The Parable of the Sower
Today we're going to continue the sermon series "The Divine Storyteller." This series is focused on a rethinking of some of the more challenging parables or stories that Jesus told.
Whether it was a city high on a hill, two women grinding grain or---as we'll see today--a man planting seeds in a field, Jesus knew how to draw his audience in to his stories by using everyday, common and ordinary things that he could see around him to teach deep and abiding spiritual truths about the kingdom of God.
This week we're going to be exploring a parable that is fairly well-known but in many ways underestimated in common Christian culture: The Parable of The Sower. This parable truly causes us to have to confront the truth about who we really are.
In fact, before we dig into the text today, let me ask you a question. How would you want to be remembered after you die? As you think you are or as you really are?
Last week I read this fascinating story about a guy named, Leslie Ray “Popeye” Charping, who died Jan. 30 of cancer. He was 74, a veteran and a former Navy boxing champion who lived in south Texas--Harris County.
Charping lived, the obit reads, “29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved.” It then notes that the man left behind “two relieved children and countless other victims.”
The punching continues.
“At a young age, Leslie quickly became a model example of bad parenting combined with mental illness and a complete commitment to drinking, drugs, womanizing and being generally offensive,” according to the obit.
Charping was arrested several times during his life, according to Harris County court records. His first conviction came in 1979 when he pleaded guilty to assault.
He also pleaded guilty in 2008 to assaulting a family member by pouring hot liquid on his then-wife of 40 years. The next year he pleaded guilty to violating the resulting restraining order by calling another family member and threatening to kill her, the Chronicle reported.
“Leslie's hobbies included being abusive to his family, expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets and fishing, which he was less skilled with than the previously mentioned," the obituary read. "Leslie's life served no other obvious purpose, he did not contribute to society or serve his community and he possessed no redeeming qualities.”
And finally, the knockout punch to eternity as the family applies a final burn.
“With Leslie's passing he will be missed only for what he never did; being a loving husband, father and good friend. No services will be held, there will be no prayers for eternal peace and no apologies to the family he tortured. 'Leslie's remains will be cremated and kept in the barn until the family donkey's wood shavings run out.
"Leslie's passing proves that evil does in fact die and hopefully marks a time of healing and safety for all."
Again, how would you want to be remembered? As you are? Or as you should be?
You see most of Jesus' stories had to do with the kingdom of God---demonstrating not just how the world is, but more importantly the way the world ought to be and will be when God ultimately gets what God wants.
Jesus asked his followers to step into a life following him that would embody the kingdom and reveal the shalom of God to the world. And his request to his followers was a simple one--he only asked three basic things of them: Hear. Understand. Do.
Jesus taught time and time again that it's not enough to hear his words---it's not even enough to hear and understand his words. Only when you hear and understand Jesus' words, and then do what Jesus' words compel you to do will you be living into the hope of the kingdom of God, right here and now on this side of eternity.
So you can live your life as you ought to--as you were meant to live it--in abundance and fullness and joy.
But for so many of us, our hearts are not fertile ground to receive the words of Jesus. We want to pick and choose which words, to begin with and even then we struggle to do what Jesus bids us do if we are to follow him.
We can even proclaim our faith all day long, seemingly pledging our loyalty to Christ, but not ever show that Christ's words have shaken us up, turned our lives upside down and transformed us forever.
I want us to hold on to this one very important idea today: The Parable of the Sower teaches us that the kingdom of God grows best in soil that is soaked in transformation.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around 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.
The Sower in this story is not so subtly Christ himself. He comes as a sower of seeds, not a warrior on a horse. He comes gently spreading his Gospel, not with might and worldly power. And his words fall on everyone. Listen to this:
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.”
Seed in the first century Near East would have been cast by hand, or spread from a special bag that had holes thrown over the back of a donkey. Sometimes it would have been sown on unplowed land to be plowed under later.
