The Parable of the Sower

Scriptures: James 1:19-27; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

A man walked into a flower shop and asked for some potted red geraniums. “I’m sorry,” said the clerk in flower shop, “we are completely sold out of all of our potted geraniums. But I’d be more than happy to give you a deal on something else. Could you use African violets instead?”

Replied the customer sadly, “No, it was geraniums my wife told me to water while she was gone.”

You’d think that a simple task like watering the plants wouldn’t be too hard for a guy. But speaking from experience, I can sympathize with this man. I realize that there are people here that really like gardening. We have master gardeners in the church, many of them. But I don’t. Watering plants just doesn’t make it for me. If I want some vegetables, I’ll go down to the grocery store and get some.

Of course, somebody had to grow that vegetable that I bought at the store. And our nation has some of the finest farmers that have ever walked the face of the earth. They have the finest tractors and plows and combines, and because of their skill and the tools that they can use, America literally feeds the world.

Back in the days of Jesus, however, farmers had a lot less to work with. He doesn’t have a John Deere or an International Harvester with all the right attachments to properly fit the ground and prepare for seed. So after doing what he could do to prepare, he simply reaches into his bag, takes out a handful of seed and flings it across the ground.

In some other countries, like Haiti, I’ve seen pictures where they have rocks, and they don’t even remove all the rocks in their fields, because there are so many.

I want you to note something: God’s Word has power. It will bring life. In Isaiah 55 God declares, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

You see that’s the power of God’s seed – the Word of God. God scatters it all over the earth, because it has power to take root in the harshest ground. And once it takes root, it can bear fruit. Of course, the harsher the soil, the harder it becomes to get a crop… but you still can get a crop.

Just as an example: Preparing for this sermon I ran across this passage out of Scripture: “For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” That comes from Isaiah 53.

Does anybody have an idea about who that prophecy related to, who it was about? Jesus. We go through that passage at Lent. Jesus was a root out of dry ground. The soil shouldn’t have yielded a harvest, but it did. It gave us our Savior.

And sometimes God brings a harvest out of some of the most unexpected places. We need to remember that, because very often, as churches (and I use that term in general), we tend to be very limited in where we cast our seed.

There are churches who only want people in their building that they think are good soil They only want children from good homes They only want couples that dress nice They prefer young people rather than old They want people that will help make them look good and pay the bills.

But that wasn’t the kind of people Jesus spent his time with, was it? Jesus spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors… sinners … remember that. And during that time he spent with them, he was preparing the soil of their hearts for the good word of his salvation.

As we look at this parable today, traditional interpretations tend to focus on evangelism. We share the Word of God even as the farmer scattered his seed, and depending on the kind of soil it lands on, it may take root.

And we have to scatter the seed. I paraphrase, but Paul says that without hearing there can be no belief; and without preaching or speaking, there can be no hearing; and without those sent, there can be no sharing of the Gospel. We need to speak up and cast our seed.

When speaking of evangelism with regard to this parable, one view likes to talk about the soils, and how to find the good soil so that we can get the good harvest. That is the kind of view on sharing the Gospel that can lead to the kind of churches I spoke of earlier, that try to tailor their efforts only to those that the church thinks will provide a harvest.

This can be those that they think are already members of the faith; it can also be – very popular these days – we have something called “seeker-sensitive service.” Those are targeted primarily at those who have never heard the gospel, those who are trying to understand. And yet it may be very light on meat for those who have already known Jesus Christ.

The advantage to this kind of evangelism is that the members can be comfortable sharing the Gospel, but it is limited in scope, and sometimes we don’t determine the state of the soil nearly as well as we think we do.

The second view looks at personal evangelism – that is, how is your soil? Now this can be a first-time outreach, and is probably used that way most of the time. I saw some interesting commentaries, though, that pointed out that even after you have accepted Christ, you still need to grow in the Word. You still have to provide good soil in your life so that the Word takes root, and you are fruitful in your life.

You need to grow in your faith in order to be a true witness to Christ, and the kind of disciple he spoke of in the Great Commission, where he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that I have commanded you.”

You can’t make disciples if you aren’t one. You can’t spread the Word of God and the good news of the Gospel effectively if you don’t know what it is. As it says in Ephesians, we need to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called. It requires effort, patience, and perseverance.

The third common focus for this parable is more modern, but I believe it goes along with both of the other more traditional interpretations. I want to spend a couple of minutes looking at you and me as the sower. Not just how you work in your own life, but how you work in others as well. The Christian life is a process of growing, sowing, and harvesting. The kind of yield we get depends on two things: how much seed we sow, and how well we prepare the soil.

