Jesus was brilliant. He was often frustrated, when teaching the people around him, by their unwillingness to listen, or their stubbornness in accepting his truth. He would often bring a truth home, and show a glimpse of the Kingdom of God around them, and they would miss the moment completely.
It had to be like banging his head against the wall.
But, in his infinite wisdom, and proving his deep knowledge of the human heart and the human understanding, Jesus chose to teach about Heaven, about God, about the human condition through story, or parables (as they are called in the Bible.)
The fact is, hearing stories are important, aren’t they? How many people have heard the story of another person, and through that story, been compelled to action? How many have heard the story of someone and felt fear, empathy, or remorse as the story falls over you?
Top Gun (mourned with Maverick)
To Kill A Mockingbird: (Pleading for justice)
It’s a wonderful life (despaired over a misspent life)
Rocky 4 (overcoming insurmountable odds)
It’s this connection that Jesus is trying to make. He’s trying to teach a lesson, and create or evoke and emotion. Helping people to tie together their personal life with the spiritual life. Because, after all, the fastest way to help a person to remember something is by tying an emotion to that experience.
Today, we’ll be kicking off this series by talking about the Parable of the Sower. This is found in Matthew 13. We’ll start off by reading verses 3-9.
3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to so his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
What’s happening here?
When it comes to parables and when it comes to studying and applying Jesus’ parables to our lives, it’s generally accepted that each parable has a specific point and that he is trying to convey a particular truth to our lives.
So what’s the point of this parable? What is Jesus trying to teach us? As we examine each of these, we’re going to interpret and unpack them for our lives personally and then unpack them to see how they are relevant to us as the Living Vine community.
First it is important to take a look at a few of the particular players or participants in this story. In this story, we see a sower, we see seeds and we see different soils.
We witness a sower planning his crop. Envision him sowing on a field, one without fences. There are roads that move through and around the field, allowing for the cart and oxen to move freely around the field.
On the outskirts, there are shrubs, bushes and weeds. There are freshly plowed fields, organized by carefully and tenuously worked and plowed rows.
The farmed the moves about, spreading the seeds, hoping some take and some grow. These little seeds spread from his hand across the plowed fields, but they also spread across the cart path, the thorny patches, and the shallow soil.
The future success or failure of each of these seeds now rest in the environment in which they are sowed.
What does the soil represent in the story? There is an understanding in scripture that the heart, or the soul, is where the spiritual life grows from.
In Proverbs 4:23 we read,
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Our heart, like a river, is where our life flows. It’s where God speaks, and it’s where our minds or our thoughts are changed. And so the care, the effort, the decisions we make, all affect the state and the health of our hearts.
For example, I have had the wonderful privilege of living in a few towns next to rivers…and two of those rivers really stand out to me. First, we have the Napa river. And we have the Rhine river.
The Napa River has a nickname: anyone want to tell me what it is?
It was a river that once ran clean and pure. It probably wasn’t ideal for drinking…but you could probably have boiled the water, and drank from it. Who knows. You definitely could have eaten the fish out of the river, and washed your clothes in the river. But that no longer holds true. It’s been contaminated. It’s polluted, and now pregnant women are warned to stay away from things pertaining to that river.
Juxtapose that with the Rhine. When I first stood on a dock and looked at the water, I was struck by the clarity of the water. The river at that specific spot, was around 15-20 feet deep. Yet I could see the bottom as though it was only a couple of feet deep. And if I were to happen to take a gulp of the water, I would be fine for doing so. It’s not polluted. The Rhine has been cared for, and they have kept its source clean.
So, as we look at each of these soils, reflect on your own heart. What soil is represented inside of you?
We will continue reading in Matthew 13, but will pick up with verse 18. We will read Jesus’ description of each soil as we work through them one-by-one.
First: Path/hard soil:
8 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”
This represents the hardened heart, or the heart unwilling to surrender and listen to God. When the words of the Gospel, or the words of truth, fall on this heart, they are ignored and left to be eaten by birds or crushed by cartwheels.
A hardened heart is one that has its own plan, and is unwilling to change its course. It’s unwilling to change. It believes its own truth is the right truth.
There is no growth potential for a seed sown on this sort of heart. The words of God fall on deaf ears.
20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
The rocky soil is the person who, on the surface, wants what the gospel preaches. Maybe they are captivated by the message that God wants us to be happy, or maybe they are interested in the promise of Justice. Maybe they love the idea of unconditional love and grace.
The rocky soil heart, however, is shallow and unable to sustain real growth. When they realize that the kingdom life requires real, hard work, they are unable to sustain their excitement, and they fall away from apathy, or frustration. Their heart wasn’t ready to support spiritual growth, and because of that, they never thrived.
22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
The thorny soil is the one who has the soil depth to support growth. They accepted the truth of God, but as they grew, the pressures of life, the draw of consumerism and wealth, the acceptance of others, or the difficult questions and worries of life wrapped around their new-found belief and killed it.
This one is striking because it’s an external influence that causes the spiritual death. The things of the world, the enticement to keep up with others, or the doubt placed by others has come in, and usurped the gospel as king.
