Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire
- 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
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
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
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.