Sermons That Work

Today’s Gospel Reading Is…, Proper 10 (A) – 2008

July 13, 2008

Today’s gospel reading is very familiar – the parable of the four soils. Many of us learned it in Sunday school. Millions enjoyed the graphic enactment of the parable in the movie “Godspell.” For centuries, paintings and stained-glass art have represented it. Easy to remember because of the vivid description, we readily envision an ancient farmer striding through a rough field with a bag hanging on one side as he casts handfuls of seed on the other. We can also imagine a wider-angle view around the field – with birds flying over a hard-packed path, rocks among shallow earth, and thorny weeds growing menacingly.

At the same time, anyone familiar with a twenty-first century farming community will recognize that the parable presents an awfully peculiar and unproductive method of agriculture. Modern practices include a much more efficient operation – a neater, more productive one, with nothing but rich soil devoid of rocks and sprayed with weed retardant. Paths do not cross fields; tractors even plow within a few feet of farm houses and barns. Sophisticated implements plant seeds precisely and nothing is left to chance.

Jesus undoubtedly would be unimpressed, because he was not really interested in telling us about growing crops. He simply took a familiar activity of his time and used it to illustrate an important factor in human life. From this perspective, the lessons are as important today as they were 2,000 years ago. Though our agricultural techniques are much different from those of former centuries, our lives are not so different from those who lived in Biblical times.

We might pause to observe that in trying to apply the parable to our lives, the odds are against us: three kinds of bad soil and only one that is truly productive. Yet the Christian life is never free of challenge and our presence in church today reminds us that it is worth the effort. Today’s challenge comes from Jesus’ wonderful extended metaphor that can help us discipline our lives and provide helpful self-evaluation. If we have the courage to examine ourselves in light of the four kinds of soils, we can become more like what God hopes for us.

How can we clean out the rocks and the weeds that infect us? How can we avoid pathways that are useless? How can we turn ourselves into well-tilled, well-fertilized soil? What can we do to help God’s seed take root in us and empower us to produce loving, spirit-filled fruit? How can we so live that our story can become one with a more beneficial ending – one in which little that God gives us has fallen among weeds or rocks or worthless avenues?

What are the aspects of our lives that tend to be so hard-packed that God cannot enter? Where are our blind spots? What spiritual necessities do we tend to avoid? What psychological encrustations keep us from opening up so the power of the spirit can transform us? How often are we apathetic about the cries of human need? In what “sounds of silence” do we hear but not listen? What mind tricks do we play to protect ourselves from risking intimacy? What can we do to soften our hard side and open ourselves to letting God motivate us for the sake of the gospel?

Where do we find in ourselves spiritual and emotional shallowness? In what ways do we lack commitment to God and the values of God? When do we tend to speak big but act little? How have we been “flashes in the pan” without cooking anything up for the good? How often do we grab hold of a new cause that comes along without following through with it? How often have our well-intended promises failed to materialize?

What can we do to reach a greater depth of character and find the integrity of our faithfulness to live up to the values of the Baptismal Covenant and Ten Commandments?

And, woe unto the thorns and weeds of our lives! What distractions do we allow to keep up being about the work of God? How does our busy-ness with one thing or another keep us from following the steps of our Lord? What banality saps away our spiritual energy? Which “weeds” choke us out? What temptations stand between us and God? Materialism? The drive for power? The desire of popularity and success in the eyes of others? Putting ourselves first?

What can we do to destroy parasites that feed off of and destroy the good, allowing us to follow through on the command to love God completely and to love our neighbors as ourselves?

How well we examine ourselves and clear away the impediments to growth will determine how much of the “rich soil” our lives entail. Still, there is more to do if we continue following this metaphor of suitable soil. To produce an abundant crop, we can further extend the imagery of agriculture. To increase the value of the inner environment of our lives, we need to do what farmers do after planting seed: tilling, fertilizing, pruning, providing the proper balance of acidity and alkalinity.

Envision how this process can work in making your Christian life richer. Let your imagination go; search for ways to apply the metaphorical examples. Think about plowing and hoeing, for example. Loosening soil and exposing it to air might remind us to keep a fresh perspective and constantly expose ourselves to new ways of understanding what God has in mind for us in every situation.

Fertilizing? Can anything better illustrate how much we need to have added to our consciousness? Read and understand the Bible. Hear and understand stories of the saints of old and the committed examples of contemporary Christians whom we admire. Emulate them and follow in their steps.

Pruning? It’s a matter of priorities, isn’t it? Keep and nurture the portion of our spiritual growth that is most in keeping with God and cut away what is less productive.

Supplying the proper ratio of acid to base? It’s almost always about balance, isn’t it? For instance, it’s not a matter of worship and prayer verses good works and social action, but attending to both, letting each inform the other. Finding the right priority for the given moment, emphasizing what love most demands at a certain time, can produce the most abundance when we keep the many aspects of our Christian lives in proper balance.

God created us good and with every potential to find fullness of life. God gives us all we need to well receive the seed – the seed that represents God’s love and the values of God’s realm.

Finally, consider what lies far beyond anything we can do in making the “soil” of our inner lives the most receptive for God to work in us. Let us not forget that only God produces the miracle of growth, the wonder of creation. God gives us all we need for love to grow and for us to put it to use, enriching ourselves and those around us.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Sermons That Work podcast to hear this sermon and more on your favorite podcasting app! Recordings are released the Thursday before each liturgical date.

Receive Free Weekly Sermons That Work Resources!


Christopher Sikkema


Click here