Read Matthew 13:1-23
Three years ago when I preached on this scripture, I started off with a joke that I love so much I just have to tell it again.
One day, Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like y = 3x2 + 8 x – 9.”
A man who had just joined the disciples looked very confused and asked Peter:
“What, on Earth, does he mean by that?”
Peter smiled. “Don’t worry. It’s just another one of his parabolas.”
Today’s scripture is a parable, a story used to illustrate a lesson. Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God, showing us how God’s ways are different from human ways, and showing us how to respond to God. This particular parable comes with an explanation, which is helpful. It also comes with two different titles, depending on which Bible version we read – the parable of the soils and the parable of the sower. Jesus tells us that we are the soil. So let’s start with that.
Parable of the Four Soils
Here are the four kinds of soil. Which of these sounds most like you right now?
- Path – The ground is dry and hard, so the seed stays on the surface and is eaten by birds.
- Jesus explains in verse 19, “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” (v19).
- Rocks – This ground is rocky, so the seeds germinate quickly but don’t grow enough root to survive.
- Jesus explains that “…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” (v20-21).
- Thorns – In this soil the seeds grow but are choked
- Jesus says “…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” (v22).
- Good Soil – In this soil, the seeds grow and yield miraculously.
- Jesus says, “…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” (v23).
- This yield is between three and ten times more than a farmer would normally expect, according to commentators. In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells that God can do more than we ask or even imagine (Eph. 3:20). This miraculous harvest is an example of God doing more than we expect.
What kind of soil are you right now?
None of the commentators talk about what kind of seed is being planted. Metaphorically, the seed is the word of God, but I think that in the story it is corn, because Jesus says, “Whoever has ears let them hear.”
How do you hear? Does your hearing lead to understanding? In each of the types of soil, understanding is the key to yielding or producing. It’s so easy to be hearing but not really paying attention enough for the words to sink into our understanding. When we’re listening enough to understand, our responses affect others.
Sometimes when my husband Rob and I are watching TV, I’ll pick up my phone during the commercials. And I’ll keep looking at my phone . . .until Rob reacts to something with a laugh or a comment. So, then, and I know he loves this (not), I make him rewind so that I can see whatever prompted his response. His response affects my motivation for listening.
It’s like when someone stood on a street corner looking up at the sky. Within minutes, there was a crowd of people trying to see what he saw.
It’s the same for us with God. Our looking and listening and understanding and responding can make others want to look and listen and understand and respond. Our hearing and understanding matters, because our yield matters.
What kind of soil are you today?
Now let’s look at this through the lens of the other title:
Parable of the Sower
If the sower is God, we can see right away how God’s ways are different from our ways. When we plant seeds, we are careful where we plant to make the best use of the seed and not waste it, but God tosses the seed indiscriminately and generously onto all four soils.*
I think I must be dry soil, because I’m good at producing corny jokes.
Jesus tells us that nothing at all grows on the soil with thorns, and yet the sower still throws seed there. Is that a total waste of seed? Or is it a matter of time and patience? Isaiah 55 tells us that God’s word always accomplishes something.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
It shall accomplish its purpose. God’s word will succeed, even if we don’t see that success right away.
Seeds can stay dormant for years before the conditions are right to germinate and grow. In the process of digging up some ground in a dry lakebed, a Japanese botanist found some ancient lotus seeds. Through carbon dating, they estimated that the seeds were over a thousand years old, but they were still able to get them to grow.
God the sower spreads the seed of God’s word generously, because God knows that it will be effective. Whatever is produced, whatever that field yields, is of benefit, and not just to ourselves. Our yield matters because our produce also feeds other people.
Sometimes we get discouraged because we don’t see it. We know from Hebrews 11 that some of the great heroes of faith didn’t get to see all that they hoped for. Verse one says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, emphasis mine). Let’s be thankful when we do get to see, because that is a special blessing from God.
If you have been being faithful to God, seeking him, and hearing and understanding the word, it is producing fruit in you, and though you may not always see it, your yield is blessing people.
