, the gospel had the chance to grow within him – but he was saddened by the thought that if he returned home – back to that rocky soil – everything that he had learned about God might fade away. He told me that he didn’t want to go back home – but that he wanted to find a place to make a fresh new start. Many of the children in our communities have this sort of experience – and they experience the awesome power of God’s love at camp or at vacation bible school and their lives are on fire – but then they return home to families that won’t support their new found faith or friends who don’t understand.
Third we have the “Weed Person.” I think that if we are honest with ourselves, this is where many of us are. Matthew claims that the weeds that inhabit this soil are the cares of the world that crowd out the word of God in our lives. Remember those two weeks we spent talking about priorities – about how hard it is to choose God above everything else and to in some cases have to weed people, activities, even things we love out of our lives? This is exactly the kind of soil we are talking about… this is the kind of soil that lives in my yard. And while you aren’t even looking – over night even – cares of all sorts can start to grow and take on roots and pretty soon your good soil starts looking mighty crowded. Pretty soon, your life starts to look like my backyard – where in that one patch I can’t tell which green things are weeds and which are flowers…. Mostly because the flowers aren’t in bloom. And I have to ask myself… would they be blooming – would they be bearing fruit, if some of those other weeds had been pulled out and if they had been given the room to grow?
This brings us to the “good soil.” When John Wesley wanted his flock to “do good” he meant an active good – he meant that he wanted them to lead lives that were busy with doing good things and taking care of one another. In the General Rules for the Societies, these types of things include caring for our neighbor’s bodies and souls. They include things like helping one another out in the community of faith. All of these things are about tending and nurturing the soil, not only of our own lives, but of those around us as well – tending and nurturing the whole community of faith.
In Reuben Job’s “Three Simple Rules” he thinks about a number of ways in which we try to limit the expansiveness of this “do good” rule. And perhaps here is where the garden metaphor limits us. Because Job reminds of Jesus command to do good to everyone: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28) … not just those who live in a small and carefully tended part of our lives. Job writes: “every act and every word must pass through the love and will of God and there be measured to discover if its purpose does indeed bring good and goodness to all it touches.” Every act and every word!
Maybe instead of becoming the good soil of a garden, we are to become like compost or fertilizer that is added to other soil – spreading good to everyone we meet! And especially when we think about compost, we are talking about something that must be constantly nurtured and turned and stirred up to have its true impact. Just like weeds can spring up in the soil overnight – we cannot be content with giving a few hundred dollars here and there to charity or to the church… doing good is an active, life changing way of being. Becoming the good soil is not about becoming a Christian and then coasting through life… it is about becoming a Christian and then constantly, consistently, growing into the likeness of Christ.
We do good to others and seek the goodness of God not for some reward… not because our works will get us into heaven… we do good because we desperately want to love and honor God. We do good because we want to become like Christ. We do good and love others, because we were first loved by God and all of that goodness is simply overflowing within us. But it doesn’t happen all by itself. It takes work. Hard work. And sometimes it means that our hands need to get a little dirty. But when we make “doing good” one of the rules by which we live – we will not only find ourselves traveling in Christ’s footsteps – we may actually get to see Christ in the faces of those we serve. So let us do good – let us seek good in our own lives, in the lives of our neighbors, and for the whole world – Let us not only become like the good soil – bringing forth fruit, but let us help good soil to be nurtured in other places in the world so that the love of God might flourish there as well. Amen and Amen.