Posts Tagged ‘Parable of the Sower’

The kingdom Of Heaven Is Like 7-16-17

In this sermon, I explore Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. Jesus shares the parable of the sower, although I focus more heavily on why Jesus used parables in the first place.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

As we all walked into the church this morning, through the entry way and the narthex and here into the sanctuary…all we have to do is look and see the various decorations to know that something special was happening this week…More than 50 children were on hand Monday through Thursday to hear about Jesus in our annual Vacation Bible School.

Now VBS week is, admittedly, one of my favorite weeks of the year. It is fun and wild and crazy…and the church is filled with an energy that just cannot be matched at any other time throughout the year. The joy and craziness of so many of our young people, both from our congregation as well as those from the community gathering together to learn about Jesus creates a feeling and an energy in the church that can only be described as wonderful.

Now in addition to witnessing this amazing joyful energy…there’s something else that I experienced this week as well…HOLY…NOISE. Those kiddos are loud…and now I don’t mean that in a bad way…far from it…but there were many times as I sat in my office, picking away at various thing, that I was utterly distracted by the sound of singing and shouting and clapping and laughter, all of it mixed up together and seeming to originate from every single corner of the church building.

And if there was one lesson that I kept learning over and over again…its that when it comes to VBS, the joyfully loud voices of children will not be ignored. (pause) But again, I’m not complaining at all, because its wonderful…and one of the coolest moments that I got to be a part of this week happened when a couple of the high school helpers popped into my office and asked “Hey Pastor, can you come downstairs and explain the Holy Trinity?”

Apparently one of the groups had gotten on the subject of the Trinity, and they were having some trouble wrapping their heads around how we have a 3 in 1 God…and so I went downstairs and tried, to the best of my ability to explain this crazy concept that we express…but that perhaps every single one of us struggles to really understand. I told them…well it’s a mystery…and we don’t really get it…but 1 God, 3 persons is like this… (pause)

Now I won’t go into the explanation that I offered the kids on the trinity…but in thinking about that moment I realized two things…the first thing is just how hard it is to really understand that whole thing and how we really only scratch the surface…and the second…is how I kind of ended up using a parable to help them gain a little bit of understanding.

And that put me in mind of the gospel for today…a pretty well-known parable of the sower who tosses seed all over the place on many different types of soil…and that each spot had very different results. But here’s the thing…I actually think that parable stands pretty well on its own without a whole lot of explanation…and as we’re going to having parables featured in our gospel texts for the next couple of weeks as well…I really zeroed in on a tiny bit of the narration that opens up this passage. (pause) We hear that Jesus…told the crowds “many things in parables.” And as I thought about the fact that Jesus really does use parables a lot through the different gospels, I started asking myself another question…and then I happened to glance at the first verse that we skipped over today…and I discovered that the disciples were wondering the very…same…thing. (pause) Jesus…why do you speak to them in parables?

Now those of you who are familiar know that preaching on parables isn’t really my favorite thing to do….and I’ve often pondered on just why that is…and perhaps the best reason that I can come up with is that parables really don’t need to be interpreted do they? Think about what a parable is…it’s a story, intended to make a point…a story that is intended to reveal some sort of insight or truth about a different subject…it’s a metaphor isn’t it…and in fact that word parable…or parabaley in the Greek literally means to put along side.

And that’s exactly what Jesus does…the kingdom of heaven…big right…hard to put our fingers on…hard to straighten out in our heads…confusing even…so Jesus places it alongside something that’s more familiar to those that hear…

In today’s example…the kingdom is like seed landing on different types of soil…its gonna grow in some spots…its not gonna fair so well in other spots…that’s the basic gist of this one…and its true right? Some hear the gospel and it grows…others hear it and it doesn’t. (pause)
But this is just one of the countless parables that Jesus shares isn’t it? And each one has a different purpose…a different message…a different truth that is revealed as we hear it…but there are as many ways to interpret any single parable as there are different people who hear it…and we’ve been hearing these same stories from Jesus for centuries haven’t we?

