Sermons That Work

The Parable of the Sower, Proper 10 (A) – 1999

July 11, 1999

The “parable of the sower” is one of the special parables in the New Testament because Jesus interprets it for us himself.

A sower went out to sow grain, presumably wheat, and the seeds were broadcast by hand. So, once the seeds were thrown, there was no controlling where they would land. The seed fell in different soils and conditions. One of the things that we know from our concern for ecology is that when we fight with the environment, we lose. The same thing happened with the seeds in the parable.

Some fell on the pathway. It was hard and packed. Those seeds never germinated at all. Birds ate them. Some seeds fell in the shallow soil on the edges of the field. These did germinate. But they were never able to develop roots adequate for survival. As soon as it got hot, they wilted and died. Some fell in the weeds. They did germinate. But the weeks choked them and they never matured. And some fell in the deep, well cultivated, weed-free soil. These germinated, matured, and bore grain.

Jesus told this parable to answer a question to deal with a real issue. We can almost hear one of the disciples ask, “Jesus, why doesn’t everyone respond positively to you?” Let us imagine that it is Thomas, the Doubter. This is a question that troubles all of us who believe and seek to live in obedience to God’s commandments because we love Jesus. Why is it that some people even if they have heard Jesus’ message, or grew up going to church, don’t get it? This question has been answered in various ways by different theological systems over the years. The Universalists would say that it doesn’t matter, “God chooses those who will be saved and it is nobody’s business but God’s, as we all deserve condemnation for our sinfulness anyway.” And there are ranges of answers between these two extremes.

Jesus’ own answer is much more complex-and both satisfying and troubling. Jesus interprets his own parable this way. The seeds are sown. Some hear but the evil one snatches the words from them, these are the people represented by the seeds that fall on the path. Those people represented by the seeds that fall on the shallow soil are able to hear and respond, but the Gospel never really takes root in their lives. So the barely started Christians wither away and never reach maturity, as the text says, “they fall away when persecution comes.” In our own time there is not as much persecution of those seeking the Christian religious path as there was in earlier times. It may be that our equivalent of this is when “unrooted” new Christians hear about tithing, weekly church attendance, regular prayer, and celibacy or monogamy, and leave. Where seeds fall in the weeds, the text says that the “cares of the world and the lure of wealth” draw them away. We all know folk for whom this is reality.

But some seed falls on the deep soil and bears grain. These are people who hear the Gospel. They respond. The word of grace takes charge of their lives. They grow and mature into Christians.

This parable not only answers the question,” Why doesn’t everybody get it?” But also leads those of us who do get it, to ask, “What can we do to help those who don’t. get the saving message?”

This parable leads us to ask two more questions. The first is, “Shall we continue to proclaim the Gospel even if everyone doesn’t get it? ” The second question is more personal. It is, “what kind of soil am I?”

The first question must be answered, “Yes.” Whether or not we proclaim the Gospel is not really an option. Jesus said, ” If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jesus also commanded, “Go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” If we love him, we evangelize. And this is more than just a matter of obedience. It is a matter of our soul’s health. As we grow in obedience, we grow in love. As we grow in love, our souls grow in health.

One of the images in the parable is useful in thinking about what this means. The seed that falls on the deep cultivated soil grows to maturity and productivity. One image for evangelism is the cultivation of the soil where the seed of the Gospel will fall. Almost all of the mature Christians we might question will describe how they were loved into an awareness of God’s love. Then the love may have come from a father, or a mother, or a brother, or a sister, or a wife, or a husband, or a friend. The love entered the life of the person preparing them for the love of God. One person said, “My wife loved me into submission; I realized that I was immersed in the love of Jesus flowing through her. When I finally heard the call to claim Jesus as Savior, I couldn’t refuse.” Another person said, “It was granddaddy. I went to church and Sunday school every week because he came and got me and took me. He loved me in other ways. He used to hold me in his lap. I know that he was teaching me that there is a place on God’s lap where only I fit and belong.”

These are two illustrations of the cultivation of love. Love prepares the way for love. It may be that those who have known a lot of love can know the love of God when it comes more easily than others can. They can recognize it. The second question is, “What kind of soil are you?” All of us have parts of our lives like the path, or the shallow soil, or the tangled place where there are weeds. The degree to which we focus on these troubled areas of our lives is the degree to which we will not “get it”. Give those areas to God and then don’t take them back.

Instead, live in the part of your life that is deep and well cultivated so that the Gospel can grow there. God’s love and your best can bear the fruit that will feed the world.

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Christopher Sikkema


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