Monday, November 8, 2010

So This Guy Goes Out to Sow Some Seed...

Alright, alright, listen up, I've got a story for you, so get this image in your head: So there's this guy, alright? He's out working hard in the field sowing seed; it's planting time. Think of him out there, hard at work beneath the hot sun. He's got this big bag that's full of the stuff he's sowing, and he just reaches in, grabs handful after handful, and tosses it all over the dirt; he figures he can come back later and plow it all into the earth. So this guy, he doesn't worry about where it lands; there's plenty of seed to go around. Now some of his seed is gonna just land on the path in the field where he's walking, or right next to the path - somewhere that isn't for planting. The seed lands on that ground, but that kind of ground can't receive it, can't take it in. Does the seed make any difference to the ground at all? No way. It just lies there, inert, useless, until finally some birds swoop down from the sky and peck it up. Then what's the deal with that ground? Absolutely nothing. One thing's for sure: nothing's gonna grow there.

But okay, okay, the path isn't the only place seed can land, is it? Some of the field is pretty rocky - just a layer of topsoil over a layer of hard rock. So some of the seed lands there and gets plowed in, and that's good, right? But what happens once the seed gets in there? It doesn't get in very deep, does it? Well the top layer of soil gets pretty hot from the sunlight, so the seed germinates real quick and starts growing, it shoots up fast like it's eager to get to the surface. But look! Where do the roots go? The rock blocks them from getting deep into the dirt to get nutrients. So then there's this plant there for a while, it grows up quickly and all that, but it's got terrible roots! Now maybe when it's raining and cool out, that's no problem, you don't need good roots to deal with most of that. But what happens to the plant when it gets hot and dry and the sun's just beating down on this poor thing? There's not much moisture in that dry soil! So the plant gets all dried out and withers up. What good is that to the farmer? None at all.

Now alright, not all soil is rocky. There's some much better dirt the seed can land on, and some probably would, right? Now in a lot of fields, you're gonna have some patches with these nasty thorny bushes growin' in 'em, so what about the seed that lands in those parts? Well it'll sure sink into the soil, that's a plus, and it might not grow as fast as the seed that falls in rocky soil, but it'll have much better roots. But look! These thorns are gonna keep growing, and if you watch, they'll grow up over some of the plants and hog all the sunlight, and their roots will wrap around the roots of the good plants and get in there with 'em and hog all the water, too! So maybe those plants will grow, but bit by bit the plants get just strangled by these thorns. So what good is the plant? What kind of crop are you gonna get from something that's dying because other stuff is stealing its sun and water? That's not gonna help the farmer either!

But don't you worry about the farmer; see, this guy knows what he's doing. What's left of the field is good soil, right, it doesn't have rocks or any other plants growing there. So what's to stop the seed from sprouting? Nothing! That's the beauty of it. In good soil, this stuff he's planting just flourishes! It grows and grows and grows - and it's good stuff! The seed gets into the soil, it gets down in there, the soil receives it. The sprouting seed works its roots all throughout the soil so that it can draw up enough water into itself - and that way when hot, dry days come along, the plants won't wither up and give in; they'll keep growing anyway! See, this soil is good soil, so it doesn't put up much resistance to the roots. And since this soil is good soil, there aren't any weeds or thorns or thistles or any of that junk growing there. This is not land where the sower's crop has to share space with anything else, or compete with anything else. No, the sower's crop gets the whole plot to itself! And what happens when the crop gets the plot all to itself like that? It grows and grows and grows and grows until it matures and turns into a bountiful, flourishing crop, bearing its fruit in abundance - so much so that it more than compensates for the seed the sower lost on all the ground that wasn't good for it! Now we can see that the sower wasn't crazy, casting his seed from one and to the other without worrying which kind of ground it was gonna fall on. He knew what he was doing all along!

So that's my story, but what's it meant? The seed he's planting is the announcement we've all been waiting for. We live in a good world, but bad things, horrible things, happen because we decided we didn't want to live under God's rule; we didn't want God to be king over us. And so we rebelled. But God always promised that he wouldn't leave us to our own devices forever; he'd show us the error of our ways and would come and invite us back and establish his rule again, bit by bit. And the announcement we've been waiting for is that God's coming to reign at last, and so we'd better be ready to live that way, and not like the rebels we've been. That's the message that a wandering sage named Jesus started to spread thousands of years ago among the people God had chosen to bless the whole world through. And that's the message that Jesus sent his students to spread after they'd learned about it from him. But that's not all there was to the message. Jesus also told a lot of stories to show people what God's rule is like - and as it turns out, it looks a whole lot different than pretty much everybody had always figured it would. Instead of looking like God storming in and smashing up on everybody who's been picking on his people, it looked a lot like God sneaking in and letting all those bad guys - and even his own people! - smash him up instead. It looked a lot like a big failure, but it would turn out to be the great victory. And this topsy-turvy reign of God was going to come, Jesus said, through him! So that's the message that this sower is spreading: "Hey, you! You've been living like a rebel, not like a loyalist to God - and he's on his way to stop your great secession, so if you know what's up, you'll do an about-face pronto. God's rule has shown up on your doorstep, and you didn't even know it because it didn't look a thing like you wanted it to! And God started it through Jesus, his anointed son - the one you've been waiting for is here!"

