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July 16, 2017

 

   

7.16.17                              Pentecost 6               - Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 ESV

 

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9He who has ears, let him hear.”

18“Hear then the parable of the sower: 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

CAN YOU PASS THE SOIL TEST?

Too acidic or too alkaline.  You green-thumb gardeners and plant lovers will understand these terms.  If you have the soil tested, these are the two usual results: too much acid base chemicals or too much alkaline base chemicals in the soil.  There are countermeasures that can be used to correct the condition of the soil so that plants will grow better.  That’s why you test the soil.  You can buy your own soil tester if you’re really into gardening.  I hear the gardening show on KTOE on Sunday mornings as I’m coming to church and they always sign off, “Happy Gardening!”  Maybe not so much for me.
 
But even if you don’t know what a pH factor is (like me), there is a soil test that we all should be concerned about.  Jesus told a parable in the gospel lesson about various kinds of soil and he explained the meaning to be different types of people on whom the word of God is sown like seed.  So today we want to consider the question: CAN YOU PASS THE SOIL TEST?
 
Jesus told many parables (my study Bible lists 55 of them), wonderful stories about everyday life which gave insight into life in His kingdom.  The word, parable, simply means to put things side by side, like a comparison.  A definition for parable is: “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.”   The parable of the sower, as it’s called, remains one of the best known parables Jesus told and may be one of the first.
 
Really, it’s a parable about parables.  Sometime after Jesus taught the crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, using a boat as a pulpit, the disciples asked (in a verse we didn’t read) why He spoke in parables.  Jesus explained that for some, parables would enlighten their understanding of the kingdom of God; for others, parables would further darken their already closed minds.  Quoting Isaiah, He said: “hearing they do not hear.”  In other words, they had ears – they weren’t deaf – but they didn’t accept what they heard.  Or they heard what they wanted to hear like the selective hearing some of us guys have.  They blocked it out.
 
The parable of the sower (which could also be called the parable of the soil) pictures three reasons for that. The fault is not in the sower, nor the seed – it’s in the soil.   Obviously the seed represents the word of God, “the word of the kingdom,” Jesus said.  It’s the message of the Lord’s gracious ruling influence over our lives through the good news of Christ.  The sower here could be Christ Himself or someone who is a messenger for Christ, anyone who preaches or teaches or tells the gospel to others. 
 
You’ve heard before that when grain was planted in those days, a farmer would walk along a path through the field which had been cultivated with a wooden plow drawn by an ox perhaps.  Having a metal tipped stake attached to the bottom, the plow’s design didn’t change much for hundreds of years before tractors and disc tillers came on the scene.  As the sower walked along, he scattered seed over the soil, grabbing handfuls from a pouch tied around his waist.  Some kernels, unavoidably, would land on the path itself.  Because the ground was compacted, the seed could not penetrate the earth.  It lay on the surface where birds would come and snatch it away.
 
Jesus explains this refers to those hard-hearted individuals who reject the word of God.  If there is a god, they’ll take their chances and hope they’ve done enough good to make up for the bad.  Or else they’ve suppressed the natural knowledge of God in their brain and reprogrammed their conscience with anti-Christian philosophies.  There are brilliant people who believe in godless theories of biology in spite of the evidence to the contrary, because to do otherwise would be to admit the existence of God to whom they refuse to be accountable. 
 
And what happens?  The devil swoops in and takes the word away before they have a chance to change their mind.  The grace of God on the cross of Christ doesn’t penetrate their defense system.  So they are left to their own devices to face a hopeless eternity.  You may know someone like that.  Heart-breaking, isn’t it, when they’re so hard-hearted?  They’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
 
Rocky soil is common in Israel.  Jews joke that when God was creating the earth He dumped all the rocks on their land.  Without modern equipment to remove them from the ground, many times there was just a thin layer of dirt over them.   You know what happens.  The seed germinates quickly and starts to grow just fine but because the plant can’t sink its roots deep into the soil to get moisture during the dry season, it wilts under the scorching heat of the sun.  Without irrigation, these plants shrivel up and die. 
 
