The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - July 16, 2017
Scripture Reading: Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23 
Sermon Title: Good Soil

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     I joined Facebook about 10 years ago.  Over the years I have become ďfriendsĒ with many.  For those of you who do not have a Facebook account, the program often gives you suggestions on who you might know.  In order to connect, you, or they, have to request to be their friend.  This is always a bit tricky as a minister, especially an interim minister.  When you leave a church, as a minister, it is understood that your services as a minister are no longer part of that churchís life.  At one point in time it was typical for a minister to move out of town when they left a church.  If necessary I am sure you could get an address and write them a letter, or get a phone number and make a long-distance call, but it was difficult.

     But first email, and then Facebook muddied the waters.  We also live in New Hampshire, a pretty small state.  If a minister leaves a church and stays in New Hampshire, there is a chance that your paths may cross again.  If you are involved in state or national setting church stuff, it becomes pretty common to run into former ministers.  And there are reasons to stay in touch, or be available.  About a year ago, I was contacted by the Mason Church, where I served as an interim before coming here, because they knew I had done a funeral, but needed to know the young manís full name, and the date I did the funeral for annual reports.  I will ďunfriendĒ people when I leave a setting, nothing personal, but just keeps that boundary clear.  This does not mean that I donít care, just maintains that boundary. 

     I get a lot of friend requests.  There are also a lot of fake requests today, someone posing as you, with your picture, your information, they get your friends to accept that request, which then allows them to do bad things.  When I get a request I always look at how I know this person.  If I think that I already had them as a friend, I am going to check that out.  Then, I will look at mutual friends, and any info I can see, try to figure out how I know them, if I do know them.

     Sometimes one pops up whose name I know, I think.  We have a few mutual friends, maybe I see that they are a minister, and I accept them.  This happened a few years ago to me.  We had some mutual friends from Silver Lake, the church camp I worked at in High School and early collage.  In his ďaboutĒ section he had ďworked at Silver Lake Conference Center.Ē  And he was a minister.  But really donít remember this guy.  Over the years I see posts, he is pretty normal, wife, a kid or two.  He does stand out in a crowd however because he is heavily tattooed.  Not just one or two, but full sleeves on both arms I believe, and even down onto his hands. 

     Last week at Synod I saw Chris.  Even though I really didnít know exactly how I know him, we have been Facebook friends for a few years now, so I went over to say hello.  He gave me a big hug.  And my mind is searching.  He is younger than me, maybe 30ís.  Pretty sure we were not on staff together, I think I remember most of the kids I spent a summer with on staff..  And then luckily he reminds me.  In about í88 he attended a week of camp that was titled ďThe World According to Garfield.Ē  As a staff member, they would ask me to sleep in cabins when one of the leaders of those weeks didnít have enough counselors.  As an over 18 year old male, I was in a cabin about every other week. 

     Now, to be honest, being a counselor was not my favorite part of my job.  In 1987 I cleaned bathrooms and dishes, among other things.  When you were a counselor, you were with those campers all week.  You helped run programs, you slept in the cabins, your job was being a counselor and that was great.  In 1988 I was the ceramics person, part of what we called the resource staff.  So that year, if I was assigned a cabin, I was there at night.  In the morning I would get up, normally sit with them at meals, but really was gone for the day, doing programs for their group and the other groups that were in camp.   But apparently I said something or did something that week, even though I only slept in that cabin and maybe ate meals with them.  He said that when he got home he wanted to come back.  He did come back the next year and the next year, eventually was on staff, eventually went to seminary, and became a minister.   He said ďThank you.Ē  I will call him good soil.

     There are many parables in the Bible that have to do with farming.  Unfortunately I donít relate to these very well.  I have a garden behind my house.  It is just about 4 feet by 8 feet.  I built it my first year here, really just built a box out of wood, only 6 inches high, so donít think it is considered a raised bed.  I laid down newspaper to kill all the grass under it, and filled it with mostly store bought dirt.  Over the years, I have scooped out my compost from my compost bin, some years invested in a bag or two of cow manure.  There are no rocks, I try to keep it weeded, and I have very little success. 

