That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 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. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:1-9, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wow this is such a familiar text… in some ways that makes it really hard to preach about. First, we’ve all heard it so much we think we know everything there is to know about it. Second, there’s the real danger of saying something that disagrees with a long held and favorite understanding. “That’s not what pastor so-and-so said it meant!” That’s the burden of a preacher. Just like the sower my job is to sow the Word.
You’ve all got some corn this morning. We’re going to talk a little bit about that in just a moment but I gave you corn because it’s obvious the seed that the farmer is sowing in the parable is corn. Who can tell me why? The clue is right there in the text… Well, it’s obviously corn because after the parable Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” I couldn’t give you all a whole ear… but he who has ears let him hear. Just hang on to that seed a little longer, we’ll get back to it.
Let’s talk a little about this parable. It’s been called the parable of the sower, or the parable of the soils. Now both of these have their merits. The seed lands on the soil and it grows according to what kind of conditions it finds there. Jesus is telling us that he casts his word out upon human beings and they react differently depending on their soil type. Originally I was going to stick the corn onto different colored pieces of paper, so that each of you would get different colors. But it didn’t seem quite right. After all I’m assuming that if you hear in church you’re here to hear God’s Word, and have it sown on you. So you must in some sense be “good soil.” We could go into a detailed description of all the kinds of soil there are. Accusing those who aren’t here of being the path or rocky or weed infested. “Shame on you!” we could say about them. But the truth is that we all have those same kinds of problems. We reject God’s Word that we hear, it just bounces off of us especially when it tells us of sinful behavior we don’t want to change. Satan comes and snatches it away, “you don’t need to worry about that little sin. God isn’t really talking to you. There are so many people who are so much worse than you are, that one little weakness doesn’t matter.” We all at times don’t have God’s Word deeply rooted. Trouble and hardship in our lives, that should push us to Christ, instead our faith withers. Instead of looking to Christ and saying that without Him we are lost, we look inside ourselves to find the strength to go on. And we all have those weed that threaten to choke out God’s Word, too. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of coming to church. Life is busy all year round not to mention our “summer schedule.” And there’s even the temptation to think that we come to church to be entertained. It’s easy to think that God’s Word by itself isn’t enough to do the job, we’ve got to make it more acceptable, by doing something flashy. All of it serves to distract us from hearing the simple message of God’s love for us in Jesus. Those weeds seem to grow up before we know it and choke out our interest in worship, and bible study, and prayer, and even a five minute devotion from Portals of Prayer. And then there’s the good soil… we’ll talk about that later. You see how it really doesn’t matter what type of soil we are. We’re really all kinds of soil. Jesus is describing where the seed of His Word falls. He’s describing human beings, just like you and me. Without faith in Jesus we’d all reject His Word. Satan’s word to us would always sound like the truth. Without faith in Jesus, we’d all get scorched by persecution and trouble. Without faith in Jesus, His Word would always be choked out of our lives.
Well, I think there’s different point being made by this parable. When we are looking at the soil, we are looking at us. Whenever we look at ourselves as the answer to any problem we’re looking in the wrong place. God doesn’t promise that you’ll have the strength to do whatever you want or need to do. He promises that He’ll give you whatever you need. When we look at ourselves, in light of the soil the best we can do is say, “Let’s be good soil!”
You farmers out there, can any one of you tell me what the dirt does to be good dirt? Can the rocky soil get rid of the rocks? Can the earth beneath the bean field zap its own weeds? Can the soil that lacks nitrogen get it on its own? Of course it can’t. But a farmer can do something about it. What did it take to make the farmland around here arable? I’ve been told many times about the hand dug tiles that drained the water. But the land couldn’t do it by itself.
I don’t think this parable is so much about the soil as it is about the Sower. In fact, one way of interpreting parables is to look for the thing that’s out of place, look for the thing that people would never do. When you find that crazy thing you’ll usually find what Jesus is saying about himself. So what’s the thing out of place here? What’s the thing that someone would never do? Let me ask you this question. What’s up with this Sower? What farmer is going to run his planter over the road? What farmer is going to through his best seed corn in the fence row? What farmer isn’t going to do something about the weeds that are growing up among the plants he planted? You see, this isn’t a proper Sower. He’s very reckless with His seed. He seems to throw it all over and He doesn’t care where it lands.
