How We Grow: The Parable of the Sower

How We Grow  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  16:43
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Let us pray…Gracious and loving God, we come before you today ready, ready to join back together in a physical space, ready to be in fellowship with one another, and so ready to see the faces of those we love and greet each Sunday morning. We are ready but we are not ready. There is much holding us back and keeping us from the things we so long to do. In these coming moments, God, help us to clear our hearts, our minds, and our spirits of anything that does not bring us closer to you. Join our hearts together and help us to each be the fertile soil you desire for us to be so that we can multiply and grow into the community you desire for us to be, Amen.
Last week, we began a series of teachings on what it means to grow, and I am not talking about growing in number or even growing in wealth, I am talking about growing in faith. In my experience, what attracts others to us is the fact that we have a strong faith and are doing something with that faith. What people see us doing is going to have a significant impact on our numbers, physical and financial. The first step, if you will, to this spiritual growth begins with us. So, when we gathered in this time and space last week, we talked about what it means to have the faith of a little child and be stretched so that we can grow. This week’s teaching extends that idea a bit further as we go deeper into our faith and what it means to be Christ’s disciple. One of the ways that Christ did this for us was to give us stories in the form of metaphors with which we can identify.

Parables are a central feature of Jesus Christ’s teaching

In order to digest what Matthew has for us, we need to do a little background work. One of the things I want to make very clear is that we will never truly know Christ’s intention was for speaking these particular stories but what we do know is that parables, by their very definition, represent stories told in a metaphor form which means that the story Jesus tells is something that those who hear it will understand because it relates to their every day lives. The problem with this in our 21st Century world is that many, if not all of us, do not understand or have experience in many of the metaphors that Jesus uses to relate to the people of his time. Because, most of what we know about theses stories is that they were designed and told so that those who were truly seeking to deepen their faith would understand the comparison that Jesus was making. The flip side of this is that many of the people who heard the stories at Jesus’ time and still today, just did not/do not understand. Again, this I believe, was the idea…Jesus only wanted those who were willing to listen and do to truly get what he was saying.
Today’s story is about sowing a field the way they did in ancient Israel…that’s really what makes understanding this parable so hard for us. We live in the 21st century where machines do much of this work for us. Yes, we have gotten smarter and do things, what might seem as a little more efficiently today, however, we do not easily identify with the methods and means of Jesus’ time. So, we need to spend a little more time envisioning and adapting the story for our mechanized world. So, stick with me here because as we digest this story this morning, we need to try to envision the world as Jesus saw it, a world without machinery. A world where the ground is not tilled or cultivated into nice neat little rows. A time when the only tools you had to use were your own two hands and a bag full of seeds and you had to plant an entire field, probably several acres worth, using just your hands. I know this is going to be hard for us but it is the only way we are even going to come close to trying to understand what Jesus has to say for us…I am not going to reread the passage but I encourage you to earmark this parable and go back to it throughout the week and try to picture in your mind’s eye what Jesus is describing and then envision yourself being one of the soils because ultimately, that is what Jesus is saying…we need to be the good fertile soil that grows and produces more than we can ever expect...
One last, quick caveat before we begin looking at the story, at any given point in each of our lives, we are going to be one, two, three, or all four of these types of soils. It is ok to be one or multiple types at once. Our goal should always be to be the good fertile soil…so, let’s take a look at what Jesus might have meant in describing the soils...

The Parable of the Sower

Now, our parable today is introduced by a quick reference to something that can be very significant…he goes out into a boat onto the Sea of Galilee. Many scholars believe that Jesus realized that if he did not do this, the people who were gathered around him may not all hear what he had to say. So what he says about growing in this parable was important enough for him to move to a place where the sound, if the wind was at his back, would travel much better. Being on the water makes sound more vibrant and the sounds can move more easily than on the hilly side of the lake. He wanted people to hear what he was about to say…just like us today, we need to have open ears to hear the words and then take them into our hearts...
Ok, enough side notes, let’s digest…so Jesus tells us a story about a farmer. This is your typical Middle-Eastern farmer of Jesus’ time. He may have had a small plot of ground upon which to sow seeds and grow enough crops to feed his family throughout the year but to also be able to have enough to sell or trade with others for the things that the family would have needed throughout the year. While Israel and Palestine do not get as cold as we do here in the Mid-Atlantic, their growing seasons are not much different than ours. Yes, they can grow more throughout the year because it does not get so cold that crops will not grow in the winter, it is just the very nature of plants that they only grow at certain times and in certain types of soil. Speaking of the soil, we need to also remember that Israel, particularly around the Sea of Galilee, is sandy and rocky so the seeds that are physically planted need to be hearty enough to endure dry, rough ground. This farmer would have known his soil and what plants would best grow in that soil.
To relate to those around him, Jesus uses four particular types of soil to describe how we are to be in this world…

The Four Types of Soils (Souls)

Jesus describes four very particular types of soils that seed could have been sown upon…a footpath, shallow, thorny, and fertile.