     My parents always had great success with their garden.  I never really realized it growing up, but we rarely bought vegetables from the store.  In the summer, they were always fresh, right out of the garden.  In the later fall, winter and early spring we had frozen or home canned vegetables.  They also had fruit, so as long as you liked plums, peaches or apples, we had fruit.  But I did not inherit their gift for gardening.  I just got my first snow peas this week.  I was a bit late in planting them.  I do have some lettuce that is ready now.  My green beans are doing very well, and I have three zucchini plants.  I fully expect to have enough peas for a snack, might get enough green beans for one or even two dinner sides, maybe a salad or two, and hopefully at least one or two zucchinis. 

     In Jesus story, the farmer just scatters seed, some here, some there.  No careful digging little holes to put the seeds in, no wedding, no watering, kind of wasteful.  Seeds are not too expensive, but they are not free.  I am not just going to scatter them around and see what happens, I am going to plant them in a specific chosen spot and care for them.  They donít get planted in areas where I have grass or weeds, they will get choked out.  Donít plant them on the side of my house, it is all rocky, they will not grow there. 

     Of course the disciples donít really understand what Jesus is saying, so he explains it.  But as parables often do for me, they raise a lot of questions.  I did not know what Chris would do with his life.  I counseled about 6 weeks the summer he was in one of my cabins.  8 boys each week, so 48 boys in my cabins that summer.  I know Chris became a minister, and one other boy I heard became a church organist, at least part time.  Other 46 could be in jail for all I know. 

     In my garden I think I have good soil, but rarely grow much.  When we share the word of God, as a camp counselor, as a Sunday School teacher, just in our interactions, it is usually impossible to know who will hear that and grow.  And apparently the quality or quantity of the seed does not matter.  I spent the night with Chrisí cabin, I think we did some kind of night devotion.  Donít remember it has being especially good, and certainly was not long.  I was tired at night, letís get these kids to bed so I can go to bed.  I imagine that quality and quantity were low.

     Jesus does say that some will be more fruitful than others, so how do we measure success in our seed planting.  Someone becoming minister, yeah, I will count that as good soil.  Now I donít take all credit for it, maybe it was a seed that I planted, and others watered and nurtured.  Maybe the seed was already planted and I just took a small part in watering or caring for it.  But through Facebook I have been able to keep in touch with some other kids from my youth group, and early camp experiences.  From my youth group, not many are still involved in church.  A few, maybe some of those seeds produced a little grain.  At the first camp I worked at we had an unusual number of ministers who came from the staff.  I looked back a few years ago, and about 50% of one of the camp staffís I served on had become ministers.  I think out of 30 staff there were 16 ministers today. 

     But certainly, you do not have to be a minister to be producing grain.  All sorts of people use the things that have learned in church to guide their lives, even outside the church.  One my fellow youth group members is a Bio-chemist in California.  I asked her a few years ago what she did, and I didnít understand a word she said.  She explained in much simpler terms that she was working to cure diseases.  I would count that as bearing fruit. 

     In Jesus parable, the seed is all the same.  They didnít have genetically modified seed back then.  And the word of God is the same.  Obviously we want out seed to produce lots of grain, but already determined that probably seed quality and quantity, as far as sharing the word of God may not matter that much.  So maybe we can modify the soil.  We can pull out those thorns that threaten to choke out the plants, we can add soil to the rocky places, so that the seed will take root.  In our churches, maybe we can do some soil preparation. 

     But this morning I would like to suggest a different reading.  Maybe we are called to spread the word of God far and wide.  If some lands on rocky soil, springs up quickly and dies, so be it.  If some grows up but gets choked out by weeds, so be it.  Even in the best of soil, not every plant is going to produce the same amount.  Some people are going to hear the word of God, and produce lots of grain, some are going to hear the same word and produce some, but not a huge amount. 

     God never called us all to be ordained ministers, didnít call us all to teach Sunday School, didnít call us all to sing in the choir.  But I do believe God called us all to be a part of this thing we call the church.  Paul, remember Paul, we talked about him a few weeks ago, the guy who wrote all the letters.  Paul says that we each have a role in this body of Christ.  Perhaps some of us fell in the edge of the good soil, we keep the thorns from growing in, but never really produce a lot of grain.  But maybe our job is just as important.  Maybe even those that grow quickly and die out also serve a roll.  Even a plant that absorbs water and grows up quickly will decompose and enrich the soil for future plants. 

     Perhaps Jesusí parable is not calling us to do anything in particular, but just telling us the way that things are.  Continue to spread Godís word far and wide and be surprised at all that happens.