On What Ground?

Mark 4:1-9          On What Ground?      February 19, 2012
I’ve come across a term in some reading I’ve done that I really like.
The term is “guerilla gardening”, and it refers to the practice of people planting seeds in really unlikely places.  These people might be walking along, and they’ll plant a seed in a crack of a sidewalk or a parking lot, or in some dirt beside a fire hydrant.
The people who do this see it as a little act of subversion, helping a little bit of God’s creation break into the concrete jungle.
I like the idea; claiming unlikely space to try to grow something beautiful, something that has potential to bear fruit and beautify the world.
I think that’s the kind of thing Jesus is really talking about when he tells this parable about the farmer sowing seed.
But let’s start from the beginning.
We get a glimpse of what Jesus means in this parable, because later in the chapter, his disciples come to him and ask him what he meant with it.
He responds by telling them that the ground represents a receptive humanity, and the seed represents the word of God.
We’re not told who the farmer is, only that he isn’t very efficient.
I haven’t gardened much, and I’ve never been a farmer, but I do know enough not to sprinkle seeds everywhere, because it’s a waste!  You only want seeds where you know they’ll grow, right?
So this farmer is either sloppy and lazy, or he’s got more seed than he knows what to do with!
Actually, in the first century, food was scarce, and fields were only so big, so every bit of free ground was a potential growing site.
So the farmer is generous with his seed; which Jesus explains is the word of God, which is indeed abundant.
And there are four types of soil represented in this story, but only one of them bears the abundant crop that the farmer is after.
So, the obvious question that comes from this reading is “what kind of soil are you?”
Are you the well-worn path that’s turned as hard as pavement?  This is a cynical kind of soil, a soil that’s not receptive or useful for anything other than traipsing the same tired route from point A to point B that turned it into a path in the first place.
I can relate to that kind of soil.  I’m pretty packed down myself, I’ve got my ideas and I’m not real open to changing them.
Or, are you the rocky soil?  Did you receive the word with great joy at first, but never let it take full root in your life?
Are you the kind of person who’s all flash and no bang?  The kind of person who gets swept up in the emotion of this moment and the truth you understand right now; so much that you can’t help but show everyone just how much it means, and just how much you’ve changed?
Are you the soil that hears a new idea and runs with it RIGHT NOW; almost unable to ditch the old ways fast enough to make room for this plant; this seed, this new expression of what it is God wants to grow in your life?
I’ve been there, too.  It’s easy to end up rootless.  It’s unavoidable; the sun is going to rise, the wind is going to blow, and whatever it is that’s taking shape needs to have some roots to it, otherwise it quickly withers and blows away.
It needs the nutrients and the water that can only be found underneath the surface.  And if all that’s there is rock, we’re no better off than the well-trodden, cynical path.
Or maybe you’re the thorny ground.  And believe me, I can relate to this ground, too.
It represents a life that is so chock full of weeds and distractions that the seeds just don’t have the room they need to grow.
This is the life that receives the word and lets it grow, wants it to grow alongside the other plants that it’s supporting…but in the end our lives, like soil, can only support a few things at a time.
Weeds choke out the seedling, and my life is full of weeds as well.
But realizing all of these things makes me ask the question…where is the fertile ground?
Where is the good soil?
On who’s ground is God growing this abundant harvest; thirty, and sixty, and a hundred times what was planted?
None of us would suggest we’re the good soil, would we?
None of us would dare to look to our own lives to find the acreage where the seed can fall and take root and find the space and the nutrients and the sunshine it needs to sprout and grow and produce the abundant harvest it was meant to produce.
We’ve all been hardened by cynicism, we’ve all got rocky patches in our lives, and we’ve all got weeds growing up in the forgotten recesses of our souls.
Nevertheless, the farmer didn’t withhold the seed of God’s word; the seed of the gospel.
Our lives aren’t the most hospitable places for the word that has been sown in us.