Jesus says that the good soil produced a bumper crop because an average yield would have been ten-fifteen fold.
Later Jesus explains the parable in detail to his disciples:
So, there's four types of people:
1. Those whose lives are rocky places on the path where birds come and eat it up. These are the people who hear the words of Jesus, but don't really think they're for them at all. They don't really care to understand in other words.
2. Those whose lives are in thin soil, who hear the word and understand it, but lack the depth to do anything about it. They end up doing nothing with their faith so it dies on the vine, shrivels into non-existence.
3. Those whose lives are choked with thorns. These are people who hear and understand, but end up doing the wrong things. They charge off in the wrong direction, most-often pursuing self-serving ways of living and being. They get choked by the cares of this world, the distractions around them.
4. Finally, there are the people whose lives are filled with good earth. These are the people who hear, understand and do the right things.
Hear. Understand. Do.
Basically, Jesus is saying "Obedience and perseverance will lead to true transformation." It's not just a head thing--it's a heart thing. Your inside needs to match your outside when it comes to following Jesus. He's looking for followers, not fans.
And the words of Jesus---the seed that he is sowing--they are falling on us all of the time. Every single day, the words of Jesus land upon us to grow us, and move us--provided the soil of our life is transformed and ready to receive them.
I've got four pots of soil here. And I have a question. What kind of soil are you?
Are you the person in the rocky path? The kind of person who shows up here and hears this stuff, but thinks it's for other people? Every time you hear a challenging sermon from the words of Christ, you're thinking of all the people in your life who should be hearing it. Except you.
Maybe, for whatever reason, you've got it in your head that you aren't good enough to get this whole Christian thing, but you're glad it gives other people some joy. Or maybe you think you've already got it all figured out---even though you don't.
Are you the kind of person who has some shallow dirt? You used to be excited about following Jesus. You used to be fired up about your faith. And then you got your feelings hurt in church. Or you had something bad happen in your life--you experienced a tragedy and everything you thought you knew was called into question. Or you're just stuck in a rut, not really feeling the joy of your salvation.
Are you the kind of person who finds yourself in the weeds? You know all this stuff, you get it. You've been doing this Christian thing long enough to know how things ought to be, but you've gotten busy, you're career has come first, you find yourself chasing success, or security. Maybe you've gotten lost in addiction and it's winning. You're living your life on your terms--the weeds are flourishing, but no much else.
Jesus' message here divides people sharply. Most of us don't like hearing it. We don't like to hear Jesus lay out the ground rules about what it takes to be a disciple. And some people want to discount this passage of Scripture because they don't care for the way it seems to delineate who's "in" and who's "out" when it comes to God's good graces.
What we need to know, however, is that Jesus' message here is about so much more than just life in the hereafter, which is what most people tend to focus on when they study this passage. In this passage, Jesus is focused on the here and now as well as the hereafter.
Jesus' words are constantly falling upon us.
"The first will be last and the last will be first..."
"If you want to save your life, you need to lose it..."
"Love one another as I have loved you."
"Turn the other cheek... go the extra mile... give your needy neighbor the clothes off your back..."
"Have faith like a child."
"Take up your cross and follow me."
"Care for widows and orphans..."
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself."
"Forgive as you have been forgiven..."
"Give to everyone who begs from you..."
"Love your enemies... pray for those who persecute you."
"Let your light so shine before others that they will see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven..."
The words of Jesus---these incredible seeds of faith, life, light and truth---they are landing on the soil of your life.
Has the soil of your life been transformed? Has it been readied to grow? Have you heard, and understood... and are now ready to do?
Wherever you are today---wherever you find yourself... the rocky path... shallow dirt... choked with weeds... You can be made new. Your heart can become fertile ground right now, today.
Because the kingdom of God grows best in soil that is soaked in transformation.
Today---everyone is going to get a little packet of seeds to remind you of how the words of Jesus are constantly falling on the soil of your life. It's up to you to tend that soil, and have it ready for planting.