Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 13, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Sermon Theme: “Seeds, Soils, and Sowers”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Sermon Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas and examples; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 3, June 15-Sept. 14, 2014, Series A.)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
When my wife and I bought our home some years ago, we created some flower beds around the trees. All the beds were circular, except for one, which we called at the time, and still do, “The Astronaut Bed,” — that’s because it turned out to be in the shape of a space capsule – don’t ask me why, it just did.
Not only was it the only odd-shaped bed, it was the only one where nothing wanted to grow. We tried petunias, we tried sweet Williams, we tried periwinkles – and you know if periwinkles won’t grow in the soil, nothing will!
Some of our neighbors (sons and daughters of farmers) told my wife that the soil was too acidic. Having taught high school chemistry, my wife bought a large sack of alkali (chemistry taught that an alkaline substance would neutralize anything acidic). She emptied this sack on the bed, and it looked like a pile of pulverized chalk, and as we mixed it in with the top soil already on the bed, I kept saying, “I don’t ever remember my parents putting something like this in their garden; are you sure you know what we are doing?” No, she wasn’t sure! Just as I thought!
Let me tell you, — in the 41 years that we have lived in our home, that flower bed never grew anything, not even a good batch of weeds! And it still won’t grow anything to this day.
You can see how that relates to our sermon text, can’t you? In one of His most often quoted parables, Jesus uses the image of soil and growth in describing how the gospel is received. As a contemporary aphorism says, “You won’t see much grass growing on the Interstate!”
The parable in our sermon text is an attempt to explain why the gospel yields such vastly different results. In some lives it produces abundantly; in some, it grows for a time and then dies back; while in the hearts of others, it doesn’t germinate at all. Different yields for different fields. The explanation lies with the soil.
The question naturally arises, “Why does the yield of God’s Word (the seed) vary so much?” According to the parable, the seed that fell on the path was gobbled up by birds, the seed falling on rocky ground, came up for a short time, then died, the seeds that fell among the thorns and thistles were choked to death by those weeds. The seeds that fell on good soil produced a hundredfold.
What is comforting to us as evangelists who proclaim the Word is that it is not the sower who is at fault, it is not the seed, — no, it is the soil!
But what is disturbing to us as hearers of the Word is the yield produced in us! What kind of yield are our lives producing? Have we analyzed what kind of environment we are producing for the seed? Is it hard like cement? Is our spiritual depth shallow? Are we allowing the cares of this world to crowd out God’s Word? We can increase our yield by making our lives more open to God’s Word.
Just as it is to us, the parable was comforting to the Disciples, because it helped them to understand why some people received the word of Christ and others did not. It took the burden off the shoulders of the sower. As long as the sower scattered the seeds, his job as evangelist was complete. The seeds did not germinate because of the soil, not because of the sower.
No one can by his own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him; faith is a gift. So what does keep people from hearing?
The devil, the world, and our flesh make up the unholy trinity that keeps folks from hearing. The meaning of the Third Commandment calls on hearers not to despise preaching and God’s Word. Yet when listening problems and lack of understanding happen, this is precisely what occurs. Preaching and God’s Word are both despised.
There is a very important point in this text that the disciples needed to get and that we need to comprehend. OK, so here we run into barren land, rocky soil, patches of thorns and thistles, — and, in today’s imagery, concrete Interstate highways. Are we to withhold the seed, to save it for less barren lands?
No! No! No! Jesus teaches the disciples and us to sow the Word of God liberally. There are no places, regardless of their potential to grow, where the Word of God may not or should not be preached. The sower in the parable is spreading seed everywhere – over the path, the rocks, and the weedy areas. That is because God’s grace is for everyone! Everybody who hears the words you have heard today may be certain that Jesus really has died and risen for THEM, has forgiven THEM, has given THEM eternal salvation.
The sidewalks of the city may seem like the hard-packed, impossible to crack path Jesus describes in the parable. Hearts are as hard as concrete, made immune by the rush of impersonal masses, by the blights of drugs and crime. Who would ever care for a word of kindness from of God who doesn’t seem to be anywhere around?
Farming communities and rural areas can be resistant to the sowing of the gospel, too. There are too many everyday cares and concerns, — the worry about another’s year’s crop, about this month’s weather and next month’s corn prices, borrowing money just to stay afloat, young people leaving the farm for the rocky soil of the cities.
But, as Isaiah says, God’s Word does not return void despite what we may see. The seed is always good, whatever the soil may seem to be. We must always remember that some seeds may lie dormant for a while, sometimes for a long while.
With birds gobbling up the seeds on the path, harsh and rocky soils, and fiercely persistent thorns and thistles, I sometimes have a tendency to want to give up, — I just want to say, ‘I’ve tried, I’ve done what I can, and situations don’t change, they just get worse! I’m out of here!’
But, you know, the present state of the church, for better or worse, is the result of people’s response to hearing the gospel. Our personal commitment, yours and mine, to the Lord’s work goes a long way in establishing God’s church as the kind of place it should be. If there are flaws, we cannot point our finger at anyone else; we create the kind of church we are a part of. Our attitudes of determination, of the loving kindness of caring hearts, of zealous commitment to the Word help to form our church.
A strong church congregation centered in the Word is something that we, its members, either choose to become or choose not to become. Neither our denomination’s stances of social issues, nor church bureaucracy can be blamed for the ills of any local church. Our efforts to proclaim the Word, and our response to the Word are the determining factors.
You know, when almost as many church workers as there are students show up to do God’s work at Vacation Bible School, you begin to suspect that this IS a strong church congregation!
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose. . . “ Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.