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Reverend Philip Stringer

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

LET US PRAY: Gracious Lord, Bread of Life, feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may love and serve only you, now and forever. AMEN

Some of you may be aware that I recently became a farmer. I contacted the Wildlife Conservation Office about my interest in creating a plan to help the forest and wildlife thrive on our property. I was told that in order for the Wildlife Service to create a plan we must first have the Forestry Service create a management plan— and before they can do that I must first apply to have our property designated as a farm. So that is what I did, and just like that— with the sweep of a pen— I have become “Farmer Phil.” Officially, I am growing timber. I’m a tree farmer.

I can stand here and boast to you about being a farmer because it is relatively safe to do— I don’t think any of you are farmers. I, of course, am not a “real” farmer in the traditional sense. I grew up in the suburbs! I would never dare assume to put myself as an equal to the men and women who truly work the farms that help to feed and clothe the world.

In our Gospel text for today, Jesus uses the imagery of a farmer to talk about the spread of God’s kingdom— and while there are many things to learn from his parable, perhaps among the most important things is that God is a gracious and generous farmer— and the seeds of the kingdom can be found all around us.

For you and me— living in a largely industrialized era in which our daily lives are largely removed from the land, Jesus’ words are a powerful reminder that the seeds of the kingdom are everywhere— around us and within us— and through them we are invited to participate in the kingdom’s coming. You and I are invited to be co-farmers with God (the master gardener), to prosper the spread of God’s kingdom in the world, and to be fed by it ourselves.

In chapters 11 & 12 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has been teaching and healing people as he travels around Galilee. As Jesus’ fame spreads the religious leaders feel more and more threatened by him. They begin to openly challenge Jesus, and by chapter 12 they have already plotted his murder.

Jesus’ mother and brothers seem to have decided to stage an intervention— presumably they are afraid for Jesus’ safety (and perhaps their own). They ask Jesus to step out so they can have a word with him, but Jesus responds by saying, “those who do the will of my Father in heaven (are my true family).”

And then comes today’s reading: “That same day,” writes Matthew, “Jesus went out… and sat beside the sea… and he taught them many things in parables…” So the parable of the sower is a direct response to the events that have just occurred— the number of people following Jesus is growing, but the people whom you would think would be supportive— the religious leaders and his own family— are the ones trying to stop him— his family tries to stop him because they love him. The pharisees try to stop him because they hate him. But both the pharisees and his family are afraid of what will happen if he continues. Fear produces rocks and thorns.

Why do some believe and others do not? Jesus explains with the parable of the sower. Some people are hardened by the world, some people are choked by concerns, but others are eager to receive good news. The difference is faith in the power of God’s love. Perfect love casts out fear.

When we hear a parable of Jesus, we typically try to identify the good guys and the bad guys in the story (or in this case, good soil and bad soil)— and to find where we, ourselves, fit in. We want to be among the good guys, of course. The good soil. But in the parable of the sower, perhaps it is best for us to set aside such assignments. Perhaps it is better to note that Jesus spreads the good news equally among them. He doesn’t play favorites. The good news of Jesus is for everyone, because God’s love is for everyone.

If we stick with the premise of the parable— that some accept and some reject— one might be tempted to conclude that salvation is up to us— because we are the ones to choose whether or not to follow Jesus — but I would challenge that idea.

As I read through this parable— looking inward to my own heart— trying to identify which of the soils best describes me— I discover that I possess them all.

a beaten path

rocky ground

thorny ground

and good soil

Truly these places are found within all of us.

But there are some important points I would make— and you should listen to me because I am a farmer and know about these things— the same basic elements can be found in each of these places.

When the forester conducted his study of our property, he took one look at the Creeping Cedar on the ground and the Virginia Pines growing there, and he said, “Yep. This was an old tobacco farm.” In earlier times— before good conservation practices were followed, a farmer would just use a field until it was all “burned out” and the nutrients were gone. When a field stopped yielding good crops he’d move on to another plot of fresh ground. The old field was “used up” and discarded.

And yet— there on my property— stands a forest of Ponderosa Pine. It is stunted, to be sure. The soil is still tired and worn out. But nature will find a way to slowly replenish the soil; to heal the damage done. My goal as “Farmer Phil” is to help the soil recover.

All of the settings Jesus describes in his parable can be fertile ground— they simply need to be worked.

A beaten path needs to be tilled.

Rocky ground needs to be cleared.

Thorny ground needs to be tended.

But all of it can be good soil.

All of it IS good soil. It just might not be ready.

What is in you is good, too. We all love to show the lovable parts of ourselves— the “good soil” parts that we put on display for others to see— and which we long to believe is the “real” us. Truthfully, though, you likely have beaten-down places in you—and hard, selfish hurtful places— and prickly, defensive places. These places are also the “real you.”

The good news of Jesus comes to all of these places. Jesus sees the good soil that is mixed in with the stones and thorns. And I believe that we see in Jesus, a farmer who is patient in working the soil, over and over and over again.

The Holy Spirit of God is continually working the “soil” of our lives. As co-farmers with God I believe it is important that you and I keep working the “soil” of our lives alongside God, nurturing the seeds that are generously and continuously sown upon us through God’s love.

But ultimately, I believe that it is even more important that we not let the rocks and thorns discourage us. God is the Master Gardener— let God worry about the harvest— lets you and I turn our attention to celebrating the fact that God looks upon us and sees good soil; soil worthy of being worked. And let us celebrate that God’s love is not blind to our faults— but that God clearly sees those faults and is not dissuaded. God showers all of our parts— even our ugly and hidden parts— with love.

As co-farmers with God, we also look beyond ourselves. When we look at the world around us— our neighbors, the strangers we meet— the strangers we hear about far away— the nations of the world and the planet itself— it is tempting to be selective about whom we will embrace. But see, here (the altar and font), we encounter a farmer-God who does not discriminate. The whole world is redeemable. The whole world is lovable. The whole world is good soil.

As co-farmers with God it is our task to sow the seeds of the kingdom in Jesus’ place— and it is ours to work the soil. To throw out the rocks, to cut back the thorns, to soften the hard places as best we can. Don’t trouble yourself with concerns if it seems overwhelming— that there are too many rocks; too many thorns. Just work the land, and let God give the yield.

I’m not much of a farmer— I’ll be the first to acknowledge that. But I am a farmer. That’s a fact! And I hope to become a better farmer. With time, experience and dedication to the task, I believe that I will become a better farmer. Will I be a perfect farmer? The best farmer? Probably not. Who cares? I’m a farmer— as long as I honor that, I’ll be a faithful farmer.

In this “garden” of God’s world, we are all made into farmers through our baptism into Christ. We have been joined with him in a death like his, and now live an Easter life through his resurrection. We are all farmers in the garden of God. Not perfect farmers. Perhaps not even the “best” farmers. But who cares? By God’s grace we are farmers, nonetheless. And by God’s grace the work of the Holy Spirit continues to heal us. Perfect love casts out fear. The perfect love of God is at work in us and through us— casting out rocks and thorns of fear and pain, and by God’s grace the seeds of the kingdom scattered through us continue to heal the world.



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