Jesus taught in parables to reveal, through simple stories of day-to-day experiences, the principles behind the complex mysteries of God. In Jesus time, the people who came to hear Jesus and even the disciples didn’t fully understand the meaning of the parables. In Luke chapter 8, Jesus explains the parable of the sower to his disciples. The story is no doubt familiar to all of us. The sower broadcasts the seed generously, but some falls on a hardened path and is snatched away by birds, some falls on rocky soil, some is choked out by thorns, and some seed falls on good soil and produces a great crop. Through Rev. Diaz’s sermon, we are reminded that the soil is the human heart, which needs to be cultivated like soil to be receptive to the word of God, to withstand worldly troubles and adversity. By committing the time to hearing God’s work and working to understand its meaning, we are cultivating our hearts so that God can produce spiritual fruit from within us.
The parables of Jesus are some of the most memorable and beloved passages of the whole Bible: we all love the parables of The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son. Jesus’ parables, of course, were simple stories, often using common experiences from people’s daily lives, to illustrate for the disciples and for the crowds an important message or principle which would help them to understand complex mysteries about God and God’s kingdom.
Except that quite often people still didn’t get what He was trying to tell them. The “Parable of the Sower” from this morning’s biblical passage is a good example. Jesus, seeing a crowd of people at the side of the sea, climbed into a boat, and began to speak: “Listen! A sower went out to sow…” The disciples, by now somewhat used to Jesus’ way of speaking, tried to look cool, like they were just taking it all in, nodding as though they were completely “getting” everything he was saying…while glancing at one another casually, as if to ask, “do you know what the heck he’s talking about now?”
When they were finally alone with him, they didn’t ask him, “What the heck were you talking about?” They asked him, “Why do you talk to them in parables Jesus?” WE got it, of course…but you know, Jesus, they might not understand exactly what it is you’re trying to say. But, apparently Jesus thinks that the disciples also need the parable explained to them, because he goes on to spell out for them exactly what great mysteries this parable is illustrating.
Many of Jesus’ parables were told to illustrate something about the Kingdom of God – how it is different from what they were expecting; how it is different from earthly kingdoms – and this one is like that. In this parable we see that, while an earthly kingdom is usually established by military force, with one powerful army systematically overtaking weaker or unsuspecting nations, God’s kingdom is not like that. God’s kingdom is not imposed, it’s offered; and it’s not offered systematically or methodically, the way we plant our gardens; but indiscriminately – to everyone and anyone; to whoever has their ears and hearts open to the invitation.
While in an earthly kingdom, every person living in the overtaken nation becomes part of the new kingdom whether they like it or not, in God’s kingdom only those whose heart is in condition to receive the seed of the gospel; only those whose heart is in condition for that gospel to take root and grow and give fruit; only those who choose to hear his message and participate are encompassed within the kingdom of God.
While in an earthly kingdom every effort is made to use resources efficiently, in God’s kingdom much of the seed is wasted, it is spread out all over the place, it’s flung in every direction, most of it falling on soil that is not in condition to receive it. But that which lands on good soil and bears fruit more than makes up for that which falls and never takes root.
In God’s kingdom, it is the human heart that is the soil for receiving the seed of the gospel of God’s Kingdom. The seed of the gospel is sown in many ways, and by many different people in our lives: in church – through our Baptism and in Sunday School, worship and Bible study; through friends and family who model lives of faith; sometimes even things we hear on TV or the radio will get us thinking about faith questions in our lives.
The seeds are spread plenteously, generously, extravagantly. But for those seeds to actually take root and bear fruit in our lives, the soil must be cultivated, prepared to receive the seed. Whether those seeds take root depends on the condition of our hearts. As we read this parable we can ask ourselves: “what kind of soil does God find in my heart? What kind of soil is the seed of the gospel falling onto in my own heart?” And better yet, how do we create good soil conditions in our hearts, so that we can receive God’s Word, cultivate it in our own lives, and allow it to grow, bear fruit, and nourish others?
This parable helps us to understand. In verse 4 of the parable, Jesus says: “A sower went out to sow, 4and as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” In verse 19, then, he explains what he has said: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path.”