And as I think about all of this stuff…and I know I’ve said a lot different things already today…I wonder just why it often seems to be that parables, and not just that…but this whole kingdom of heaven thing is so difficult for us to put our fingers on. Why can’t we get there? Why does it stay so mysterious…hazy at best? (pause)

And the only thing that I can come up with, is that when we consider the kingdom of heaven and what it is…its simply too big for us…much like God, we can only scratch the surface and no matter how big or great or wonderful or deep or any other descriptor that we might try to use, its insufficient.

But you know what, that’s okay…because if Jesus’ many parables tell us anything, its that the kingdom is there, sometimes visible, sometimes in the background…whether we can put our fingers on it or not. And maybe we need to be okay with mystery. When I was trying to explain the Holy Trinity to the kids, I went into my default…that there are some mysteries that we just can’t nail down…but when we are talking about God, that’s probably not a bad thing.

But at the same time, the amazing thing about this God that we serve…this God who has claimed us as his own…this God who chose to take on flesh and live as one of us…this God who’s spirit is constantly at work…the amazing thing is the way that God can take a simple story and reveal amazing things to you…just by your hearing it.

I can’t tell you what you should hear…what truth you should recognize when you hear a parable. It would be really arrogant for me to ever think that I’ve got it all figured out…because the Spirit might reveal something to me, but something completely different to you…and yet, both revelations…both glimpses into the truth of the kingdom are valid…that’s the amazing power of God’s spirit at work through story and experience and this amazing world that God has given us in the first place.

And so today, allow me to share a few parables…and allow the Spirit to reveal what it will as you hear them. (pause)
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who walks along a path…as he was walks he takes big deep breaths…and he encounters many different smells…first he walks by fragrant rose bushes and their pleasant aroma…but then he walks by a hog lot and the foul stench of the sewage pit…yet every breath that reveals an odor also gives him the air he needs to live. (pause)

The kingdom of heaven is like two little boys fighting over a basketball, who throw angry words at each other in one instant, and then give each other high fives in the next. (pause)

The kingdom of heaven is like the office supply salesman who calls, or emails, or stops by like clockwork, and yet always shows up when you’re not looking for him. (pause)

The kingdom of heaven is like having a meal with good friends…and you find that the joy of sitting at the table lasts way longer than the food. (pause)

Parables are funny…and they’re quirky, and sometimes confusing…but at the same time, there is great truth there. And so today, perhaps we just need to take a moment and realize that the truth that Jesus hopes to reveal to us is that the kingdom of heaven is here and in little ways here and in big way there, it will be revealed…and just like the lesson I learned during VBS this week…the kingdom of heaven is like the joyful loud voices of children. It will not be ignored. Amen.

God’s a Lousy Farmer 7-13-14

Today’s sermon was based on Matthew 13:1-9,18-23. This is the parable of the sower.

You can listen to the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Well, its been awhile since we’ve dabbled in the parable department here in worship…but today, the common teaching style of Jesus comes roaring back into the picture doesn’t it?

You may recall from a period last fall when the lectionary and Luke’s gospel served us up week after week a healthy portion of the parable pie…and after a few weeks of it in a row, admittedly I was getting a little tired of it…tired of the repeated need to attempt an interpretation.

But then advent rolled around and we switched gears…not to mention gospels…and thankfully we’ve taken a nice little sabbatical from the parable train…until…this week. That parable of the sower. (pause)

Now admittedly, when I started my preparation last Sunday, taking my first look at the gospel lesson for today…the first thing I saw was “Parable” and I remember thinking “Oh no…here we go again.” But then, I begrudgingly started to read the parable in question…and immediately my mood changed…the parable of the sower. PLANTING…SOIL…FARMING (pause) Considering my background…I might just have a little bit of insight into that.

