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Resist, Wither, Choke Or Grow?
July 14, 1996

MATTHEW 13:1-9, 18-23

I hope you won't spread it around, but I'm going to talk about dirt this morning. Not only am I going to talk about dirt, but I'm going to ask you what kind of dirt you are. Jesus told a parable about seeds and dirt. When you interpret a parable, you have a lot of license to play with it. Usually, the sermons I've heard on this parable look at it from the perspective of the sower, the farmer. But, this morning, I'm asking you not to identify with the farmer, nor with the seed, but with the soil. It was the soil that made the difference. It was the receptivity, fertility and health of the soil that made the difference between a good harvest and a bad harvest.

So, I'm asking you this morning, what kind of dirt are you? How receptive are you to seeds? A seed is a small kernel. But what comes out of the seed when it is planted in good soil, and when it is taken care of, nurtured and nourished, is a surprise. Aren't you amazed at the variety, the sheer numbers and colors of flowers, plants, vegetables, fruit? God is extravagant! Ideas are like seeds. There are limitless ideas and ways of doing things. There are multiple ways of thinking about something, endless possibilities of approaching, worshiping, and serving God. How is your receptivity? According to Jesus' parable, you can choose to resist, wither, choke or grow?

Do you resist growth? Jesus said, A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. A path is hard dirt! People have walked on the path, and hardened the soil so that a seed cannot put down roots and grow. The ground is hard and resists any kind of growth. Are you the kind of person who resists new ideas, changes, potentials, possibilities, seeds that contain surprises? Look at all that's happening in our church: a new van, a new patio, Vacation Bible Ship with 81 children, a new Prayer Ministry, a ministry of hospitality to the Mt. Pisgah AME Zion congregation. The Impact World Tour is coming to Merced, preparations are now underway for our church to participate. How are you receiving all this? How are you handling the changes in our church?

Soil that is hard and compressed prevents ideas from taking root and growing. The ideas are resisted. Some people resist. No more ideas, thank you. No change here, thank you very much. Change and new ideas are for the birds. Let the birds come and eat them up. They are not going to take root in me. I'm perfectly happy with my life. I had a new idea ten years ago and that's enough. I don't like change. I like routine. I like habit. I like things the way they were way back when.



Here are some famous, notorious quotes from Resisters.

Ken Olson, Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977: "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

Western Union in 1876: "This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered a s a means of communication."

Decca Recording Company, rejecting the Beatles in 1962: "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."

Resisters often refuse to listen. A troubled teen told his counselor, "You know what I am? I'm a comma. When I talk to my dad, he'll say something, and then when I start to talk, he treats me like a comma. When I'm finished talking, he starts in right where he left off, as if I didn't say anything." The son is a comma; the father is a piece of hard dirt, no penetrating.

Some churches are like hardened paths of dirt. They resist seeds. They resist ideas. They resist change. I heard of a church only last week where pastors come and go, and when they go, they go discouraged. Nothing happens. The heads get whiter. The congregation gets smaller. They don't like change. They don't like new ideas. They don't like new people. And, their church is dying. Churches that resist make good paths, and are only good to walk on. What about you? What kind of soil are you? A hard path resisting any kind of seed, any kind of growth, any kind of change?

Jesus said, Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. The seeds developed a shallow root system. There was not the depth of soil to allow them to develop a strong root system, so they withered and died. Are you a witherer? Do you embrace new ideas, jump on band wagons, enjoy fads as they come along, but do not stay with anything long enough for it to take root in your life? Where there is no thought, no struggle, there is no growth. For an idea to take root, a commitment is required, a commitment to stay with it. Where there is no commitment, the roots are shallow, and when the sun comes out, they scorch and wither away. When we lived in Modesto years ago, a new restaurant would open up. The public would flock to it. Long lines. Then, a few weeks later another new restaurant would open up, and the diners would swarm to the new one, leaving the old one to wither away. And, predictably, it would close in about three months.

