Root and Fruits
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for Sexagesima, February 12, 2023
“A sower went out to sow his seed: and some fell by the way-side; and some fell upon a rock; and some fell among thorns; and other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.”
Truth or Consequences was an old game show, on radio and television from 1940 to 1988: the first game show broadcast across the whole nation. The host asked you a question and, if the answer wasn’t given in two seconds, Beulah the Buzzer sounded. You were then subjected to a funny, embarrassing or difficult stunt. Truth or consequences: says that everything is in a long chain of events from cause to effect. If something exists, or happens, we ask how or why it does. The three-year-old’s question, “Why?” is a good one. Why?
Cause and effect is one of the classic proofs that God exists. It’s the cosmological argument—follow the chain of causes and effects back in time to the universe’s earliest moments. There is something there, but why? If a big bang did start the cosmos, what caused that? Simply put: what caused existence to exist? Before matter and energy, what? Who? Other arguments for God are: the world’s complex order, our very ability to conceive of God, such things as beauty, noble acts and love speaking better than instinct or raw nature, and a new argument springs from the double helix DNA—the amount of information in a single cell, life’s most basic unit has to come from a greater mind than ours.
Cause and effect is a basic tool of logic. It’s the detective’s trail that leads back to a reason for everything the way we’ve found it. Deductive logic shows that a conclusion has to follow because all other possibilities are proven false. Consequences follow any event or action taken. You stay up late, you’re tired in the morning. You run from police, they chase you. You fail to turn in an assignment, you’re docked for it. You forget your anniversary… well, let’s not go there.
Cause and effect are actually a great comfort to us. To be punished without a cause feels far worse than to pay the penalty of some act you did commit. Not to receive the consequences of something good or bad that you’ve done makes the world appear crazy, or just stupid. It warps us, keeps us in suspense, makes us arrogant or paranoid. An undiscovered murderer is dangerous. We expect consequences. We believe in reasons and meanings for the things we see. That fact keeps us sane. It’s why we read mystery stories. We love finding out who done it.
Jesus tells the best stories ever, and so simply. Okay: here’s a farmer’s field and a sower who throws seeds up in the air. Where the seeds land might be the cart path, or rocky uncultivated ground, or a weedy patch, or fertile soil in plowed rows. This story’s not about seeds—what quality they are or what kind of plant they’ll be—but about the dirt. We’re the dirt. And to simplify it further, the dirt is all the same. What’s different about the four conditions is how the dirt has been prepared.
Native soil is rocky, untilled and thus hard to grow in because the rocks prohibit the roots from sinking down. I know this well, living in California Park where every five-gallon hole for a plant yields ten gallons of ugly brown volcanic rocks. Few plants grow in rocky soil. It takes work to get a field ready for planting.
Neglected soil becomes host to weeds and thistles. A great many untended fields around Butte County have gone to star thistle, a resilient weed that defies elimination except by arduous removal. Round Up won’t touch it. One characteristic of a weed is that it grows faster and better than crops, so it overshadows your bean sprout and deprives it of food.
The soil that has been hard used, like the wayside, is beat down, pressed hard. This would be great if broken up, but it’s a pathway to fruitful fields, and bears no produce itself.
What is different about the main field that brings fruit in abundance from these other three conditions is that it’s been tended. It’s been broken up. It’s been weeded. It’s had something done to it. That’s cause and effect. A field doesn’t get that way without work. You can’t spread corn seed on a vacant lot and watch the crops rise to seven feet high—not without preparatory work. The dirt’s the same, whether you do the work or not, but the result will be far different if you do, rather than leave those star thistles and rocks and hard dirt.
Our lives are like this. That’s the point of Jesus’ simple story. We are all dirt. We are actually, from the first human, made out of the soil of a new planet. Science confirms this: the elements of a human body are just those found in the dirt beneath our feet. 99% of the human body is made up of six elements: oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. Less than 1% is potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. A few trace elements, and you’re dirt, Son. Just add water. So, we are found with the fallen world of rocks, weeds, hardened and fairly useless. But we’re really good dirt down deep.
