Fertile Ground

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Isaiah 44:24-45:7, Ephesians 5:1-14, Mark 4:1-20


In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells the story of a man who scatters seed across several types of ground. Only one type is good soil where the seed may find purchase and bloom. The seed, Jesus explains to the disciples, is the Word and the different types of ground represent the hearts and convictions of those who hear it.

As Christians, we believe we are the good soil where God’s word takes root and “bears good fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” That may very well be true, but it may also be true that God hasn’t yet sown all the word He has for us. Does any serious farmer reap one successful harvest then stop tending the plot? Of course not. There’s a lot of work that goes into preparing for the next one. Are we still fertile ground for the new things God might do, or have we borne all the fruit we care to?

Good soil requires a lot of care. It needs to be tilled regularly. It needs water. It needs fertilizer. It needs to be weeded so its nutrients aren’t needlessly depleted. Sometimes it needs to lie fallow for a season to be restored to health.

In other words, good soil is no accident. We may have gotten lucky once – or perhaps more accurately, been the beneficiaries of God’s grace – by being born or reborn into the faith, but are we putting in the necessary work to prepare for the time when God would scatter new seed our way?

The insights resulting from prayer and study help us keep our faith freshly turned over. Worship and praise feed and water our souls. Self-examination and confession reveal the weeds we’ve let overrun our hearts and habits. Being open to new information helps us understand how we best function in a changing environment. And rest – the kind of rest that occurs only when we finally turn our worries over to God – gives us the strength we need to be fruitful during the more inhospitable seasons of life.

When we do this work, we are better prepared to receive and nurture whatever God throws our way: a new mission, a new journey, a new understanding. They can sink their roots deep into our hearts, and grow to their potential. The sower is generous with the seed; let’s give it somewhere to land.

Comfort: God is always doing something new.

Challenge: Select a spiritual discipline, such as fasting or prayer, and stick to it for a month. Note any changes and growth it promotes in you faith life.

Prayer: God of new life, I will do my best to be ready to receive your Word. Amen.

Discussion: When have you felt God pulling or pushing you to grow in a new direction?

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Sower or Seed?

Good soil

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 145, Leviticus 25:35-55, Colossians 1:9-14, Matthew 13:1-16


In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells the story of a man who spread seeds on the ground. Some fell on the path, and the birds ate it. Some fell on rocky ground and sprouted, but withered in the heat and blew away with the wind because its roots had nowhere to cling. Some fell among thorns which choked it out. Some fell on good soil and yielded an abundant harvest. The seed is the message of Christ, and the different circumstances represent how well his message is received. Where do you see yourself in this parable?

Are you the earth? If that is the role you identify with, what are you doing (or have you done) to prepare yourself for the message? What are you doing to ensure the message can take root in you and produce abundance? We are each responsible for preparing the soil of our hearts.

Are you the seed? If so, do you feel like you have any control over where you land? When you find yourself in an environment which is inhospitable for your growth, can you go somewhere more suitable? Jesus follows up the parable with an explanation of what circumstances each type of soil represents, so we would do well to avoid them.

Are you the sower? If you are, why do you think you are so indiscriminate  – careless even – about where you sow your seeds? Why aren’t you concentrating on only the best soil so that the harvest is maximized? The sower is not unconcerned with the results (otherwise why sow at all?), but he does not feel responsible for the fate of every handful he scatters.

The beauty of parables is that they really can be all things to all people. At different stages of our lives – maybe even different hours of the day – we could be earth, seed, or sower. Who is to say we might not even be one of the birds snatching the seed up before it takes root? Let us prepare our hearts well, place ourselves wisely, and share the Word with wild, faithful abandon.

Comfort: Wherever you are in life, Christ has a word for you.

Challenge: Resolve to “bloom where you are planted.”

Prayer: Loving God, you spread seeds of faith throughout the world. May they take firm root in us, that we may in turn share spread that faith to others. Amen.

