Sermon: Soil and Seeds

Ohi'a Lehua

July 12, 2020
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

by Eric Anderson

The ohi’a lehua bloomed bright red, glinting with gold at the tip of each delicate scarlet strand. Bees and beetles came to sip its nectar, along with ‘apapane, i’iwi, ‘amakihi, and others.

After some time, though, the scarlet threads faded and dropped away. The white knobs which had been the based of the flowers began to turn brown and dry. One day one of the little brown capsules split open, then another, then another. The ohi’a seeds, tiny like grains of sand, fell to the earth or were lifted away on the wind.

One seed fell on the hardest ground you can imagine: the black rock surface of a cooled lava flow. It drank up the little water that collected there. It soaked in the sun that shone down upon it. It stretched itself until there was a root. It stretched itself again and there was a shoot. Water, sun, cracking the rock, creating its own soil, stretching for the sky: and where there had been only rock, there was a tiny rising ohi’a, unfolding its deep green leaves, planning for a season to come when it would create its own blossoms.

Another seed fell on not-quite-so-rocky ground that happened to be at the edge of a cliff. It didn’t have to make quite the effort that the first seed had to create its own soil. Its roots wrapped around the stones, helping it cling to the cliffside and keep its head in sunlight. ‘Apapane perched in its spread branches, singing of the flowers they’d discovered.

Another seed fell in the grasses, and this seed struggled. The other plants soaked up water and sunlight over and over again. Those grasses would come and go, however, growing up fast and then going brown and falling. In those intervals of fallen grass, the ohi’a pushed its stalk toward the sun, until a twelve-foot tree stood confidently over the grasses, welcoming the ‘amakihi for its visits.

And a seed fell in deep soil, well watered and well drained, with a gap in the forest canopy above for the sunlight to reach it. Its top reached seventy feet above its roots, with branches dancing with flowers, embracing the forest birds.

Four seeds. Four soils. Four different growths – and yet growth for all of them. There is a strength of life in the seed, just as there is a strength of life in every human being. The world can and does put restrictions on us, but growth is not just about the soil.

I have no idea if Jesus would have told the parable of the sower that way if he’d lived in Hawai’i. I’d like to believe that he would, but then it would have been a different story with a different message.

Jesus did make a point of emphasizing the fruitfulness of the seed. The grain yields in the story are a hundredfold, sixty, and thirtyfold. That is, if you sow a measure of barley, you’d get thirty, sixty, or a hundred measures of barley. That didn’t happen on first century farms. Roman sources describe a good crop yield as being 8 to 1 or 10 to one. In Jesus’ story, the lowest yield is already three times greater than what Romans thought was excellent.

That’s pretty special seed, which is what we’d expect from something that Jesus is comparing to the active word of God’s realm. Yet as Kathryn Matthews writes at “The sower is remarkably free in throwing the seed on all sorts of potential ‘growth areas.’ There’s no calculation or careful husbandry of the seeds in his pocket. In the face of all sorts of obstacles and dangers, the sower counts on the bountiful return of a few seeds; he imagines the plentiful harvest reaped when even a few of the seeds find fertile soil.”

It’s a pity that this special seed can’t cope with soil differences as well as the ohi’a…

Or perhaps its does.

That might be why the sower can be so incredibly cavalier about scattering it around. Seed was precious. The sower wasn’t carefully planting it; he was scattering it willy-nilly. You’d think he thought seeds grew on trees.

Which they do, of course, but in Jesus’ story it’s grain, so they didn’t.

In Jesus’ story the soil makes the difference. The soil is either completely unreceptive, or lacking depth, or surrounded by distractions. In my story the soil makes a difference, but not the difference. The plants all grew and flourished, even if the extent of their flourishing was not the same.

God’s special seed of love and grace gets spread to everyone. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Where there is no extravagance there is no love, and where there is no love there is no understanding.”

In both stories, every soil gets a chance. Every soil gets an opportunity to welcome and nurture and support the seed.

I am convinced, and not just by my own story about ohi’a seeds, that the seed of God, the word of God, the love and grace of God, can grow anywhere. It might sprout as a spindly little collection of leaves in the rock, or it might grow to tower over the forest, but I am convinced that the love and grace of God can grow in any human being.

I have also lived too long in the world to believe that it does. There, at least, it is dismally obvious that Jesus’ story is more true than mine.

We see people accept the gifts they’re given and refuse to share them with others around them. We see people claim the gifts of God to be the result of their own effort and make them available only for sale for the highest price. We see people who drive the honest from their careers and who give clemency to those who lied. We see people refuse to wear the face mask that protects others and then, from their unmasked mouths, flow torrents of bigoted abuse.

I don’t even know what kind of soil all those would be. They are soils that refuse to let the seed of love grow. They will not let the love of God find a root. They will not let the love of God blossom or bear fruit.

We must be better soil than that.

Jennifer T. Kaalund offers us a direction at Working Preacher: “Hearing spiritually is related to the concept of deep listening. Deep listening is the idea that we listen with compassion. We listen to understand and finally we listen with intention, specifically the intention to act.”

Any seed makes room for itself in the soil, room for the root and room for the shoot to make its way toward the sun. Deep listening in the human being is how we aid the seed in making that room. It is how we loosen up our spirits so that something may grow there. Listening attentively. Listening with compassion. Listening to understand. Listening with the idea that, at some point, there must be an action.

That’s how we make ourselves into good soil for the Word.

This pandemic has upended many of our notions of how the world works – whether it’s how we think it should work or not. We have watched our national public health structure struggle in an unexpected confrontation with the forces of greed. We have watched fellow citizens ignore their responsibilities to one another. We have also seen, here, that the high price of our caution has had discernable results: far less illness, far fewer deaths than other places in the country. Let us continue in that vein. The pandemic is not over. We have more caring to do.

I remain utterly convinced that the seed of God can grow anywhere. We have endless examples of places where it has grown hard, or been choked out completely. We do not need to add to those examples. We can make ourselves into a fertile soil for the love of God to grow. By listening. By letting go of our preconceptions. By wearing our facemasks and keeping our physical distance. By loving one another enough not to embrace when our hearts so desperately want to.

By compassion. By understanding. By the knowledge that love and understanding impel us to act.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

The video above includes the entire worship service of July 12, 2020. Clicking the image will start the video from just before the sermon.

The day may come when Pastor Eric makes no changes from his prepared text. That day has not, however, happened yet.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on July 12, 2020

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