I am, after all, a farm kid…a graduate of the college of ag at Iowa State University…not to mention happily entrenched in life here among many many farmers in a farming community. Today should be easy right? Let’s do a quick survey shall we?

A sower went out to sow…common translation…springtime planting. Ok..check. (pause) First batch of seeds fell on the path…ummm…let’s see…sounds like a bag of seed corn broke open on the way to the field…maybe it tipped out of the back of the truck on the way…not good…but I get it…so check. (pause) Oh, and the birds came and ate it up…yep..the pheasants get a free meal when that happens…oh and the deer probably show up too. (pause)

Next we hear that seed fell on rocky ground…I get that…all I have to do is think back to the multitude of hours I spent out in the field in early spring with a 5 gallon bucket…picking rock…continuing to add to the mountain that is the rock pile…present in pretty much every single field I’ve ever seen in this part of the country…so check.

After that we hear about seeds falling among the thorns…and then the thorns grow up and choke it…I know all about weeds…anyone ever walked beans mid to late summer…particularly when the cockleburs are particularly strong…I remember chopping my way through patches so thick you couldn’t even see the beans…because they weren’t there…because the burrs crowded them out…so yet again…check.

And finally, we hear that some of the seed fell on good soil and brought forth grain…30, 60, even 100 fold…sounds like countless conversations I’ve had about yield…checking in with dad to see how many bushels he averaged per acre. (pause)

And that’s not all…we can also list countless other things like conversations why the soil on top of the hills is a lighter color than that down in the low spots…time in high school spent studying different profiles in preparation for a soil judging competition…various classes in college where I literally studied soil and all the different aspects of it…time in the greenhouse working with different types of growing media and plants…work for a lawn care company when we needed to analyze the ph balance of the soil to determine the suitability of growing a strong lawn…and finally countless discussions with my wife on just why you call it soil…and not dirt.

It’s safe to say that when it comes to interpretation of today’s parable…I’m all set…and after all, that’s the whole point of parables isn’t? Jesus sharing truth about the kingdom of heaven in ways that the common person can understand…and today…this one’s for us…truth about the kingdom…in rural farm talk. (pause)

And now, this particular parable is one of those oddball ones when Jesus actually takes the time to explain just what he’s talking about isn’t it? We hear the explanation in the second half of today’s lesson…first the parable…then the description…and perhaps as Jesus was describing what each particular soil type refers to…you found yourself nodding along thinking…yah…that all makes sense.

Seed isn’t going to grown on the path or the road is it? Nope…and the birds are going to clean it up pretty quick…and when plants grow among rocks, there is no root and it dries up or pulls out really easily…and when a crops try to grow in a weed patch…you don’t get much crop do you? But the seed that falls in the field…carefully tilled and cared for throughout the growing season…well of course you’re going to get crop out of that. No brainer Jesus. (pause)

But despite the obvious…when we back up to just what Jesus is telling us here, its almost laughable. A sower went out to sow, and as he sowed, seed fell on the path…and on the rocks…and in the thorns…and some, not all by any means…only 25%…managed to fall in the field where its supposed to be. And so it seems that our sower…he’s not very good is he? He doesn’t seem to be paying the slightest attention where he’s throwing that seed…which sort of makes you wonder how much value he places on it doesn’t it?

Think about that for a moment…how much is a bag of seed corn this year? $225…$250? Seems awfully expensive to just take it out and scatter it randomly…with no care as to where it lands. And I don’t know about you…but if I saw someone just open up a bag and give it a toss…not paying the slightest attention to where they were standing…much less trying to keep it in the boundaries and in nice even rows…if I saw that…I’d think it was a pretty lousy farmer…wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t we all judge that farmer pretty harshly? (pause)

But just who is the farmer in the parable? Who is it, that we’re criticizing for their lack of effort in the planting department? Well, when we listen to Jesus’ interpretation, we hear that the seed that is sown…is the word of the kingdom…it’s the gospel…the good news of Jesus Christ…the story of his life and his ministry…and his teaching and his miracles…and his confrontations and his interactions…and finally his violent death on the cross which culminated 3 days later with his glorious resurrection and his defeat over the power of sin and death…that’s the seed.

