July 10, 2005
8th Sunday after Pentecost
"How Does Your Garden Grow?"
(Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
This morning I want to start with a short quiz.
1. True or False? Grass seeds can't be planted in hot weather? False. It just takes more work to keep the ground damp.
2. True or False? Newly planted seeds should be kept in soggy soil? False. Damp soil is best.
3. True or False? Fruits can be grown indoors. True. Mary's grandpa grew strawberries in a wash tub.
4. True or False? Plants need dark as well as light? True. They are just like us in that respect. Look at the Poinsettia.
5. True or False? Berry vines need different soil than other garden plants? False.
6. True or False? Plants need room to grow? True. You can actually crowd plants to death.
7. True or False? Keeping plants clean with soap and water helps them grow? True. It kills bacteria & even chases some bugs away. That doesn't mean throw them in the washer. But a light solution works.
How did you do? I don't remember where I got these questions, I think it was either Square Foot Gardening online or HGTV online, so you'll have to take it up with them is you have any disputes.
Mary and I, along with Grandma and Grandpa Bauer, used to put out a big vegetable garden when we were on the farm. We canned, froze and dried almost everything kind of vegetable we used. Peas, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, corn, you name it. But after being in the ministry awhile, we decided we wouldn't garden any more. I really don't think it was anything but coincidence, but just about the time we would get a garden plot worked up and the everything really growing in abundance, we would get moved. Like I say, I think it was only coincidence but we're not taking any more chances.
In this morning's passage Jesus tells a parable about gardening. Listen to the parable of the sower and Jesus explanation of Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.
 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.
 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow.
 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.
 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.
 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.
 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
 Let anyone with ears listen!"
 "Hear then the parable of the sower.
 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.
 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.
 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.
 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
Jesus tells us that the seed in this parable is the Word of God and you and our hearts are the soil. In this parable, Jesus identifies 4 types of hearts. That's what I want us to look at today. The Stony Heart, The Shallow Heart, The Strangled Heart and The Surrendered Heart.
First there is The Stony Heart. This is the hardened heart. It can be packed and hardened by any number of things. Broken relationship, old wounds, dried out spirit or flagrant rebellion, one which has said no to God. No one or nothing is getting in. This is the wounded, bitter heart, totally surrendered to the world and anything NOT of God. In the Stony Heart, the seed of God's Word gets gobbled up by the desires of world before it even has a chance to even settle.
In the movie Secondhand Lions, young Walter, played by Haley Joel Osment is dumped with his only relatives by his flaky husband seeking mother, who goes from one bad relationship to another. His mother heads out for one more of those relationships and Walter is left to fend for himself with his two extremely eccentric uncles Hub and Garth McCann who are played by Robert Duvall and Michael Caine.
Mom leaves and there they are sitting on the front porch. Walter asks, "If my Mom calls, can we hear the telephone out here?"
Garth gruffly says: "Don't have one."
Walter is shocked: "No telephone?" Then he asks, "Is it OK if I go inside and watch television?"
Again Garth gruffly says: "Ain't got one."
Walter is incredulous: "No television? What do you do?"
About that time a car pulls up the long drive and a traveling salesman gets out and starts his spiel. The McCann brothers both reach for a shotgun and shoot over his head, running him off. What follows are a couple of short scenes of other salesmen getting run off. And the end of the scene is Garth saying to Hub, "Nice evening. Peaceful."
At the beginning of the movie, these two appear to have Stony Hearts which nothing is going to penetrate. And that's what the Stony Heart is like. The Seed of God's Word doesn't can't find a place to settle before it's gobbled up.
That brings us to The Shallow Heart. This is the heart which is constantly distracted. It has too many interests. There is no focus and a lack of vision. This is the heart which has enthusiasm without commitment. This is the heart that is pleasantly pleased with the prospect which the seed brings but makes no promise.
There was a small community with a small community church shared by several of the denominations. I preached in one of those one time. The first Sunday was the Methodist service because they practiced open communion. The second Sunday was Baptist. The third Sunday was Presbyterian and the fourth Sunday was Disciples. On fifth Sunday's they just had Sunday School followed by a potluck and an old fashioned singing.
Each year, each denomination in this small community would hold a week revival. This meant there was revival every quarter. And in this small community, there was a man who wasn't very deep in his commitment to Christ. But he loved going to Revivals. Every time the doors opened or every time a traveling evangelist put up a tent on the outskirts of town, he was there. When the invitation was given, he was the first one to the altar. Kneeling at the altar he'd spread out his arms and pray loud enough for everyone in the service to hear, "Fill me up, Lord Jesus, fill me up."
