Different Fields = Different Yields

parable-of-sower-463x600To listen to Pastor Marcus’ message click on the audio player below:

To read this sermon click on “Continue reading” below.

Sermon based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Has anyone had an opportunity to observe a farmer preparing land for planting? Before sophisticated farming equipment was around, I understand that farmers would go out into their land with a handheld plow that was often pulled by a mule or horse. The farmer knew that the soil must be carefully prepared so the seed would grow. Some farmers who can now afford the luxury have their soil scientifically analyzed to find out what ingredients are lacking. With that knowledge, some work and money, farmers can make their soil receptive to the seed; they can make their soil fertile. Wouldn’t it make sense to follow the same procedures in planting seeds in the kingdom of God? In relationship to our congregation would it be interesting to analyze who our “target audience” is in attracting new members? If our church were to be analyzed, who would be most receptive to joining us and what can we do as a church to attract these people?

Our gospel lesson shows us how skilled Jesus was in telling a short story. His parables were amazing exercises of storytelling; it was his unique way of communicating. As Jesus went around preaching the message of the Kingdom of Heaven, he did not always find a receptive audience. Some sought to trick him, so they might have reason to accuse him. It was for this reason, that Jesus began teaching publicly in parables. On one level Jesus’ parables are not difficult to understand. Jesus taught moral principles by using simple, down to earth illustrations about everyday objects familiar to farmers, fishermen, merchants and others in society. These parables allowed those listening to put themselves into the story and draw their own conclusions. Jesus however, would often pull aside his disciples later and explain fully the meaning of his parables as he did in this situation.

Our parable from Matthew implies that God first plants seeds within our hearts and observes the results. Here in the 13th chapter, the leaders of the synagogues no longer welcomed Jesus in their midst. Yet thousands of people were anxious to hear him so they gathered at the seashore, along the Sea of Galilee. As the shores became overcrowded with people Jesus climbed into a boat to deliver this message. As shared in last week’s sermon, teaching inside a boat on the water created a natural amphitheater and better acoustics for those to hear Jesus. Jesus attempts to explain in this passage why sharing the Gospel message produces such different results. An example of this is in our Moravian Church. We have just over 35,000 members in the United States and Canada, yet in Tanzania in Africa there are over 440,000 Moravians! In some lives, in some churches, growth is abundant, in some, it grows for a time and then dies back, while still in others, it doesn’t grow at all. The explanation lies with the soil. What kind of environment are we producing in the soil of our relationship with God? Are we producing good soil to scatter the seeds for God’s Kingdom? Together this morning we will look at the types of soil Jesus mentions in this parable.

Jesus’ first description is the wayside soil:

 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up,

 Later he explained the meaning by saying:

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.

The seeds sown on the path, mentioned in verse four and explained in verse 19 are often described as the “wayside soil.”  It describes those people who have heard the gospel message of Christ, but have not made a commitment to God. Like hard packed soil, the hearts of these people is hardened, totally indifferent to anything spiritual; the word of God has no impact upon them. They can and often will allow Satan’s deception in some way or form to blind them from God’s Word and God’s Truth. They are on the wayward path leading nowhere.

Jesus’ second description is the rocky 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. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.

Later he explained the meaning by saying:  

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet 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.

The seeds sown on the rocky ground mentioned in verses 5 and 6 and explained in verses 20 and 21 are a place where many Christians have likely been at one time or another. We have responded to the gospel message, made a commitment to God, but our lifestyles and actions are not grounded in the Word of God. Like soil on limestone bedrock, a response is quick but the commitment is shallow. People have emotional excitement and enthusiasm over their newfound faith, but the change is only on the surface. Without realizing the true cost of discipleship, the person quickly falls away. They have no firm root and they do not have the strength to stand firmly in faith. When times get tough, these people allow temptation to get the best of them.

Jesus’ third description is the soil among the thorns:

Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.

 Later he explained the meaning by saying:

 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.

The third soil is the soil among the thorns, mentioned in verse 7 and explained in verse 22.  In this soil, Christians have responded and made a commitment to God. Like soil with thorns the response is positive at first. However as thorns destroy the plant, the world in which we live kills the impact of God’s word on the person. Often the person becomes preoccupied with the cares, riches and pleasures of the world, meaning that one will be unable to bear much fruit. A wise proverb says the following, “The world is a net; the more we stir in it, the more we are entangled.”

Jesus’ last description is the good soil:

Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

 Later he explained the meaning by saying:

 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, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Here in these verses Jesus describes the good soil in this way, the response is given and the word is allowed to take root and to grow in the person. Just as ground is prepared for seed to be sown, these people hear the word understand it and accept it. As Christians, we should all strive to be a part of this soil. In doing so we are demonstrating several important things:

  • We have a good and noble heart.
  • We have come to understand the Word of God.
  • We have persevered and been patient in trials and tribulations.

Once again, what kind of soil are we walking in? Is it hard like cement? Is our devotional and prayer life rocky? Are we allowing the cares of this world to weed out God’s word? Before any church can really begin to experience great growth, we must individually begin to increase our yield by making our lives more open to God’s Word and God’s love for us.

During my last year of Seminary I had an opportunity to go to the Holy Land, Israel. I had the opportunity to see in person where Jesus taught this parable along the Sea of Galilee. This parable reminds me that in Israel, there are two seas, the Sea of Galilee and another sea, which draws their waters from the Jordan River. Both seas look similar in appearance but are very different. The Galilee Sea is fresh with fish and plant life inside. Along the banks there are splashes of green plants, trees spread their branches over it and stretch out their thirsty roots to sip from its waters. Along the shores, the children of Israel play, as Jesus would have when he was a child. This Jordan River makes this sea with sparkling water from the hills. People build their houses near it, birds their nests and every kind of life is happier because it is there. The Jordan River also flows on south into another sea. Here there are no fish, no plant life, no birds and no children’s laughter. The air hangs heavy above its water, and no one would dare drink from those waters. What is the difference in these neighboring seas you might be asking? The Jordan River carries the same fresh water into both and the soil is also very similar. The difference is the following: The Sea of Galilee receives but does not keep the water from the Jordan River. For every drop that flows into the Sea of Galilee, another drop flows out. The giving and receiving go on in equal measure. The other sea is shrewder, hoarding its income with jealousy. Every drop it gets, it keeps. The Sea of Galilee gives and lives. The other sea gives nothing. It’s name? Appropriately it is known as the Dead Sea.

While there are two seas in Israel, there are two types of people in the world. One group includes those who live with Christ and the other are those who do not know him. As we continue to plant the seeds to grow God’s Kingdom, remember that every seed has the potential for growth. As Jesus taught, the Gospel message takes root in some lives and not in others. It’s hard to tell because indeed there are different yields for different fields. Together let us keep on sowing, and God will allow those seeds of growth to take root.

The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.

July 1, 2018

 

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