FIRST LESSON Isaiah 55:10-13
SECOND LESSON Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
SERMON “The Sower”
“A sower went out to sow.” Perhaps a new story to some, but for many who have been coming to worship and Sunday school and Bible study for years, this is a familiar story. In biblical times they didn’t have the ginormous farm equipment American farmers have today. A farmer went out with a bag of seeds, probably on a strap over his shoulder, and he would reach into the bag, grab a handful of seeds and fling them out over the ground. As the story goes, some of the seeds fell on the hard path where they couldn’t even germinate before the birds came and ate them. Some fell onto rocky ground where they sprang up, but couldn’t get much root growing, and so those plants didn’t last long. Others fell onto some decent soil, but there were weeds that choked them out. But some of them fell on to good soil, grew and flourished and produced grain, a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. The disciples ask Jesus why he tells so many stories, and he tells them that not everybody is ready to hear, to understand, to receive the good news of the Kingdom of God. So he tells them stories to get them ready, to move them forward on the way to understanding. Think about it . . . Do you accept a different point of view about important issues in your life, just because someone tells you that you should. Or do you gradually embrace different ideas, startling insights gradually because you read or hear evidence that points you in a new direction? Since Jesus knows the disciples are already ready to be open to new ways of understanding, he interprets for them. We get it. The seeds represent the Word of God. The path stands for the people who are closed off, won’t hear it. The rocky soil symbolizes the people who hear the gospel and embrace it when it is new, but their understanding is only on the surface; they are quickly distracted. The third kind of soil stands for people who hear it, embrace it, even grow in it, but life events, circumstances, troubles of the day eventually make it fade away. And then we are all left knowing that we are supposed to be like the good soil, the fertile soil, where the seed of God’s kingdom grows and grows and spreads and produces a fabulous crop. Pretty straight-forward, right? Or is it? Wait a minute. We have a way of taking Jesus’ stories and making them about us. You know, the story about the prodigal son – we are admonished not to run away from God and be wasteful, not to be the jealous brother resentful of the party dad throws when his son finally returns. But that story is every bit as much about the father as it is about the runaway son, if not more so. That story teaches us that even when we mess up – big time, we can come back and God will not only welcome us, but celebrate. “Prodigal” means wasteful. And some have dubbed that story “The Prodigal Father,” understanding that “prodigal” also means extravagant, over-generous, extreme – as God is extravagantly, over-generously, extremely loving toward us. Could it be that this story isn’t just about the different kinds of soil, but about the Sower? What’s the first thing you notice about this Sower when you focus on him? Could you say he is careless? Wasteful? He just throws the seeds everywhere. Theology professor Donald Juel says, “He throws seed everywhere, apparently confident there will be a harvest in spite of the losses. He simply keeps sowing his seed, believing that growth will come.”1 Jesus is sort of like that. He is the Rabbi who hangs out with sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes. He’s not particularly careful about where he invests his time and does his miracles. He just keeps throwing the seeds of the Word of God around, not sweating where it will land. Some of it will land on the religious authorities who will accuse him of blasphemy. He throws some of it on the disciples who are slow to understand. He flings it in the direction of family and friends who accuse him of being possessed by a demon, and you may recall he threw it in the direction of a rich young ruler who loved what he heard but was apparently too attached to his possessions to let the gospel grow to maturity in him. “The Parable of the Sower shows us that Jesus throws good seed everywhere, knowing that most of it is going to be destroyed,” says Juel, “And as followers of Jesus, we should be doing ministry and mission . . . with the same careless abandon, . . .speaking gracious words without carefully calculating the potential for success” This means welcoming others and Jesus has welcomed us and preaching the message of unconditional love and unlimited grace. Jesus has done it again – as he calls us to be faithful to him and to the Kingdom of God, not to be successful in a worldly sense. When the emphasis is on the soil, we hear that we should all be good soil – people who hear the gospel and understand it and produce great harvests. Don’t be the hard path. Don’t be the rocky ground, and don’t be the soil infested with thorns. Have you ever known soil to decide what kind of soil it will be? I’ve had large portions of my property dug up, turner over, grass is gone… I could stand out there and yell at the dirt, which has finally at least been smoothed out and leveled since it stopped raining for a short while. I could yell at it, command it to be good soil; be fruitful and grow grass! As people we can choose to be like the good soil, fertile, receptive, fruitful. But the soil itself cannot choose to be good or to be bad. It is what it is and if you saw a farmer out in the fields ordering the soil to be good, you’d think he was nuts. As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, what are we supposed to do? We could be like the farmer standing on his porch when a stranger stopped for a drink of water and asked, “How is your cotton coming along?” Farmer: “Ain’t got any.” Stranger: “Did you plant any?” Farmer: “Nope, afraid of boll weevils.” Stranger: “Well, how is your corn?” Farmer: “Didn’t plant any, afraid there would be no rain.” Stranger: “Well, how are your potatoes?” Farmer: “Ain’t got any, scared of the potato bugs.” Stranger: “Really, what did you plant?” Farmer: “Nothing, I just played it safe.” So you got to ask: “How safe is it to not have any crops at all?” As disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, what are we supposed to do? Are we not meant to recognize that Jesus is incredibly generous in the way that he shares the news of the Kingdom, extravagantly with everyone with whom he comes into contact. It’s not the soil that’s fruitful – We don’t get more soil. . . God’s Word is incredibly fruitful; that’s what grows and spreads and feeds people. Jesus spreads the Word of the Kingdom. It all depends on what God is doing. Our job is to trust God and to share his message extravagantly and generously.
1Juel, Donald H. "Encountering the Sower." Interpretation, July 2002. 277, 282.