I wasn’t too nervous preaching before my first call committee today. This sermon was preached at Good Shepherd in Glen Rock, New Jersey. Good Shepherd was my “neutral” site. A call committee traveled to watch me preach and lead as much of the worship as I could today. Only two lessons were printed in the bulletin today but I quoted the epistle reading anyways.
So what does it mean to be good soil?
That sounds like the right question to ask today, after hearing these words from Jesus. But the one that I always find myself asking is slightly different and a little more personal. I don’t want to know what it means to be good soil – I want to know if I am good soil. Like, if you were able to add me up, take all my parts – my strengths, faults, joys, and sins – am I good soil? I think that’s the question many of us hear when we meet Jesus’ words today. He’s speaking a parable – a short little story that’s using something familiar to illustrate God’s kingdom. Jesus is on a boat, a little ways from the shore of a lake, and I imagine he’s shouting to make sure this large crowd of people can hear him, and he’s telling them this story where a sower – a farmer – is just throwing seeds, not caring where they land. Later, the disciples ask Jesus what this story was all about – because I think they had that same question we have – they were asking if they were good soil. They were asking if they were getting it right. I mean, they’re the first disciples, they left their jobs, their families, and are wandering with Jesus from town to town, lake shore to lake shore, teaching and preaching about the amazing things that Jesus is doing and saying. It almost goes without saying that if anyone is good soil, those first disciples would be it. But they asked that question – am I good soil ‚Äì because that’s a nagging question that never stops nibbling because how do you measure, when it comes to being faithful, Godly, a Good Christian, what it means to be good enough? When it comes to living, how do we live a good soil life?
I’ve been thinking about soil a lot recently and not just because of this parable. You see, two weeks ago, my family and I left Manhattan and moved out here. We’re renting a house and we have this strange thing called a yard – maybe you’ve heard of them. And everything is so green. This is something I’m not use too. I’m use to concrete slaps, asphalt, or, if I’m lucky, a little flower box that I can lay out on a fire escape. But not anymore. I’ve actually got a yard that I have to mow and weed, trim and water, and pay attention to.
And the yard that I’m tending – it’s completely overgrown. When we first rolled in, the grass in the front was a foot tall, vines wrapped around the drains and trees, and the bushes are huge. This is a yard that has not been taken care of for awhile and it shows. But it’s good soil because when you grab a hold of it and put it in your hand, it’s dark, moist, and smells so earthy. And everything just grows – the weeds alongside the flowers – everything just goes up and up. That’s what good soil looks like – that’s what good soil grows – everything just keeps going up and up and up. And that’s what the good soil Christian life should look like, right? We just keep going up and up and up. Our prayers seem a little more spiritual. We might remember to say grace at every meal. Our kids make it to confirmation class on time and we make sure that forgetting our Sunday morning coffee doesn’t get in the way of saying hello to the new person who walks in.
But maybe Jesus is saying something slightly different to us today. And it goes back to that handful of dirt that I picked up in my new yard. Because if you grab it, touch it, it smells good. It looks good. This is good soil. But this is soil that I had nothing to do with. Two weeks ago was the first time I stood on it. Two weeks ago was the first time I reach down and grabbed it. The house I’m living in is 60 years old – I had nothing to do with making this good soil. I didn’t help this soil choose to be good – Nature and Creation took care of that. All I did was sign a lease, move in, and I now find myself living in and with good soil. I didn’t cause the good soil – but I do need to figure out how to live in it.
And that’s what we’re supposed to do. Jesus isn’t telling us to be good soil – Jesus is calling us to live as if we are already good soil.
Now, that’s a hard thing. I mean, we all made it to church today – so that should count for something – but we also know who we are. If we took a second to think back over this last week, we’d probably find at least one moment where we didn’t love our neighbor. Maybe more. We all have those moments. And, if we’re honest, that’s not what it means to be good soil. We wouldn’t get mad at a coworker, or our son, our spouse, or that person who didn’t signal before the changed lanes in front of us. We wouldn’t let our own busy lives distract us from that friend in need who reached out to us but we just had to say no because we had one last errand to run. And we wouldn’t forget to say our prayers last night. If we were good soil, we wouldn’t forget all those things. We’d be perfect. But we’re not. And, the thing is, Jesus knows that. Jesus gets it. He knows we’re not perfect – he knows those disciples he’s talking to aren’t perfect either. This is the same group that will deny Jesus three times, will desert him when he’s dying on the cross, and will doubt the women who run to the tomb and tell the world that he’s raised. We’re never going to be the good soil we think we should be – but we can live like we are by knowing who’s we are. We belong to Jesus – he’s our good soil – he’s the moist, true, earthy, heavenly, ground that we can stand on. We’ve been baptized. We’ve been grabbed by the Holy Spirit to be here today. We’ve been touched by God and, in a moment, when we share that bit of bread and that bit of drink, we’re going to be nourished by that good soil that has been gifted to us.
We can’t choose that kind of soil. We can’t create that kind of soil. But Jesus can, and he does, and he gifts it to us. Because we are his, he is ours, and Jesus isn’t looking for only the good soil – he’s not looking for dirt – he’s looking for sowers.
Jesus’s parable isn’t only about the soil; it’s about the sowing. And what exactly is being seeded out? Words and stories. Hearing the word of the kingdom is a sharing, it’s a giving, and this sharing is what Jesus is calling us to be and do. Going out and telling others how God has made a difference in your life – that’s sowing. Telling your coworkers that you actually went to church today, that’s sowing. Making sure your grandkids come with you to church when they visit from out of town, that’s sowing. Even opening up Facebook on your iPhone and checking in at Good Shepherd – that’s sowing too.
Jesus, in this parable, is encouraging us. He’s telling us that not all soil is the same. We’re going to try some things and it’s just not going to work. The stewardship campaign that we spend 5 months planning is going to fall short. A new Sunday School curriculum is going to fall flat. The friend we mention Jesus to is going to completely tune us out. But we’re not called to live only for results – we’re called to keep sowing, keep trying, keep praying, and keep asking God to make us good soil so that we can keep sharing the good news that God is present, that Jesus loves us, that God has claimed us, and that we’re not doing this on our own. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We’re not asked to wait until we are good soil to proclaim that God has impacted our life. No, we’re called to live as if we are already good soil because Jesus has claimed us and Christ is in us.
We’re called to sow. We’re called to plant. We’re called to try new things and to throw our faith filled seeds everywhere, with abandon because, in our baptism, God has claimed us. God has grabbed us. God graced us. Jesus is given to us and he is our good soil – so let’s go live that out.