Matt 13:1-9, 18-23
Jane Shelton, CRE
Growing up among farmers, my uncles, cousins and Papa Taylor, I came to know a lot about planting, gardening and harvesting.
While my parents didn’t live on a large farm like some of my relatives, they did plant a garden each year, and in that garden, one of my sisters and I would always plant our own little row of things we especially liked. I remember having cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, squash and an occasional watermelon.
Now, of course these things were also in the big garden, which we were also required to help care for; however, there was just something more special about things that grew on our little row where we tended our own vegetables.
I can remember going over to my Papa’s house with my mother, grabbing spoons from my Granny’s kitchen, and heading out to dig potatoes. It was the most fun! Now, I don’t know how many of you have dug potatoes before with a spoon, but as a child, getting down in the dirt, and using that big kitchen spoon like a spade to find a potato was one of the most exciting things a child could experience.
I was shown how to look for that bulge in the dirt, and dig around it to reveal a beautiful red potato! The feel of the rich soil in my hand as I wiped the potato off to place it in my bucket was moist and warm, and the potatoes were plentiful.
If any of you are gardeners, and I know many of you are, do you ever think about what drives you to plant? I mean, of course, we love to harvest our own fresh vegetables, but we can get those at the grocery store or the produce stand, right? So what is it that drives us to plant and harvest?
Is it just the process of harvesting, or is it the entire process from start to finish, because it does take work to manage a garden. You can’t just drop a seed on the ground anywhere and expect it to grow.
Now, my nephew who loves to garden, will come to my house and look in my flower pots, and give me pointers and insights on what to plant that the deer won’t eat, how to manage the squirrels with hot pepper flakes so they don’t bite off all my blooms, and name all these plants with their official names.
Now, I’m pretty busy, and have little time to plant, but I always have to have that moment where “I dig in the dirt.” Sometimes these moments can be a bit hurried, I confess, and my nephew looked at my pots once, and noting how I had taken my plant out of the plant box and placed it barely below the surface of the top soil of my pot, and then piled new potting soil around it, he made the statement, “You know. Aunt Jane, that’s really not planting.”
As we learn in our parable today in Matthew, planting starts with the sower, and there is more to planting than just dropping a seed.
Like the rich soil where we planted our garden as children and my Papa planted his potatoes, it is where you will get the best return on your work. The best results of success to gather in the harvest.
When time is not taken to choose good soil, the harvest can be nonexistent. As you gardeners now, plants do not grow well in rocky and sandy soil. It takes a good rich soil full of nutrients. Some plants do better in shade, while others prefer the sun.
And then there is even more work to be done, once the appropriate location and soil is chosen.
Deciding on how often to feed the plant with nutrients and water, because not all plants are the same. Even when planting in rich soil, you have to tend the garden to weed out the thorns and weeds that would otherwise consume the good plant so that it would not produce any fruit.
So in addition to careful planning, the garden also requires special and constant attention.
There are other factors that come into play that I mentioned briefly, and that is keeping out unwanted animals that can destroy a plant in just a few quick seconds.
Sometimes when I plant something in my yard, I will get up the next morning and peek out my window cautiously as I hold my breath to see if it still remains the next day because the deer think my yard is a feeding ground. I’ve tried growing strawberries and figs, and the animals love them! The first crop of figs that came on my tree was plentiful, and I was so excited, however I waited too long to gather them when they ripened, and they were all gone.
As the Sower, it is my responsibility to be smart about where I place the seed or plant, how I care for it, and how I harvest it. It is a process to be sure that requires continuing work from day to day.
So why do we plant? Why do we go to all the trouble it takes to produce a vegetable or fruit that we could just as easily pick up at the grocery store?
I think Isaiah gives us a little insight when God says, “you will go out in joy and be led back in peace.”
We talked last week about how God created, and we, being made in the image of God, are also creators, planters and harvesters.
As hard as the work is to garden, there is a certain reward of joy and peace when we are out in nature. When we can harvest what God has helped us create and produce.
God calls his weary people back to him, and sends us out as sowers to harvest those in need. Before we can harvest the fruit, we have to do all it takes to properly prepare the planning and groundwork; because when we do not properly prepare, we cannot properly bring in the fruit of the harvest.
