Monday, February 28, 2011

Sermon for Sexagesima
St. John’s – Moultrie, GA
February 27, 2011

Last Sunday we heard the example from St. Paul about a runner who runs and trains to obtain the prize, and the boxer who hones his skills so that he is not just wildly striking at the air, but that his punches might strike actual blows. This notion of training and spring were gathered around the imagery of Spring Training and this time of Pre-Lent and Lent being a training time for the soul.

A second characteristic of spring that should be familiar to all of us here in South Georgia is the preparation of the fields for the planting of the spring crops. As I drive back and forth from Thomasville to Moultrie I see the buzz of activity in the fields that I pass between there and here and farmers diligently making sure that everything is in order, that the soil is properly tilled, weeded, cultivated, and prepared to receive the precious seed that he is preparing to cast. The farmer’s seed is his livelihood. Each growing season he isn’t afforded the luxury of being nonchalant about his preparation because the work that is done in advance will pay massive dividends when it comes to harvest time. If he does not do due diligence in preparing his field, the yield will be adversely affected.

We come this morning on the second Sunday of Pre-Lent, Sexagesima Sunday, to a most familiar and unique parable of Jesus. It is familiar in the sense that it is one of the very few parables that is found in all three synoptic Gospels, and the form is almost identical between the variations. That is significant in itself. It is unique in the sense that it is one of the rare instances where Jesus not only tells a parable, but fully exposits its meaning. Jesus’ hearers aren’t left to discover on their own what Jesus is talking about when he uses a parable to teach his disciples and followers.

Four types of soil are presented in Jesus’ parable and only one produces any results. And what results did it yield! Three of the four places where the seed fell produced nothing. In one instance it never had a chance. It would be the equivalent of walking out in the middle of Main Street and casting seed in hopes of it taking root. The seed would simply remain up on top of the ground, and would become bird seed. As the parable declares, the birds do in fact swoop in and consume that which falls along the path where there was no chance of it taking root.

In two of the four soils growth begins, but for different reasons never reaches the harvest. The first actually falls among rock that isn’t prepared to help the seeds reach maturity. It’s somewhat interesting that Luke is the only Gospel writer to say that the reason that the rocky soil is detrimental because of the lack of moisture. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus says that this type of environment can produce the beginnings of something positive, but one that has no future. This could be compared to driving along the road and seeing weeds and such growing in between the pavement and curb. You’ll see these weeds that never seem to go away growing in a place that doesn’t make sense. Even though you may have a shoot here and a shoot there, there is no real harvest to speak of. Also, if you think more about this image, the rocky soil provides no room to apply life giving water and nourishment because more tends to run off rather than soak in. There’s a chance for a beginning, but no opportunity for mature growth and a harvest.

The third soil is that which is full of other competitors for water, nourishment, sunlight, and the like. There are always other things that crowd out and choke out the very things we need for our spiritual growth, and this is the warning of this type of environment. We are always going to be confronted with the cares of this world. Yet, we are never to keep our eyes off the prize, and allow those cares to take precedence, and thus choke out the good seed that lies below.

Finally, the fourth soil is the only one that produces a harvest, and a bounteous one at that. It was soil that was free from being trampled underfoot, free from rocks that are so hard and confining they will not allow nutrients to penetrate or room to spread and grow, free from thorns and thistles and other obstacles that compete for the necessities to growth. This is good soil that was prepared, cultivated, weeded, tended, cared for, and ready for the seed that was cast upon it.

I believe one of the most important lessons to be learned from this parable is the fact that all of these types of soil are in close proximity to one another. It appears from close examination that there is always the danger of the good soil being corrupted and being trampled, or becoming filled of stones, or infiltrated with thorns and weeds. The diligence required of keeping the good soil good is a never ending process. If we ask any of the farmers here in Colquitt County they will tell us that they are engaged in a never ending battle with hindrances to the growth and harvest of their crops. There are always outside forces at work that introduce obstacles. The wind, birds, weather, God forbid vandals, all lie just around the corner to spoil that which is good.

Is our life not the same? Isn’t there always something that creeps in just when we are cultivating a renewed life of prayer, or study of God’s Word, or enjoying the grace that comes through the receiving of the Sacraments? The only way that we can reap an abundant harvest is if we constantly ask God to tend the soil of our lives. It requires work, and lots of it.

We are constantly at work confronting the many dangers that lie in front of us all. We are first in danger of carelessly hearing the word. “This lies at the threshold of the Christian life, and prevents even the entrance of the good seed. The word enters the ear, but never reaches the heart, and quickly passes away even from memory, being caught away by the spirit of evil or crushed by fresh tramplings of worldliness.”

The trials and tribulations of life endanger us. “Trial and temptation mark a crisis in the Christian life, and like the fierce sunshine scorches the shallow-hearted, while they only ripen those deeply rooted.”

Prosperity forms the third danger to growth. “These come with the cares, riches, and pleasures of later years, even when the seed has found lodgment and the blade has given promise. The plant of grace cannot grow in a thicket of worldliness which shuts out God’s light and air. These dangers are found as men “go on their way,” and against them we pray in the Litany, “in all time of our wealth, Good Lord, deliver us.””

“Our Saviour’s closing words seem to favour the interpretation above given the various stages of life and their special dangers. We need not ask which state of ground is ours, for we may resemble all in turn. There are no hearts by nature good ground. Those that are such have been made such by the ploughshares of God’s grace, by His deepening of our shallow soil, by His cleansing processes. Even the good ground hearers should advance in fruitfulness, and will even, like the bending ear, become more humble as they ripen. Here is, therefore, reason both for eternal effort and constant humility that we may hear; hold fast what we have heard; and bring forth fruit with patience.”

May the Lord cultivate the soil of our lives this Lent and beyond that the good seed that He sows might find the good soil that will ensure the abundant harvest that we are all called to produce.

*******Quotations above from The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels by Melville Scott.******

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