REMEMBERING THE PARABLE
The scripture that we are going to be studying this morning is a rather odd one. It’s a parable. The fact that it’s a parable isn’t odd. Jesus told many parables. The difference with this parable is that usually when Jesus told a parable, he then expected that those who heard it should think about it a figure out what he meant by it. Not so with this one. In this one Jesus tells the parable in Matthew 13:1-9 and then he explains what he means by it a few verses later in Matthew 13:18-23. This is one of the few parables where Jesus does this which makes it unique and also makes it most helpful.
Most of us are familiar with it but just to remind ourselves, it is the story of a farmer who planted his field. Farmers in those days did not seed their fields quite the way we do today. There were no tractors or multi-row cultivators and seeders. The farmers in Jesus’ day simply walked through the field with bagfuls of seed and tossed it to the left and right. Once the seed was spread over the surface of the field, the farmer would then hitch up his oxen and plow the seeds into the ground.
That’s why, in the parable, some of the seeds fall where they aren’t supposed to fall. Tossing around scoopfuls of seeds from a burlap bag is not the most accurate was to sew a field. But it’s the best they had.
The whole parable, of course, is a teaching that Jesus wants his disciples to hear. The basic message is this: the seeds of faith will only produce an abundant harvest if they are sown in good soil. The soil, of course, is our lives. One of the things that Jesus implies is that if want to be open to his word, than maybe we need to pay some attention to the state of those lives. Let’s find out what he means.
Matthew 13:3-4 (NIV) begins like this:
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell in along the path, and the birds came and ate at it up.”
The first soil that Jesus talks about is the part of the field that has been turned into a path. The seeds could not grow there because the ground was too hard for the seeds to take root. The birds came and ate them. No more seeds. Too bad, so sad – except maybe for the birds who got an easy lunch.
I didn’t realize the significance of this part of the story until I pastored a church in Manitoba right after I was ordained. I was out visiting one of the farming families one day, walking along the edge of the fields, when I noticed that there was a path at the side of the field where nothing was growing. “That path must see a lot of traffic,” I said to the farmer.
“As a matter of fact,” he said, “it’s the path that the cows used to take to the barn to be milked. It’s hardly ever used anymore.”
I was a bit confused because I knew that he didn’t have a dairy herd. He told me that he sold he herd ten years earlier. It had been ten years since there had been a dairy herd on that farm and the path was still clearly visible. That’s because it had been walked four times a day by generations of cows for decades. It was as hard as cement. It wouldn’t matter how good the seed was that fell on that ground. It was not going to grow.
Now let’s turn to Matthew 13:18-19 (NIV) to hear what Jesus means by this:
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.”
What Jesus means is that there are always going to be people who just don’t get it. That doesn’t mean they’re stupid or greedy or arrogant. It simply means that they’re not ready to receive the seeds of faith in their lives. I guess you could say that they’re just hard headed and it’s going to take some time and effort to soften them up. That doesn’t happen over night but it can happen and, until it does, it doesn’t matter how many seeds of faith are sown into their lives, nothing is going to take root. They’re just not ready and that’s all there is to it. That’s the hard ground.
THE ROCKY GROUND
The parable continues in Matthews 13:5-6 (NIV) which says:
“Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”
The next group of seeds miss the path but fall on rocky ground. These aren’t quite as badly off because at least they take root. In fact, they spring up very quickly because the rocks absorb the heat from the sun that helps the seeds to germinate. Initially things look great. But then the summer heat comes and the rains stop. Because the roots are shallow, the plants wither and die.
In Matthew 13:20-21 (NIV) Jesus explains this part of the parable:
“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.”
Jesus tells us that this soil represents the people who initially take quite easily to the seeds of faith but, because their roots are shallow, when something comes along to challenge their faith, it disappears like teenagers when it’s time to wash the dishes.
All of us have rocks in our lives. They’re the things that get in the way of growing a solid faith because we are constantly stumbling over them and stubbing our toes. Here are a few examples. Peer pressure can cause people to stumble. Sometimes coming to Christ means that we have to change our social circle because our old friends just don’t fit in with the life that God calls us to live. That’s hard to do because you have a history.
