Inch by Inch & Row by Row

Proper 10.A.2017
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The Rev. Melanie L. McCarley

David Mallet wrote a wonderful children’s ditty called “The Garden Song”. The refrain (and I’ll do us all a favor here and not sing) goes thusly: “Inch by inch, row by row/gonna make this garden grow./ All it takes is a rake and a hoe/ and a piece of fertile ground.” This morning, I’d like for us to give some thought to fertile ground. To put it bluntly, this is a sermon about dirt. And, the question I have for you today is this: What kind of dirt are you?

In the Gospel lesson for today we hear the story, commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Sower”. Its title is something of a misnomer. While the story does tell us something about the nature of the farmer, and it even talks about seeds, neither the seeds nor the sower are the real focus of the parable. What it all comes down to is the dirt. Listen again: Jesus says: “A Sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they spring up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

Now, about the seeds. They’re good. They represent the teachings of Jesus. But seeds need soil in order to release their full potential. Therefore, it is the nature of the soil into which they land that makes all the difference. In other words, it’s the dirt into which these seeds are sown that determines the different responses to the good news of Jesus Christ.

So, let’s look at the first batch of soil. Here, the Sower allows some seeds to fall on the path only to be eaten by the birds. As Jesus tells us, this is comparable to those who hear the word of the Kingdom but fail to understand it. Thus, the “evil one” comes and snatches it out of their hearts.

Then there are the seeds that fall on rocky ground. They spring up quickly. However, without sufficient depth of soil to put down deep roots, they are scorched, and wither away when the sun comes out. These represent individuals who initially respond eagerly to the Gospel, but soon fall away “when trouble or persecution arises.”

Now, we come to the seeds that fall among thorns. In this perilous landscape, as the thorns grow the seeds are choked out. This is a picture of those who hear the word of God but are soon lured away by outside concerns and the desire for riches. In other words, the cares of the world literally choke the life out of them.

Finally, there are the seeds that are fortunate enough to fall among good soil. And these….well, they bring forth an abundant harvest. These seeds—they don’t just produce good results, they produce extravagant results—yields of a hundredfold. Bear in mind that even in the best of times a crop might produce nine or tenfold—but a hundredfold…sixtyfold….thirtyfold? Now, this is something unheard of.

What this means is that even though much of the seed falls upon unproductive soil—despite all the odds, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God still yields success.

Therefore, we are left with the question: What kind of dirt are you? If we liken our spirit to a garden, ask yourself, what kind of things are growing there? I imagine that there some folks whose souls resemble something akin to an arid desert; it’s not a particularly hospitable place, and little grows there—things run either very hot or terribly cold. Then, there are others whose spirits are infested with tangled vines of greed and malice. Theirs is a productive place, perhaps; but hardly one in which either beauty or goodness stands much of a chance. Then there are others who take care to cultivate an inner garden filled with joy. In this place blooms of every color and fruits of all kinds inhabit the landscape. Given all this, ask yourself this question: If God plants a seed in your heart, what would be the chances of it growing?

Kathy Paauw writes: “I recently heard a story about a woman who went into a store and found God behind the counter. He asked her what she wanted and she replied: “I want to buy a little joy and prosperity and a whole lot of peace—not just for myself (she hastened to add), but for everyone.” God looked at the woman and replied: “We don’t sell the fruit here…we just sell the seeds.” Once you get the seeds, it’s up to you to care for them…”

In other words, disciples work in partnership with God. Now, for God’s own part, as a Farmer, God is extravagant. God throws the seeds absolutely everywhere. An optimistic sower, God strews seeds on the hardened path as well as the rocky soil. Who knows? Perhaps the unlikely will occur, and what was once a barren desert or a down-trodden path will become a proliferate rainforest in time. In the Kingdom of God, everyone is offered the gift of grace. It’s what we do with that gift that matters.

There’s good news in this parable for everyone—whether your kind of dirt resembles a rocky path, a weed infested garden, or good soil. You see, God sows seeds everywhere. What this means is that if your heart, at this moment in time, is more like a weed infested garden than a place of productivity and grace. Well, you still have the seeds. With a bit of determination and the willingness to get dirty, you can get in there and begin weeding, uprooting the vices of discontent and the thorns of anger and jealously; rooting out the dead wood of bitterness and despair, and begin clearing a place for the seed to grow. For, that seed, which God has given you—it wants to grow. And, given the right conditions, it will produce an untold amount of fruit. If we provide the right conditions for growth, it will not fail.

“Inch by inch, row by row/ gonna make this garden grow./ All it takes is a rake and a hoe/ and a piece of fertile ground. In Jesus’ name. Amen.