By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
July 13, 2014
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
[SEED IS POURED INTO A CLEAR CONTAINER HOLDING JUST A BRICK.]
- The seed on the path
- Teaching: “some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.”
- Interpretation: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.”
- Further Interpretation
- Nothing can be done; odds are against the seed; but the seed falls anyway;
The sower is lovingly indiscriminate and wasteful;
Who knows what might happen down in between the cracks?
- Even so, we are the hardness of the path;
The hardness of the path mirrors the hardness of our hearts;
We have this impulse to sweep away the seed
So we don’t have to deal with it
So that it should never have a chance to choose to come up.
- But what if it comes up anyway?
[SEED IS POURED INTO ROCKS AND DRY SOIL.]
- The seed on rocky soil
- Teaching: “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.”
- Interpretation: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.”
- Further Interpretation
- Again, seemingly nothing can be done to make this soil any better;
But the gracious sower continues to throw out seeds --
- Early enthusiasm in the life of a patch of soil is useful;
It helps things move along in the beginning;
But then it must get on about the patient business of being soil,
Maya Angelou said, “Seek patience and passion in equal amounts.
Patience alone will not build the temple.
Passion alone will destroy its walls.”
- A rooted thing is a grounded thing;
But a rootless thing, an ungrounded thing,
Cannot reach too far out beyond itself.
It just doesn’t last very long;
The idea of a complete, abundant life seems too odd and inconvenient.
The soil becomes convinced that no one needs it to produce anything --
That nothing is really lost by its being rocky and loose.
At some point, the early enthusiasm and romance
Of being a host to a seed fades away.
What’s left to take its place had better be a sense
Of wisdom and rootedness and patient submission
That the soil can cooperate with the seed
To willingly produce something useful.
But if it does not have this kind of disposition --
And quite a lot of the time it does not, for whatever reason --
If it lacks the disposition or the preparation,
The soil will shirk its duties to the seed.
- Soil without purpose or preparation
Or you might even say willpower may as well give up its seed.
But there it is, anyway, waiting, patiently, in the ground.
[SEED IS POURED INTO A CONTAINER HOLDING VARIOUS WEEDS.]
- The seed in the weeds/thorns
- Teaching: “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.”
- Interpretation: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
- Further Interpretation
- There are just too many other things growing in this soil
And only so many places that the soil can allocate its resources.
It appears that there is not enough go around;
That there are too many things to choose from;
That there are already existing commitments to be honored.
- It’s easy to decide against nurturing one little newcomer seed.
- Material concerns prevent the soil from doing its job of raising the seed:
- The soil wants Power, so it grows thick briars, stickers, thorns.
- The soil wants Esteem, to be seen, so it grows tall weeds.
- The soil wants Privilege, so it grows expansive empires of weeds.
- The soil wants Pleasure, so it grows noxious things that keep out the birds and other critters.
[SEED IS POURED INTO A CONTAINER WITH BLACK SOIL.]
- The seed in the good soil
- Teaching: “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
- Interpretation: “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
- Further Interpretation
- The place of reception is open, prepared, and appropriately amended.
It is free from distraction.
- It is not that it will yield thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold only once --
Good soil will yield many phases of crops,
Sometimes more abundantly than others,
But always producing, always helping, even in its fallow seasons.
I hope that this description of the four kinds of soils Jesus talks about
Does not necessarily have you asking yourself what kind of soil you are.
I’m afraid that’s a losing game -- to sit and imagine we are one or the other.
The truth is,
We are all a hard, paved path picked over by birds;
And we are all rootless, forgetful, unenthusiastic ground for the Word of God;
And we are all a weed-choked field eaten up by the concerns of everyday life;
And we are all a well-tended, receptive, open ground ready to produce a bumper crop.
About all we can say with any measure of truth
Is that when it comes to nurturing the indiscriminate love of God,
We’re all pretty much just a bag of mid-grade potting soil
With some okay fertilizer but also some rocks and sticks and a cut in the bottom of the bag.
We run the gamut; we are all forms of soil.
And yet -- at the very same time -- in an even bigger way --
And I don’t know how you might take this --
Perhaps it’s even truer that what we’re really talking about here is nothing less than life itself.
Perhaps it is that these first three kinds of soils are just three different ways
Of Jesus describing the world he saw going on around him every day,
And then setting up a contrast with the fourth soil.
He lived at an insignificant outpost of the Roman Empire, far from Rome.
He was a tiny cog in a massive system, and he knew it.
It was a system that dehumanized people at will,
And forced them into unfair situations for their whole lives,
And made them pay the price with great violence if they did not obey and toe the mark;
And it often subjugated its subjects and made them feel pain, anyway,
Simply because it could and it had the power to spare, and ironically that’s how it kept power.
Perhaps when you break it down, our world still looks too much like Rome.
The hardness of the path was the indifference of Rome in that moment,
But even to say “Rome” is to miss the point.
Anywhere people are mistreated and told, “Sorry, but that’s just how it is,” is Rome!
This loose, rocky soil was a metaphor for the empire’s crushing of the spirits
Of those trying to go and do good in this world in the name of God,
And again, not just Rome, but true in all times and places.
The weedy ground was Jesus’ critique
Of how people chased after material things and advancement,
And in the process stepped on the necks of the needy.
And what can we say but that these are universal conditions that transcend time?
Whenever people get a raw deal,
-- Whenever people are forced into situations against their will or their health,
-- Whenever people are chained down to whatever is not of God,
You can bet there’s bad soil around.
But that doesn’t mean that the Sower is not out sowing. Thanks be to God, there’s hope.
Remember, the seed goes on everything: the Word is still out there, on the wind:
James 1:21 says, “Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness,
And welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.”
And so what is this fourth soil?
This fertile, well-prepared, open, weed-free soil?
Well, if the first three soils are about the world operating at its worst,
Then last soil is a metaphor about the world operating at its best.
The last soil is a tiny little story
About what happens when we actively choose an alternative way to live.
That alternative way is modeled by Christ in his life, his teaching. That way is God’s Empire!
The seed is the Word of God, scattered indiscriminately in all quarters,
Without regard for who will hear it or what will happen to it.
[A SMALL GREEN PLANT IN A TERRARIUM IS PLACED BEHIND GOOD SOIL.]
This last soil is about what happens
When the Word finds a suitable place in which to find purchase:
... People start noticing each other,
Even the ones who are different --
Very different even, or just a little bit different.
... They start connecting around the truth, and their differences matter a little less each day.
... The hungry are fed, in all ways, and literally.
... The blind are helped to see, in all ways, and literally.
... The wounded are healed, in all ways, and literally.
... The least are lifted up, in all ways, and literally.
... People start standing up for each other, seeing one another increasingly as equals.
... The earth is knit together in prayer and fellowship and formation.
In a world like this, God can be seen clearly, deep in the soil, and growing out;
... Everyone is recognized as a fellow-traveler, and has dignity and worth.
... Everyone has enough. Everyone gets to come and eat.
I want you to soak in this good, fertile soil over the coming days.
And the next time someone asks you if you have accepted Jesus, you tell them,
Yes, absolutely, I have.
I have decided that I will spend my life
Going the way of the alternate empire that Jesus taught us about.
That though we be seemingly stripped of our humanity and dragged through hell itself,
Our foundation as a field for growing the Word of God shall never be shaken.
Because we are a people who have hope, we can believe these things.
Because we believe them, we have hope.
We shall indeed be a strong and fruitful expanse of open ground
And Jesus the seed will come up a hundredfold inside of us and out.
Thanks be to God! Amen!