Stuck in the Mud 08 28 11

My sermon from August 28th, 2011 based on Matthew 13:1-9.  1st of 5 in “Lessons from the Farm” series.

One of the things that really excited Heather and me about moving into the house that the church owns is the opportunity to have a garden. Having a garden and being able to grow your own food is such a treat, but over the last couple of months I have begun to think that if you’re doing it right, it probably doesn’t make economic sense. Having a garden is a lot of work! By the time you prepare the soil and do the planning and buy the seeds and take the time to plant things and then water and tend to the weeds, and harvest, the time and energy that has been invested can be significant! But even still, vegetables fresh from your own garden just can’t be beat

During my welcome meal after church last month I was visiting with the Breedlove’s and Dan used the phrase Hobby Farmer to describe himself. I had never heard the phrase Hobby Farmer before and was intrigued by this so I asked him to say a bit more about what that meant. He told me that the sentiment comes from Aldo Leopold in the Sand County Almanac where he says that a hobby is something that would be cheaper and easier to have someone else do it for you, but you do it anyway. Dan explained, “We raise our own chickens and beef but in the end, not even considering the time involved, it would be cheaper to just buy the food.”

It would often be cheaper for hobby farmers to just buy their food at the store. It would be much easier and often cheaper for us to get produce from the store rather than to grow it in our gardens, but it’s just not the same when you buy it from the store as it is when you grow it yourself.

I have a couple of tomatoes that I brought to show you this morning as an illustration of this. I bought this one at the store this weekend. In order for it to make it from wherever it was grown to the store it had to be picked before it was ripe. And through the whole process of developing or growing this tomato it was treated in very protective and intentional ways. Specific seeds were picked and planted in specific ways. The plants were given a very specific regimen of water and light and the tomato was picked at the just right time to be packaged and loaded onto a truck and shipped to the grocery store where it could buy it this weekend. The entire process was industrialized and calculated to the nth degree. It showed up on the store shelf looking almost perfect, almost to good to be true, almost fake.

I picked this tomato out of the garden yesterday. On the surface it’s not as pretty as the one that I bought at the store. The coloring isn’t totally uniform, it’s kind of misshapen where it was pushed up against something else as it grew, there is a little spot here where something has been nibbling on it… But if I were to give you these tomatoes to take home and have for lunch, how many of you would prefer this one from the store? How many of you would prefer this one from the garden?

Store bought veggies look really nice, but often are nowhere near as juicy or flavorful or satisfying as the ones straight from the garden. My hope for these next five weeks as we explore some important “Lessons From The Farm for Growing the Christian Life” would be that we would begin to understand what it means to have something more than the store bought faith that we often have, that we often live. God wants us to have a faith that is as good and satisfying as homegrown veggies. And so through the five weeks of this series we’ll explore some important principles for living and growing in the Christian life.

But before we jump into today’s specific principle, I want to provide some broad background for the entire series. The scripture that was read a few minutes ago is one of those great agricultural metaphors that Jesus used in his teaching to help people understand the way that we are called to receive the gifts God gives and to cultivate and to grow those gifts. In this story the sower can be understood to be God, the seeds can be seen as the gifts and opportunities that are given to us and the various types of soil can be seen as our hearts, our souls, our lives.

In the parable Jesus begins by sharing that some seeds fall on the path, a surface that is completely hard and closed off, a surface on which there is really no hope of anything growing. These seeds are immediately eaten by the birds

Some seeds fell on rocky ground where there was a little bit of soil, but not much depth. And so the seeds sprung up quickly, especially because there isn’t a place for their roots to grow and to take hold. And so the hot sun comes and these young sprouts don’t have the roots they need to survive, they are quickly burned up. Still other seeds fell onto ground with good soil and they began to grow and to show promise. However this soil was also home to thorns and nasty weeds. As the seeds grew they were choked out by the weeds and couldn’t survive.

Finally Jesus tells of seeds that were scattered on rich and fertile soil, soil where they were able to take root and grow, soil where they weren’t threatened by weeds and thorns, and this seed that was planted on good and fertile soil grew and brought forth grain.

Again, God is the sower who sows seeds and offers us many incredible gifts. We are called to be mindful of living lives as rich and fertile soil. It is in the good soil of our lives that God hopes to be able to cultivate life and faith that is wonderful and life-giving and fresh.

And so as we begin our exploration today of what it might mean to live our lives as fertile soil so we can receive and grow the gifts God give us, I want us to start at the beginning of what it means to be a Christian. And as we engage that question, we need to begin with a related question, what is Christianity?

On the most basic level Christianity is a solution that exists to the problems we encounter in life. As we seek to fully understand the good news of Christianity, we must begin by acknowledging the bad news that exists. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this bad news, to the human condition in which we all find ourselves living.

The first piece of this human condition, the first problem that Christianity seeks to address, is that we are spiritually blind. We don’t see God, at least not in the sense that I see you or that you see me. When we share physical space like this there is a level of certainty that we can have that we exist and that to some degree we can even understand one another. But we can’t see God in this same sense.

The other night at bedtime I was reading Hannah some stories from one of the little children’s Bibles that she has and as I read about God telling Noah about the coming flood, Hannah interrupted me and asked bluntly, “Who is God?” I struggled to explain that one to a not yet 3 year old. When we can’t see God it is a challenge to understand and to relate to God.

