“A Question of Optimism”
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
“If You Plant It, It Will Grow”
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? You know what I mean here. An optimist sees a glass as half full. A pessimist sees it as half empty. A real pessimist figures it doesn’t matter, they won’t get to drink it. Today’s text leads us to ask this question, “Optimist or pessimist?” Planting a field or planting a garden can be a test of your patience, your optimism, and your ability to stick with something. Why bother planting something if birds, rodents, insects, weeds, hail, or other bad weather can ruin the crop? Despite potential failure, an optimist plants. A good farmer, or a gardener, lives in the hope of a good harvest. Not every seed may produce, but enough of them will to make it all worthwhile.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus compares sharing God’s Word to planting a field. Using a real-world approach that doesn’t sugar coat anything, He calls us to faith and action. Our goal is to grow in faith, and to grow in the desire to be the planters of the seed of God’s Word. Today we are reminded, “If You Plant It, It Will Grow.”
In this parable, we are reminded that we are all called to spread the Word, to plant the seed. Even though we know that there are obstacles in this world and things which will make the work harder, we are still to go out and do it. That is one of the things Jesus is telling us here. We are not always going to see the results we want, but we are still to do it. There are millions out there who do not want to feast on the “crop” of God’s Word, and will go to anything else but that for wisdom and redemption. It’s like all the Americans out there who are obese and eat nothing but garbage and never exercise.
Jesus warns us of this as He gives us three obstacles to the Word being received. The first problem in the parable is that it is “for the birds.” Back in Jesus’ time, seed was thrown around by hand. You tossed the seed on the ground and then you came along with your ox and plow and plowed it under. When seed fell on the paths the farmer walked on, on the open ground, there was no soil there to grab it and the birds would come along and snap it up. Many things in our culture provide open ground for the devil, the world, and our sinfulness to rob people of the Gospel before it takes root. I have run into people who think the message of God’s Word is all well and good “for some people,” but they just didn’t have time for it. They were too busy trying to put forward their careers, pursuing their pleasure–filled lifestyles, or they simply thought they were plenty wonderful the way they were.
The second dilemma that Jesus tells us about when it comes to planting God’s word is what we could call the “rocky beginnings.” The seed that landed on thin soil would spring up quickly because the soil would be very warm, compared to good, deep, soil. This is sort of a “greenhouse” effect. Since the roots couldn’t reach down and get through the rock and get water, the sun would cook it and it would die. The hotter the sun, the quicker it would sprout and then the quicker it would die. The same thing can happen with the Word of God. Circumstances can bring an apparent rapid growth in faith, but that growth may lack roots. You may have run across people who, when they first became Christians, when they first started going to a church, they were all in. But then something went wrong, and instead of leaning on God to assist them, they bailed. Another example of this is the old saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes.” That in times of danger people quickly and fervently turn to God, and when the danger passes, so does the burst of faith. Maybe you don’t pray a lot by habit, but you have been in an airplane that started bouncing in turbulence and suddenly had the urge to talk to God. At the diagnosis of a serious illness, people turn to God and may even try and cut a deal with God. When the crisis disappears, so does the need for faith.
There is a third problem Jesus mentions: “Weeding things out.” Most of us hate weeds. When I was a kid, my dad would go out on the yard every night with his weed killer stick–thing and attack any dandelions that DARED to enter his fine, golf–course–like lawn. Back in Jesus’ time, before chemicals, weeds would grow more quickly than grain and would choke it. Here Jesus presents us the challenge of faith in good times. Wealth, success, and the pursuit of those things can choke off our need to put Jesus first. When things are going well, we may forget that we need God. Then a crisis comes along and the foundation that should be there is not. Or there are those times when we are so worried about something that our worries choke off our faith, and we think God has left us or betrayed us, which He never does.