One of the facts of modern farming is soil preparation. Farmers have learned to rotate crops to replace depleted nutrients in the soil, and to leave some acreage fallow for a while. I remember talking with a farmer who spoke at length about testing the soil to see not only what nutrients are in it but its pH, and other factors that I never would have even thought of. Then he adjusted his fertilizers accordingly. Each field is different, he said.

I also know that much of the preparation of the field is done in the fall or early spring, before the new planting ever begins. They lay anhydrous, or other nitrogen sources on and into the ground, and want the winter snows to be sufficient to soak it into the soil below.

I am sure there are many things I don’t even know about, and I am sure there are things I probably got wrong here in my description, and someone will correct me later. And that is OK; I like to learn. But my point is still valid. Even in yard work, you have some weed and feed occurring in the fall for next spring. It takes time, effort, and energy to prepare the soil before you even think of placing the seed.

It is the same with the Gospel, and relationships. There is a place for Billy Graham type evangelism, and altar calls, and “crisis conversions.” Peter’s first sermon in Acts converted three thousand Jews and God-fearers. Most conversions occur quietly, though. They occur in the hearts of people who are ready to hear the good news about Jesus Christ because they know you – and that you are different.

Relationships take time, effort, and deliberateness to foster. We need to determine the soil of those that we are making relationships with. Perhaps the person that we are speaking to and we are being friends with has an issue of resistance to the church and to the gospel because they had bad experiences with religion when growing up.

Or maybe they are the kind of person who gets on an emotional high, so they’re really easy to sway. But when they see how much work it’s going to take, or they get into a dry time, they suddenly find other things that are more interesting to do.

Sometimes maybe the person you are to is too concerned with their comfort, their status, their possessions. They’re afraid of what the church and God might demand of them. So you need to adjust, to prepare the soil accordingly.

Now, first things first. There is the old saying – “To have a friend, be a friend.” So we reach out in kindness to those around us, maybe to folk who are “rocky soil” in our purview, or even hard ground. We show compassion when they have need, offer forgiveness when hurt by them, patience when tested by them, and as it says in Scripture, “as much as possible, live peaceably with others,” whether a fellow Christian or not.

It is necessary that we set boundaries, of course. This is important for the health of any relationship, and is crucial to the consistency of our witness. We aren’t doormats, nor even “go with the flow” so much. Because we remain secure in our own knowledge of God’s love, having that peace that passes all understanding, and then trying to spread that to others.

This is what Jesus did. It is why he spent so much time with his disciples, for so long. It is why he spent so much time with those who were outcasts. And lest you think he ignored the wealthy, the learned and the “in” people, he spent much time in the synagogues.

Even when teaching outside, there were always scribes and Pharisees present. Admittedly, he got into a lot of fights with them, and had a lot of arguments with them. But for those who had ears to hear, like Nicodemus, he took the time – even at night! – to explain himself further, and to prepare the soil for the seed to be planted. He did this even after exhausting days speaking to his disciples and those who would follow him. Jesus reached out to everyone with the same word, the same message, and the same call.

Even Jesus didn’t “convert” everyone. On the cross itself, there was one who asked forgiveness and remembrance, and one who rejected him. He could have forced everyone to believe, but he didn’t, because love needs to be freely given, or it isn’t love at all. Real repentance needs to come from a contrite heart, not a terrorized one.

Growth only occurs in the life of someone who has chosen to follow the call of Christ as a disciple, by the Spirit of God and in the Spirit of God. When that growth occurs, well, the harvest can be amazing. And the joy we experience in seeing the Word come to life in ourselves, and especially others, cannot be matched this side of heaven.

So I encourage you today to be a sower. Start relationships up. Tend to them, fertilizing them even before planting the seed. Lay the foundation for the Word of God to take root, and then don’t be shy about sharing it when it becomes time. It’s so easy in today’s world to hold back. There is so much hatred, and suspicion, especially of those who openly follow Christ.

But we are called to take up our cross daily, and to follow Him. We need to be willing to sacrifice, in order to gain. Be brave, for perfect love casts our fear. Be bold, because God is on our side, and has given us all the supplies we need. Be authentic, because only the truth can set people free. If you wear a mask, they will know and reject not only you, but all that you have to offer, including the good news. And be diligent in caring, because the untended field will grow almost everything but what we want.

When we do this, we glorify God with our hearts and lives. And that is what we should be all about. May you form those relationships. May you tend those fields. And may you see the wonderful harvest.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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