God’s vision for our world is like an abundant garden in which there is plenty for all. We become part of that vision by reflecting God’s generous love in our own lives.
Vicar Bristol Reading
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 15, year A
Texts: Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace, in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus tells this story about four different kinds of soil. There’s the soil of the road that’s been packed down and is too hard for seeds to take root in. There’s rocky soil that only allows for feeble, shallow growth. There’s thorny soil that’s too crowded with competing weeds. And then there’s good soil, in which the seeds can take root and be nourished and grow.
And hearing this story, naturally we want our hearts to be all good soil, all of the time, right? We want our spirits to be fertile ground in which God’s word can flourish, filling our lives with the bountiful fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness.
But, maybe if you’re like me, you’ve noticed that some days lately, the soil of your heart does feel a little packed down, trampled by the constant bad news day after day, wearied by the isolation of quarantine. Maybe, some days, the soil of your heart feels a little looser, and a seed or two starts sprouting, but they don’t get very far because the rocks of grief and anger and dread limit how deep the roots of those little shoots can go. Or maybe some of your heart soil has been invaded by the prickly weeds of distraction that start crowding in and pulling your heart away from the truth of God’s voice.
Have you had any of those experiences? Have you wanted to be like the Psalmist who says to God: “I incline my heart to perform your statues forever, to the end”? (Psalm 119:112, NRSV) But then you realize that forever is a tall order. Eventually, your heart wanders in other directions, and looks less and less like that good soil of obedience to God’s word.
There’s a temptation to judge yourself, to imagine that if you just tried harder, you’d be all good soil all of the time. You just need to tend to your plot a little better. Maybe you can add a little fertilizer of extra prayer, or do some serious weeding of confession, or if things are looking really ugly, maybe you need to rent one of those giant tillers to dig everything up and just start over. It’s easy to think it’s your fault if the soil of your heart isn’t all healthy and fertile.
But the truth is: that kind of self-condemnation has no place in the Christian life. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That’s what Paul writes in Romans. The Spirit of God dwells in you, giving you life! You’ve been set free by God’s grace! So Jesus isn’t telling this story about the seeds and the soil because he wants to highlight your failure, because he wants to condemn you for finding some rocks or thorns in the plot of your heart.
Listen to what Jesus says: God who is love has sown these seeds. The great gardener is doing this work in you. This isn’t an exacting farmer, carefully choosing the best soil, the most deserving soil, in which to plant these precious seeds. This sower is extravagantly, ridiculously generous. There are plenty of seeds, so many that they can just be thrown anywhere and everywhere. It’s like that joke about Oprah giving away prizes to everyone in her audience: “You get a car, and you get a car, and you get a car!” That’s how this farmer treats all kinds of soil: “You get seeds, and you get seeds and you get seeds!” You don’t have to earn the gift of God’s word. God’s word is given for you, and for you, and for you.
If that sounds like an inept, maybe even wasteful, farmer, that’s because this farmer isn’t concerned with efficiency. This farmer is willing to plant the seed of God’s word in any and all kinds of soil. No matter what the soil of your spirit looks at this particular moment, there is always the possibility of growth. And it doesn’t take much! The tiniest seed with the tiniest roots can grow into a plant that bears fruit. And then, it multiples exponentially, thirty-, sixty-, hundred-fold increase! It’s not just the farmer that’s extravagant, so is the growth! The yield is lavish! Plants that grow into more plants that grow into more plants – and all these yield fruit that creates more seeds.
According to Jesus, that’s what life is like when God is in charge: a wild and overflowing garden. There’s no miserly calculation of who deserves the resources of God’s grace. It isn’t about harsh condemnation of those who are undeserving or inadequate. In telling this story, Jesus describes a God who is recklessly generous, and whose dream for our life together is one in which there is not judgment but generosity, not competition but compassion. There is plenty and richness for all: all people, all creatures, all creation.
In this time we face of economic and social crisis, when so many people are out of work, when food lines are long and health care bills are high, and we are given the message again and again that other people getting enough will mean less for us, when we are told that there isn’t enough health care, or stimulus money, or jobs to go around… in this context, we need to remember that God’s vision for our world is radically different than that zero-sum outlook. God’s vision is the abundant overflowing garden. God’s vision is seeds for all kinds of soil, over and over again. God’s vision is a bountiful harvest.
You are a part of that vision. Whatever state your spirit is on a given day. Whether you’re feeling dry, or rocky, or weedy, or covered in compost and full of nutrients, you are a part of that vision. God, the tender gardener, isn’t waiting to condemn you but to transform you, to bring about radical new growth in you. We say at Mount Olive that we are “always in the presence of God,” so don’t doubt that this magnanimous God is, right now, cultivating that transformation in you, even on the days when it doesn’t feel that way. And boy there are days lately when it doesn’t feel that way. Yet, we are – always – in the presence of God.
We also say at Mount Olive that we are “always being the presence of God.” That’s your part in this vision, too. God’s word has come to you as gift. God’s word has grown in you as blessing. What will you do with that yield? How will your life reflect God’s boundless grace? Don’t be afraid to go out and sow love with the same reckless abandon that you’ve seen in God. There are plenty of seeds, more than enough. And in sowing more, we make more. Or, rather, God makes more, and for that, we rejoice!