Fr. Jim Elliott
Proper 10 Year A
July 10, 2011 St. James’ Quitman
Yesterday morning, Pam and Julie and I met here at St. James’ to work with the folks from St. Margaret’s in Moultrie to go over one another’s financial policies and procedures and to report to the Diocese as we are all required to do by the canons of the Church. While we were waiting on the St. Margaret’s folks to arrive, Julie was busy in the parish hall and Pam and wandered around the grounds here at the church. As we walked around, Pam plucked some of the dead or dying blooms from the roses in the courtyard and we surveyed the condition of the landscaping that we have here at our beautiful church.
We made note of the freshly cut grass. We noticed that some of the shrubbery seems to be distressed due to the heat and drought that we’ve all been suffering through. One shrub in particular seems to be under siege from the volunteer vegetation in the bed near the front steps of the church. And we discussed the cedars or junipers along the west lot line that seem to suffer from a blight of some sort.
And even though our wanderings lasted just a few short minutes, I was reminded that our landscaping doesn’t just take care of itself. It made me think about all of the things that I’m sure many of us do to keep our lawns and our shrubs and our hedges and our flowers and our gardens looking nice. I thought all about all that we do to keep the growing things around our homes green and lush and beautiful.
I thought about all of those things we do. We sod and we plant. We fertilize and we weed. We water and we spray. We trim and we prune. And we edge and we mow. And then we start all over and we do it again. Regardless of whether the spaces for which we care are our lawns or our gardens – regardless of whether they are our fields or our farms or our forests – and regardless of whether they are at our homes or where we work – it takes a lot of sweat and toil and work to keep our lawns and our gardens and our fields and farms and forests green and growing and thriving and beautiful.
And all of this made we think that maybe there’s a little bit different way for us to think about the parable of the sower that we just heard in Matthew’s gospel lesson. Perhaps there’s even more than Jesus gives to the crowds when he tells them “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
We’ve all heard this so-called parable of the sower many times over the years. But is the parable of the sower really about the sower? What the parable seems to be about is the seeds. What the story seems – or perhaps appears to be about – is what happens to the seeds when they are sown. The parable focuses on the fruitfulness – or lack of fruitfulness – of the seeds depending on where they are sown. If they are sown on the path, they are eaten up by the birds. If they are sown on rocky ground, they are scorched and wither away. If the seeds are sown among the thorns, they are choked out. But those seeds that are sown in good soil put forth fruit. Those are the seeds that put forth a miraculously abundant harvest.
And all of that seems to make pretty good sense – right? Well, I think it does – but I also think that there just might be another way for us to think about this parable. And what I suggest is this. Perhaps this should be the parable of the soil. Perhaps the story is really about the soil rather than about the sower or even the seed.
What I’m getting at is this. If we are the soil – rather than the seed – then we need tending to just like our lawns and our gardens. We need to be fertilized and when we put forth growth – we need to be mowed and edged and trimmed and pruned if we are to be at our best and most fruitful. Put another way, without the good soil, the seed can put forth no fruit. If we are not good soil in which the seed can be sown, the seed cannot yield an abundant harvest.
If we allow ourselves to be or become the path, then we are beaten down and trampled upon by this life and all of the woes and cares that come with it. If we become the path, the seed is carried away by the proverbial ravens of our lives.
If we are shallow, rocky ground then we have no depth within which the seed can grow. If we don’t make ourselves into a fruitful environment for the seed, even though it sprouts, the very environment in which it lives – that environment being us – drains the very life from the seed and it withers and dies away.
And if we are soil that is infested and entangled with thorns, we choke the life from the seed. If we are so plagued by all of those things that complicate and dominate our lives that they keep us from responding to God’s call to us, then we choke the very life from the Word as it has been given to us.
But if we are deliberate about being good soil then we bring forth the fruit of the Word made flesh. If we take care of our spiritual and our physical selves – if we weed and prune and we mow and edge – then we become good spiritual soil for the spreading of the good fruits of the Kingdom of God.
And to punctuate the point, I want to share with you a hymn that we sang at this year’s Diocesan Convention. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing it to you – but I will leave you with these words – which by the way, make a wonderful prayer:
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard, break the stone away.
When my heart is cold, warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost, lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart, Lord, let my heart, Lord, let my heart be good soil.
Fr. Jim Elliott