On Good Soil

Gospel Reflection for Friday, January 29th, 2021 — Mark 4:26-34


The more things seemingly change, it’s remarkable how much they stay the same. "Vanity of vanities," says the author of Ecclesiastes; "vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” and “ there is nothing new under the sun." We often get so puffed up with pride in our modern times, thinking we’re so much more advanced than our ancestors -- but, so much virtually remains the same.

Do you ever pause to consider how blessed we are to live in this country? Yes, even considering the political crud we’re dealing with at the moment, we’re still blessed beyond compare. I simply wish to take a moment and thank God for all He has done for us.


One of the blessings we most often take for granted is the abundance and variety of good food that we have. Even in the midst of the COVID-related shortages for a few months, one only has to walk down the aisles of your local mega supermarket to see shelves virtually overflowing with every kind of food imaginable. With relatively few sad exceptions, most children in this nation have never known a day where there was nothing to eat. Instead, we have the challenge of teaching them to eat right and keep active to stay healthy.


In our busy lives, we don't often think about where that all the food in the stores comes from. The USA has transformed from an agricultural to a technological culture. The nuances of farming, cultivating fields, and even animal husbandry are quite often the furthest thoughts from our minds.


Do you ever reflect that beyond your neighborhood supermarket and the warehouse, before it is processed, every kind of food must be grown by someone? That bagel you ate for breakfast this morning was made from wheat, and a farmer raised the wheat. Your bacon came from a hog farm, probably out in Iowa somewhere, and a farmer fed and cared for that hog. Your orange juice came from an orchard, where a farmer tended to the trees and gathered the orange harvest.


Where would we be without the farmers? This country is overflowing with good and wholesome food of every kind. We truly have a land of milk and honey. My prayer is that God will continue to bless those who grow and produce our food.


Life is actually filled with abundant blessings which some consider miraculous, and others don’t give it a second thought. Jesus told today's parable about the farmer. He didn't glorify him but presented him as a beholder of miracles. "He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how.”


In our day, farmers use high tech machinery that counts the seeds and evenly spaces them and mechanically, planting them into the ground — so many seeds per inch, so many seeds per acre, in rows so many inches apart, each seed so far down in the soil. But essentially this process is the same as farmers did in Bible times — scattering seed on the ground. It's just a lot more organized than it used to be. All is vanity.


Back in the day, the farmer didn’t have to understand all the biological functions of the seed? The times for planting and harvest were simply passed down from generation to generation, No, they waited for the right season, and planted the seeds under the soil, in the right conditions, and it seemingly grew all by itself. He couldn't make it grow faster or slower, he could only select the seed, plant it, irrigate it with water, add nutrients and fertilizer.


Farmers couldn't manufacture the seeds. Even to this day, farmers must take the seed from a living plant that God has created. But the result is powerful. From one seed comes a plant that produces many seeds. The seeds produce grain, fruit, or vegetables much more valuable than the original seed he planted.


Have you ever driven along country roads towards the middle of Spring when the crops of corn or wheat are just rising out of the ground? Each seed has produced a blade or two of green peeking out of the soil. The scene goes on for miles and miles in every direction. Little green plants everywhere, often, as far as the eye can see. Each one in itself is a miracle. The farmer, no matter how highly educated he is, doesn't know why the seeds germinate and grow. He just knows it will grow, given the right conditions.


Jesus says this is similar to how the kingdom of God comes to us. A minister of the Gospel comes along planting the seeds of God's word among us, in the preaching of the gospel. He does not know who will believe or who will not. Just like every other preacher from times in memorial, I preach and teach, not understanding how the Holy Spirit will work in individual lives, I simply trust that He will.


Today's gospel message is that good news is being planted among us — virtual seeds of faith. In this metaphor, the minister of the word is the Farmer, who is guided by the Holy Spirit to fertilize the field and till the soil. It is that same Holy Spirit that you feel tugging at your heartstrings calling you to right action, repentance, and even conversion. This movement of the Holy Spirit is also known as Grace. Yes, we are “saved” by faith, but without grace, it is impossible to come to faith. These two, Grace and Faith are intrinsically linked.


When graced with the understanding that Jesus actually died that you might live is received by someone, it is as if a seed has been germinated and begins to sprout. Now you've surely heard the parable about the sower and the different kinds of soils. The seed planted in the rocky soil sprouted, but the sun wilted it because its roots had no depth, and so on. That parable was about the quality of the soil--this parable is about the mystery of grace and how faith grows once it is planted in the proper soil.


No, we cannot predict where the seed of the word will spout, which souls will respond and grow, and which will become stony and hard, rejecting the word of life.


Jesus preached the parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed is a small seed but grows into a big tree. Yes, there is a mustard tree, not simply the plant that produces seeds for a condiment. Nature sure can surprise us sometimes, but not nearly as much as the work of God does.


Here comes that “vanity of vanities” part; many have their hearts so hardened by pride and lusts that it’s near impossible for grace to reach them. There is truly "nothing new under the sun,” yet that doesn’t stop new-age preachers from teaching that today’s culture is too enlightened to be shackled by old-school morality.


Are the lies of modernism keeping you from saving grace? Yes, salvation is indeed a free gift, but it must be accepted and applied to your life. Becoming a Christian comes with a price. That price is dying to self and living for Christ, putting off the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life. For many, that’s a cross that is too heavy to bear.


As we live our lives in Christ, we must watch out for things that obstruct the growth of the gospel among us. Yes, plants have to bloom where they are planted, but we Christians can avoid things that hinder the growth of God's word among us. Things like jealousy, greed, drunkenness, and lust, work against the power of God's word, and we should stay away from them. So often we do not take the Bible's warnings seriously enough — many considering them simply outmoded. Vanity of vanities — all is vanity.


But God is faithful, and when we confess our sins, He is faithful and forgives us.

Are you ready for the harvest, the time is coming when He will take us from this broken life and gather us to Himself, where He enjoys the fruits that He has produced in us, lives of faithfulness and dependence upon Him.


Yes, thank the Lord for the fruitfulness of the earth and our country. And thank the Lord for those seeds of faith His word has produced in us. I pray that you’ll be graced to let it grow in your life until the time of harvest comes.


Amen.


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Gospel -- Mark 4:26-34


Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.


Of its own accord, the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

He said, “To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.


But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”


With many such parables, he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables, he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples, he explained everything in private.

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