Sermon, Pentecost 6A, Sunday July 16, 2017, St Petri
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow 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.’
18 ‘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. 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. 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. 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.’
I heard with interest last week that the Barossa is no longer a “Lutheran” place. “No Religion” is now the way a huge part of our community name themselves. How do we who name ourselves disciples of Christ respond to this? Where is the Lord in all of this?
We enter the second large chunk of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s gospel today.
His ministry has begun. Things are getting a little large. So large that Jesus is in a boat moored just off the sandy shore of the lake to speak. I have been to where they suspect this kind of moment probably would have occurred. The slope of the open ground going up away from the shore and the water around his voice surely makes for natural amplifier for his voice. The day I was there I could hear a guy talking to his mate in the vineyard below us nearly a kilometre away. Jesus needs this amplifier.
And so, the Teacher teaches from the boat; about being a farmer sowing seeds.
We hear that the farmer is God, sowing his words into human hearts. Some hear. Many don’t. Some hear at first then don’t. Sounds a lot like an “other religion” community a local church sowing the gospel among them!
Surely Jesus knew that his disciples, his church, would have to figure out how to respond to a mixed response to their sowing of his words. In fact, most often, people won’t receive his words, according to this parable. But listen and sow, those who have truly heard must. At the end of this parable we hear that supernatural fruitfulness will be present too. There will be at times a vast crop!
And it all depends on him speaking and people hearing……
The truth is here: there is different hearing and not all hearing ends up in lasting understanding and fruitful doing.
What does he mean by ‘hearing’? Jesus is speaking not of mere hearing of the news or a good joke or a great story or the watching of a movie as entertainment or the listening to a song in order to just pass the time. He is speaking of deeply listen to his words.
The Greek word eisakouo used here for ‘understanding/hearing can be defined as ‘to hear’, ‘to heed’, or ‘to obey’. These words are to be heard because they will be on the test!
So, the listening Jesus is after is a deep attentive listening in the heart that translates then into actually living/doing. Jesus ends the parable by telling the crowd that deep listening (the good soil) will translate into fruitful doing.
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.’
So, we get the pretty straight forward gist of the parable – on the surface anyway…
God sows his seed, his Word, into the human crowd. Or, his disciples sow the words of God into the community.
Some of God’s word falls on the rock hard, impenetrable path. The birds or, Evil one snatches the good words of God’s acceptance and love (gospel) as it is heard or even before it is heard. Like seagulls pinching your chips on the beach, so can it be that Satan can snatch that good gospel word away from a person, giving that word no time to germinate. It is over before it began sometimes.
But gospel words can be received with great joy. People experience the relief and the renewal of sins forgiven, regrets replaced and love experienced. But then stuff happens. The heat and stress is too much. Again, there has not been enough time or space for the words to be heard deeply. The gospel stays at surface level. This is the rocky ground of our hearts and theirs: No roots, no depth. God’s word getting burnt off by heat of life.
And then there is the word strangled out of the human heart like toothpaste out of the tube as the heart gets overwhelmed, overtaken and overly fixated on issues, choices, worry, self-concerns or concern for others, with little reference to Jesus’ words or trust in his promises. This is the thorny place, overcoming and eventually choking the good seed planted in God’s good ground.
But it sometimes also works well. There is good soil, which according to Jesus is a hearing heart; soft, open, receptive of the seed where the deep things of his grace and calling can and do take root and grow deeper and longer.
This is the deep listening that leads to understanding. It is long lasting. This is the Divine word being heard and then done or “heeded”, or “obeyed”: So crucial for a community of disciples sent into a world of these very mixed responses!
Even better for us who are called to sow his Words here: This word becomes self-sowing and multiplying. Indeed, the fruitfulness can be massive – “a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”. A lot or little, it is a powerful growing Word that does what says and says what it does.
As I hear this parable I always find myself wondering what my own heart is like. I can be all four types of ground – and that is before lunch time!
So where are you in all of this?
Am I a path where God’s Word does not even hardly touch me?
Am I rocky ground where there are brief moments of true joy in the gospel that soon give way to chasing a better deal, a better thing, a high experience, a new thing to “keep me going” in all my issues and troubles….. other than the simple, powerful wonderful gospel and gospel gifts on offer all the time with God’s people who are just like me.
Or are there just too many thorns; too many weeds squashing the life out of my heart like that toothpaste out of the tube? It can feel that way. There is so much to think about and do and be responsible for, family, work, school, study, relationships church….
