July 13, 2014
Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sermon Title:"Seeds of Life" (aka "The Manure Sermon)
Rev. George N. Miller
Have you ever met someone who is so centered, so spiritual, that it radiates from their very being? Someone so full of life that it’s contagious; whose smile holds the light of the world?
If so, did you have the chance to sit down and talk with them? I mean really talk?
Did you discover that that person’s life was not always so easy, not everyone in their life was always so nice, and there were times as if it seemed as though trouble would last always?
These are the people I’m so impressed with. I am amazed to hear what some people have endured.
I’m inspired by those who have lost everything at one point in their life and yet found their way back.
I am astounded at how the spark of life continues to shine in those who have faced the darkest of night. Of those who can proudly sing “This is my story, this is my song.”
It is as if they are the most beautiful of flowers who made their way up through the mucky-est of dirt.
In today’s scripture, Jesus talks about soil and seeds. Some are eaten by birds, some land among the rocks, others fall among the weeds.
But other seeds fall into good soil, striking root and flourishing, producing a bounty of 30, 60, 100 fold.
Now that’s a mighty bounty. That’s some good soil. But what is it that makes soil so good?
Is it sugar and spice and everything nice?
I remember back when I planted a tree and wanted to put some flowers around it. I went to the local flower shop and the man there led me to red leaf begonias, saying they’d do just fine in the shade.
I asked what else was needed and do you know what he pointed me to?
A big ol’ bag of cow manure.
I knew nothing about gardening and I certainly had never purchased manure before, but I was sure he knew best, so I came home with 8 begonias and 10 pounds of manure and went to work, digging, planting, and covering the flowers and tree with dried-out cow droppings.
And wouldn’t you know it: he was right! The begonias thrived, their colors popped. The tree grew, going from a virtual twig to six feet high. Soon there were sparrows sitting on its limbs.
The success of the begonias, the tree and the sparrow community could’ve been attributed to the amount of care they received, or the amount of rainfall and sunshine that season, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of their success had to do with what had been placed in the soil: good old, American-made, cow manure.
That’s what made the soil so good.
Manure has been used for centuries. It’s cost effective, rich in nitrogen and other nutrients, trapping in good bacteria which allow organisms to feed on it, making the ground fertile.
But it does more than that. Manure increases the ground’s ability to hold water, lessens wind and water erosion, and improves aeration.
That’s a lot of good stuff that comes from something so stinky.
Something else about manure: for it to work best, it can’t be fresh. It’s best if it’s allowed time to sit, to break down, before being added to the soil.
Now let’s pause here for a moment. Chances are this not a sermon you expected to hear at church.
But don’t forget that Jesus preached to the folk of his day: those who fished, those who farmed, those who knew what it was like to get their hands dirty.
And as we heard, Jesus taught about seeds and soil.
The truth is that really good soil, the kind in which you want to grow your plants, vegetables and trees, is soil enriched with manure.
Which, when you think about it, makes this parable about the Sower that much more interesting.
Anyone who works the earth can tell you that nature is a mystery. There’s a lot of waste and death and nature is designed to take that which is broken down and dead and use it to create new life.
Therefore, really good soil is not soil full of sugar and spice and everything nice, but good soil is full of decaying matter, organisms, and manure.
I believe this applies to us as well. That when we think about it, it is not always just the good things which happen that makes us who we are.
It can often be the bad, difficult, heartbreaking things we’ve encountered that have molded and shaped who we are.
Think about who you are and where you are today. Is it just your successes and happy times that have brought you here?
Or have the losses, the struggles, the sacrifices played a role in making you who you are?
Think back to the times when a worship service spoke to you the most, or when the words of Jesus seemed to pour into your heart.
Was it when life was full of all goodness and sugar? Or was it when life seemed to be filled with heartbreak and decay?
We each have had our own struggles, our own pain, our own manure.
The challenges we’ve had to face that we would much rather not; the hurts and pains; the dead ends and disappointments. The dreams left behind.
The illnesses that ravage our bodies; the people that death has robbed us of.
We try not to think about these things. We try to ignore them. They bother us, they hurt and they stink. We try to deny their existence, to blame others or to run away.
But those aches and pains, they are ours, like it or not. They become our own personal manure.
But here is the Good News: those things that hurt, those things that stink, they can actually become the very elements which God uses, which God breaks down, which God is able to transform into the nutrients that make us into better people.
Nutrients that make us suitable for a specific ministry God is calling us too.
Nutrients that open us up to possibilities we could not even imagine.
Nutrients that can help us to thrive and to flourish.
Those elements of decay may feel like waste, but to God they can be used to create ground for new life and the fulfillment of purposes yet to be realized.
God takes all that junk we experience and through the miracle of grace and compassionate love, God uses them to build us and God’s Kingdom up.
Creating in us soil that is able to weather erosion from the wind because we have faced it before and realized that we can survive again.
Soil that is able to hold water because we know enough now of what to hold onto, and what and when, to let go.
Soil that is good and ready to create a place for God to plant a seed within us, where it can strike roots, grow, and make its way to the surface.
A seed that can say “Despite it all, I am still here.”
When we try to hide our loss and pain from God, we are actually preventing the chance for God to plant the seeds of new beginning we can all benefit from.
In conclusion, the most beautiful of flowers and the most abundant of crops often come from soil that has been strengthened by the problems and the adversities we have faced.
When life does not go our way, when things get difficult, when we find ourselves hurt and lonely, sometimes the best thing we can do is say
“Lord, this is my stuff. It hurts and it stinks and I can’t make any sense of it. So I give it to you.
Take it from me. Do with it what you will: break it down, till it and turn it into good soil. Plant your seeds, so your kingdom will grow, so something beautiful can emerge.”
And after you say these words, take a deep breath and step back because you might just be amazed.
Because God can take that manure you have faced, God will take all that you have been through, and from there create new life and create new hope.
God did that when the world was first created. God did that when the Hebrew slaves were led into the Promised Land.
And God most certainly did that three days after Jesus was crucified on the cross.
God will create something that makes everyone, including you, step back and say “Wow. This is truly God, and this is truly good.”
We may not see it this season, or the next, but God is always working for the sake of the Kingdom.
All praises to the Master Sower, to the Son who helps to sow the seeds and to the Spirit that continues to shower us with light and with life.
Amen and amen.