The second problem that Christianity seeks to address is the problem of Despair. I was talking with a friend this week who expressed that he was really struggling with things the way they are in the world, especially in our country today. We have been dealing with financial uncertainties for more than 3 years now and the recent conversations about the possibility of defaulting as a country were incredibly troubling to this friend. He also reflected on the way in which the anxiety about finances seem to be heightening the negative demonizing political discourse in our country. Divisions and tension and arguments are plenty. Clear plans for the future that bring healing and hope are lacking. It is easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of despair in the midst of these realities.

Another problem that Christianity seeks to address is the brokenness or the sin that we experience in our lives. We experience brokenness in relationships that are strained and experience it in internal struggles as well. Our minds are often flooded with questions:

  • Why do I keep doing these things I don’t want to do?
  • Why can’t I start doing the things I need to do?
  • Why do I let someone else’s actions define me?
  • Why do I worry so much about what someone else thinks about me?
  • Am I always going to have to be defined by the mistakes that I have made?

In our own lives and in our relationships there is an incredible amount of brokenness and sin and these issues can be a real problem for us and weigh us down.

Finally, another piece of this universal human condition, this problem that Christianity seeks to solve is the finite reality of life, the fact that we will all die.. I watched through my office window on Tuesday morning as families headed to the first day of school at the elementary school. I can only imagine what that feels like for parents, to see their baby boy or baby girl one year older and entering into another milestone of life their first day of whatever particular grade they’re entering.

Milestones in life like these are bittersweet for they force us to acknowledge that time is flying by and that our finite days here on this earth are becoming fewer and fewer. The ultimate concern or problem here is that we know we will all die, that our time in this life will come to an end.

Ok, let’s lighten this up just a bit as we prepare to wrap-up. One of my mentors lives over in southern Johnson County on a few acres and he loves to play outside and with his various toys. Some years ago now he bought a tractor, a 1964 John Deere 30/20 and he’s always looking for an excuse to get out and play with it.

Several years ago now, about this time, we were having an exceptionally dry August and the little farm pond that my friend has was really low. One day he realized that the weeds were getting really tall out around the pond by where the water level had receded and so he hooked up the brush hog to his tractor so he could mow them. After the first pass that he took around the pond he said that he really wasn’t satisfied, there were still 18 inches or so of tall weeds before the water. So he decided to take one more pass to mow the rest of those weeds.

He swung the brush-hog down a little bit to get it closer to the edge of the water and felt like things were going ok until he felt his front left tire begin to slip down into the mud. He turned the wheel out to the right, away from the pond, but felt the tractor continue to move to the left. He decided then that he’d put the tractor in reverse and back out. And his back tire just began to spin in the mud. And so he decided that he would try to rock it out, you know like you do in the snow? But every time he rocked it back and forward he got just a little bit more stuck.

After about 30 minutes he decided to go get his 4-wheel drive jeep thinking that he’d be able to hook a towrope up to the tractor and just pull it out. The wheels of the jeep just spun. Finally he called a buddy who had a Durango and thought that if they hooked the Jeep and the Durango both up to the tractor that then they’d surely be able to get it unstuck. The tires on both vehicles just spun… Adam had his tractor stuck in the mud.

Being stuck in the mud, seems to be a pretty fitting illustration of the human condition in which we find ourselves. We’re stuck. We can’t see God. We struggle with despair and brokenness and sin. We worry about the finite nature of this life and are constrained by the fact that ultimately we will die. We are stuck. And no matter how hard we try and no matter what we do, we can’t get ourselves unstuck.

Finally Adam decided to call another friend who had a John Deere 40/20, the big brother to his tractor the 30/20. The 40/20 is like the 30/20, except it’s bigger and it has better traction. This friend came over with his tractor, hooked up the towrope, and without much trouble at all pulled Adam out of the mud.

If being stuck in the mud is our human condition, our problem, God’s solution to the human problem is Jesus Christ. Someone who is like us, but bigger, and with better traction.

In the life of Jesus God comes to live with us so that we might see him. When we see Jesus minister to hurting and broken people we know of God’s love for hurting and broken people. When we see Jesus reaching out to those outside of the temple, those who had been told by the religious leaders who presumed to speak for God that they weren’t loveable, we know of Jesus’ desire to connect with the lost. Jesus comes as an answer to the despair of this life. As Jesus shows us God’s love for the hurting, the broken, and the lost, we can know of God’s love for us no matter who we are or what we’ve done.

And while God sends Jesus so that we might see and know God and so that we might have peace and hope and healing regarding the despair and brokenness of life, the tragic and ironic twist is that those who were the religious leaders responded to Jesus with fear and persecuted him. The cross is a reminder for us of this tragic tale. Christ who came so that we might see and know and experience God is put to death on a cross.

But God doesn’t let the cross be the last word. The cross tells a tragic story because of what humans did to Jesus, to God’s love incarnate. But the cross also tells a story of incredible hope because the story does not end with the cross. Three days later Jesus walks again among the living and through the resurrection of Jesus, God sends the message loud and clear that death will not have the final word. In Christ there is the promise that there is more beyond this life.

We often live stuck in the mud. The good news is that God has sent someone like us, but bigger, and with better traction. Jesus came so that we might know God and have hope for this life and the life that is to come.

Christianity, following Jesus, is the solution to the problems of the human condition. Of course this doesn’t mean that all of our problems will miraculously go away when we follow Jesus, but in committing ourselves to Christ we can begin to uncover and learn and live into the faith that God would call us to have.

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