How about getting teased about your faith? That can happen and it makes life more than a bit rocky.
There are those who think that faith is a great idea – as long as it doesn’t actually interfere with the things that they want to do. You know, just keep that Jesus stuff within the four walls of the church where it belongs. The trouble is that Jesus wants to transform your life and that’s probably going to interfere with some of the things that you want to do. Those stones can trip you up. That’s the rocky ground.
Jesus then talks about the seeds that fall among the thorns. This is what he says in Matthew 13:7 (NIV): “Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.”
They start to grow but get choked out. There are enough farmers and gardeners in this congregation to know what Jesus is talking about. What do you do with weeds? You pull them out or spray them with a herbicide. Why? Because weeds rob the soil of the moisture and nutrients that you want for your field or your garden.
Jesus explains this in Matthew 13:22 (NIV):
“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”
Jesus says that this thorny soil represents the people who hear the Word but do not respond because they are too busy with the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth. They’re all caught up in the weeds of this world and they just can’t seem to get their priorities straight.
I want us to notice that Jesus isn’t just talking about ordinary weeds; he says that they are thorns. I find thorns to be some of the most difficult weeds in my garden because they spread beneath the surface. You can’t kill them unless you get the whole root. You can rip it off above the ground but it’s bound to pop up somewhere else not too far away. Worries about life can spread like weeds in our lives: thorny, prickly and persistent. And they’re hard to rid of. That’s the thorny ground.
Any of this sound familiar. What kind of soil do you offer God? Is your soil like a cement hard path? Maybe there are a few rocks in the field that you trip over from time to time. Maybe your soil has some prickly thorns that keep popping up when least expected. Or maybe, just maybe you can offer God good soil.
That’s what Jesus describes in Matthew 13:8 (NIV):
“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Jesus explains this part of the parable in Matthew 13:23 (NIV):
“But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Isn’t that what God wants from us? God’s desire is that we produce an abundant crop with the seeds of faith that have been planted in our lives.
“But,” you say, “I’d love to offer God that kind of soil but, if truth be known, I know that I’m not that kind of person. I can be hard as a cow path. The rocks in my life are better described as boulders and I’ve had more thorns popping up than most people have had hot meals. I’m such a mess. You may not see it. My neighbour may not see it. But I see it and so does God. What can God possibly do with me?”
Think about it. Let’s take the analogy to the next step. What does a farmer do when his soil is not up to par? Does he give up on it? Does he sell the field and buy another one? Does he just keep on throwing seeds in the hope that someday it will eventually improve all by itself? No, the farmer does none of these.
When a good farmer comes across a patch of ground that will not produce, he pays special attention to it. He plows through the hard patches and breaks it up. He picks up the rocks and takes them out of the field. He weeds out the thorn bushes so that they will not choke the young plants. He does other things too. He fertilizes and irrigates and does whatever else is necessary to improve the yield of the land so that it will produce a crop of a hundred fold, sixty fold or thirty fold.
Just as the farmer does not give up on his land, so God does not give up on us. Are we hardened to God’s word? God can soften your heart if you’ll just give him a chance.
You think that you have rocks and boulders in your life? No problem. The biggest, heaviest rock on your life is a feather weight to the one who moves the mountains and the valleys.
What about those prickly thorns that choke out the good things that God has in store for you? If you let God, he will take the prickly situations in your life and pull them up by the roots so that you can be all the you created to be.
The point is that none of us is so hard, so rocky or thorny that God can’t do something amazing with us. But note this. It is God who does something with us! We can’t clean up our own lives. Sure, we can make better choices and we should do that. We can get better at following God’s way. After all, it isn’t a big secret. The Bible tells us everything we need to know. But as hard as we try, we know that there are areas of our lives that we just can’t seem to clean up on our own. The temptations are too great. The bad habits are too hard too engrained.
