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07.13.14 Of Seed, Soil, and Spirit Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 Sermon Summary

by on July 14, 2014

Why does Jesus begin and end one of his most famous parables with the word, “Listen!”? Probably because too often we don’t.

Summary Points

  • Why continual listening is so important
  • The first soil of hardness
  • The second soil of shallowness
  • The third soil of weeds
  • Giving the seed the best chance of being in the fourth soil of harvest
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

I think one of the greatest hindrances to our own spiritual growth, and to our growth as a faith community, is that we think we know what God is saying. And then we repeat it in ways less gracious than God himself.

Of the many places in the Bible where it’s clear we don’t know what God is saying, the parables of Jesus are perhaps the most obvious example that God’s Word has multivalent meanings.

Here’s an interpretation of the parable of the sower. It’s only one interpretation, and it may be entirely wrong.

The first soil is actually a path, and the birds come and eat the seeds. There is a hardness here, the result of being well worn. It is bred from familiarity and habit. It is the result of not understanding, according to Jesus’ own interpretation, and that’s the problem.

According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your mind. This means we can’t say to ourselves, “I don’t understand this. I can’t understand this. It’s too hard.” If our attitude is such, we can’t be too surprised when the seed is stolen by birds.

The second soil is shallow, superficial ground. Since the seed can’t grow down into strong roots, it grows up, and quickly. It appears enthusiastic and excited. It’s like the new convert to Christianity who hears about forgiveness of sins and the new life in Christ and says, “Yes! That’s for me!” But it isn’t long before they face the same temptations and distractions so they end up leaving saying, “I guess it doesn’t work.”

In our church, we welcome and love every visitor. We also encourage them to regularly attend worship for 2 months before considering membership. We encourage them build relationship and serve with us for a while. This establishes roots so that when I say something they don’t like in a sermon, or we sing a song they don’t like, they are less likely to wither away.

The problem of the second soil is that people have listened uncritically. They are not skeptical enough. They didn’t dig into the issue deeply enough to, again, understand for themselves.

The third soil represents the seed surrounded by weeds. In his interpretation, Jesus identifies two weeds as the “cares of the world” and the “lure of wealth.” This is forgetful soil—forgetful that God is greater than our cares, and that God is more valuable than wealth.

This is soil that isn’t supported by gardening and “interseeding”—the strengthening of the first seed by the addition of other seeds. In our church we try to interseed often. This is why we read so much scripture in worship (from the lectionary: an Old Testament reading, a Psalm response, a New Testament epistle, and the Gospel). This is why we send the “taking faith home” bulletin insert home with you. It’s why we have the Faith Connection Card responses. It’s why these sermon summaries have reflection questions. And it’s why we have difficult conversations, e.g. same-sex marriage in the church.

We do all this so you don’t have only one seed planted on Sunday morning. Imagine if you only watered your lawn on Sundays. What would happen? The same principle applies with the seed of God’s Word. The more we listen, the better chance this seed has to grow in the fourth soil.

The fourth soil sees the seed yield a harvest: Jesus says a hundredfold, or sixty, or thirty. It is obvious that the number-fold of the harvest is not the point; we’re not to be dismayed if we are a thirtyfold or proud if we are a hundredfold producer. The point is that there is a harvest, whether small or large. That is the distinguishing factor of the fourth soil.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Talk about a time when you were sure you knew what God was saying, and then you changed your mind. Or if God ever told you one thing at one time, then something else at another. Or if you have ever known anyone who knew what God was saying and wasn’t very gracious sharing it with you.
  • Where in your life do you find the soil of hardness? Where do you dismiss out of hand the words of scripture, a sermon, or a prophet?
  • Where do you find the soil of shallowness? What hot topic of scripture or Christianity are you neglecting to study? Same-sex marriage is one in the PCUSA. What about pacifism, immigration reform, military spending, welfare, human trafficking, consumerism in the church, etc.?
  • Where do you find the soil of weeds? Which “cares of the world” or “lures of wealth” distract you from attending to God’s Word in your life? Do you believe that God is greater than our cares and more valuable than the wealth of the world?
  • How often and in what ways do you “interseed” what you receive in Sunday worship?
  • Check out some other thoughts at the “sermon scraps” of this message, or at the summary of a sermon on the parallel passage here.


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