The Footpath Soul

In ancient Israel, there were no specific layout of roads and paths. People just kind of wandered wherever their feet took them. What this means is that many fields were divided by these footpaths. Also, these footpaths were places where the farmers themselves would have walked to sow the seeds. Now envision this in your mind…if you think about a trail in the woods around here, it is worn down, hard, and looks like a place where you can walk. Because the soil is so compacted from the many feet that have walked upon it, the soil does not accept much in the way of seeds. So, if a farmer would be standing on that trail in the woods with a bag of seed over his shoulder, throwing seeds out across the ground, no matter how hard he tried, there would be some seeds that landed at his feet. This is the kind of soil that Jesus is describing here…it is hard, compacted and would not really support growth of any kind. That kind of soul is one in which when we speak, their ears become closed, their hearts harden, and what we are saying goes in one side and immediately out the other side. Like the soil that Jesus describes, there is nothing that can take root because the soil is so hard and compacted. Roots need to be able to grab hold of something to produce a plant…on footpaths, there is no opportunity for this to happen.
I am sure at times in our lives, we can relate to being this kind of soil. We want to be alone or do it all by ourselves and we close ourselves off from others. Maybe over the last few months you might have felt like this kind of soul. There is hope though, when we feel like this, we can choose to do things differently, to be more open, and to allow the Spirit to break up the hard soil of our lives…now the problem is sometimes, when the Spirit breaks through that hard surface, there is more to be done...

The Shallow/Rocky Soul

As I have walked around this area and spent time in the woods of Pennsylvania, there is one thing that is for certain, the soil around us contains all kinds of rocks. As a kid, I had a rock collection, not unlike many kids my age. I had quartz, fools’ gold, and a whole bunch of slate and shale. Like the footpath soil, it may be hard on the surface but because of the rocks beneath, the roots of a plant cannot dig in and get a good grip. So, the plant may sprout and grow very quickly but because the roots are very close to the surface of the soil, they cannot absorb enough water to continue to grow and very quickly they die off.
Maybe some of us feel like this right now too…we have this great idea and when we try to get it to grow and become something more, when we encounter resistance, or hesitance from others, the energy and excitement quickly dies. Or maybe we have tried to get others to see what we see and because our faith is not firmly rooted or we are at the beginning of our faith journey or maybe we have had great faith but something has come along to challenge our faith, we are easily deterred by what others say. Again, it’s ok to be like this kind of soul. We always have a choice and we can choose to hold onto the ideas and concepts that we give to others and continue to dig deeper into our faith to get deeper roots so that when opposition comes, we do not easily give up or run away.

The Thorny Soul

This one is also closely related to the last one that Jesus described. Again, imagine standing in the woods on a footpath…I am sure you can see the many different types of plants and weeds that grow along the footpath. This happens because weeds and thorns do not need much of a root to grow…for the most part. I know I have some weeds in my flowerbeds here at home that seem to have roots that grow deeper than the 20 foot dogwood in our front yard. Here’s the thing though, the thorns really do not need deep roots to kill plants, do they? No.
As people of faith, I will liken this to the opposition that comes up against us. I know I used that in the previous soil’s description too but this one is more about those who stand before us and argue about what it is that we are trying to do. Those who oppose us and cause us pain and turmoil in our hearts. It is hard to stand in the face of this adversity but when it comes to our faith, we cannot allow the thorns from stopping us. Growth often happens the most when we face opposition. Like the thorns that grow in the woods or on our properties, they can cause pain when we try to remove them from our lives but that pain does not last forever. Jesus is telling those around him and us that we cannot allow the thorns to choke out our faith but rather to cut them back, remove them if we can, and continue to move forward. This is just another opportunity to be stretched.

The Fertile Soul

The last soil that Jesus describes is that which we all strive to be at all times…the fertile soul. This is the kind of person we need to all strive to be. I do not know that I need to describe or try to digest this any further than to say that we are all this at certain points in our lives as well. However, this is the kind of soul that we need to be to continue in our faith. Growth in our faith requires for us to be open to ideas and concepts that bring good fruit from our lives.

Responses to Jesus Christ’s parables…we are called to action

The question that we all need to answer at this point is this...what kind of soul we want to be, and when we decide, we need to be doing the things that help us to allow the seeds of our faith to grow deeper and stronger. We are all different, we are all different types of soil at different points in our lives. We can try to be fertile souls our entire lives but we are human. We all have faults. We are all hard at times, we are sometimes a little rocky, and sometimes we are even a little prickly. Each one of these types of soil require something to make them better…they all demand action. Our faith can grow, it just depends upon what we do to help it along. This parable from Jesus calls us to consider where we are, what kind of soul we are at the moment, and then to decide what type of soil we want to be in our lives. Growth is not solely ours to determine but we can choose to open our hearts and be more fertile…like the plants that grow from seeds thrown from a farmer’s hand, we are scattered in the world to plant further seeds and to grow the best way we can…Amen.
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