Be Good Soil Out of Joy

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10)
July 13, 2014

The Rev. Eric Jeuland —

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

Be good soil,
and do it out of joy,
not out of guilt.

In his parable and his interpretation of it, Jesus warns his disciples of certain conditions which lead to arrested spiritual development.  Jesus here puts some pressure on his listeners to prepare themselves against 3 challenges:

  1. the evil one                     who snatches the seeds away,
  2. shallow roots                  which cannot support a mature plant, and
  3. the cares of the world     which choke the plant and stop the growth.

As far as it goes, it is a good challenge, useful and true.

But first I want to make sure we hear the good news of God’s love and grace. Jesus does put some pressure on, offers a challenge; I want to first focus on the context, which is grace. We do need to be good soil, but for the right reasons. Being great soil for the wrong reasons won’t work either. So we have to back up and start from God’s grace.

To be sure, we definitely need to hear the challenge of the allegory, I personally need to remember daily to make myself receptive to God’s love, to allow that love to go deep, and to be vigilant lest the stress and worry of worldly things crowd out my trust in God.

But there it is right there: my trust in God. At the end of the day, the good news is that God loves us, and has come to us in Christ, and continually returns to us in love through the Holy Spirit, through the sacraments, and through our friends. God gladly takes all the pressure on himself first.

GRACE is that God does this without our help, without our input, without our participation. As Paul tells us a few chapters earlier in Romans 5, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” and a few verses ahead of our reading today he will return to the graciousness of God’s love: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, … nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.”

So, if we are challenged to remain vigilant and wary–and we are–it is a vigilance that is completely powered by our experience of joy and peace from God and our expectation for more of the same. Again, our vigilance need not come from a place of fear of God’s wrath or sense of duty toward a particular set of rules. We have come through the dark cave of judgement and out into the light of Christ’s resurrection into an open space where there is no wrath of God to contend with, no set of rules to get right with God.

Still, If you are anything like me, on a good day when you have said your prayers and pulled the metaphorical weeds from around your heart you might feel a certain satisfaction–I’ve done my part, I am in good shape. Good for me.

That attitude is a huge mistake; it is THE mistake. That’s the trouble with hearing in this passage only a challenge to step up and do our duty–it threatens to allow us to feel secure–again, on a good day–in our own efforts, our own sense of control, our own moral strength, our own natural inheritance.

All of the striving in the world is nothing without the Love of God fueling it with God’s peace and God’s joy. The worst weeds of all are the weeds of self-sufficiency and self-justification. These will eventually circle back upon us in the form of anxiety and perfectionism, not to mention judgmentalism against our sisters and brothers. These leave little room for the growth of the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience. These leave little room for the growth of God’s love in our hearts that is meant to bless others as well.

So be good soil,
do it out of joy and anticipation of God’s miracles,
not out of guilt or self-justification.

So a good question to ask is HOW? How do we get from here to there? How do we become good soil for a Kingdom that is not in our hands in one sense and yet, we are told, is in some measure up to us?

I can’t give you step by step how to instructions, but I can share a time I think I experienced God’s blessing in such a way that I also became a blessing for others, and how that made me want to be good soil without even really knowing it. It’s less about doing anything in particular as an agent and more about our receptivity as conduits of God’s love passing through us for the sake of others.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine, Jake, from years ago. We met at church, and we were both lay leaders in different capacities.

We met doing a ministry similar to Chapel on the Green here. Every week, a group of us from the church would carpool over to a local park on a rough side of Chicago, set up a grill, light up the charcoal, and greet whoever we met there.

Jake and I would lead different parts. I felt most drawn to praying for people one on one before and after the service. Jake was much more extroverted and he welcomed–often brought–newcomers, and shared the message, the homily if you will, on many occasions. I loved ministering with him and the other folks at the park.

But guess what? … There was a lot more that differentiated Jake and me than the introvert-extrovert dynamic. I said we’d met at the park ministry–we’d actually met at the park. Jake basically lived in the park. He would always be there when we pulled up our caravan of cars. Once he knew we would keep showing up, HE was THERE to greet US. Jake was a huge part of that ministry, and really more than anyone else, he came to define the tone of the community that gathered there.

Long story short, Jake and I became friends, as I said. He would come to church on Sundays and we would always catch up and laugh together. It was really amazing how good friends we became despite our many differences.

I am sharing this story because it is an example of becoming better soil without it feeling like work or duty. It was a natural byproduct of being part of something great God was doing. Most of all I learned to want to be good soil out of joy and anticipation of the miracles God was doing in and around me.

Because here was the biggest miracle for me: my friendship with Jake, as much as it may have been a blessing for him–and let’s not get ahead of ourselves with that–it was truly a blessing for me. Not because it assuaged my sense of middle-class, liberal arts educated guilt but because God continually reminded me that actually, we are not so different from each other. Most importantly, we are both in total need of God’s charity. Peace, joy, and purpose are God’s to give no matter where you are from or what you do for a living. And God doesn’t hesitate to give, God is eager. Jake and I, we are the same, in the Kingdom of God where it matters most, we are brothers.

The fruit of that ministry for both of us was a joy and peace that we never would have known without God bringing us together. Our partnership with God bore fruit in that growing ministry because God brought us to authentic relationship and friendship. That spirit brought others and blessed them as well.

Whenever we take up a challenge to grow spiritually, it is so important to remember that God loved us first. Anything we contribute ourselves is simply done to make space for God’s love to flow through us for the sake of others. Let’s be honest, God knows we are not all born into this world with the same natural inheritance–but let’s not allow that to hold us back from claiming our true inheritance–the spiritual one, in Christ, the one that matters most–God’s supernatural peace and joy.

So be good soil, but when you have a self-aware moment, take that time to say to yourself not a self-congratulatory “Good for me,” but instead “Thank you, God, for blessing me with these undeserved riches, your peace and joy; help me pass them on and bless others as I have been blessed.” AMEN