February 27, 2011
I was watching the Discovery Channel a few months ago, and there was a program on there that was all about “Tea.” I love shows like that. Well, one thing I learned was that, according to them, that there is only one species of tea plant? I didn’t know that. I would have thought there were 50! But there’s just one. And depending on when it’s picked and how it’s processed, they make the three major varieties of tea – green tea, black tea, and something called “oolong” tea. And yes, there are herb teas, but they’re made with herbs, not tea leaves. (Hence the name!) So, apart from any added flavors, the only difference in the taste of tea comes from where it’s planted – the climate, the altitude, the humidity, and the soil conditions.
By the way, it’s the same with coffee. Being a coffee “connoisseur,” that’s the one that really interests me! Again, the differences in the plants and the beans they produce have to do with where they’re grown – the altitude, humidity, and the soil. Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is supposed to be the best. (The price certainly reflects that!!) Kona coffee from Hawaii is also excellent. My favorite is Kenya double A. But again, it’s all the same plant! And it’s all about the soil!
By the way, that’s a lesson I had to learn about personally! Because, I always used to think “dirt was dirt.” “You plant things in it, and they grow!” And believe me, I tried!! And then I would get frustrated when they didn’t grow! For example, I love azaleas! I hope you’ll notice all the new ones growing around the manse this year!! (At least I hope they’ll be growing!!) For years in Kansas, I killed plant after plant!! “What’s wrong?” I kept asking. “It’s a plant! I put it in dirt! Why won’t it grow?” But I learned that azaleas like a certain acidity of soil, and in Kansas it was all limestone based soil – which has the opposite ph. So, dirt is not dirt! Some dirt is different dirt! And the plants care!!
So, last week we talked about the “foundations” of our faith. And as we talked about that, we also noted Paul’s analogy about faith as a seed. It’s planted, it’s nurtured, it grows, and produces fruit. He suggested that different people may have helped to grow that seed in us. Some planted the seed, while others watered and tended it, and God gave the growth. Well today, I want us to think about the soil in which that seed is planted. Because, like the tea or coffee, (or azaleas!) it’s all about the soil! As we think about that, I want us to consider this example Jesus gave us in his “Parable of the Sower.” Again, I’m always amazed that he made this stuff up! He always had a perfect story for the people, which came right out of their world and the experiences of their lives that spoke to their hearts!
This time he told about the sower. He told about his seed, where it fell, and how it grew. Well, you have to wonder about this one. Because this parable has an explanation following it. And that was because the disciples asked about it. “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” I’m not sure about that question. Maybe they were curious about his teaching techniques. Maybe they were frustrated trying to figure out what they meant. Maybe they were wondering if parables were such a good idea. Notice, they didn’t simply say, “Please explain that parable Jesus.” They asked, “Why?” “Why use these stories?”
He answers them and it makes this even more interesting! He makes this statement about parables, saying that by telling them, there was indeed some intent to conceal some of the meaning of his message. He said, “You are given to know the secrets of the kingdom. They are not.” “I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Then he quotes a scripture passage to that effect.
I don’t know about you, but that bothers me a bit. It makes me wonder why he was telling the story! Wasn’t he trying to teach the people something? I mean, this wasn’t just an “agricultural lesson.” Jesus wasn’t one of those people from the county extension office who helped with soil testing and crop production! I think there was a strong enough parallel in this story for the people to know that he wasn’t just talking about farming! They knew there was more. Besides that, Jesus had often spoken in parables! So they had come to expect it! And it makes me wonder about the disciples. We often think of them as being wise and understanding, but there were times they were really at a loss. Maybe this was one of them. After all a lot of them were fishermen! Maybe they didn’t get all that seed and soil stuff! It wasn’t part of their world?
