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Sermon: Abundant Fruit

July 10, 2011

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Desiree and I tried the square-foot method of gardening this year.  It is ideal for people who have only a little space and limited time to devote to vegetable gardening.  Each plot is just one foot square.  You can prepare as few or as many plots as you wish.  If you only want a few carrots and nothing else, or if you only want to have to do a limited amount of weeding each week, then you only need to prepare a single plot one foot square.  If you’re more ambitious, you can work dozens of plots.

The key to the square foot method is precision.  Each type of plant requires a specific amount of room in the garden.  If you’re growing radishes, you can put 24 radishes in a single square foot plot.  If you want bell peppers, you can put only a single plant in that same square foot.  Some larger plants require more than one plot.  The basic square foot gardening book has all sorts of charts and tables that give you this information, plus seed germination times, times to harvest and other data.

There’s one other unique feature of square foot gardening.  Most experts recommend planting a number of seeds.  If you want a squash plant, build a mound and plant three seeds.  After they develop true leaves, thin out the two weakest plants and leave the strongest.  If you’re planting a row of carrots, sprinkle them all the way down the row and then thin them out so they are an inch or two apart.  But the square foot gardening method says, if you want one plant, plant one seed.  Protect that one seedling until the harvest.  There are no wasted seeds.  One seed, one plant.  The hallmarks of the square foot method are precision and frugality.

Let’s compare that with God’s gardening method.  Throw a bunch of seeds over here.  Throw a bunch of seeds over there.  Toss some on the path.  Toss some over in the rocks.  Throw a few on good soil for good measure.  Then, let’s just see what happens.

There’s no care or precision in that.  It’s wasteful.  Hey, I have an idea, God.  Why don’t you throw all of the seeds on good soil?  That way, none are eaten by birds.  All of them will have a chance to develop good roots.  None of them will get choked out by weeds.  Did you ever consider that method?!

God has some strange ways, tossing out grace left and right.  Throwing love around here and there, willy nilly, into areas where grace and love have no business being found, into places where there is almost no chance that grace can take root or love flourish.  It is maddening the way God sends precious seed here and there knowing full well that most of it will go to waste.  If the Lord were in charge of the planting on my farm, I’d have to fire God after the first season.

But this is the way God does things around here.  Jesus’ parable is descriptive.  It simply describes the way things are.  It doesn’t tell us how to fix anything or change the system.  Jesus simply says, “Here’s what happens in heaven’s kingdom.  Some people get it, but most people don’t.”  The way Jesus describes it almost makes it seem predetermined and that we’re powerless to change things.  If I’m off over in the rocks and weeds, what chance do I have?  But if I am out there on the margins, on the path where the birds are likely to snatch grace away from me, or in the rocks where I have little chance to take root, perhaps it is good news that the grace of God comes my way anyway.  God does not write me off as a loss.

Nick lived with his mother and his stepfather.  Nick’s biological father was no longer in his life.  Nick’s father had left long before, but he did leave Nick with one legacy, one skill to get by.  He had taught Nick how to sell drugs.  Nick’s mother had almost no money for clothes or food, so that skill set, the ability to sell drugs, came in handy for Nick.

Of course, that didn’t mean that life was good for Nick.  His stepfather beat him, and his mother never intervened.  Finally, one winter night when Nick was 17, his mother told Nick that either Nick had to go, or his stepfather had to go.  She made it clear that Nick was the one who would be leaving.  She sent him out the door with a garbage bag full of clothes.

For the next decade and a half, Nick made his way in the world selling drugs.  He covered over the despair in his life with a thick veneer of drug abuse and partying.  He watched his friends die and go to prison.  Finally, Nick went to prison, too.

From the moment he was born, Nick found himself right in the middle of the path.  The ground beneath him was hard and dry and compacted.  Any seed of grace was snatched right up by the birds the moment it hit the ground or it was immediately trampled underfoot.  Nick was born into this world without a chance.  Anyone could have predicted that he would have ended up in prison.  That was no surprise.  The only surprise was that Nick hadn’t been killed before he found himself behind bars.

While in prison, perhaps the worst part of the path, a place where grace and love seem almost entirely absent, Nick met some people from Alpha Prison Ministries.  Somehow, Nick met God’s grace, and oddly enough, while Nick sits there in a prison cell, he can say that his life is on track.  Against all odds, he has begun to grow a root.  He has begun to send forth shoots to the sun.

Nick saw the world in a new way.  He got his GED, scoring highest in his class.  As he says, “I started spreading my light to the darkness here….I started pouring my heart out to people…I’m a new man!  The little things that I used to take for granted are things that I now treasure.”  (Alpha Prison Ministries: “Son of a Drug Dealer.”)

I wonder how many seeds God wasted in Nick’s part of the path before one finally began to grow.  How many times did God send love and grace that was rejected or missed?  Do you think that to God it was worth it to “waste” all that valuable seed—seed that could have been bearing fruit in better soil—against the long odds that one of them might bear fruit in Nick’s soul?

Nick had every disadvantage in his life, and when the seed of grace finally took root in him, he was far behind others who had more advantages.  But the parable does not pass judgment on Nick or anyone else.  There are, however, those seeds that fell on good soil.  They bear fruit quickly and abundantly—a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold.  Those higher yields—a hundredfold and sixtyfold—are spectacular, fantastic, miraculous yields.  Bearing fruit a hundred times over is truly miraculous.  It is evidence that we have moved into the territory of the kingdom of heaven.  It is the result of grace and not our own innate abilities.

So if this parable is simply descriptive, what is its purpose?  If it just tells us what the kingdom looks like, that some people get it in a big way and other people may never have much of a prayer, how is that helpful to us as we try to be fruitful people?

Perhaps it means to tell us that our problem is that we try too hard to be fruitful in the first place.  We expend so much mental energy wrestling with questions about whether we have done enough—or are good enough—to be worthy of the kingdom.  What if the parable is telling us that God will keep working at that for us, that we don’t have much control over where we are in this life—on the path, in the rocks or the weeds, or on the good soil—and so we need to relax and grow as best we can where we are, how we are and who we are.  The growth and the abundant fruitfulness come from God’s grace, not our own efforts.

This could be a parable about trust.  Trust God, the profligate farmer, who wastes the resources of love and grace that have no business being tossed out to the margins.  Trust that God will keep sowing seed in your direction, giving you another opportunity to be fruitful if you will trust that seed, and the sun and wind and soil—whatever soil is around you—to do its work.

Trust God to keep putting the seed out there in every proper season.  Trust in God’s love and grace, and stop worrying about whether you are good enough and worthy enough for that grace.  Stop worrying about whether or not you have borne enough fruit.  Simply enjoy the fruit that you bear and be sure to share it with others.

“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

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