That’s where God comes in. He will plow up those hard cow paths and cast away the rocks and rip out the thorns. God can take all of that and clean it up. But here’s the catch – we have to let him do it. As great and as mighty and as loving as God is, God will not clean up the fields of our lives unless we let him in. God will not force the Holy Spirit on anyone.
In my experience, however, there comes a time in each of our lives when we say, “Yes,” to God and allow his Spirit in. That usually comes at a time when we’re tired of trying to do it on our own. The cow paths are too hard. The rocks are too many. The thorns are just too prickly. The time comes when we realize that on our own we are helpless to clean up the mess. That’s when we invite God’s Spirit in to make us whole and prepare our lives for all of the good gifts that he wants to give us.
Maybe that sounds like you this morning. Maybe you’re still hardened to the word. Maybe there are a few rocks and thorns in your field. And just because you go to church, don’t think your field is perfectly clean because you know better don’t you. All of us probably have a rock or thorn or two that God can help us deal with. And when we do, the seeds that God has planted in our lives will take root and sprout. They will grow strong plants that will produce a plentiful harvest – one hundred, sixty and thirty times what was sown.
Jesus finishes the parable with Matthew 13:9 (NIV) which says: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” What about you? Do you have ears to hear? Jesus seems to think so. In Matthew 13:16 (NIV) he said this to his disciples: “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” Jesus said that to his disciples and that includes you because you follow him and have put your faith in him. So watch and listen and open your life to the amazing work of God that he may produce an amazing harvest in you.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We give thanks that you are as close as a prayer. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out to us offering hope and help and healing. We give thanks for all of your precious gifts.
We put our lives in your hands. On our own, we are helpless to clean up our lives. The temptations are too strong, the bad habits too engrained. But you, O God, can do anything. You can take the meagre gifts in our lives and use them for your glory. Just give us the faith and the courage to let you do it.
We continue to pray for our world as we deal with the pandemic. We are thankful for the measures that have been put in place and also thankful that things are beginning to open up slowly. In the midst of all of that, we pray for safety, good sense and best practices.
We lift up in prayer those who are suffering from broken relationships. Heal their woundedness, O God of life, that they may move on to experience the abundant life that you promise to all those who put their faith and their trust in you.
Holy God, we know that all life is valuable in your sight. We are grateful that your love and compassion are limitless and unconditional. When we are faced with difficult decisions or situations, help us to remember that you are always ready to help offering guidance, strength, patience and wisdom. You provide the example of how we should treat others. Keep us faithful as you are faithful. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
July 12, 2020 / Pentecost 5
Genesis 25:19-34; Psalm 119:105-112; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Romans 8:1-11
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: God’s word is a lamp to our feet;
ALL: it is a light to our path.
ONE: The ways of God are awesome;
ALL: the power of God is pure.
ONE: Let us worship the One who saves us;
ALL: let us worship the One who gives us life.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Hear our prayers, O God of Life. Enter our worship as you enter our lives. Instill within us a new sense of your praise and glory. Give to us a passion for justice for all people. Remind us of our responsibility to share your Good News of salvation and reconciliation with all people. Your testimonies are pure. They fill our hearts with joy and give us the courage to continue down the path of your making.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We put our lives into your hands, O God of Mercy and Compassion. We acknowledge that we are unworthy of your love. The paths that we travel are not your paths. The creations of our hearts are not of your making. The thoughts in our minds are not worthy of your thinking. Cleanse us from our self-centred ways. Forgive us of our sins and enable us to always look for the good of others.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
There are times when we think that we are too sinful for God’s mercy. There are moments when we think that we are too hopeless for God’s grace. In those times, know that God’s power to forgive is greater than any power on earth. That is the strength of forgiveness that we receive. That is the strength of forgiveness that we are called to share with one another.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
For all that we have, for all that we are, for all that we will become, we offer our thanks and our praise. Enlighten us and encourage us to use these gifts that conflicts may be solved and peace may be found.
As children of God, we have worshipped in faith and truth. As followers of Christ, we are called to go forth from this place to share the Good News of salvation and reconciliation in Jesus’ name.