Some church members are witherers. They make shallow commitments. They are not in it for the long haul. They easily wither and fall away when someone says something they don't like, or looks at them cross-eyed. Some churches are planted on rocky soil. They flirt with new programs. They are constantly starting something new before the old has taken root. They are fickle, following whatever fad comes along. It is difficult to find out what the church's goals are. They don't seem to have any focus. Programs come and go, wither on the vine, and die. And the church doesn't grow. They don't seem to want to make a commitment for the long haul. They don't want to put up money or resources or really take the time and energy required to make their church grow. What about you? Do you resist new ideas, or do you jump from idea to idea, theology to theology, class to class, group to group, book to book, hero to hero, with no depth, no commitment? Do ideas wither in you? Are you a witherer?

Jesus said, Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. The chokers have trouble with priorities. They can't decide what they want to do, or what they want to be. They grab on to whatever seed comes along, but keep all the weeds and thorns as well. Broom Hilda asked her friend, Irwin the troll, "Irwin, what would be the best way to make the world better?" Irwin thought for a moment and then replied, "Start with yourself! Give up your bad habits and evil pleasures." Broom Hilda asked, "What's the second best way?"

Some people can't seem to tell the difference between a thorn or a weed, and a seed with its infinite possibilities. They try to cover all the angles, keep all their options open, never choose, but do everything. Their schedule is horrendous because they say yes to whatever is asked of them. They join everything and sign their kids up for everything. They rarely stop for a breath, and can't understand why they are so tired. They can't understand why they are not happy, why they are not satisfied.

In the comic strip Sally Forth, Sally has finished a pile of paperwork in the middle of a hectic day. Then she asks her secretary if there are any messages. Her secretary says, "Let's see, Ralph is looking for you. You've got 12 calls to return. Here's your mail. Your baby-sitter wants you to get back to her--right away. Your husband phoned; he's working late tonight...and you're ten minutes late for your 2:00 meeting." Sally sighs, "The trouble with life in the fast lane is, there's no finish line."

What kind of soil are you? Are you a resister, or a witherer, or a choker where there is no prioritizing, where thorns and weeds choke the seed?

Jesus said, Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen! A secret to effective farming is the soil. One can add nutrients to improve the soil, but it certainly helps if the soil is good to begin with. Every moment and every event plants seeds. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because we are not prepared to receive them. Seeds cannot grow except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love. Isn't it exciting to realize that we are constantly being showered upon with seeds-- new ideas, new opportunities, vistas yet unexplored. In fact, life in the Spirit is a constant re-beginning, like being born all over again.

Rather than close your arms, close your mind, and close your eyes, open yourself to receive. Rather than resist, welcome the new. Embrace, engage, explore, evaluate, rank, and prioritize the seeds by holding them in the light of Christ in prayer. And then, accept or reject. We can't accept all new seeds. If we do, they will wither and die because they will have a shallow root system. It is through prayer that seeds are grounded in our lives. It is through prayer that we test and evaluate all ideas in relation to Jesus Christ, and God's will for our lives.

An ancient monk likened the spiritual life to a dance, a dance with a partner who has a fertile imagination and who leads. We who follow the partner in the dance must be alert, responsive to the slightest indication of God's intention, ready to adapt to the movements with which we are led. A good soil is ready to welcome and receive. Open your heart to God. Open your mind to God. Open your hands to God. Relax the tension which squeezes your hands together. Relax and receive the gifts.

How is your receptivity? What I'm doing this morning is sowing seeds. I'm throwing out ideas. I'm scattering the suggestion that you consider how receptive you are, how open you are or how closed you are. What are you doing right now with the seed I am scattering this morning? Resisting? Withering? Choking? Or, are you allowing the seed to grow? In prayer are you welcoming it, embracing, engaging, testing, evaluating, and opening yourself to a new way of looking at yourself and how you respond?

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris