Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Extravagance in Gardening, based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

The Extravagance in Gardening
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 8/23/2015
Based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


A large portion of my childhood memories relate to the business of growing plants. Since we were a poor family, it was most important that we gave focus to the vegetable garden and less to the things that I really enjoyed growing, which were ornamental plants. It was my thought that it was equally important to feed the soul by growing plants that bring beauty into the world, while my mother believed that growing plants that produced food for the body was more important.   

When it comes to vegetable gardening, I have memories of huge gardens.   After moving from a small town out to a farm, my dad decided that with forty acres and the free slave labor of three children, he would create a family business of truck farming.  He supplied the vision, the children supplied the labor.  We had no real farm equipment, so most all the working of the soil was done with hand tools. There was one water well which was near the house and minimal outdoor water faucets that could be used for watering. 

It’s a marvelous thing, farming.  You plow up the soil, chop the clods up making the ground smooth ready for planting, then you plant the seeds and the starter plants, water them, and watch them grow. What is interesting is everything else that is in that soil will also grow. The technical term for the “everything else” is called “weeds”.  I remember long days of handling a hoe, chopping at the weeds, which seemed to thrive better than the plants that I was supposed to be tending. Then after hoeing out the weeds the next step was bending over the plants and pulling out those weeds that were choking out the plants.

To give you an idea of the size of operation I am talking about: our green bean patch had 16 rows, each a city block long, the potato patch, was a full five acres of seedlings, and located more than a quarter mile away from the house.  Next to the potatoes we planted 500 tomato plants. You must understand that the closest water was a quarter mile away and dad decided we children could carry water out to them instead of running pipe out to this remote spot.  You can image how well those poor plants survived in the 100* + summer sun.  It was impossible to work in those temperatures, so the tomatoes eventually dried up and died because of the lack of water. 

The scripture reading today resonates with my experiences on the farm and our efforts to truck farm.  Those plants that we were able to properly nurture with water, de-weeding, and fertilizing produced in abundance; where we planted seeds and plants that wewere not able to provide any one of these needed tasks, those plants provided much less fruit, or were choked out by the persistence of the weeds, or withered in the heat of the sun. 

I find this particular story interesting with respect to where it is placed in Matthew.  At the end of chapter 12, we read where Jesus has been healing and preaching to a group of people and of course getting the Pharisees very upset to the point of plotting his murder.  Then his mother and brothers come wanting to take Jesus back home with them, at which point Jesus asks, “who is my mother and who are my brothers?”  In this response, Jesus is doing more than defining his understanding of who family is.  Jesus is setting the foundation for the story he is about to share, new referred to as “The Parable of the Sower”. 

The usual way of reading this parable is to study the types of soil that the seeds are being planted in.  For example, in new church development there would be a study of the community being considered for a new church.  A lengthy study of demographics, city potential of continued growth, what type of nitch can the new church provide that presently isn’t being met.  In church revitalization, there would be conversations that focus on growth by asking: what type of pastor would best help us grow; what type of programs would work best in revitalizing this ministry; what type of people do we want to minister to; do we as a church really want to put in the effort that it takes, or are we truly comfortable with our current situation?  Both are examples of tiling the soil, of planting seed.  

When discussing today’s text with some friends, a part of the discussion focused around the “wisdom” that we should have in where and who we share the “good news” of God.  A reference being made that we were not being good stewards of God’s word by spending our time with people who would never respond to it.  The example of casting seed on the hardened soil.  As a business person, I might, agree with that insight. However as a person of faith, I have to look at this parable in a slightly different manor.  As I read this story, I see the story speaking more about the person of faith and their receptiveness to God’s word and less to the external location.

 This directly relates then to speaking about a congregation, a faith community.  As a community of faith, we have received the word of God, the seed planted. The question that needs to be asked is, “What type of soil is this congregation made up of?” Are we hard and rocky, who gives only the birds nourishment because we are not receptive to God’s word?  Are we soil that is full of weeds, choking the work of the Holy Spirit?  Are we soil where the distractions of the world take away focus from the needs of being nourished? Are we too busy to take time for Christian education or to commit to a Discipleship class that runs more than 4 weeks?  Are we the soil that receives God’s word and allow it to be nurtured within our hearts, so we will be able to feed the needs of those we come in contact with? 

The focus is on those who are in the family of God. I think the story is asking, “What type of soil does the faithful possess?”  It is God who originally planted His word within us? How have we, the children of God received it?  God did not contemplate his love to be bestowed on some and not others.  That is an invalid justification that comes out of hardened or shallow soil.  God loves beyond abundantly. God loves extravagantly, giving the gift of reconciliation and healing to every broken heart.   

The question is this: How have your received this seed from God? Is your spirit one of hard packed soil? Is it one who received the love of God but because of life’s circumstances has found this love withering? Or is your heart the type of soil that has received the love of God and has allowed it to flourish growing into the person that God wishes?  

I wish to close these words from Psalm 119. “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”    The parable of the sower is a recognition to those who receive the seed from God and a promise to the church, that as long as we have an open heart to receive the extravagant love of God, the word of God will take hold and shall produce in abundance within us and around us.  Amen