Trygve preaches on the Parable of the Sower at a Gathering at Hope College.

I.  Scripture

Hear some good news today.  Good news that is for all people at all times and in all places.  Listen to good news!

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 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. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!” (Matthew 13:1-9)

II.  Hear the Good News: Parables

Calvin emphasized to preachers not only what to say, but of how to say it.  This is what I love about Jesus.  Not only what he says, but how he says it.  The medium is the message.  When Jesus had something important to say, he told it in a parable.  What is interesting about parables is that Jesus does not want the people to get the message right away.  He speaks in a way that confounds – misdirects – so that the hearer has to wrestle with it.  He was intentionally unclear so that the message could become clear.  The harder you work on something the more you own it.  To understand Jesus as a preacher, you have to learn how to think in metaphor – in simile – in images.  

Christ’s parables are borrowed from common, ordinary things, not from any philosophical notions or speculations, or from unusual phenomena of nature… but from the most obvious things, that are of every day’s observation, and come within the reach of the meanest capacity.

My friend Karis, at Despondent University, loves parables. She says that parables are a way of looking at reality – what is familiar – from a fresh and new perspective.  Karis loves parables because they traffic in metaphors – and she thinks in metaphors not in arguments.  She knows that a picture is worth a thousand words – and that a metaphor can carry more than one meaning.  Jesus uses metaphors to help us pay attention to what we thought we knew for the first time.  Parables have more than one meaning.  

III.  Know the Good News

This parable has a few things we should notice.  An Ear, A Sower, and Soil.

The first is Listen.  This is a parable about the importance of listening.  Did you catch that?  And he told them many things in parables… Listen… A sower went out to sow!   

So interesting.  The first word of the parable is Listen.  The Last word is Listen. When  words are repeated in the bible that is meant like a bold, or an underline, or pay attention to the significance.  The great significance of this text is about the importance of our ears – how we listen!  This is a parable about listening!  

The great danger of the Christian life is to hear what Jesus is saying, but not to hear it.  You understand what I’m saying?  It is to listen to Jesus but not to pay attention to what he is saying.  Listen to what Jesus is saying, and listen to what it means!  Matthew 7:24:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”  

Let the person who has ears to hear – listen.  This is not just a rhetorical flourishing that says “get the point!”  Rather, it is the code for deciphering the parable’s vocabulary. Listening to Jesus’ words is the key to life.  Ears devoted to the words of Jesus are good soil.  Not just hear – but asking what does this mean?  The key attitude in life – spiritually and socially – is active listening.

You can drop me any place, anywhere in the world – in any community, in any church, in any marriage, or business – and I can tell you the #1 problem.  It’s the problem that causes a majority of the tensions, misunderstandings, and confusions, and hurts.  It’s the listening.  

To listen well we have to do more than just hear words.  We have to understand them.  Active listening is the source for right doing! In the final sentence of Jesus’ interpretation of the Parable, see the vital connection between “understanding”, which is Matthew’s word for faith in the Parables, and “fruit bearing” and “doing”, which are Matthew’s ethical words for love in the Parables and through the gospel.  In other words, to Listen – from beginning to end – is to understand – and to understand is the beginning of faith.  And faith is what saves!  Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes from the Word of God! Listen!  

The Second is the Sower! This is a parable about a sower who sows!  Listen…the Sower goes out to Sow.

Growing up my family had a big garden.  It was a lot of work.  After Memorial Day my dad would break out the rototiller.  This was a big hand tractor whose blades would break up the soil.  After breaking the soil, it would be my job to go through and pick out weeds and begin to organize rows. We had long straight rows.  Each row would be planted carefully and orderly.  At the end of the rows was the seed package with a picture of what the seed bearing fruit would be:  tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, potatoes, corn, pumpkins, squash.  It was meticulous and ordered work.  

At the beginning of the parable we hear that a farmer went out to sow his seed.  When we hear this I think it fair to assume that this farmer has worked hard, with others, by hand to prepare the soil: clearing, turning, tilling and fertilizing.  He has probably plowed it more than once and possibly even waited for rain.  And yet the seed ends up everywhere!

This is the first thing I want you to note about the story that Jesus is telling that is both captivating and confusing.  God spreads his word everywhere!   The seed on the ground is good.  That is what you would expect.  But low and behold it is on the ground where there is rock just a few inches below the surface and it’s on the edge of the field where weeds will grow and it is even on the path.  The farmer goes out to sow his seed and the seed ends up everywhere. 

If we note this then we know with Jesus that this farmer God who spreads his word is a Mad Farmer.  He is working in a way that doesn’t compute, that won’t add up.  He is not planting his word in safe places or in the greenhouse.  Anywhere and everywhere, God is speaking. This is not the silent God of the philosophers, the unmoved mover of the scholastics, this is God who speaks and never stops.