Which ground are you today? Can your ears hear what he is speaking?
Now hear this. The best news you will hear all day is this: God is not a good farmer.
Did you notice that the farmer throws the precious seed around all over the place? We would not do it that way. We would get the GPS out and mark off the paddock and not waste a thing to maximise productivity.
Not Jesus. He just throws himself around on all the ground – hard, rocky, thorny and sometimes deep listening ground.
What a relief! God just keeps throwing out that word of grace and love and calling no matter where it falls – path, rock, thorns or ready ground.
That means that if your heart is a stone-cold path, or a craggy and cranky place, a thorny overgrown dark place or a deep-ripped open, receptive place for God’s good words, you still get the seed.
Jesus obviously wants to produce a good and large crop in you for the sake of many others.
That path can be jack-hammered into a more receptive place by God’s law so that the gospel finds some good open soil to grow in you.
The Evil One does not have to get a look in. By attentive receiving his love for you, that seagull Satan, can be warded off and the meal can continue in joy!
He calls you who may be in a rocky place to go deeper. He calls you to search deeper prayers, deeper songs; some old some new, go deep into his Word, alone and with others.
We don’t have to pull the thorns out. By attentiveness in the heart to his words and ways we outgrow them, overcome them and steer clear of them.
As he indiscriminately and patiently sows his gospel word in us, whether we are stone-cold heard, rocky, thorny or clear, it takes root, it grows. It multiplies. It is unstoppable.
Then we are like Jesus – sowing indiscriminately on all the kinds of ground we find here in our community. That free, joyful, patient, non-judgmental and generous sowing is our character as a person and as a local church in Jesus’ kingdom mission.
The impenetrable people, the rocky people, the thorny people and the open receptive people can all live here.
And the Sower keeps sowing, his words keep growing, his disciples keep throwing that gospel seed around all over the place, especially in the “no religion ground. The tonnage grown is not in our control or our concern.
We sow gospel not for profit. We do it for love and for joy.
Just keep sowing. It is where the joy is.
Read the parable picturing the farmer and the sowing as you go. Stop at verse 9. Share any experiences of sowing you have had in life and how the story Jesus tells here is similar or different to your experience of planting seeds, harvesting on a farm, growing veges or gardening in general…
Note that we have already had one large chunk of teaching from Jesus in ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ (chapters 5-6 and beginning of 7. Now we have another large chunk of teaching. This is the beginning of it.
The first thing we hear is that there are now large crowds making things a bit tricky. What does Jesus need to do in order to be heard by the huge crowd?
Jesus has also done many healings and spoken many words in this northern area of Israel (chapter 8-9. And he has already sent out his disciples in pairs around the region to do the same (chapter 10). No wonder the crowd are large. A lot has been said and done by Jesus and a large group of disciples.
In a way he had already ‘multiplied’ himself by doing this.
Now read from verse 18. This is the explanation of the parable Jesus has spoken to the crowd, now ‘unpacked’ in the intimacy of his small band of brothers.
Note the type of ground, each one’s characteristics and what happens to the seed in each of them. Share about the kids of people/experienced you have met/had with each kind of person:
- Rock hard impenetrable people
- Shallow people who don’t seem to last through hard things in life. (NOTE: this is not rocky ground as in rocks on top of the ground but rock under a thin cover of soil)
- People overly worries and anxious about lots of things.
- People who receive God’s Word and do it over the long haul and reproduce themselves many time over.
Now reflect on what kind of ground you feel you are ow and what kind of ground you have been in the past.
If you could ask one thing from Jesus to make you that good soil that would receive his Word and work though you to produce other disciples, what would that thing be?
Did you notice that the farmer throws that seed around all over the place?! The left hand hardly knows what the right is doing it seems. The seed falls on all kinds of ground whether the ground 0wants it or not or receive it or not.
The message of the parable is that this is the way our Heavenly Father (the Sower) is with us. When we are hard and unreceptive, shallow and weak or fearful and disinterested, over-burdened with heaps of worries about all kinds of things that squeeze the life out of us and block out the word from our ears, or when we are open and deeply attentive to his Word, he still keeps on sowing that word! He calls us to adopt a similar indescriminent approach to relationships and bearing witness to his good news with people.
How does this comfort you?
How does this challenge you?
If there is one person who you have or want to throw the seed of the gospel to, pray for them, asking the Spirit to show you the way to speak and do the gospel word…..