23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Finally, we have the good soil. This is the soil that was prepped and ready to receive the truth of God’s word. The farmer took the time and put in the effort to till up the packed, hard dirt to allow the seed to take root. They removed the rocks that would prevent the roots from going deep. He removed any weeds or thorns that might compete for nutrients or cut off life. And in doing that preparation, the seed has a great chance of successfully growing into a full-grown, producing plant.
This doesn’t guarantee growth, but the chances of growth have been multiplied exponentially.
Our hearts resemble these soils, don’t they? I feel like, for me, so often the Gospel and the words of God are put in competition with other things. Maybe I’m worried how a situation is going to turn out. Maybe I find that I have found that my life has fallen into a rut, and prayer has fallen by the way side.
Maybe the influence of friends or relatives have caused me to doubt God and his ability to provide.
But whether we know it or not, the actions we take and the decision we make, are cultivating our heart in one way shape or form.
Action or lack of action all has an effect on our lives.
Are you doing the work to maintain your soul’s health? Are you cultivating relationships with people who will challenge you and encourage health? Or are you spending your time with people, and participating in actions that pollute and deteriorate the health of your heart.
How can you encourage your soul’s health?
Are you spending time with God?
Whatever you spend your time doing, wherever you give your heart, your thoughts, preferences and desires will grow towards that thing. Spending time in prayer, spending time reading the Bible matters and is important.
Are you spending time with like-minded people?
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
We need each other. Christianity was meant to be lived together. We were meant to talk with each other, challenge each other, and encourage each other. We are called to pray together and party together, eat together and cry together.
That’s why we are here, that’s why this church exists, and why it will continue to exist. We are all wrapped up together. And we need to find a way to continue to build that community. We often talk about how we, as a church, want to become a younger church. We want new families, 20-somethings, and teens.
But I cannot stress this enough: we need each other. And this church, the people here, do community well in many ways…but there is always room for improvement. There is always ways we can grow and develop ourselves. In a few weeks, we be talking about a way we’re going to start doing very thing.
Are you giving yourself away?
Part of the reason Christians find themselves to ingrown and unable to relate to the world around them comes from the fact that they have ceased living their lives outside of the church walls. They no longer serve, they no longer care about the community hurts. They live selfish lives, concerned about fulfilling what they want, instead of living lives with hands open and outstretched.
But every plant, every weed, every tree, and every living thing must and needs to replicate. Seeds produce plants, which produce fruit, which produce seeds, which produce plants…which…you get the picture.
The spiritual life lived out fully is the spiritual life replicated.
And so, as we are the soil, we are also called to be the Farmer. Spreading the truth that we have collected, and retained. We are called to share our story, and to spread the news of the Kingdom.
A few thoughts about this living out of the kingdom:
We need to realize that we must be aware of the soil of others. People are on all stages of their spiritual journey. Some are more mature than others. Some people need the hard work of challenging and tilling. Some people need supported as they remove destructive habits in their lives. Others need the careful nurturing of the seeds already planted.
This is ultimately the role of the Spirit, for the only way any of us succeed and the only way we are able to live the spiritual life, is through the power of the Spirit…however, we are each called to be the hands and feet of Christ. And we all play vital roles in the spiritual formation of others.
Be patient with others
Maybe you are in a place of deep love and adoration of God, and you just don’t understand how others don’t take things as seriously as you do.
Maybe praying comes easy. Maybe reading your Bible has been a regular part of your lives for 25 years.
Maybe you have been generous with your money for years, and never missed a tithe check.
Maybe you have vast portions of scripture memorized.
And when you see others who aren’t as far along, you wonder why they don’t get it together and become more like you.
But it takes time for the seed to grow. It takes love and care for it to flourish.
So I commend you for your dedication to God. You are a vital part of this church! But realize that others are all at a different place and stage.
Stake yourselves to someone younger in the faith than yourself.
We have a garden behind our house, and in that garden we have tomatoes, and we have beans. Well, I am not a great gardener, and because of that I am still learning what it means to care for and support plants. My inexperience and busyness has shown itself most accurately in our tomato and bean plants. I successfully staked the tomato plants, but forgot to stake the beans.
The tomatoes are growing, and staying strong…while the beans have begun to die. Unable to support their own weight.
As Christians, and as those who have journeyed far down the road…think back on your life, and remember those whom you staked your life along side. Remember those who gave you guidance and helped you to support the weight of your new-found faith and life.
Now, I challenge you to find someone in your life that is in need of that same support. I encourage you to become the stake for that new Christian or curious non-believer.
Importance of this
We are a church that wants to grow, but there are two kinds of growth. There is transfer growth and there is new growth. Honestly, I am very un-interested in transfer growth. I am not going to put my effort into getting people to come here from other churches.
I want to be a place that attracts people from outside the church. I want to be a place that people come to, like we have been talking about, ask questions.
But to be a church like that, we need to be a community of people dedicated to maintaining our personal hearts, and the condition of our soil, and we need to be dedicated to being ones willing to sow seeds and allow others to grow along side us.