Sunday’s Sermon: Cultivating the Soil of Our Lives

  • Let me ask you something this morning. When was the last time you paused to think about dirt? Really think about it?
    • Complex make up[1]
      • Decomposing leaves
      • Particles of rock
      • Other various organic matter
    • And while soil may not be technically alive, anyone who works with it – professionally or as a hobby – can tell you what a changing and changeable substance soil truly is. → change it by …
      • Adjust the pH (the acidity level) to grow different kinds of plants
      • Our gardens – work in compost to enrich soil to help our vegetables grow healthier
      • Soil = booming business!
        • Farmers spend thousands and thousands of dollars every year preparing their soil for spring planting
        • Lawn care industry in the U.S. is a multi-BILLION (yup … that’s with a “B,” billion) dollar industry
    • Soil is definitely a changeable substance. It can be cultivated. It can be enriched. It can be fortified for the sake of whatever’s growing in it. And like soil, we ourselves are changeable as well. We can be cultivated. We can we enriched. We can be fortified by our faith and by God’s Word.
  • In today’s NT Scripture, the way the seeds grow = affected by the soil on which they fall – text: 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 sprang 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 quickly. 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.[2]
    • Some of those seeds got lucky – landed in the good soil, got to grow up like the happy little plants they’re supposed to be 
    • But most of the seeds in this story weren’t so lucky. They fell on less-than-perfect soil.
      • May say, “What kind of a helter skelter, crazy way is that to plant?”  historical explanation – scholar: Unlike a modern American farmer, who carefully prepares the soil with just the right pH balance and then injects the seed into the ground, farmers in Jesus’ time cast the seed and then plow the land.[3]
      • Results of this type of planting:
        • Path = no soil/no growth at all!
        • Rocky ground = too shallow to establish roots/burned up!
        • Thorns and weeds = too crowded to grow/choked out!
    • That’s all pretty clear. And while the first half of the parable describes the seeds’ fates, in the second half of the parable, Jesus makes it clear that indeed, we are the soil that he’s talking about. – seed = Word of God
      • Seeds that fell on the path = those who hear God’s Word but don’t absorb because they don’t understand
      • Seeds that fell on rocky ground = those who hear God’s Word with joy but let that joy be quickly stolen by the trials of life
      • Seeds that fell among the thorns = those who hear God’s Word but let the naysayers and enticements of the world choke it out
  • Now, I realize that you may have heard any number of different sermons dealing with Jesus’ words here. [A couple of you may have even preached any number of different sermons on Jesus’ words here.] But this morning, instead of once again hearing Jesus’ familiar words and phrases here, I’m going to ask you to listen to what Jesus isn’t saying in this parable.
    • Do you hear Jesus saying that the soil must remain as it is? Do you hear him saying that soil must remain unchanged? That it in fact cannot be changed? I don’t. And that’s my point this morning. In America, we spend all this time, all this money, all this energy changing the soil in our lawns, our gardens, and our fields. And in this parable, Jesus is saying that we are the soil. So it stands to reason that we, in fact, can also be changed as well.
      • Some days may feel like “rocky ground” days – days when you feel your faith growing and taking root but growth is stunted by worries, conflict, many distractions of life  before we know it, we’re burned out
      • Some days may feel like “weedy” days – feel the joy of God at first but joy is quickly choked off by struggles at work or in our personal relationships, all those little and not-so-little things that get us down  before we know it, we can’t even see the sun
      • Some days feel like “path” days – just sort of blah, nothing grabbing you, nothing inspiring you, not much going on at all  before we know it, apathy has whitewashed our whole days/spirits
      • But there are also some days when we feel like good soil. There are some days when our faith flourishes in us, nurturing ourselves and the people around us, enriching our lives and fortifying our spirits.
        • Recent e.g. – Peace Camp, watching youth of our two congregations working together to teach and learn and play and have faith together  good soil!
  • OT passage this morning gives great e.g. for someone changing soil of life  Jacob
    • You see, Jacob is an interesting biblical character.
      • There’s a lot that rides on Jacob’s shoulders.
        • 12 tribes of Israel stem from Jacob’s sons
        • That promise God made Abraham – “great nation shall come from you” – descends through Jacob (Isaac’s son)
      • Feel kinda bad for Jacob later on in narrative
