Sermon Sunday July 12, 2020

SEED AND SOIL

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

This parable always reminds me of my childhood experience of working for my Dad and his cousin in their part-time landscaping business.  Both of them had fulltime jobs, but in their spare time they landscaped yards.  And they hired several of my buddies and me as their laborers for a whopping $1/per hour.  As 10-12-year-old boys we thought we were rich!

Some yards we would sod and others we would seed.  Of course, the ones we seeded remind me of this parable.  After dad and Cousin Bill leveled off the lot with a tractor, pulling a box-scrape, we boys would follow up with these big yard-rakes with huge tines, to clear away any remaining debris and to create grooves in the soil for the grass seed to lodge.  Then, one of the men would use this marvelous device for “sowing” the grass seed onto the ground.  I think the device was simply called a “seeder,” with a strap that went around the neck, and something like a burlap bag for holding the seed, with a rotating blade underneath, and a crank handle that was turned by the operator to make the whole thing do its job of spreading seed evenly onto the ground.

I think this is called “the broadcast method” of sowing seed.  Naturally, some of the seed would fall on sidewalks and driveways, some would fall outside the prepared ground into the bushes and weeds bordering the yard, but most of the seed would fall onto the freshly-prepared good soil.  And on rare occasions we would have the opportunity to see the yard covered in grass sometime later.  I remember being amazed at the beauty of the fruit of our labor.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells a story about another sower of seeds.  He begins with: “Listen!  A sower went out to sow.”  We know from historical research that the “broadcast method” of sowing seed was probably used – where the sower simply scattered the seed onto the ground by hand.  And naturally, some of the seeds fell onto the hard footpaths, and the birds came and ate them up.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they didn’t have much soil.  They sprang up quickly, but when the sun arose, 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.  Yet, other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.  These are miraculous numbers, particularly where a sevenfold yield was the norm.

Now notice Jesus’ explanation of the different types of soil upon which the “good seed” of the kingdom falls.  First, the hard footpaths.  This type of soil is likened to people who really have no understanding of God’s kingdom as it is revealed in Jesus.  Such a person is subject to the evil one’s action in the heart.  Birds eat the seed, and in this case, birds were viewed as agents of the devil.  So, for these types of folks, the evil one comes along and snatches away what is sown in the heart.

Then there’s the rocky ground.  This represents the person who doesn’t understand that God’s kingdom confronts, threatens, and often conflicts with the dominant culture.  Now, the thorny ground.  The weeds and thorns represent the “cares of the world” that choke the growth of the seed.  Here there is a misplaced focus on the necessities of life, a commitment to materialism, and an anxiety about securing life by making these things the sum and goal of, not the simply the means of, human life. 

And finally, there’s the good soil.  The kingdom takes root in these types of disciples.  They fight off the evil one, they endure persecution and renounce the cares and enticements of materialism.  Unlike the rocky-ground person, they endure and bear fruit in lives that testify to the presence of God’s kingdom, and they anticipate the completion of God’s purposes.

If you do the math, you’ll see that three-fourths of the seeds come to nothing.  This ratio suggests that the mission of Jesus and his disciples is often unrewarding.  Both then and now, the surrounding society is generally resistant to the gift and demands of God’s kingdom, and to the alternative community it creates.  Yet, the final scene is a picture not of birds snatching away the seed sown on the path, nor of rootless plants on the rocky ground wilting in the blistering heat, nor of spindly stalks crowded out by weeds – but of a full and bountiful harvest – thirty, sixty, and one-hundred fold.

Though the original disciples were incredibly small in number, and we contemporary disciples are also few – the remarkable size of the harvest is a reminder of God’s blessing, and the assurance of a grand and glorious conclusion.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.