The Third is Soil.  In this Parable Jesus identifies four different kinds of soil.  The soils are the way we hear and the way we hear is the condition of our heart!  

Hard Path: The first seed fell along the path.  The seed is the word of God and the word is heard.  It is heard but it doesn’t produce faith and fruit because the heart of the hearer is hard like a path.   There is resistance to the Word.  There is push back that prevents the word from going deep and starting to give a new life with Christ before the Father in the power of the Spirit.

For example, there are people who have tried to be good their whole life and have failed again and again.  As a result, they think they are so worthless and unlovable that the message of God’s love for us in Christ is snatched away by shame.  They are listening to the wrong voice – to the voice of the evil one! A friend says to this person in a moment of crisis, “God is with you in this.  There is grace in Christ to cover this sin.  The Spirit can give you life beyond this hurts.” And the person who has been beaten and bruised and grown hard hears that and thinks to themselves, “maybe for you, but not for me.”  As a result, the ground of their heart remains hard.  The seed is taken away by the demon of shame and guilt and despair.  The opportunity for new life is missed.

Rocky Soil:  Shallow and no roots.  Other people in that same place hear that word of grace, learn about the possibility of a new life where Jesus forgives sins and gives peace, and they say “Yes and Amen.”  They hear the word, believe, accept, rejoice in it, and maybe even share it with others.  This second kind of soil believes that Jesus saves but there is a problem.  The seed doesn’t put down deep roots.  

Why not?  There are lots of reasons, but here is one example.  When people hear the message of Jesus and his kingdom there is a receiving of grace in joy.  Through faith they know that God has made them happy.  The problem is that they assume that God will keep them that way.  They don’t know that God is really more concerned with them being holy.  The result is that they don’t put down deep roots.  Like in the children’s sermon, they throw up a party tent instead of digging a real foundation.  The result is that they fall apart when the crisis comes.  

Thorns in the Soil:  Other people hear the word and it goes to work in them.  The result is that they grow in grace.  They develop as disciples.  They look good in church and feel good in church, but they don’t ever produce fruit.  Why? Because other things block them from getting to the place where God is moving in them and through them out in the world.  Something blocks them; Jesus names 3 things: worry, riches, and the pleasure of life.  

Let’s think for a second about one of the three things Jesus mentions – worry.  Jesus knows the way we care for people and carry them in our hearts and worry about them.  He knows that this comes out of a good desire to love people.  But he also knows that good things like caring for people can keep us from the best thing of giving these people to God in prayer.  

The Good Soil!  Jesus knows our hard hearts and our short lived passions and the clutter of our hearts.  He knows the fate of the first, second, and third kinds of soil.  Despite that, he describes the fourth soil.  In this case, he tells us that seeds grow, mature, and produce fruit through perseverance.  The one seed produces 100 more.  

How do we explain that?  What is the difference between this kind of soil?  This happens because the person retains or holds onto the word of God.  These people hear the word of God that is the message of God’s grace, receive it in faith, and retain it.  They grab ahold of the king of grace with two hands of faith. These seeds persevere, or in other words, they don’t let go! And the result is shocking.  The little seed produces a big crop.  The soil comes alive and there are plants that are beautiful and bountiful.

Good Soil is Ears to Hear – to really hear!

This is, according to Jesus, one of the secrets of the kingdom of God.  Think about that please.  This is God in the flesh telling you one of the secrets to living a full and rich and eternal life.  So, if you are in the crowd, lean in and hear this: hold fast to the Word of God.  Hold fast to the word and hold onto his words.  

You can do that by hearing what Jesus said, thinking about, discussing, and calling it to mind in the midst of life.  This is how the seed works it way into your heart so that you know the truth of his word at deeper and deeper levels.  We hear, we meditate, we experience and we come to a deeper place of maturity.

Another way to hold fast is memorizing the words of Jesus.  Listen to what Dallas Willard, another famous teacher and preacher says, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs,” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7).  What does your mind need?  What does your life need? What does your marriage need?  What does your outlook on the world need?  It needs the seed deep in your heart.  The way to get it there is to memorize it, to take it in, and hold onto it day and night.  

Holding onto the word of God, the man Jesus and his words, is one of the secrets. It is what you can hear if you have ears.  It is what you can do if you want to live, not just a little, but a rich, full and open life with God in his world for his glory.  So, hold fast and don’t let go.

IV.  Living the Good News

How do we listen to the good news?  I think it goes back to Jesus’ first sermon: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near (Matthew 4:17).  To turn our hearts into good soil we need to repent.  Turn back to God.  Prune away the thorns.  Sink our roots deep!  Don’t allow the devil to steal away the Word of God.  Repent… for the kingdom of God is near… right now for you!

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