So the sower, then, is anybody who spreads this message - but even if they get it exactly right, even if they're as convincing as could be, plenty of people are still going to miss out. Some people, like the dirt alongside the path, are packed so hard that there's no room for the message to even get into them. They aren't open to it. It takes effort to get your head around this shocking news, and they just aren't willing. So the message may hit their ears, but it won't stick around. The subtle powers that don't want God's rule to come can easily swoop in and snatch it away. And then some people, like the thin dirt on top of rocks, do accept the message gladly, but they don't really get it. They've got something in them that won't let it get any deeper, so the message does good in their lives when things are well and cool and all that jazz... but the moment things get too hot to handle, these fair-weather followers fall to the wayside. They're in for the good, but as soon as they realize that the message calls for putting up with a lot of hot, dry days, they drop it like a hot potato. And then there are other folks, like the thorn-infested plots, who don't have that problem. It's not that these people don't let the message in, it's not that the good news doesn't set up shop there. Don't get me wrong, it does, but they've got a whole 'nother problem. The kingdom message ain't the only message vying for their attention, and they've let a bunch of other messages - like the familiar story that it's all about take, take, take; or the story that he who has the best toys wins; or any of those old lies - set up shop there too! There's competition - and God's rule wants the whole plot, not just what other things leave aside. So these folks are trying to invest their resources in God's kingdom plus all this other junk, and that's a loser's bid. Can't pull it off. So they may have received the message, but they didn't really get it and follow through, and so it won't bear fruit there.

But then there are other folks who are like good soil. When the good news gets to them, they really get it. The message gets into them, so the anti-God forces out there can't just swipe it away and pretend it never happened. The message gets its roots deep into them; there's nothing blocking it, because these folks aren't shallow. For these people, it's about more than an emotional high. God's rule isn't about signing up and feeling splendiferous for the rest of your life; it's about dying and rising with Jesus the Messiah. It's about becoming like Jesus in his agonies and his tears and his anguish so that we can become like him in his victories and his shouts of joy and his indestructible life of power becoming fuller, not emptier, when poured out in love. So the message gets its roots into these people, and then when they suffer for trusting Jesus and giving him their loyalty as their Lord - because that's what faith is all about - they don't dry up, give up, wither up; they stick with it no matter how many difficult days come through. And the message that brooks no competitors finally finds that these people have no plans to provide it with competitors. Their lives, their plots, have no thorns, no other things striving against the rule of God. You can't serve God and something else that isn't God, be it Mammon or Pleasure or Convenience or Independence or Selfhood or any of those other lame counterfeits that only look so tempting because we haven't yet really seen for ourselves how the reign of God is so fully of the realities of which all rival masters are cheap replicas. "Accept no substitutes" is the wisdom these 'good soil' people live by. Their lives are devoted to God's rule, no matter what comes their way, and they're willing to go through the effort to grasp the message in both their minds and in their acts. So what's the consequence of that? These are fruitful people! You just won't believe how productive they are when you really see them as they are. And when it comes to God and his rule, these people are the ones God has good reason to consider finally useful - because they yielded to his message.

So what's the point of this whole story? First of all, now that you've heard the message, what kind of soil are you going to be? Are you like the soil of the path - never yielding, never receiving, never comprehending, and so never finding out what it's like to even have growth? Or are you maybe like the rocky soil - so shallow that while your growth looks amazing at first and everybody's impressed, it turns out that you never really got the meaning after all, or else you would've let the message penetrate you deeper, and now that times are tough, you're ready to throw in the towel? Or are you maybe instead like the thorny ground - you've received the good news, you're planning on sticking with it, but there are so many other things you want to serve too, so instead of giving everything over to God's rule, this message has to compete with all the clutter in your life? Or are you - praise God! - like the good soil - yielding to the message, taking it in, letting it get deeply into you, not keeping anything back from it, so that when all's said and done, you're the one with real results to show for it all? Be those people; don't be the other people. And if you're like those people, the 'good soil' people, then you'll want to go and share this message with others. Go, do it, and do it as effectively as you can! Train well, go forth, and serve! But don't labor under the delusion that if you were only a bit more persuasive or skilled, everyone would accept the message. Many just aren't ready for it - but those who are, are blessed indeed.

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