- Someone who was well-known to our Sterling church was Mary Ellen Tippen. She died two years ago, and in her last few years was mostly homebound, but she planted seeds that are still producing today. I’ve talked with a couple of you recently about Mary Ellen’s commitment to helping others to memorize Bible verses. She continues to inspire us to dwell on God’s word and to listen deeply.
- Maybe you have been struggling to find purpose in being faithful in seeking God. Be encouraged in knowing that our growth is not just about what happens with us, but in how that overflows into the lives of others. Take heart. Even when you cannot see it, God is working through you. Keep on keeping on
Sometimes when we feel unproductive, we have to trust that God is working in us.
- The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29) reminds us that it is God who makes us grow.
- Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (v26-7).
- God is the one who makes us grow, even when we don’t know how.
But there are things we can work on – rooting and sharing.
Good soil grows deep roots, and in doing so we are tapping into the power of God. Prayer is an important part of this.
- I would like to challenge us to make a commitment to 40 days of prayer
- Starting tomorrow I’ll send a daily email with a Bible verse and a thought and a prompt for talking to God. (Sign up by sending email to email@example.com )
- Let’s pray for miraculous yield, like Jesus says happens with good soil. Let’s pray for:
- Spiritual revitalization and growth of God’s kingdom
- Physical and economic and political healing
- For the deep roots of systemic racism to be changed
- For the deep roots of systemic of poverty to be changed
- For dry, rocky, thorny hearts to be softened
As we seek God and trust God to work in us, let’s be looking for ways to share the yield.
- We saw on the news in May that some college students got frustrated at seeing long lines at foodbanks, while farmers had crops rotting in the fields because their usual distribution channels weren’t available. So the students started making phone calls and formed an organization called Farmlink, and were able to get the food from farms to food banks.
- Don’t leave the produce rotting in the fields. Look for ways to share your gifts.
- Give in big or small ways
- Small gifts add up. A perfect example is the data that Bill Teller gave us last fall of what it would take for us to close the gap in our budget. About $8 per family per week. And you heard and responded and we saw that gap made smaller. Thank you for keeping those pledges going, even during this tough time.
- Another example is the work that Goodfellows is undertaking this summer to provide the school supplies for every student, and to buy the teacher supplies. That will happen because everyone who can helps out with big and small gifts.
- There’ll be another opportunity to help our community out in August when we do our community vacation Bible school. This year, God willing, it will be outside at the lake. We can help by volunteering. We can help by sponsoring a child for $15.
- Around that same time, there are going to be 13 days when the schools have to stop making the lunches that they have been giving out all summer, Monday through Friday, and our ministerial alliance here in Sterling has made a commitment to providing lunches for those 13 days. We’re going to need volunteers to help with the distribution. As we get closer, we’ll let you know how you can help.
- Stacy Dashiell has made a plea for help providing masks to Sterling College. I shared that on our church Facebook page.
Rooting, continually seeking God, will help us grow, and enable us to share our blessings more.
What kind of soil are you right now? God is sowing seeds of love and grace in us all. What will we do with the yield from those seeds? How will we share what we’ve been given?
Psychologist Abraham Maslow reportedly said that:
“IN ANY GIVEN MOMENT, WE HAVE TWO OPTIONS: TO STEP FORWARD INTO GROWTH, OR TO STEP BACK INTO SAFETY. GROWTH MUST BE CHOSEN AGAIN AND AGAIN; FEAR MUST BE OVERCOME AGAIN AND AGAIN.” – Abraham Maslow
As things are changing, and we are called to do new things, which are you choosing?
The growing conditions will likely not always be ideal, but God’s love always finds a way. Sometimes an obstacle is simply an invitation to find a new way.
Let’s not give up, and keep on growing.
 Douglas R.A. Hare, Interpretation, p152-3 says, “A good harvest would have provided a first-century Galilean farmer with ten bushels for every bushel of seed; a normal return would have been seven and a half…God will produce a spectacular harvest!”
*Pastor Carrie Ballenger in Jerusalem – her sermon from which the Oprah graphic came.