"Tilling the Human Heart" - Pentecost 6A
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
July 16, 2017 at 10:15 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Pentecost 6A, July 16, 2017

Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


Tilling the Human Heart


            I’ve told all of you before about what a lousy gardener I am. This year, I’ve tried to keep on top of things a little better. When I’m not fighting back the spread of ornamental grass and Rose of Sharon saplings, I work on a small garden on the south side of the house, with banana peppers, cherry tomatoes, and more zucchini than Sarah and I will possibly be able to eat. All in all, I haven’t done so badly this year. The soil is fairly fertile, and the abundant rains and warmer temperatures have helped things along.


            It’s been a lot better than the one time I tried to grow sweet corn. I made a number of mistakes. First, I had no idea how to actually plant the kernels. I had a huge bag of sweet corn seed, so I dug a trench with the hole and just dumped the seed in the trench (kind of pathetic for an Iowa boy), covering it up with soil. Despite my terrible planting, the seed grew. Tiny corn plants sprang from the earth, almost on top of each other. Our current congregational president came over to the parsonage one day, took one look, and laughed. “You can’t plant corn like radishes!”


            So I thinned out the plants, and the remaining ones really began to grow. They took off, and I was anticipating delicious sweet corn come late July. Except we had a huge wind storm one week. The plants were blown over, and never quite recovered. And being so low to the ground, the ears were easy prey for raccoons and other critters. My total yield from the sweet corn crop was one lousy ear.


            Well, you all made up for it. Many of you brought over lots of corn. I’ve also learned to patronize Max Hile’s little sweet corn stand when the time comes. I now try to stick with plants that I can grow without killing too easily.


            Despite my terrible gardening practice, my sowing method really wasn’t too different from the farmer we hear about in Jesus’ parable.


            This is a strange farmer indeed, and at a first glance from us, not a very good one. Seed is expensive now, as many of you know. But for most of human history, it was a matter of life-and-death. In 1st-century Palestine, about 1/6th of food stores would be needed to sow the next season’s crop. Sowing of wheat and barley took place in the fall, at the onset of the often-erratic rainy season. Sowing was done by hand, and took great skill and concentration to do well. Which is what makes this farmer so strange. The ground seems to be unplowed, and despite the ancient practice of sowing first and then plowing the seed into the ground, no mention is made of the sower coming back to tend to the ground or to the seed. The farmer seems to throw the seed willy-nilly into the wind, some of it landing on the pathway in the middle of the field, some on rocky soil, some among the brambles at the edge of the field, and some on good, rich soil. It doesn’t seem to matter to the sower much where the seed lands; just that it is cast as far and wide as possible, in the hopes that some of it will bear a harvest.


            The first three landing spots yield nothing, of course. Birds eat the seeds that fall on the path. The seed that falls on the rocky soil has no root and is vulnerable to the scorching heat. Those that fall among the thorns cannot compete for nutrients and sunlight. But those that fall on good soil bear an incredible, unusual harvest. At the time Jesus told this parable, long before 200 bushel per acre yields, a hundred-fold harvest from one seed would be nearly unheard of. Sixty and thirty-fold would also be quite good. Even though some of the seed does not yield, the seed that does gives an abundant harvest.


            Jesus goes on to give an explanation of this parable, one that explains that while there was nothing wrong with the seed, there were “good” and “bad” soils in which the seed was sown. And the parable makes it sound like a person is either “good” soil or “bad” soil; that the Word of God will either take root in a person or it won’t. It sounds almost like one is fated, or pre-destined, to be either good or bad. Saved or condemned. No in-between. No shades of color.


            And to be fair, much of the New Testament seems to correspond with this kind of interpretation. Jesus talks about good trees and bad trees. Paul talks about “flesh” and “Spirit” in today’s lesson, corresponding with our fallen nature and the new, redeemed nature God has put within us. However, simply interpreting the parable (and Paul’s words) this way leaves out perhaps the most important insight of our Lutheran heritage, something that we know corresponds to how we really are. Even Paul notes this conflict in the Romans 7. We are, at the same time, fully saint and fully sinner. You and I, members of the church, into which the Word of God has been sown, are at the same time good, rich soil in which the Word can thrive, and thorny, rocky soil which resists any kind of lasting growth or change.


            Even though our sinful selves resist the new life that God has planted within us, God keeps working on us. Paul tells us that Jesus took on the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin once and for all. So even though no mention is made of the sower returning to deal with brambles, thorns, and stones, be assured that the sower does just that. One might say that Jesus came to earth on the ultimate mission – to till the human heart to make it receptive to the Word which brings life. Jesus is still working on you and me, to remove the thorns in our lives which choke the Word, to break up the stone, to make our hearts places where the Word can grow.


            And this Word, Christ, which is planted within us, gives us life. It is like the reverse of what real crops do. Crops take nutrients from the soil in order to grow. But the Word of God planted within us is what nourishes us. It makes our hearts truly good soil. And we have this promise – God is going to keep working on you and me, sowing the seed of the Word which breaks up the stony sinfulness within us. Since Jesus is planted within our hearts, we have the assurance of new life – both now and in the world to come.


            Let us pray.

            Jesus, take root within us. Help our faith and trust in your saving word to grow abundantly, and bear good fruit worthy of your kingdom. Amen.


© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.