Sunday’s sermon: Preparing the Soil, Working the Ground

preparing soil

Texts used: Psalm 119:25-48; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

  • I’d be willing to bet that there are a number of you here this morning who look at soil and simply see dirt. You may describe it as black, muddy, or worm-filled, but one way or the other, dirt is dirt. But I also know that there are a number of you that have quite literally built your lives and your livelihoods on this “dirt.” You can tell me about the degree of compaction, about moisture content, and about nutrient levels because you’ve been farming or gardening or somehow working this “dirt” – working the ground – your whole lives. You know that different kinds of soil bring different blessings as well as different challenges.
    • Blessings and challenges of sandy soil
    • Blessings and challenges of loamy soil
    • Blessings and challenges of clay-heavy soil
    • One way or another – whether you plant in sandy soil, loam, or plain old dirt, whether you’re planting a small garden in your backyard or a 200-acre field – the seeds you plant need continued care, right? You’ve got to put in the effort to prepare the soil and work the ground if you want those seeds to grow.
  • Our gospel text for today is all about preparing the soil and working the ground. It’s about nurturing what’s planted so it can grow.
    • The beautifully simple thing about this parable is that we are the soil and the Word of God is the seed.
    • Keeping that in mind, Jesus describes 4 different planting scenarios
      • SCENARIO #1 = seed that fell on the path and was trampled and eaten by birds
        • Jesus’ explanation: these seeds “are those who hear, but then the devil comes and steals the word from their hearts so that they won’t believe and be saved.”[1]
        • This is what happens when we lose our dedication – when we become apathetic and indifferent toward God – God’s Word, God’s purpose, God’s call in this world and in our lives. And unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon in our society today.
          • Epidemic of people being talked out of their faith
            • By loved ones
            • By “experts” in various fields
            • By ourselves
          • Sometimes it has to do with …
            • Situations – particular circumstances and disagreements that arise in church families as they do in any families
            • Phases of life – sometimes there are certain people or activities or commitments that pull us away for a time
          • For whatever reason, we find ourselves talked out of our faith – let God’s Word be taken away from our hearts.
      • SCENARIO #2 = seed that fell on rock and withered from lack of water
        • Jesus’ explanation: these seeds “are those who receive the word joyfully when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while but fall away when they are tempted.”[2]
        • This is what happens when we stop taking care of that seed – when we become negligent of the Word of God, negligent of our faith. There are a lot of things that can trigger this blasé attitude.
          • Fear
          • Distraction
          • Doubt
          • Weariness
          • It doesn’t matter where the neglect comes from. This seed wasn’t watered. It wasn’t cared for. It was neglected to the point of death.
            • Important distinction: Gr. those who “fall away” = withdraw, desert, abstain – There’s choice implied in this. This is not simply forgetting, inadvertently slipping away from God bit by bit. This is consciously choosing to let faith wither in the face of tough times.
      • SCENARIO #3 = seed that was choked by thorns
        • Jesus’ explanation: these seeds “are the ones who, as they go about their lives, are choked by the concerns, riches, and pleasures of life, and their fruit never matures.”[3]
        • This is what happens when we fail to pay attention. Getting distracted is a dangerous thing, no matter what the distractions are. They can be tangible, like the “riches and pleasures of life,” or intangible, like the “cares” or worries that Jesus mentions. Either way, distractions clutter up our growing space. They clutter up our lives until they completely choke out any hint of the Word that may be maturing into faith.
      • SCENARIO #4 = seed that fell in good soil
        • Jesus’ explanation: these seeds “are those who hear the word and commit themselves to it with a good and upright heart. Through their resolve, they bear fruit.”[4]
        • “their resolve” = sense of perseverance in the face of trials – kind of like farmers dealing with the different blessings and challenges of different soil types → We all face different trials, but with care, attention, and dedication, the word of God can continue to grow and flourish in our lives and our hearts.
  • So how do we foster a life worthy of being deemed “good soil”? And what can we do to ensure that our good soil produces spiritual fruit?
    • Need to prepare the soil
      • Scholar: Hearing involves listening, but it also means understanding and being willing to obey.[5] → We’re not just hearing the word of God on Sunday morning and letting it go in one ear and out the other. We’re hearing the word of God so we can soak it in and live into that Word.
        • Paul in Colossians: “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.”[6]
        • This is what our passage from Ps 119 is all about → indwelling the word of God and letting it permeate every part of your life
          • It’s in almost every verse
            • Help me understand what your precepts are about so I can contemplate your wondrous works![7]
            • Help me understand so I can guard your Instruction and keep it with all my heart.[8]
            • I will rejoice in your commandments because I love them.[9]
          • We are seeking God’s instruction not just for the heck of it or because it’s what we’re “supposed to do.” We are seeking God’s instruction so we can let it mold and transform our lives – change us from the inside out.
          • Key illustration of this in Ps: v. 32 – I run the same path as your commandments because you give my heart insight.[10]
            • Heb. “insight” = very special word → It’s a word with a multitude of different meanings. It can refer to your heart, mind, character, or inner being. The psalmist is talking about planting God’s word in the very depths of our souls and letting it take root and grow … Jack-and-the-Bean-Stalk style!
    • BUT we need to work the ground → need to be active in our faith
      • Lots of things that we are doing
        • Various organizations that we support through People of the Church
        • Supporting Revs. Shelvis and Nancy Smith-Mather in their peacemaking and reconciliation work in Uganda and South Sudan
        • Food Shelf
        • Dorothy Day dinners (coming up Sept. 27)
        • Bingo calling at Pine Haven (coming up in Oct. – can’t remember exact date)
      • Lots of other new things that we’re talking about
        • Coffee and Conversation starting next week → part Bible study, part adult Sunday school, all discussion based – a variety of topics having to do with faith, life, and everything in between
        • Ideas that have come up during our Visioning Sundays – things we’ll be talking about and doing some more concrete planning for next week during our Moving Forward discussion
        • (Stick around after church!)
      • And this is just a sample of what’s going on around here. And I know that there are things that you do at home, too – personal devotions, prayer times, discussions you have among yourselves and with me. All of these different things – the things we’re doing as a church and the things you’re doing on your own – are helping us to prepare the soil and work the ground to the glory and honor of God’s Word. Amen.

 

[1] Lk 8:12.

[2] Luke 8:13.

[3] Luke 8:14.

[4] Luke 8:15.

[5] R. Alan Culpepper. “The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), 179.

[6] Col 3:17.

[7] Ps 119:27.

[8] Ps 119:34.

[9] Ps 119:47.

[10] Ps 119:32b.

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