Sermons are meant to be heard. There is something that gets lost in just reading one. The following sermon was written to be spoken aloud which explains why the writing is not always perfect and the punctuation is at times nonexistent. Nevertheless, I pray that it speaks to you.
ALL THE SOILS
July 16, 2017
When I was young we used to visit my Grandmother Brock every summer. It was a great experience. They lived in Oregon and we lived in Oklahoma and we would drive all the way up there and spend a couple of weeks. And I remember one visit seeing my grandmother, once dinner was over, scraping food off of plates into a container that was not a trashcan. She was only putting food in there. And it was gross. She put in banana peels and potato peels and salad that had turned. She had the ends of snap peas and even coffee grounds. It was disgusting.
And I remember asking her why she didn’t just throw all that away and her answer was “I’m making compost for my garden.” And it was there that I learned that all soil is not created equal. I learned that you can’t just rely on what’s in front of you for your seeds to grow – you have to be intentional about what you put those seeds in. Soil is important if you want your garden to grow.
The famers around Jesus would have known all about soil. They would have intuitively understood that there are some soils that work for agriculture and some soils that just don’t. And so when Jesus spoke to them a parable about soil and seeds they would have understood.
But Jesus was not just talking about soil and seeds in his parable. He was teaching a deeper truth: the word of God grows in good soil.
Soil is important. How’s your soil tonight?
Let us pray…
God give us eyes to see and ears to hear and a heart to understand what it is you want us to learn this night. Amen.
Our scripture tonight is found in Matthew chapter 13:1-9 and then 18-23
You can read it on the back of your worship guide:
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
In a lot of his parables we really have to think about what is going on and what Jesus is trying to say – and this one is no different. But this time Jesus makes an explanation starting in verse 18:
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The first question I want to ask is – what is the seed? Mark and Luke tell us of this parable as well as Matthew and in Mark and Luke Jesus says the seed is the word. Here in Matthew we learn it is the word of the kingdom. (Matthew likes to use that kingdom language.) But basically we know that the seed in this parable is the word of God.
So what is that? What exactly is the word of God? When I was growing up I heard this parable preached as a parable about salvation. The word then was telling other people about Jesus and inviting them to “get saved”. The word was the good news that Jesus died for us and rose again so that we might have eternal life. And I do think this is one way to interpret what the seeds in this parable are.
But I want us to dig a little deeper tonight. What else might Jesus have meant by the “word of the kingdom?”
One place we might look is a few chapters back in Matthew when disciples of John the Baptist come to Jesus on John’s behalf asking “Are you the one – or should we wait for another?” And Jesus answered “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
In other words, go and tell John that the kingdom is happening now – the word is being shared now. In this sense the “word” is all these things happening because Jesus is on the scene. The word is brokenness being made right by the arrival of Jesus. The word is Jesus himself.
We can also get a sense of what the “word” means from Jesus’ own mission statement in Luke chapter 4. Remember he went into the synagogue in his hometown and read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the bling, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He then sits down and says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, the coming of Jesus is all about setting things right – healing brokenness – creating a new reality which is based on love and justice and peace.
And you will remember from last week that Jesus invites us to come and be a part of this new reality. He invites us to join with him in this new kingdom and to fully understand what it means to be children of God. So in this sense, perhaps the seed that is being tossed around is Jesus’ invitation to discipleship. But it’s not a one and done thing where the only thing we do is secure our eternal future. But rather the word is calling us to live our lives in such a way that we are agents of the kingdom – helping to bring it about. It’s about connecting with God in such a way that we are new creations – and as such living in intimate relationship with God.
So the seed that’s being sown in the parable could be this invitation to new life - this invitation to go deeper as a disciple – this invitation to take on the yoke of Christ. And in this sense, the invitation is always being given – the seed is always being tossed because we are never really all the way there are we? We are never really fully the disciples that Christ is calling us to be. And we certainly are not always living in good soil.
In this parable Jesus gives us examples of four types of soil. My premise tonight is that we are all the soils at one time or another in our lives. There are times in which we are open and receptive to the invitation of Christ to be greater disciples. And there are times when discipleship gets choked out.