All of us can identify some rocks, or some weeds, or some packed-down, cynical places within us that need worked on in order to become more receptive to the seeds being scattered indiscriminately upon us.
…So, how’s the meaning change if we see ourselves as the farmer?
Then the question turns from “what kind of soil are you” to “where are you sowing?”
The farmer in the parable throws the seed everywhere.  He’s indiscriminate, because he knows the nature of seed.
He knows that seed will grow wherever the conditions are right, and that if one sprouts among the weeds, there’s greater chance of more growing there the next season, especially if he rips the weeds out.
Or, he knows that if he gets something to grow in the rocky patch, he can pay more attention to that area, he can dig down and get the rocks up to give the seeds deeper soil to grow in.
One thing seems certain though; you can’t harvest what you don’t sow.
I can imagine, in first century Palestine farmers would plant their seeds anywhere there was room, anywhere the seeds had even the smallest chance to grow, because you don’t get anywhere by not trying.
So where are you planting the word God has given you?
Are you sticking to the tilled ground, saving your seed for just the right conditions?  Or are you as generous and as indiscriminate as the farmer in this parable?
The kingdom of God isn’t like a modern-day cornfield, where great care is taken, chemicals applied, and the conditions carefully manipulated to ensure the harvest is as big as possible.
Rather, it’s more like guerilla gardening; planting seeds wherever you can.
We are the farmer, but the mystery is that we are also the soil!
The rocky, weedy, well-worn patches in our lives are the ones that need attention.
Later in this chapter, Jesus talks about seeds again, and he basically says there’s no way farmers can make seeds grow.
Growing is God’s business, not ours.
All we can do is clear the space the seeds need.
Before we moved here, we lived in a place called ‘Rockingham county’.  It’s named that for a reason.  There are rocks everywhere.
I remember digging a hole to plant a shrub at someone’s house, and as we dug, we kept finding rocks.  Most of them you’d work on awhile and they’d come out fairly easily.
But the one I remember best… we could only see maybe 6 inches, buried about a foot from the top.  ; we couldn’t break it, and we had limited tools, so we started digging this thing out…20 minutes or half an hour later, it was all we could do; four adult men; to finally unearth the thing and lift it out.
It was enormous; but it was in the wrong place.  The owners of the house wanted to plant a shrub there…so plant a shrub we did!
It takes hard work to prepare the soil, and it often turns into a bigger job than you think it will.
But that’s the glaring omission in this story that Jesus tells.
It doesn’t look like the farmer prepares the ground at all!  He just walks around scattering his seeds!
It’s like he has so many he doesn’t know what to do with them all, so he’s interested in just seeing what comes up in the unlikely places!
That’s the beauty of guerilla gardening!  You never know what might come up, or where something beautiful might sprout!
For example, maybe God’s word hits the soil, and a group of people plant a new church in a town not far from where they were all going to church to begin with.  Sure, the ground must’ve been rocky, hard, and even weedy…but the seed took root and started to grow.
And almost 60 years later, here we are.
Maybe God’s word hits the soil, and after a time, a thrift store grows up from it, serving mission fields both locally and internationally as well!
Or maybe because of the lay of the land, the seed hits and produces something called the training center, where services are offered to people with developmental disabilities.
Maybe the word hits the ground, and up comes a sugar shack operation, where maple syrup is produced and given away in exchange for donations to a Honduran scholarship fund.
Maybe the word hits the ground, and up comes a vision for a house where young adults can explore things like vocation, calling, and ministry.
These were all nothing more than seeds at one time, and you’ve got to be joking to think the ground was nicely tilled and free of rocks and weeds when they hit the soil.
And the thing is, we’re just getting started!
60 years is just the beginning!
God’s word is living and active and there is no end to it!
We have nothing to lose, but everything to gain!
What are you planting?  Where are you planting it?  What Rocks, what Weeds, what Tired, well-trodden, compacted ground are you working with?
This body; this broken, rocky, weedy body is here to help.
I can’t wait to see what comes up, and where it will grow.                  Amen

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