You’ve learned that this soil represents short-sighted people who hear the gospel and they’re happy to know that their sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake; they’re glad to find out that there is a place like heaven for them and their loved ones. That’s really neat.  But then, when things go wrong in their life, when troubles strike, when they have to make hard choices as a Christian – they wither under the blistering heat.  They lose their faith because it was too shallow, superficial.  You may know someone like that – someone whose faith didn’t have roots that went deep enough to take the heat of testing times.  Caution – they can burn out spiritually. 
 
Then there’s the weedy soil.  You know what the definition of a weed is, don’t you?  Whatever grows by itself wherever you don’t want it to grow.   Few weeds are tougher than thorns and thistles.  Before herbicides they could take over a field in no time, sapping the soil of its nutrients, smothering the plants so they can’t grow.  For folks like me, weeds are the reason I gave up gardening years ago.  It was easier to mow than to hoe. 
 
What an apt description of the “cares of the world and deceitfulness of riches” as Jesus explained the meaning.  How many church members have become too busy with their careers, too preoccupied with their lifestyle, too obsessed with fun and games, to be involved in worship and Bible study so that their faith can grow?  As a result, they’re being choked, strangled by worldly pressures, like a person trying to swim through a thick mat of Eurasian water milfoil.  The proliferation of casinos and lotteries, Internet gambling, betting on just about anything that has an element of chance, shows how true the Bible is when it says: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim 6).  Wealth is fleeting, fool’s gold.  You may know someone who has a problem with this, someone who is gasping for air right now, because there’s barely enough room in their life for the Spirit of God to breathe anymore.  Caution – they can suffocate spiritually. 
 
The good soil, by contrast, is where the seed of God’s Word can take root, grow and bear fruit.  Like corn, the crop will yield thirty, sixty, a hundred times what was sown.  The fruits of faith will multiply.  The good news of salvation in Christ will produce a response of gratitude in the lives of these believers.  Like a mustard seed, our faith, though small at first, can grow into a sturdy tree, as Jesus described in another parable.  A little can do a lot. 
 
When Abraham Lincoln met the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Harriet Beecher Stowe, he remarked to her: “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”  He was referring to the Civil War, of course, fought over the cruelty of slavery which was the subject of her book.  It resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation.
 
You never know what can be accomplished when you sow the seed of the Word in someone’s heart.  As Paul wrote, one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase.  The opportunities for growth are available here too if we just keep sowing the seed extravagantly and watering the plant generously.  God’s Word does not return empty, as we read in Isaiah, but it accomplishes His purpose like rain waters the earth.  It’s beautiful to see it bloom in the lives of people you know. 
 
The Lord can change bad soil into good soil.  He has to.  For we cannot do that ourselves.  The hard crusty surface can be broken up by God’s pointed laws.  The rocks can be removed by God-fearing repentance.  The thorns can be pulled out by godly discipline.  A person can be any of these types of soil at various times over the years, but he/she can start growing again when the Word sinks in.  You don’t just sow the seed once on a field.  Each year you prepare the soil for planting and hope for a better yield.  Likewise we need to keep in touch with those who are not bearing the fruits of faith on a regular basis, working the soil so that the seed can take root and bear fruit. Some people talk to their plants.  A word of encouragement can do wonders for someone you know. 
 
First we have to pass the soil test ourselves.  Check your life.  Is it hardened to God’s word on pet issues?  Is it too shallow for faith to overcome troubles?  Is it suffocating under the weeds of worry?  Or is it, by God’s grace, fertile soil, getting richer every day, bearing fruit abundantly? 
 
In closing here’s a poem based on this text, written by Pastor Norman Olsen, some of you know.  It’s verse three of hymn 68 (maybe we can learn the melody sometime):
Plow up the trodden way, And clear the stones away;
Tear out the weed, and sow the seed; prepare our hearts your Word to heed,
That we good soil may be – Begin, O Lord, with me!    Amen.