Fertilizer Happens!

Jul 12, 2020

Sermon 7-12-2020
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Pastor Jean M. Hansen


     Every summer, the lectionary (list of scriptures for each Sunday) offers a reading that invites me to talk about gardening and opens up the opportunity to mention the church’s Community Gardens south of the parking lot. Today is that day; Jesus provides it with his Parable of the Sower.

     Before we go there, though, I want to share from an article titled “Growing Things” by Dr. Allen R. Rumble in which he provides a list of the Top 10 things he has learned from gardening. (1) You will note, I am sure that these statements apply to our lives in general. By the way, I will be adding a few “insights” of my own.

     #10 – We really do reap what we sow. Good seeds bear good fruit. (Or, as Martin Luther said, if one claims to be a person of faith, then faithful living should be the result.)

     #9 – Without rains and storms, there is no growth – no fruit is produced. (Now, that is an unwelcome truth.)

     #8 – When, weeding, be careful! We can’t always tell the difference between a nasty weed and a beautiful flower. (They both need time to grow for their nature to be revealed, and the gardener needs the experience to discern which is which.)

     #7 – Deep roots are a good thing. Without them, the plant withers and dies. (Yet, where the roots are growing is even more important than their depth!)

     #6 – Pruning and trimming, as painful as it seems, actually works to the gardener’s advantage. (Pruning also is known as constructive criticism!)

     #5 – In gardening, as in life, cheating does not work. Short-cuts, slipshod effort, and neglect always show up in the quality of the garden.

     #4 – Like anything worthwhile, beautiful gardens require attention, hard work, and commitment. (You cannot plant and walk away, or show up and just watch, and expect positive results.)

     #3 – We cannot rush the harvest. Bearing fruit takes time and patience.

     #2 – Gardening and growing is an on-going experience.

     #1 – Fertilizer happens! In fact, nothing grows without it!

     Today’s parable affirms a few of those Top 10 lessons, but its focus is on the soil. As every gardener knows, it is all about the soil. (Even as I say those words, I know that my fellow church gardeners are groaning for reasons we will get to soon.)

     Commentator Holly Hearon points out that while it seems the parable of the Sower is about the seed – God’s Word – it is really about us, those who hear the Word. We are the soil. It’s all about the soil. The four conditions of the soil in the parable are these:

     The soil is hard; it has become that way from being repeatedly walked on, beaten down. It’s not fit for planting seeds, so they sit on the surface and become food for birds. We see this in people too; those who have been walked on over and over again, often develop a hard exterior to protect themselves, and it is nearly impossible to get through to them.

     The soil is rocky so that the seed has difficulty taking root, and therefore, the plant cannot access the nutrients in the soil and grow. Rocky soil, Jesus says, represents those whose lives create no staying power; the “rocks” in their lives are self-centeredness, shallowness, lack of purpose and un-developed faith; when the going gets rough when challenges come, they wither, give-up or get going … as far away as possible.

     The soil is covered in thorns so that seed must compete with already established, invasive plants and cannot grow. Those thorns translate into people’s overcrowded lives and obsessive minds, focused on their desires; there’s no room for anything more, so the seed of God’s Word does not thrive.

     As for the good soil, it takes years to cultivate; it must be fed, nurtured, and re-worked; but the seed that falls on it flourishes.  It’s all about the soil. (2)

     The truth of Jesus’ parable is, unfortunately, well-illustrated in this year’s community garden, planted just south of our parking lot. By the way, I am one of the gardeners, so the pain of this story is a personal one. For at least 11 years, the Community Garden as produced between 1000 and 2000 pounds of produce which was given to the OPEN M Food Pantry. We have always had a harvest to share with those who do not have access to fresh produce.

     The gardeners have fought critters, disease, too much and too little rain, and have always worked to nurture the soil. In fact, last fall, we planted a ground cover with just that in mind, and this spring cultivated in yards of leaf compost.

     If you do not know a lot about gardens, you might look at our’s and think it is OK, but it’s not. It is stagnant; the plants are not growing. Why? There is something wrong with the soil – probably that leaf compost that was supposed to add nutrients to the soil and help with water retention but is doing just the opposite. (Who knows; perhaps the wrong thing was delivered?) It’s all about the soil.

     The gardeners are valiantly doing what we can to amend the problem – lots of “fish poop” is being added – but if there is a harvest, it will not be plentiful. Although this situation is not our fault, it is still discouraging because creating good soil is the work of the gardener, caring for what God provided.

     So it is that our work as the people of God is to create good soil in the lives of our children, grandchildren, ourselves and the people around us. To a large degree, that has to do with what we “put in” in the soil of our hearts and minds. Faith is a seed that grows as it is nurtured. Children won’t know Jesus unless they are introduced to him; teens won’t make serving a priority unless parents make it a priority, and adults won’t have deepened faith without putting time and effort into making that happen. It is not complicated. If the soil is nurtured and cherished, if the seed of faith is planted with care and watered, it will flourish.

     Of course, we don’t create the soil or the growth alone; faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus keeps sowing generously even in the least promising places. After all, in the parable, the Sower threw seeds on the path, in the rocks and the weeds, giving them a chance, as well as on good soil. The Sower did not give up. To quote commentator Elisabeth Johnson, “We trust that Jesus will not give up on us either, but will keep working on whatever is hardened, rocky or thorny within and among us.” (3)

     And, finally, always remember that #1 of the top 10 list I shared is true: “Fertilizer happens! In fact, nothing grows without it”, but that flourishing is by the power and grace of God. AMEN



  1. ”A Dirt-y Sermon” by Lilly, www.madisonbc.org
  2. “Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23” by Holly Hearon, www.workingpreacher.org
  3. “Commentary on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23” by Elisabeth Johnson, www.workingpreacher.org