The fields were quiet, and earth was warm. Summer was being enjoyed in the countryside. Then in the background there came a noise. Distant at first; hard to know just what it was. Then the noise grew louder and more clear and seemed to be coming from all around. It was the noise of men and horses. They began to arrive and rose to the tops of the hills of this pleasant land. Only few could be seen at first, and then dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of men, and then tens of thousands of men. The men came from different directions and they faced one another. A short while later the actions of these men would literally cause the ground shake violently as they began launching cannon fire at one another. The two groups of men represented the Union and Confederate armies. The peaceful countryside was in Gettysburg, PA. The year was 1863. In July of that year, over the course of three days, more men would engage and die in mortal combat than any other battle in North America. When it had ended, 51,000 Americans lay dead, dying, or wounded. Four months later, on that land, President Lincoln addressed a small gathering of people to consecrate the battleground to those who had died. Lincoln would say that those who perished consecrated and made the ground hallowed by the blood shed upon it and the lives given up in the battle. It would be another two years before the war would end and more ground would be declared hallowed by sacrifice. Another 184,000 Americans would be wounded or perish in battle. At the end of the war, the wounds to the nation were deep and painful.
By 1868, the nation came together to honor those who had fallen. The 30th day of May was designated for the purpose of strewing flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country. Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers alike at Arlington National Cemetery. Memorial Day, born in a nation divided, had become an occasion for reconciliation.
We continue the tradition of honoring those who have sacrificed for us. But did their blood as Lincoln said make the ground hallowed? Can man make ground hallowed and if not, what then should be considered hallowed ground?
Hallowed is a word we use each week as we pray the Lord’s Prayer. The word means an acknowledgement that something or someone is sacred. Within its full meaning, it is to make holy, signifying to set apart for God, to sanctify, to make a person or thing the opposite of common or unclean.
I believe we get some insight to this question of hallowed ground and into our walk as disciples from our New Testament reading today. So let’s turn to our Bibles to the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 13, beginning at verse 1.
Let’s look at the first verse. It says, “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.” This is a great verse to use to point the need for us to look at the context of Scripture. We are beginning with the first verse of a new chapter and it starts with “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.” We would want to pause for a moment and ask, “What day are we talking about? What was significant about the house? Why does it matter that he sat down? As we look at the context for a moment as presented in the Gospel of Matthew, we would need to look back into Chapters 11 and 12.
Turn just for a moment to Chapter 11, verse 1. It says, “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.” Jesus was on the move and he was determined to now speak to the people across the land. As Jesus moved through the Galilean countryside, he shook people up by the denouncing the self-serving pride. Yet, Jesus also offered hope. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” While on one hand, Jesus’ message was shaking the people up and disturbing their pride and complacency, Jesus was also offering the good news that salvation and reconciliation with God was to be found through Him.
Turn for a moment to Chapter 12, verse 1. It starts with these words, “At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.’ After shaking up the people and calling them to follow him, now came the opposition from the Pharisees, the religious leaders. That opposition became intense and the tensions mounted. As that day progressed, we learn from the balance of Chapter 12 that Jesus entered the synagogue and healed the man with a withered hand. This incited the Pharisees that Jesus would do work on the Sabbath. Later Jesus healed a demon-possessed man who was also blind and mute. The Pharisees accused him of being a master of demons. Finally, while Jesus was in a house teaching, Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived to take charge of him believing Jesus had lost his mind. Jesus’ family waited outside the house and asked that Jesus come and speak with them. But Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus was redefining the kingdom of God on a very personal level making clear that one’s natural birth did not guarantee one standing in the kingdom. It was only for those who submitted to God.
We then have the opening line to our text today, “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.” That long day of opposition and miracles and discussion about his family, Jesus left the house he was teaching in and was met by a crowd along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He sat down, which is the position the Rabbi’s would take when teaching. This day that had started out passing through a grain field would close with a grain field being used as the canvas for one of his greatest teaching, the parable of the sower. Verse 2 tells us that great crowds gathered about Jesus, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach.” Jesus began teaching, “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. This he would later explain that “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.” He had faced those who did not believe his words all day long. Verses 5 and 6 he said, “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Here Jesus said, that as for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. Jesus had among him those who enjoyed his miracles but could not abide by his teachings or feared the Pharisees would put them out of the synagogue for being his disciple. In verse 7, Jesus continued, “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” He would explain, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” There were some who followed Jesus until he confronted them to give up whatever they most cherished in life and they could not do so. Finally, he said in verse 8, “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Jesus would later explain, “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” You could almost see him again stretching out his hand toward his disciples, saying here is the good soil in which the word of God has taken root because, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus emphasized in this parable three negative responses and only one positive to the word of God. What could account for the differences in response to seed, God’s word? Why was only one type of soil good enough to bring a harvest? What was wrong with the other soil? One was a pathway, hardened and unyielding. This metaphor when representing people, we know them as self-centered and uninterested in anything that may alter the trail they are following. The word of God is a bother to them, and they just brush it aside. Those comprised of rocky soil may be interested in the gospel but only for what they can get out of it. They are practically atheists. They may profess a belief in God but prefer they handle things their own way. Those composed of soil rich in thorns may also believe in God, so long as doing so does not interfere with their life. They are busy with things of this world, and always manage to find a reason why God is not high on their list. Each of these soils, and thus the type of people Jesus was describing, share in common a lack of preparation. They are unwilling to open their ears to genuinely hear the word of God. They are resistant to allowing the Holy Spirit to change them. They do not want their hard ways to be softened, or the rocks removed from them, or the weeds to be cleaned out. They are content with themselves and define all that occurs as being for them.
The good soil, however, has been prepared to receive the seed. It has been turned over and is receptive. The focus of such people is not on themselves and their own lives for they are willing to be humble before God and man. They want to do God’s will – not their own. So what is it then that truly distinguishes the nature of our hearts to receive God’s word? Missionary Andrew Murray called it “all-prevailing humility.” He writes: “Without this [humility] there can be no true abiding in God’s presence or experience of His favor and the power of His Spirit; without this [humility] no abiding faith or love or joy or strength. Humility is the only soil in which virtue takes root; a lack of humility is the explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a virtue along with others, but is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God and allows Him, as God, to do all.”
We would be wise to examine ourselves and contemplate the condition of our humility - our ground if you will. Have we emptied ourselves of all and given our lives over to Jesus? Do we have a sense and attitude of “all-prevailing humility”? If we do then we will be of good soil, the type of soil in which the seed - the word of God - can take root and produce the desired harvest. If however we are prideful then our soil - our heart for the word of God - may be cluttered with weeds - the worries of this world; or rocky and shallow - not capable of perseverance; or hardened and unable to be penetrated. You and God know what type of soil you possess. And so it is that the seed must be received by the ground. Are you allowing God to make you into “good soil”? If you are, then know that Jesus will reside there and you will be his disciple and he your God. You will truly become hallowed soil. You are to be set aside and noticeably different from all other types of people. You are not to be common but are to be sacred. You will bear much fruit and you are hallowed because of the blood Jesus shed for you and because he now lives within you.
This week look carefully at a vacant and unused piece of ground. Do you see the beautiful garden on that land? Do you see the good soil? Probably not because it is covered in weeds, stones, and is packed hard. Effort will be required to clear away the past to make way for the new. For each of us, we need to let the Holy Spirit clear away our past and make us receptive for God’s word. Ask God to send his Spirit to you. Submit to God that he might remove spiritual weeds, stone, and hardness. Look for the transformation in your life like you will see in the land that will become that garden. Allow Christ fully into your life that he may make you hallowed. Amen.