It takes an act of violence to change that. Some violence is good. It destroys a few things, but change is needed. It takes violence to remove a weed. It takes violence to overturn hard soil, and force to remove rocks. Clods must be broken up, raked out, softened, turned fine and ready to plant. This hurts. Like going to a physical therapist after surgery or a bad accident, exercising injured limbs causes excruciating pain—but you’ve got to do the painful work or you will remain crippled for life.
The violence needed to make our native dirt ready for God to plant the Word of God in our souls deep enough for abundant life is Repentance. The train of events can look like this: “I’ve made a mess of my life. I have no hope. I deserve a terrible outcome from all I’ve done. I detest myself.” Step 1 is a disturbing self assessment. It’s no good blaming others—the worst things we can say about ourselves are inevitably our fault. I can’t repent of something another person did to me.
Step 2 is tricky. Some people get stuck at 1 and either become clinically depressed, or retreat to drugs or some other form of denial. Hope has to come from a real source, and pharmaceuticals can’t provide it. God reaches down and, by a myriad of means, He makes the offer: “Do you want a new life? Forgiveness? Another chance?” Step 2 says “Yes” to the offer. It’s all available. He has already purchased it. But you’re going to have to catch the bus. Say Yes, and hold on.
Step 3 is nothing less than a violent act, but it’s all for your good. The rocks have to come out. The star thistle must leave you. Your dirt must be broken up. You’ve lived a life of lies up to this point. You’ve collected a lot of junk, thought it good, or at least, your portion. You have to give it up to Him. He won’t make it more painful than necessary, but it must come out. I had a wisdom tooth go bad on me. The cure was yanking that tooth out of my head. You can’t take a pill for that. It’s violent. The other option was a rotting tooth. Yank away, Doc.
Step 3 is an ongoing process. That’s called our sanctification—nice clean word for it. It hurts. We look back with regret, sometimes, at parts of us we have to leave behind. Now listen: that is not a part of you. It’s a weed. Leave it. You are not a weed. You are dirt. It was just a stone. Let it go. You are not stone, but good supple dirt. Your old hard-packed cynical attitude has to change. Humility will go a lot farther than to blame the world for dealing you bad hand.
Now the tiller breaks you up further, turns you over and over again. Oh boy, this is violent, but as your clods soften and fall apart you feel the silky suppleness of being good soil. Long furrows lead straight and deep, prepared for the dawn.
You’ve seen these seeds before. They never had any lasting effect on you. The words somewhat familiar made no sense. You called it religious mumbo-jumbo. Now every Word that proceeds out of God’s mouth opens up a world of wisdom and truth that springs to life before your eyes. It’s all true! There is reason in all of it. You disdained it before, now you embrace this truth—it’s cause and effect, the reasons behind all you’ve experienced, the meaning of life you never knew. The Word comes seed by seed, planted deep in your furrows.
Now each seed gets moisture, splits open to send a green shoot upward and strong roots down further into you. As bright little leaves give evidence of the life now in you, a network of fine tendrils fan out underneath, drawing life and sustenance from your experiences and the good which God created you for. The stalk rises, branches reach out, leaves and buds and flowers form. The bees carry your message abroad on the wind and a plant grows heavy laden with the summer’s best produce. Each fruit carries dozens of seeds, and each plant dozens of fruits. But you are the dirt in this story, and the plant’s abundance is the result of your life, the portion of this Earth’s treasure bound up in you. It had to be unlocked. It had to be wrested from you by the act of violence we call Repentance. Humility, Faith, Redemption, Sanctification, Conversion: these are all operative words that are essential parts of this process. Call it what you will.
God has called you out of your native state and into His kingdom. This Lent, just a week and a half from now, we will remember and re-enter the process of spiritual therapy, exercising the broken limb now healed, but weak. The cast is off, the bone knitted, but it needs work.
Dirty people: have hope. God is ready to grow a great harvest in you this Spring. Lying fallow has been restful, I know, but it’s time to come to life. Nothing but worldly care, shallow treasures and dead rocks grow in untended tracts, so let’s get a little violent—you hear what I mean. No pain, no gain. Cause and effect. Roots must grow down in well prepared soil or the fruits will not be borne aloft by a healthy plant. Roots and fruits: cause and effect.
Jesus tells the story. You are the dirt in His story. It’s time to grow. Time for the truth. Truth or consequences? I’ll go with truth.