Dustin Hamren, Preacher
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Which soil are you? Where did your seed land? That’s the question I saw at the front of so many sermons and commentaries I read in preparation for today. I’ve heard it as a child, and it seems to be a good question. Reading the Gospel, I was coming up with people that I thought fit into each of the categories laid out in front of us. As I went on, though, I started to realize how destructive that could be, and how judgmental I was being for placing people and churches that I knew little about (in the scheme of things) into negative categories without even considering whether or not I was in the “good soil.” What we can’t do with this passage is assume that we are the seeds, and wherever we land is our lot in life. That’s not the case, however, because none of us are either one soil or another. I’d like to share an excerpt from a sermon that was very inspiring surrounding this lesson.
“Jesus is not just describing different types of soil or circumstances of life. He is describing our inner geography. These are the various landscapes of the human heart. We have met these in others and discovered them in ourselves. We are rarely just one type of soil. We are all four. The four soils are descriptive of how we live and relate to others and to God. Jesus’ interpretation of the parable, when he tells what happens to the seeds, describes the consequences of each kind of life.”
Another issue with looking at the story from this viewpoint is that it puts us at the center of it. That’s a natural thing, but its natural because, as the Romans text points out, we are creatures who live by the law of selfishness. At its core this is not a story about the seeds, or even the dirt, this is a story about God. We learn about the true nature of God, the sower.
Have you thought about the sower in this story? Its not mentioned much, other than that the sower is spreading seeds around willy-nilly, with little to no regard for, what we would call, efficiency. Even in Jesus’ day, without all our technology and accumulated knowledge, I doubt many farmers were clamoring for sowing seeds in roads and in the bushes. It borders on being a barrier to the story, at least in my mind, but that’s a great thing about parables. They don’t tell story from our worldview, but instead offer a glimpse into God’s world, and place with a new perspective that maybe we haven’t seen before. You see, this indiscriminate sowing of seeds is just that, indiscriminate.
Have you ever found yourself unable to understand something? Especially in the Bible there are a lot of ways to read, interpret, and view the passages, it can be overwhelming. When have you gotten excited about something, or found a church or group who you just wanted to dive in head first with, but eventually lose momentum and fall away? Do the concerns of life keep you at a distance from God? The worries, stresses, and needs of life can overshadow our view of the life Jesus desires for us. For many the Holy Spirit is elusive and a mystery. Are you in bad soil? Maybe, but that’s the good news, its not the end of the story. The sower is spreading the seeds over all types of ground, the same seeds that go into good soil are also sown into the thorns. Its not about the dirt, its about God, and how God treats his people. We can get it in our mind that the seeds in the good soil are those whom God loves more, or are somehow more deserving of that soil, but the seeds are all the same. Just as in our Romans text, there is no condemnation of the seeds for not landing where they aught to. Instead there is only the same love for all seeds in the sowers pouch.
If you don’t mind, I would like to re-read the Romans text with a different translation that was suggested to me, and I’m very glad it was.
Set free by the Spirit
So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. God has done what was impossible for the Law, since it was weak because of selfishness. God condemned sin in the body by sending his own Son to deal with sin in the same body as humans, who are controlled by sin. He did this so that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us. Now the way we live is based on the Spirit, not based on selfishness. People whose lives are based on selfishness think about selfish things, but people whose lives are based on the Spirit think about things that are related to the Spirit. The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace. So the attitude that comes from selfishness is hostile to God. It doesn’t submit to God’s Law, because it can’t. People who are self-centered aren’t able to please God.
But you aren’t self-centered. Instead you are in the Spirit, if in fact God’s Spirit lives in you. If anyone doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, they don’t belong to him. If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.
How can we navigate with so many laws, temptations, and selfish things in this world to hold to and pursue? Which laws are we held to? Which laws do we follow, where do they come from? Here in the good ‘ol USA we have courts and legislators to create and enforce the laws, but what kind of laws are they? There are a lot of laws that line up with what we are commanded to do as Christians. We are told not to kill, not to steal, not to harm others. These are not evil laws, just as the laws given to Moses in the commandments were not evil. Sin finds a way in, though, and can work through the laws to entrap us and bring out that which God does not desire.; the spoiled fruit of economic injustice, poverty, militarism, greed, and the wanton destruction of the earth, which God gave us to be stewards of. When the laws of the land are used to give more power and wealth to corporate entities and those who have the means to use the system, while stripping those same rights from ordinary people or those without considerable means they cease to be good and righteous laws that bear good fruit for the people.
You may have noticed the “Living Wage for All” banner hanging on our church this morning. This is another example of laws that were meant for the good of all people, but have since become mechanisms to abuse and exploit workers. Whereas the idea of having a minimum wage that all must make was great when it was put into place, over time is has become an excuse for companies to pay the bare minimum for work. Not only this, but the bare minimum is just that, the number on the law is all some people get, and there are those who are still paid below this through wage theft and other means of companies bleeding cash from workers to pad the bottom line.
Laws of the spirit? Or laws of selfishness, laws of the flesh. Its not always easy to tell which one we are abiding by. With the recent events in the Supreme Court, it makes me wonder if Hobby Lobby was conducting its business according to the law of the spirit, or if it was for the law of the flesh. Were they thinking with their hearts and minds? Or was the motivation political or financial? I’m not going to debate or speculate on that, but its an important decision, and we’re seeing it play out in front of our eyes. Following the recent decision by SCOTUS, now religious leaders and organizations are asking for the ability to opt out of anti-discrimination legislation for LGTBQ people. Think about that for a second, religious organizations and leaders are ASKING for the “right” to discriminate.
“The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace.” Which will you live by? The soil you reside in, the landscape of your heart, can change, we have the amazing gift of grace by which we are allowed to make mistake, fall away, and lead our lives based on selfish, sinful needs and wants, but God never abandons us. The amazing part of this Romans text is that it begins with no condemnation, and ends with no separation. Jesus has freed us from the condemnation under the law, and God never casts us to the wolves when we slip up or stray from the flock. We truly are blessed, so let us take this blessing and use it as we leave this place. Let us go out and share the good fruit that we all can produce; love, peace, justice, and reconciliation. But what about those who are not in the good soil? When someone is on the path, hearing the word but not understanding it, we should not pass them by like the religious leadership in the parable of the good Samaritan, but instead take the time to teach the word and share the good news. When someone struggles with the word and falls away as those on the rocky soil, lets extend a hand of welcome, an ear to listen, and a shoulder to cry on. And when we encounter those stuck in the brambles, choked by fear, pain, greed, stress, or any other such afflictions; we should be the first people there, cutting away the vines and branches, clearing a path back to the Spirit, where we all desire to reside.