Where do we see this kind of soil in our lives, as we seek to live out our faith? Well, as an example, it is quite common that people pick up their Bible and start to read it, but it’s hard to understand right away, so a little voice in their head says, “Oh, I don’t see much point.” And they close their Bible, and that seed is snatched away before it has ever taken root.
To avoid that, there are so many things that we can do. Whenever we don’t understand something, we can pray, ask questions, read a commentary – there are lots of Bible Study resources in libraries (maybe your church has a library) or even on the Internet! Invest in a Study Bible. Join – or better yet start – a weekly Bible Study group. Make a decision to not let that seed be snatched away from you; take the precious seed and tend it carefully.
In verses 5-6, Jesus talks about another kind of soil: “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” And in verses 20-21 it is explained in this way: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.”
Sometimes people have the idea that becoming a Christian will mean happiness and peace every single day. That God will never allow any kind of trials in their lives. So when problems come along, they can’t understand and it shakes their faith in God. People will hear about grace and joy – or even prosperity – that comes with the gospel and will accept that message in their hearts. But as soon as you talk about repentance, the cross, or self-sacrificial love; or as soon as they experience sickness, loss or financial difficulties in their life; as soon as they start to reflect on the troubles that are throughout the world, they become suddenly disenchanted. Christians are not exempt from adversity, and growth in our faith often comes more through how we face adversity, than how we face the joys and celebrations in our lives.
In verse 7, Jesus gives the next example: “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” In verse 22 he explains: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.”
I think this is fairly self-explanatory, and I think that this is the most common obstacle we face in our faith lives in our modern world. Throughout our lives we have so many things to distract us: so many responsibilities, and concerns. We have jobs to do, and bills to pay, and houses to tend, and cars and clothes to buy, children to take to soccer practice and music lessons, and appointments to go to; and while we say that faith is important to us, the truth is that it often takes a back seat to the “really important” things that we have to attend to on a day to day basis. If we don’t make cultivating our faith a top priority in our lives, a non-negotiable, something that we attend to daily, then it will get choked out of our lives. It may take root; it may grow a little. But it will never flourish and bear fruit.
Finally, Jesus talks about the soil that we would all like to have in our hearts. He says, “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain.” And the explanation he gives in the final verse of this morning’s text is: “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields.”
When the seed of the gospel falls onto soil that is rich and fertile, that has been carefully and intentionally prepared to receive the seed, then it is going to show in every area of our lives. Cultivating this kind of soil in our hearts takes time and commitment. But here is the most important thing (something that any farmer will tell you): our responsibility is to be disciplined in cultivating the soil, in creating the conditions in our hearts for the seed of the gospel to fall and take root. But while the farmer works to ensure the right soil conditions, the farmer cannot make the growth happen, nor can he cause the plant to bear fruit.
We cannot force growth to happen in our faith lives (I wish we could), nor can we cause that faith to bear fruit. Only God can produce the growth and fruit in our lives. If God has planted an apple tree, we’re not going to harvest cherries. We may think we want our lives to bear the fruit of peace, for example, but God may be cultivating patience. We may want fruit to come forth quickly in our lives, but God brings forth fruit in its appointed season. We cannot rush that process. In Canada, you’re not going to harvest ripe, delicious apples in May, no matter how hard you try.
As we grow and change in our lives, the quality of the soil in our hearts for receiving the seed of the gospel will also change. This is very common; usually changes in our lives will bring about changes to our hearts. Where once we weren’t really getting anything out of church or the Bible, maybe now some small seeds are beginning to take root. Maybe you’re starting to understand some things in new ways. Maybe you’re becoming more interested in what the Bible has to say. Cultivate and fertilize those small changes that are happening before they get snatched away or choked out. If you tend to them then slowly they will begin to grow.
Remember though, you are not responsible to produce the fruit in your faith life. Legalists will make us think that we have to produce fruit to prove our worthiness in the eyes of God. But no fruit that we can produce by ourselves will ever be as sweet and juicy as the fruit that God produces in our lives. Just compare the difference between genetically modified fruits and organic fruits! If we tend to our hearts in healthy, organic ways, then we will see God produce that natural delicious fruit in our lives. Amen.