Actually, what Jesus is saying is that He, as the Sower, is very generous with the gift of His Word. He spreads it all over, without regard to where it’s going to land (I like this picture… see the sower, he’s not even looking!). His Word is for all people, those who out right reject it, those who let the concerns of the world choke it out, people who don’t take is seriously, and even those who don’t hold on to it and treasure it. You see, that’s God’s great love for all people. He wants all people to know what He has done for them in Christ. He spreads His Word high and low to all people. That’s the God we have. He loves to give and give in amounts and ways that are more than we can fathom. We see the generosity of God in Jesus. Not just that He feed people who needed food. Not just that He healed people who needed healing. But mostly that He gave His very life on the cross for sinful people. There were those who were there at the cross who mocked Him. His death was even for them. You and I are sinful people who need the generosity of Christ. Our sins and failures keep us from a relationship with God. But God tells us in the seed of His Word that Jesus blood covers our sins. And that even though we aren’t “good soil” in the sense that we can earn His love, He gives us the forgiveness we need as a free gift for the sake of Jesus.
How about a concrete example? At the very beginning of the service we confessed our sins to God. Well, He knew them all already. He knows even the ones we don’t know and the ones we keep hidden very deep in our hearts. But have you ever noticed that God’s forgiveness isn’t conditional? The Word of God that I speak to you from Christ’s lips isn’t “I forgive you some of your sins.” Or “I forgive you only the sins you know about.” Or “I forgive the sins of those of you who were in church last week.” No Jesus says through me, “I forgive you all your sins…” I’m not offering you my forgiveness. That wouldn’t mean a thing. I’m offering you Jesus forgiveness, in His own Words. You see that’s the Sower sowing the seed. It’s as if it took that corn and threw it over all of you. Not caring where it lands. Not being specific to throw it at anyone. But to everyone. That’s the reason God has given you a pastor. He wants you to hear and see God forgiving you of all your sins. He wants you to be sure that the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished on the cross covers the 2000 years of history and gets to you right here and now. So look at that corn in your hand. If you didn’t get any raise your hand now and the usher will give you some. Think of that corn there like God’s Word given to you, God’s forgiveness, just as if I’d thrown it out and hit you in the head.
I think that’s what the OT lesson is talking about too. Did you remember that phrase, “seed to the sower and bread to the eater?” (Isa 55:11) When you are hungry for forgiveness, when you are starving to hear God’s Word, when you know that you are doomed without God, He gives you the Bread that you need. He offers you forgiveness in Christ. He offers you comfort in the promises found in His Word. That’s bread to the eater. Eat the gifts of God here and be satisfied! God loves to give bread to the eater.
And there’s another thing. It’s in that “seed to the sower.” You know what God offers to you. You’ve received it today through God’s Word. Think about the Sower again. He sows all over without regard to the reaction, without regard to the reception, without regard to the fruitfulness of the soil. You see that corn in your hand, that’s for you, and it’s for you to spread around. You see, there’s plenty where that came from. God sows His seed Himself; He doesn’t need you to do it. But He gives you another gift in that Word that He gives. He gives you the gift of sharing that Word with other people. He gives you the seed to sow right where you are. Now your first thought it that you’re supposed to find people to share the Word with that don’t know Jesus. But that wouldn’t be like the Sower in the parable would it? The person right next to you needs to hear about Jesus too. They already know about the forgiveness of Jesus. But they need to hear about it again. I need to hear it again. So take one of those kernels of corn in your hand and give it to a person sitting next to you. And when you give it say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Now take a kernel to someone across the room, and say “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Wasn’t that easy? What a privilege to give the Word of God to someone who needed to hear it! Now this week you take that little pile of corn with you. Find just one person (it doesn’t matter who!) to give it to and say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” When you are helping your neighbor, given them one of those kernels. They’ll look at you funny, but you can blame it on me. Tell them that your pastor made you do it. Don’t forget to say, “He wants me to tell you, Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” And when you are making out your offering envelope you can put one of those kernels in with your check. That’s to help you remember that the money you give to the church here is for the sowing of God’s Seed. And the money that you give to support missionaries and mission projects is God’s gift to you to sow God’s Seed. And just think, Jesus doesn’t tell you to worry about the reception of the Seed. That’s His department, that’s His worry. Some of that Seed will produce fruit and some won’t. But God promises that it won’t return “empty” but will do what God wants it to do.
Well, even if you don’t give any away… remember, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.