And if that’s the seed, well then we need to stop for just a moment and think about just who it is that’s throwing that seed to the wind. And as always, we must first recognize that the farmer…the first one to proclaim the work of God within our reality…is God himself…for we have a God that has spoken to humanity in many ways…first through Creation itself…then later on through the law and the prophets…but in these days we have a God that has spoken to us, and is still speaking to us through the Son and through his word in the Bible…God is the farmer…out there scattering the gospel without even paying attention…completely hap-hazardly…apparently letting ¾’s of it go where it has no business what so ever…what a waste right? So I guess God makes for one…lousy…farmer. (long pause)

But you know what? God…isn’t…a farmer…he leaves that to a very special group of people in the world…because God’s got other fish to fry…the seed is the Gospel…we’ve already established that…and so now we need to think about where the Gospel is going…just what are these four types of soil that Jesus talks about in the parable…3 of which seem to waste the gospel and only 1 does anything with it. (pause)
What is the soil? Well…take a look around…you’re looking at it. Each and every person in the world represents that soil…but the important thing to remember, is that we don’t get to choose which one. If we did…that would easy wouldn’t it? We’d all choose to be the good soil and bear fruit for the gospel…some 30…some 60…some 100…but that’s not the reality. (pause) And you know what…if all those soil classes in college taught me anything…its that there is all kinds of different soil everywhere…you take a soil sample, it changes from inch to inch…you look at a plot of land, it is riddled with different soil profiles…all swirled up together…and I think that each and every member of the human race is exactly the same…a swirl of all 4 types of soil…and its not up to us to make any one of the 4 stronger than the others.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…faith…believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ…it is NOT self generated…it is a gift of the Holy Spirit…it is the result of the Spirit using the proclamation of the gospel to you and creating the root of faith within you. (pause)

When I was working with this text this week, I was surprised to find insight in the original language, which you may know happens to me from time to time…but in the short bit talking about the plants having no root in the rocky soil…the action of “Having” or “Holding” occurs with the seed itself…with the plant…not with the soil. And this strengthens the notion that we do not create faith ourselves because through the Holy Spirit the gospel itself…the seed in our story takes hold of us…and once it does it WILL NOT…let go.

And once that has happened…once God finds the good soil in the life of an individual and faith grows within their life…well, then they join with God…in a different role…that of the sower in Jesus’ story. (pause) As fellow believers in Jesus Christ we join in the priest hood of all believers…and you’ve heard me talk about this before…we all share a calling to proclaim the gospel so that those who have never heard may here…and maybe…just maybe…that seed that we cast out in the name of Jesus Christ…will find good soil and take root.

But at the same time, we must also realize the importance of the example of the sower in today’s story…God himself…the original farmer…and the lousy one at that. (pause)

God doesn’t distinguish where the seed….where the Gospel…goes…he’s equal opportunity…casting that gospel to the wind in abundance and we are called to do the same…it is not up to us to judge the audience that we think is worthy to hear it…if that were the case, then the sower would have stayed inside the boundaries…but that’s not the case…and praise be to God that we are freed of the burden of judging who is worthy to hear the good news and who isn’t…because if that were in fact the case…then in our own lives…in our own history…whoever it was that had joined with God in the role of sower may have taken a look at each one of us and thought…nope…too rocky…and held onto that seed…but if you are sitting here today listening to this message…then you know that’s not the case…and today if you are hearing this for the first time…and I mean really hearing it…well then I think the Holy Spirit’s finding some good soil in you…and who knows how much fruit that’s gonna produce.

Thanks be to God…that God…looks at all of humanity and does NOT distinguish between good soil…and bad soil…thanks be to God…that He…is a lousy farmer…but is a loving Father. Amen.