At any rate, I want us to think about the soil. (It is more than just dirt!) Jesus was pointing out to them the kinds of things that hinder the growth of faith. He portrays them in this story, and then he names them specifically in the explanation. He first tells about those for whom their faith is like seed that falls on the path. In other words, it falls on the hard ground and doesn’t actually get into the soil. Because of that, the birds – the evil one, as Jesus says – comes and snatches it away. Do you think some of those people recognized themselves in that?
Do you know anyone like that? Do you know someone whose heart was so hardened – like the beaten path – that nothing could get in? Maybe their heart had been wounded so much that they refused to allow anyone or anything else to get in. That was their defense against any future hurt. Maybe you have felt like that at times in your life!
Jesus then described the seed that fell on rocky ground. They are those who’s hearts were open, but there was not enough chance for any depth. We talked last week about the roots and the foundation on which our faith is built. And the roots are very important! Without them, when the sun beats down on the plant, it dries up. I’ve done a lot of watering on those azaleas, so they wouldn’t die while their roots were being established! (I hope they made it!!)
Maybe you’ve known someone like Jesus was describing. At first they were very excited about their faith. God really touched their heart – for a while. But when the “heat was on,” when they started to question, when things started getting confusing, or when someone challenged them about their beliefs, they gave it up. Maybe you were like that at some point. Maybe there was a time when your “roots” weren’t very strong.
Then there was the seed that fell among the thorns. It grew, but it got “choked out.” Let me tell you that one thing I am good at growing is weeds!! And if you get enough of them growing, they can indeed “choke out” a plant! Jesus calls the weeds “the cares of the world,” and more specifically, “the delight in riches.” We live in a world with many cares!! Delight in riches is a way of life for many. Comedian Steven Wright once said, “I just want to have the chance to prove that money won’t make me happy.” Many people think it will! “Delight” in it is a great way of describing it! Remember that Jesus didn’t say that money was the root of all evil. It was the “love of money.”
So then he described the good soil. And remember, those people knew what that meant. They knew about the benefits of making the soil good. They knew about fertilizer. They knew about cultivation. They knew the different kinds of soil, and how that affected plants, like I described earlier in growing coffee and tea. And it’s my hope today, that we can think of ourselves as the good soil. I hope we see the faith growing in us.
But let me ask this. Do we do anything about soil conditioning? Or do we just think “dirt is dirt” like I used to think. Do we just think “Whatever soil I am, that should grow the faith in me just fine.” Or do we cultivate? Do we fertilize? Do we condition the soil so the seed can grow and flourish?
That’s what I want you to think about today. What are you doing to condition the soil of your life so that your faith may grow and bear fruit? Are you feeding it? Are you fertilizing it? In other words, are you praying regularly? Are you doing some kind of inspirational reading? Are you listening for God’s voice in your life. The Bible describes that as “waiting for the Lord.” Do you do those things? Are you spending time in fellowship with people who lift you up and edify you? (And are you doing that for others?) Or are you associating with people who “drag you down?”
Are you doing what someone once described to me as “putting yourself in a position where God can touch you”? Some people don’t. Some don’t give much of a thought to spiritual things, except for coming to church on a Sunday morning. Most of the time, if God were trying to reach out to them, he would have a hard time getting through to them.
If we don’t give thought to those things, we will be doing what is akin to just planting the seed in “any old dirt,” and figuring it will grow on its own. It’s like thinking “I don’t have to do anything special for it.” “It’s dirt. You plant things in it and they grow.” And then, like my plants, are we frustrated when our faith don’t grow?
So, give thought to the soil. What kind are you? Are you hardened like the path? Are you shallow? Are you full of weeds? Or are you good soil? And I don’t mean “just dirt.” I mean cultivated, fertilized, conditioned soil, soil that is prime for growing the seed of faith! Is that you? It’s all about the soil!
Eternal God, you have loved us so much that you have chosen to live in our hearts. Help us to be open to you. Help us to seek to hear your voice. Help us to wait on you, to place ourselves daily in a position where you can touch us and nurture us. Help us to grow and bear fruit for your glory! For we pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.