Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
July 11 and 12, 2020
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
If you’ve got life all figured out, then this sermon is not for you. If you don’t have a worry in the world and everything goes your way then I’d turn this message off right now and get on to something more important. You don’t need what I’m going to say. You don’t need me today.
But if you have had it with others, if the things you say seem to go in one ear and out the other when you speak important matters, then I have a word for you. If you have spent many hours teaching others the things of God – maybe those in your family, your friends and the dearest people in your life, and it seems to have no effect, then I want you to stay with me today. If you’ve gotten to the point in looking at the impact of your life and with discouragement you can only mutter, “What’s the use?”, “It didn’t do any good”, or, “I’ll just save my breath.”, then I’ve got a hopeful word for you.
The Parable of the Sower (also called The Parable of the Soils or The Parable of the Seed) is one on my most favorite parables. It gives me hope because it is so honest and it gives me anticipation because of its concluding word. My whole life I have been in the business of sowing seed. I don’t think there is a day that goes by that it is not something that I do. I bet that is also true for you. This life of sowing seed of God’s truth among family, people we know, or people we have met for the first time, can be very discouraging, almost defeating to our life, or it can be just the opposite. It can be filled with excitement and anticipation.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed.” He throws it on the hard path. He throws it on rocky soil. He throws it among a bunch of thorns. And then some fell on good soil. Three out of four doesn’t go well. But he still is throwing it everywhere. The rate of return isn’t good, but it doesn’t stop the sower from sowing the seed everywhere.
The context of Matthew 13 is most important if we are going to understand the words of Jesus. Matthew 11 and 12, the two preceding chapters in Matthew, are all about the teachings of Jesus that are met with resistance. Folks were not responding to Jesus. They weren’t becoming His followers. They weren’t listening to His words. Hard, shallow and thorny soil is what we see. In Chapter 11 – Jesus gives a “Woe” to Capernaum, the city where he lived, “If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, (you know Sodom and Gomorrah), it would have remained to this day. But I tell you it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24) Chapter 12 – Jesus is called the devil by the Pharisees, “But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’” (Matthew 12:24)
So the context is this – “Jesus, why do so few follow you?” “Jesus, why doesn’t your word work?” “Jesus, I think you’re just wasting your breath.” So Jesus told them what the problem was. The sower scattered seed. Some on the path, some on rocky places, some among the thorns. None of the seed did what he wanted it to do.
So, if you have never experienced such loss, heartache or frustration, then you’d never get this parable. But if you have put everything into trying to transform the lives of others, to give them hope, to bring them God’s grace, to bring them Jesus, and it has failed, then you know this parable all too well.
Of the first three attempts of the sower we get this explanation, “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the word that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:18-22)
One commentator gave these titles to these three soils: “Unresponsive Heart”; “Impulsive Heart”; “Preoccupied Heart”.
Unresponsive Heart – hard, closed, indifferent, nothing gets in. Their mind and soul already has chosen its path and nothing can change them. Impulsive Heart – receives the word but it is shallow, has no root. An emotional decision. No depth to their faith. Preoccupied Heart. God has invited them to be His follower, but the timing is wrong. Just too inconvenient. Perhaps next time it will work out, but not now!! Call me next month.
But here is the remarkable thing of the parable – the sower, on purpose, threw his seed in those places. What a foolish farmer, huh? No!! What an inviting farmer! Remember the context. Remember the opposition, the hard hearts, those who had better things to do than follow Jesus. But the farmer – on purpose – threw his seeds hoping for a good result.
That’s how Jesus works. But I’m talking to the good soil today, right? You’re in church. You’re spending time watching this church service. You’re producing 30, 60, 100 times what was sown, right? If that is what you think then you don’t know yourself. You have missed what grace is. You and I have been the hard soil – the unresponsive heart. God has spoken but we have shut Him out. God throws His seed – His word – and we don’t receive it. And we have been so shallow at times. No depth to faith and life. “But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time.” And we have been preoccupied – wealth and worries of life are the thorns that choke the word out.
This is a great word to us and our faith. And it is a great word to us when we want to be about the work that God has given us. God never gives up – on us and on them. And neither should you. In Matthew 12, in the middle of the opposition, Jesus says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Verse 20) The Scriptures tell us clearly, “[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:4) God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
But what is even greater than the heart and persistence of the sower is the effectiveness of the seed. Jesus says in the parable, “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23) Now that is some good seed. 30, 60, 100 times what was sown. The seed is God’s Word. It convicts of sin. It converts the soul. It comforts by the grace of Jesus. It compels us to live a fruitful and blessed life.
If you’ve about had it or if you think that what you are doing as you share God’s truth is ineffective, that you are just wasting your breath, let me tell you something better. God’s word works. Paul says it well, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16) How about Peter, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (I Peter 1:23) Paul, in handling a controversy with a division that happened in Corinth tells them, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (I Corinthians 3:6-7)
For all of you who have been discouraged and frustrated because you have tried to guide people the right way, you tried to lead them to Jesus, you reached out in love but you haven’t seen any results – take heart in this parable. On purpose the farmer threw seed wherever he could. And he watched the power of the seed doing more than he could ever imagine.
A persistent farmer. An effective seed. That is our God at work. That is how we get to live. Amen!!