Discussion: With what element(s) of today’s parable do you most identify? What does it feel like to place yourself in the different roles?

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Seeds of Faith

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 5; 147:1-11, Genesis 42:18-28, 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:11, Mark 4:1-20


Jesus frequently used parables to teach his followers. A parable is more than a story: it illustrates a deeper truth or lesson not easily expressed through more direct instruction. Most of the time Jesus told a parable and left the interpretation to his audience. One benefit of not explaining too much is that people can approach the parable from different angles and identify with different characters. The risk is people failing to understand your message.

For today’s parable about the seeds, however, he unpacks the meaning of the parable (in a somewhat exasperated fashion) to his inner circle. Some landed on rocky ground and were easily uprooted, others landed on scorched earth and withered, and still others were eaten by birds or choked out by thorns. The seeds are the Word, and the type of soil they land on represents the condition of the person receiving the Word. Only a few are standing on good soil where the seed can take root and produce fruit.

We can benefit from Jesus’ explanation by making conscious decisions about what kind of ground we are preparing for the seed. Have you wandered off a righteous path to where the evils of the world can snatch the Word away? Retreat to a community that nurtures your faith. Find yourself on rocky ground that won’t secure you in times of trouble? Till the soil with prayer and study so you will be rooted in the storms. Are you caught in a thorny tangle of worldly concerns that chokes out the Word? Prune them back by simplifying your life to free up time and space to spend in the Word.

Of course making any of these moves from inhospitable soil to a place where we can grow deep roots takes a lot of time and effort. And once we’re there, we can’t lazily wait for a harvest: we still have to do the work of tending the seedlings. A living, growing faith requires care, but as it matures it becomes more self-sufficient. Are we doing what we can to make sure it gets a decent start?

Comfort: You can prepare yourself to better receive Christ’s Word.

Challenge: Imagine yourself as each of the types of soil Christ mentions in this parable.

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for the gift of stories and insight. Please make my heart fertile ground for the seeds Christ offers. Amen.

Discussion: What is your soil like? How can you tend it better?

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Seeds

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Job 42:1-17, Acts 16:16-24, John 12:20-26


“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
– John 12:24

Jesus shares this image of a seed dying to bear fruit as a metaphor for his own impending death, and the faith community that will grow from it. Just as an apple seed contains all the genetic material to create a fully-formed apple tree from water, soil and light, Jesus contains everything the world needs to be transformed into the limbs of the body of Christ. Both the seed and Jesus sacrifice themselves to turn potential into reality, and both remain fully present in the fruit they bear.

Like all good parables, this one contains multiple levels of meaning. Each of us needs to “die to ourselves” to release the potential God has placed in us. What does it mean to “die to ourselves?” Like a seed, we have to shed any shell that keeps us from fully surrendering to God’s transformational process. Our shells may grow from pride, greed, fear, selfishness, or anything that inhibits the Spirit. Until that shell crumbles, neither we nor the world will see any real fruit.

How do we discard our shells? The same way any seed does: a little dirt, a little water, and a little light. We have to dig in and dirty our hands by helping the poor, the sick, and anyone Christ commands us to serve. Through the waters of baptism – a ritual symbolizing death and resurrection – we surrender ourselves to God and agree to trust his understanding above our own. We allow the light of Christ, his message of love and faith, to penetrate our hearts until it burns away all resistance. Faith lives that are never exposed to these elements are like seeds that never leave the packet: we see the picture of what they’re supposed to become, but never taste the real thing.

The world hungers for God. Let’s do everything we can to feed it by nurturing the seeds within us to fruition.

Comfort: To die to the self is not to perish, but to be reborn in Christ..

Challenge: Are you getting enough dirt, water and light? Examine how you engage the world, trust God, and embody Christ’s light.

Prayer: Compassionate God, thank you for the potential in each of us. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever gotten into a debate that generated a lot of heat and little or no light?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!