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       Sermons | Passionate worship

      This sermon was preached by Pastor Keith Cardwell at Swift Presbyterian Church.

      Aug. 15, 2021 | 12th Sunday after Pentecost

      What Makes ‘Good’ Soil?
      Fourth sermon in a series,
      ‘Locating Your Place in God’s Story’

      Luke 8:11–15

       J ESUS IS ASKED, “Why do you talk to the people in parables?” His fairly long answer can be summarized as, “because I want people to listen, to see, and to think.”

      Through parables, Jesus gives us an idea of what the Kingdom of God looks like and then challenges us to use our brains and our talents to create it. This way of building is sometimes sloppy and maybe requires some tearing down and starting over, but it is empowering. As children of God, we are invited to take what we learn from Jesus and to mold it into something that is good and life giving to others.

      † † †

      THE WORD OF GOD is scattered and falls on non-productive soil. Hard soil, the seed is consumed by birds. Rocky soil, the seed sprouts but withers. The weedy soil, the seed grows but is crowded out.

      This progression of soils indicates progress toward yielding crops. (So, there is hope for you and for me. Whatever soil is in our hearts.)

      After all, that’s the goal. That’s what seeds are for. To bring forth a harvest. Apples. Cherries. Corn. Wheat. Flowers. And to produce even more seeds to be sown on other soil. Soil is the medium that makes harvest possible.

      † † †

      THEN THERE’S the good soil. What you want to grow determines if soil is “good.” If you want to grow a pitcher plant, you need good soil in a bog. If you want to grow a cactus, that requires a completely different soil.

      The assumption of the parable is that we want to grow the Kingdom of God. That takes a special type of soil. Of course, this is where we claim to be. Right? Morally good, spiritually healthy, bountiful in fruitful living. I mean we even have a banner hanging that proclaims our fruitfulness.

      But the truth is good soil is hard to come by. And harder to maintain.

      † † †

      IT WOULD BE NICE if it were as simple as buying a bag of ‘good soil’ at the gardening center. But good soil in a bag is not what’s claimed.

      Just one recent review of store-bought good soil: “I purchased 20 bags of [name omitted] Topsoil to fill up a front flower bed two weeks ago. I also put mulch on top to make the flower bed look better. A few days ago, I saw little green stems popping up from the mulch. I thought it was some grass clipping laying on top, but it is weeds. Hundreds of little, tiny weeds that are sprouting up everywhere I mixed the [name omitted] Topsoil in the bed.”

      † † †

      A GARDENER OR A FARMER will tell you that good productive soil takes a lot of work. It must be fed and nurtured. Producing a bountiful crop is hard on soil. Nutrients must be replenished.

      Fertilizer, or compost, and other ingredients must be added again and again to the soil. Good soil can develop in nature, as years of leaves fall and dissolve into the earth.

      Good soil can also be the dedicated labor of gardeners transforming hard, rocky, weedy soil into soil filled with beneficial microbes and earthworms and nitrogen and carbon. I’ll leave it up to you to determine ways to improve the quality of your heart-soil.

      † † †

      AS I’VE SAID BEFORE, we might represent the soil in this parable, but we are not passive — a helpless clump of dirt.

      You might say we are also gardeners. Gardeners cultivate the soil with the goal of producing good fruit. The Word of God comes to us. We till the soil. We cast out rocks. We pull weeds. We replenish the soil with nutrients of God’s grace and love. Our reading says:

      “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

      As we are obedient to God’s word in our own lives, we bear the fruit of righteousness which comes from the Spirit working within each of us as believers.

      † † †

      WE CAN NAME what makes a fruitful congregation (name these out loud) — radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity.

      We can memorize the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

      But here’s the thing. Those lists of fruitful, bountiful, a hundred times more than is sown, harvests all point beyond us.

      What makes soil “good” is soil that produces a heart for others. Seeing value in everybody. When we step away from ourselves and notice there are ways that we can make someone else’s life better. Tilling the soil of our hearts, throwing out the stony obstacles, pulling the weeds, nurturing again and again our lives with God’s Word so that we get up in the morning thinking how I can make someone else’s life better. That, my friends, is the harvest of good soil. (Some of this is reworked from Ernie Johnson’s talk to UofA athletes on Aug. 11, 2021.)

      † † †

      THERE’S A SAYING, “Even at our best, we are only out for ourselves.”

      We live in a world where everything focuses on self. And we are taught to prep our soil for fruitful selfishness.

      We till our hearts to harvest self-interest, self-satisfaction, self-protection, self-liberty, self-fulfillment. Personal advantage, personal consumption. Me, myself and I. Looking out for #1. Showing who’s boss. Coming out on top.

      † † †

      JESUS FACED every self-serving temptation. But his life was filled with good soil of a heart for others.

      The opportunities to bear such fruit are endless: “With Christ, there is no ordinary. With Christ, every encounter, every task, every situation brims with divine possibility to make other people’s lives better.”

      — Keith Cardwell   

      «What makes soil ‘good’ is soil that produces a heart for others. Seeing value in everybody. When we step away from ourselves and notice there are ways that we can make someone else’s life better.»


      This is the Word of God for the people of God:

      Luke 8:11–15
      Holy Bible, New International Version

      11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

      — This is the Word of the Lord.
      — Thanks be to God.

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