        • Falls madly in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel after seeing her from afar  works 7 years for right to marry Rachel  Laban tricks Jacob on his wedding night and gives him other daughter, Leah, instead  poor Jacob has to work another 7 years to marry Rachel
    • That being said, let’s face it – in today’s Scripture reading, Jacob’s kind of a jerk.
      • Not entirely Jacob’s fault/own doing – Isaac and Rebekah set stage for serious sibling rivalry: When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.[4]  Dad loved one twin more, and Mom loved the other twin more. Yikes. Okay, Peter and I may be far from experts, but even we’ve already figured out that this is not the way to raise twins … or any kids, for that matter!
        • Certainly paves the way for antagonism between Jacob and Esau
      • Jacob’s not-so-shining moment today: Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” … Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” Jacob said, “Swear to me first.”[5]
        • Scholar puts it pretty succinctly: Jacob takes egregious advantage of another person in need.[6]  Like I said, Jacob’s kind of a jerk!
        • Not Jacob’s only less-than-stellar moment[7]
          • (With his mother’s help), out-and-out steals firstborn blessing from Esau when Isaac’s on his deathbed – dressed up in lambs’ wool to impersonate Esau’s hairiness and took advantage of Isaac’s blindness  Esau was so enraged that Jacob fled
          • Doesn’t treat Leah well after finds out he’s married to her instead of Rachel
          • Strained relationship with his father-in-law that basically ends up bankrupting him (again, not entirely Jacob’s fault but also not wholly innocent in the matter)  leads to Jacob having to flee Syria with his wives, his children, and all he owns
    • Suffice to say Jacob was less-than-perfect. But that didn’t mean that God gave up on him.
      • As he’s fleeing Laban and returning to his homeland – Jacob has an encounter in which he finds himself literally wrestling with God[8]
        • Result – Jacob is a changed man
          • Name changed from Jacob (“deceiver”) to Israel (connotations of striving with God)
          • Changed in demeanor – returns to Esau penitent and humble  brothers are reconciled (at least for a little while)
        • This is another reason why Jacob is such a great example for us this morning as we talk about changing the soil of our lives. First, Jacob made the change. But it’s also important to note that that change wasn’t instantaneous. It wasn’t casual. And it certainly wasn’t easy. It was a hard-fought contest in which he literally wrestled with God. This change was hard! Jacob had to get down and dirty with himself and with God in order to work through this change.
          • Not so different when we’re working with real soil
            • E.g. – kids working with Countryside Lawn and Landscaping the other day
            • Working with soil is a dirty business. It’s labor-intensive. It’s exhausting. And the results aren’t instantaneous. And sometimes, the process has to be repeated again and again.
              • E.g. – farmers apply fertilizer year after year because some plants leech nitrogen out of the soil  constant cycle of enriching and needing to be enriched, of nourishing and needing to be nourished
    • So how do we go about working through our own change?
      • Spending time in Scripture – wrestling with God, wrestling with the difficult and confusing and muddy passages
      • Spending time in prayer – again, wrestling with God, wrestling with the ups and downs of life, the questions and the doubt and the fears
      • Spending time talking and learning about our faith with other people (Christians and non-Christians alike) – wrestling with the uncomfortable questions, wrestling with the brokenness and the blessing that we find all around us
  • Along our journeys of faith, some hours, some weeks, some days are better than others … and that’s okay! Sometimes we end up wrestling with God … and that’s okay! Sometimes faith is a messy thing … and that’s okay! But as we go about this cultivation process, we do so with the knowledge and the reassurance that like Jacob and like the farmer in Jesus’ parable, God will not give up on us. The seeds of faith and hope and love continue to be sown throughout our lives – by God, by our interaction with Scripture, by other people that we encounter – and every day, we have a fresh opportunity to turn over the soil, to start a new row, to cultivate a faith that is strong and vibrant and sustaining. Amen.


[1] “What is soil made of?” The Open Door Web Site. Accessed 10 July 2014.

[2] Mt 13:4-8.

[3] Talitha J. Arnold. “Proper 10 (Sunday between July 10 and July 16 inclusive): Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 236.

[4] Gen 25:27-28.

[5] Gen 25:29-33a.

[6] Terence E. Fretheim. “The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 1. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 523.

[7] Gen 29-31.

[8] Gen 32:22-32.

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