After having discussed the three problems, Jesus then goes on to the good soil. You plant it. It will grow. When you plant, a harvest is to be expected. Even though birds eat, rocks heat, and weeds cheat, the good soil germinates and nurtures plants. So it is with the Word of God. God’s Word does not return empty, as we see in the Isaiah passage for today. We read in Isaiah, “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” When and where the seed is planted, it will grow. Maybe not as fast as we want. But it will grow. And it will grow beyond our imaginations.
Imagine sharing your faith with one or two people, and them coming to faith in Jesus, maybe years after talking to you. Then imagine them sharing their faith with one or two people. And so on. Imagine the crop yield of believing souls ready for Jesus’ return that can be there when we share the Word of God. And I am not saying here that you need a degree from a seminary to do this. If you know somebody dealing with something bad, all you have to tell them is: “My faith in Jesus, God’s Son, helps me out with stuff like that.” Is that SO HARD? If they don’t shoot you down with that, you can invite them here to church where I will tell them more. We need to share. We need to invite. We may hear “no” but we never know when the Holy Spirit will lead that person later on to say “yes.”
We need to live like what we do here, and what we say here, and what we hear here is the most important news/information in our lives. The fact that Jesus died and rose for us is the thing that turns our lives upside down. Have you ever heard of Genelle Guzman-McMillan. Do you know who she is? In the Lutheran Hour Devotions, Greg Seltz told us her story this last week. Guzman-McMillan moved from her town in Trinidad to New York in 1998. She got a good steady job at one of the World Trade Towers and was excited as she began her first day there on January 19, 2001. She made many friends through work, including her boyfriend, Roger, and spent each weekend partying. She said, “I came to America, looking for fame, glamour, and money.” She thought she had it all.
On the morning of 9/11, 2001, her life changed. She went to her job on the 64th floor. She and her coworkers heard a loud crash and the building shook. She and a coworker started down the stairs and made it to the 13th floor. That is when the whole building collapsed around them. Steel and concrete pinned her where she was; she was injured, she was alive, but she couldn’t move.
Twenty-seven hours after the building collapsed, she was able to push her hand through a few inches of rubble above her head and somehow felt someone’s warm hand close around hers. Then she heard a male voice say to her: “I’ve got you, Genelle. My name is Paul,” he told her. “You’re going to be okay. They’re going to get you out, real soon.” She heard other voices, and sirens. “They’re here,” Paul said. “I’m going to go and let them do their jobs and get you out.”
Guzman-McMillan was the last survivor pulled from the World Trade Center. There were three things she promised God she would do as soon as she got out of the hospital: she would get baptized, marry her boyfriend Roger, and she would find Paul, the one who held her hand.
After six weeks in the hospital, four surgeries, and hours of physical therapy and rehabilitation, she kept two of those promises. She and Roger got married at City Hall, and she was baptized. But Paul? She never found him. Who was he? No one knew. No one had ever heard of him.
Guzman-McMillan was never the same again. And that, my brothers and sisters, is a glimpse of the life that Jesus offers you and me. Sinners need rescue in every way possible, and only the Son of God — the Christmas Lord, the Easter Lord — can make that possible for you. Trust Him. Jesus changes everything. We need to live like we know that. And we need to share it.
You plant it. It will grow. This is a promise that tests our faith. But we know how God always keeps His promises. He said He would send us His Son. He did. Jesus promised to win us salvation. He did, when He died on the cross and rose again. Jesus promises to be with us always. He is. And He tells us that when we share the Word of God, when we tell others about Jesus and what He means to us, that that work is always worthwhile.
Gardening can be frustrating. Plants die. Endless weeds get in the way. Birds and little furry things may rob us of seeds, small plants or ripening fruit. Every time Erica and I have tried to plant a garden, we ended up with a really nice patch of weeds. Yet, despite the losses, when you pick and eat something from your own garden, all the time and effort makes it worthwhile. If planting seeds in a garden can be worthwhile, how much more worth is there in the planting of God’s Word in people’s hearts. The devil may plunder, hot times can kill, and worries may destroy, but the harvest is certain. Be optimistic! Today we celebrate the truth. When the Word is planted/shared, God will make it grow.
In Jesus’ Name.