Let’s look at these four types of soils Jesus mentioned. First, is the soil that is on the path. This is the hard pack of the trail. It’s so used and worn and pressed down that no seed is going to take root there. As a result, our understanding of the word is nil. We just do not get it because the soil is not broken. There is no way for the seed to get in. And in his explanation of this type of soil Jesus tells us that because it does not take root – the evil one can come and snatch away the word. Notice that Jesus does not say that the evil one caused the soil to be hard. Just that the evil one takes advantage of the conditions of the soil – the conditions of the heart to snatch away what might have had a chance to grow were the heart more open.
Have you ever had a time in your life that felt like this? Maybe there was good soil there once. But slowly, over time, that soil has gotten pressed down and dry and hard – such that the invitation to discipleship just seems to bounce right off – the call to intimacy with God just has no effect. I know that there have been times in my life like that.
The second type of soil is the soil that’s full of rocks. There may be some good soil on top, but the rocks are just underneath. And so a person with rocky soil will hear the call to discipleship and it will be well received. They will jump into the disciple’s life with both feet and will immediately start growing in their relationship with God.
But then, Jesus tells us, they start having problems because of their discipleship. Their old friendships are strained. Their old way of life starts to bump into their new way of life. Troubles come that take attention away from God and put it on the things that keep us from God.
Has this happened to you? Have there been times in your life where you felt an exciting pull towards discipleship only to have it crushed by the weight of real life? For me this seemed to happen every time I went to summer camp as a teenager. There was enough good soil there to start growing in my relationship with God but the troubles of life quickly took my focus off of Christ. I think this can happen to all us at one time or another – our soil becomes rocky and our discipleship does not endure.
And then there is the soil full of weeds. Sure, there is enough good soil for discipleship to take root and for our relationship to grow. But other things are growing within us as well – things that in the end will choke out our discipleship and limit our intimacy with God. Jesus calls these things the “Cares of the world” and I think that in 2017 American this type of soil is the biggest threat to a deep relationship with God. The cares of the world: those things that take up our time and energy – those things that lure our souls into desiring them instead of Christ. Things like power and control. Things like envy and jealousy. Things like possessions and wealth. In fact, Jesus specifically calls out the “lure of wealth” as a specific example of this kind of soil. There is something very hard about being a disciple in a wealthy nation. In this instance Jesus seems to be saying that it is easy to let the lure of wealth choke out our relationship with God – that wealth and the cares of this world create soil that is just not good for an intimate relationship with God.
I’ve seen this happen in my own life. When Robin and I owned a book and gift store we became so focused on its success that it was hard to even think about discipleship. And we were surrounded everyday with books and cards and gifts that had scripture all over them! And yet it was so easy to start the day thinking about sales rather than Christ. My mind’s attention was filled with the “cares of the world” that there was little room for deepening discipleship.
Have there been times in your life when the weeds of the world have pushed aside the desire to connect with God?
And then there is the fourth type of soil. The good soil. This is the soil that hears the call of discipleship and internalizes it and waters it and tends to it and it grows and grows and grows.
Now, there are times in our lives that we are all about the good soil. But I would wager that the amount of time we are poor soil outweighs the amount of time we are good soil. And if that is the case, I wonder if the point of Jesus’ parable is to instruct us to strive for the good soil. Maybe the point is to get us as disciples to recognize those times in our lives when we are hard packed into not hearing from God and those times we are so consumed by our troubles that we cannot get close to God and those times when the world and the lure of wealth just choke out any desire for God.
Maybe, Jesus is calling us to invest in creating good soil.
And how do we do that?
I think it comes from spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation, discernment. It comes from worship and staying in scripture and confession. It comes from learning and listening and being open to the call of the Spirit on our lives. And most of all it comes from being willing to recognize those times when our soil has gotten hard or rocky or full of weeds.
Cultivating good soil is not something we do on our own. It takes being part of a community of fellow disciples who are also seeking how to create good soil. And it takes being willing to invest in helping others create good soil in their lives.
And so our call tonight – as we come to this table – is to check our soil and ask ourselves what we can do to make it better. What can we do to make room more room for God in our lives. What can we do open ourselves more to his presence and direction. What can we do to answer the call of discipleship?
Let us pray.