Our first task as a sower is to have knowledge and our own firm foundation. The sower requires secure footing and deep roots. Just as nourished roots produce new life, so does the Fruit of the Spirit.
As the Holy Spirit dwells with us, and we respond, we are nourished. This nourishment provides buds of hope that grows into all that we need to sustain us on our life’s journey. We blossom into a fullness of maturity into the will of God, and a relationship with God.
Once we have blossomed into this reality of God’s presence and God’s creation story and love for us, we engage in a field of delight with discipline that propels us to see the work set before us. Yet, we are drawn back constantly to commune with the Holy Spirit to empower us and enliven us to God’s plan for us and how that affects us and others we meet.
When our roots are firmly planted, we can experience joy, not just a state of happiness, but true joy. We learn how to love ourselves, manage self-control and to know peace within our hearts. With strong, deep roots, we can express our faithfulness in the God who created us, the Word he gives us, and the Son he sent to redeem us.
Then, being secure in all we are as children of God, and our roots are firmly planted in good soil, we are able to produce love, kindness, and gentleness toward others.
There are so many things that try to hamper our growth. Things that try to choke out our existence so that evil can prevail. This is why it is necessary to keep our roots deep in good, rich soil and plenty watered for continual freshness and renewal.
Let’s face it, we are sowers in a barren world. However, our strength and nourishment does not come from the world of fruit cankered with jealousy, hatred, selfishness, violence and distrust. Our nourishment comes from a refreshing and constant well of growth through a relationship in the garden with God.
And let me make one final point. God does not seek our perfection in the fruit of the Spirit, only our presence. Growing up, I thought I had to be perfect to “get into heaven.” With this way of thinking, you are trained that you have to be perfect and there is no room for failure. Imperfection and failure, however, are paths to knowledge and maturity.
The journey in growing and gathering good, strong fruit is slow, sometimes not rewarding, and definitely a lifelong process. And on this journey, to help keep our roots firmly planted and gather productive fruit, we have a welcomed companion and advocate in the Holy Spirit.
A very good friend recently gave me a book by Charlie Mackesy, titled, “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.” This book about kindness between four unlikely characters begins with the boy saying to the mole, “Hello.”
From this initial word of welcome springs a journey of adventures, relationships forged along the way in doubt and mistrust that end in beautiful friendship. Their journey together reveals every day challenges that we all face in life, and how we can move forward in kindness helping each other along the way.
The author writes in the introduction of his book,
‘I hope this book encourages you, perhaps, to live courageously with more kindness for yourself and for others. And to ask for help when you need it, which is always a brave thing to do.
When I was making the book I often wondered, who on earth am I to be doing this? But as the horse says: “the truth is everyone is winging it.”’
The truth is we are all winging it in life, and mishaps are going to happen along the way because we are not created perfect. Yet when we keep our roots deeply planted in good soil and spread seeds of kindness, we experience joy that reminds us we were loved into being by an ever present Creator that continues to provide for us and sustain us.
Jesus often quoted stories of vines and branches that were deeply rooted in God’s abiding love. How remarkable it is when we acknowledge that we are objects of our God’s delight!
As Sowers of the garden of God’s delight, are we doing all we are called to do to keep our roots growing firmly in good soil? Are we doing all that we can do to help each other grow together into the Fruit of the Spirit to make a difference in the body of this church and in this community?
With the right knowledge and focus received through the Holy Spirit, we can break old ways of thinking and praying and move into new beginnings, a fresh start blessed by the will of God.
In the coming weeks, let us be in prayer for our PNC and our congregational meeting on July 30th following our lunch in the fellowship hall. I invite everyone to come participate in conversation, including our visitors that are here every Sunday. We don’t think of you as visitors any longer, rather part of our congregation, a part of our family. We would value your input and feedback as well.
Let us pray with a vision of sowers working together with deep, strong roots to produce fruit in the Holy Spirit as one body in Christ. Let us have faith enough to know that God will provide the nourishment for what we need as a body of Christ, and all that is required to plant and harvest. Amen.
*Cover Art by Stushie Art; used with subscription