Every revival, he would follow this same ritual. He would be the first one to the altar and he would pray, "Fill me up, Lord Jesus, fill me up." Finally, one of the women who knew this character quite well, couldn't stand it any longer. The next time he knelt praying that same empty prayer, "Fill me up, Lord Jesus, fill me up," she stood up and prayed loudly, "Don't do it, Lord. He leaks!"
That's what Jesus meant by The Shallow Heart. It's the soil of the soul and of the heart that is so shallow the seed really doesn't take root but is scorched in the light of every day living and the regular trials and tribulations of being faith. It's scorched and withers and dies quickly.
And that brings us to The Strangled Heart. This is the heart that is filled with faith. It springs up and grows and even has deep roots. Unfortunately it is trying to grow where it always grew and it's distracted and subdued and defeated by the stuff and worries of the world. And there is a lot to be distracted by.
We have more choices in our lives than at any other time in history. And instead of down sizing, the list just keeps getting bigger and bigger. A trip to the grocery store and there's about 100 breakfast cereals to choose from, 200 kinds of soup, 50 to 100 blends of coffee, you get the idea.
In November of 1997, Bishop Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, Bishop of the Northern Conference of the Democratic Republic of the Congo visited our Conference. He went to each District and gave his testimony. He told about getting off the plane and realizing he had forgotten toothpaste. United Methodist Bishops have to do world Missions Interpreter work every other year, and he was here on the US. So, he went to one of our American Supermarkets and was absolutely amazed at how much toothpaste; how many brands and types there were. In his home country of the Congo he only had 1 kind of toothpaste, Colgate. That's it.
There are more choices on the dollar menu at McDonalds and Wendy's than most people of the world have. In some countries, they don't even have the choice of what to eat. They don't even have the choice of whether to eat or not. For many it's the not eat at all that prevails.
Here, where we are blessed with so much, those choices often become a major distraction. There are so many things we want to do or see or try or experience. We want to enjoy life a little more before we make a serious commitment. And the minute that thought pops into our head, the thorns and weeds start to choke and take over.
That's The Strangled Heart.
A. But then there's The Surrendered Heart. This is the Hopeful and Joyful heart. This is the heart that is most like the heart of God. You see, the sower in this passage is rather scandalous. When I was farming, you were careful with your seed. It was expensive. You only used the best and you only planted it in the best soil. You didn't just go throwing seed everywhere like this guy did. How wasteful. And maybe that's part of the point.
Sure this passage is about the soil of our hearts and the timber of our souls. But it's also about an extravagant God who blesses us beyond measure. An extravagant God who continues to scatter the best seed, His Word, to a world where there are still Stony Hearts, Shallow Hearts and Strangled Hearts. It was a shock and a scandal and still is, to those who think they have the inside track to heaven. Our God is truly and extravagant God who blesses us beyond all measure despite the fact that we don't deserve any of those blessings.
But we rejoice in the fact that we have and extravagant God who sows the seed of his love in places that may not, and probably won't ever take root and produce fruit. But remember, we believe in a God of miracles and sometimes that's exactly what happens. The seed does take root. It isn't gobbled up, dried out or strangled.
Instead, it takes root, blooms and prospers. And when that happens, God rejoices and uses that seed as an example of just how extravagant God's grace truly is. God's grace, can change the stony, shallow, strangled heart into the Surrendered Heart. This is the heart that makes a difference.
B. Dr. Keith Wagner, of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Sidney, Ohio tells the story of a small boy in Florida some years ago. It seems he heard that the Russians were our enemies. He began to wonder about the Russian children, finding it hard to believe that they were his enemies. He wrote a short note: "Dear comrade in Russia. I am seven years old and I believe that we can live in peace. I want to be your friend, not your enemy. Will you become my friend and write to me?"
He closed the letter, "Love and Peace" and signed his name. He then neatly folded the note, put it into an empty bottle, and threw it into an inland lake near his home. Several days later, the bottle and note were retrieved on a nearby beach. A story about the note appeared in a local newspaper and the media picked it up nationwide. A group of people from New Hampshire who were taking children to the Soviet Union as ambassadors of peace, read the article, contacted the boy and his family. They invited them to accompany the group to Russia. So, the little boy and his father traveled to Russia as peacemakers. (1)
One little boy made a difference. He planted his seed and it bore much fruit.
And it doesn't take much if the soil is the soil of The Surrendered Heart.
We serve an extravagant God. The Son of God is the, the seed is not only the Word of God, but His grace and the offer of forgiveness which is given to each of us. The Sower continues to sow. The question for us is: How does your garden grow? Which heart do you possess. The Stony Heart, The Shallow Heart, The Strangled Heart or the Surrendered Heart?
1. from God's Little Lessons on Life for Mom, Honor Books
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