Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 16, 2017
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (RCL Proper 10, Year A)
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
Soul of Soil

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The book, The Soul of Soil, used to teach Organic Farming, opens with this quote by Helen Keller[1] :

What a joy it is
To feel the soft, spring earth | under my feet once more

To follow grassy roads | that lead to ferry brooks
While I can bathe my fingers
in a cataract of rippling notes,
Or to clamber over a stone wall
into green fields that
Tumble and roll and climb | in riotous gladness!

I say, “Let Anyone with Ears Listen!”

My partner is an Organic Farmer. When we first moved here in 2015, Leah’s first “nesting” activity was to get the garden going.  She pulled out the weeds that had grown waste-high double-dug the earth below, laid down cardboard, covered it in 5 cubic yards of compost and covered all that with leaves. Then winter happened.  We waited.  The soil rested.

As the soil rested, it became nutrient rich, consisting of living, dying, decaying and dead things that make up organic matter.  And that is the work of an organic famer: to tend the soil.  See, I have learned from her that soil is the heart of sustainable farming – not just the seeds, nor the watering schedule, nor the sun.  It’s all soil management.  This experience of living with an organic urban garden opened my eyes to the gospel text in a new way.  What captivated my imagination today is how Jesus teaches his disciples about soil management.  “You gotta have good soil,” you can almost hear him say.

In the parable of the sower, any farmer listening would have been cringing at the wastefulness of this way of farming. 

But parables are dangerous things. They make us think we know how it ends, but then it has a twist.  And in this parable, with Jesus teaching from a boat with the farmers lined up on the seashore, they hear him tell the story….

He gets their attention – he is talking about their livelihood. He’s talking about planting. A farmer goes out to sow and tosses seed everywhere. The farmers think: yes, I know about that. (See, Palestinian farmers sowed before they plowed. The field wasn’t prepared; it was just sown and then plowed and fertilized. Over the winter, paths got packed down, fields tossed up rocks, vines and thorns took over.)Jesus mentions these things. “Yes, I know,” they mumble.  I know all about planting and getting nothing; I know about the year we didn’t even get enough crop to make back the seed, I know about the year the sun scorched and there was no rain.

And we are thinking: yes, I know too about all those places in life that are just like that: hard places, rocky places, places where everything I give gets taken away, places where I felt like I was being choked. I know, I know. Do you know this experience? You start out fine; you sow your seed. You make plans, you start a business, you get married, everything looks bright. But things happen.

Maybe someone gets sick; maybe it turns out the person you put your faith in lets you down, hard. Maybe you start your business with a great plan but the economy falls apart. It’s rocky. There’s no credit, no help, and no money coming in. Maybe something thorn comes into you and your whole life is oriented around some substance, alcohol or another drug. All these are weeds; all these are shallow ground, rocks, seed being eaten up.

When these things happen, we often ask why; what we can ask is, “What now?”

Jesus isn’t answering why; but he does have an answer for “what now”. His answer is to keep faith. Tend the soil.

“But some seed falls on good ground,” he says. And then, then he goes on to say what can hardly be believed: yields of thirty, sixty, a hundred fold. The farmers are mumbling now, they know that a good yield is five or six times what you plant, ten if you get lucky. Thirty fold? Sixty fold? A hundred? What kind of farming is this? But some of the farmers are thinking too, yes, sometimes you do get it just right, sometimes it seems everything falls into place, and a quiet little miracle happens.

And what are you thinking? Are you thinking about those miracles? Are you thinking about the time a child came to you and climbed in your lap and apropos of nothing at all said, “Mom, I love you” or the time you fell in love or the time a stranger drove by your community garden and said I believe in your work and offers to mow the field around the garden, for free, for the rest of the summer

See, where there are rocks, then there are miracles, where there are things that eat up what you plant, then there are harvests you never expected, where there are thorns, then there are also the bright blooms that surprise and delight.

And, although these days the world seems to be constantly spreading the hard, rocky and thorny news that there is not enough… and although news and politics seems to have created in our hearts and minds a profound sense of scarcity and inadequacy… and although we are tempted to believe not only do we not have enough, but in the end we are not enough, well actually, today’s good news is that God the sower scatters seeds of grace and love all about.  God does not hold back!  God is not worried if there will be enough seed or grace or love.  Sure, we need to tend the soil of our hearts and do spiritual practices like waiting in the winter while the living, dying, decaying and dead aspects of our inner lives create rich soil.

And then God, that reckless farmer, continues to let the seeds of love fall where they may – on paths, on rocks, on thorns, on the finely prepared soil of our soul. God doesn’t care about wasting love because there is enough and at the end of the day. God believes in humanity – that we ARE enough. We are enough to deserve love, dignity and respect.  We are enough.  I don’t know about you, but I need to keep hearing that!

Because we are enough, we do know “what now,” because God loves us more that we can ask or imagine and keeps showering seeds of grace. Because God loves us, God calls us to stand up to fear and scarcity that fuels prejudice, racism, homophobia, greed and violence. Because God loves us,

God invites us to live into our baptism covenant to strive for justice and peace.

As we continue to tend the organic soil of our heart with spiritual practices and tenderness, may we, today, know the unconditional, even reckless, love of God.  Right here, right now – just as we are.

There is enough. You are enough.  God’s love is enough.

Let anyone with ears, listen!


[1] Joe Smillie and Grace Gershuny, The Soul of Soil, (White River Junction (VT), Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 1999)