140803 Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Last Updated on Monday, 04 August 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Theme: A Simple Story About Seeds

"That's been one of my mantras—focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

Can you guess who was responsible for the preceding quote? The "moving mountains" reference might have you thinking that it was a pastor or a well-known Christian author, but it wasn't. Actually those words were spoken by a man who had grown up in a Lutheran church and at a young age renounced his Christian faith. The billionaire entrepreneur/ inventor/visionary who was driven by those twin principles of focus and simplicity was the same man who made Apple a household name.

Even though Steve Jobs wasn't a Christian, you could make the case that his business philosophy was based on principles that can be found in the Bible. When Jesus was born into the world, he came with a singular focus. He came to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10). He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

And even though there are some things in the Bible that are difficult for human beings to understand, at its heart and core the message of the Bible is quite simple. You are a sinner. You need a Savior. God loves you. God sent his one and only Son to save you, and whoever believes in him will have eternal life (John 3:16).

Focus and simplicity. What is true of the Bible as a whole can also be applied to today's sermon text. Jesus often spoke to people in parables, using activities they knew (like farming and fishing) and situations they could relate to (like losing something) to communicate basic Bible truths. And this morning Jesus focuses our attention on God's Word, specifically the power of God's Word, by sharing with us...

A SIMPLE STORY ABOUT SEEDS

Jesus was in Galilee. To be more specific, he was sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He had attracted a following, such a large following that not everyone could see him or hear what he had to say. Jesus recognized the problem, and he came up with a solution. He stepped into a boat, drifted out into the water, and from that unlikely pulpit he began to teach the people. His first story transported them from the seashore to a farm field where "a farmer went out to sow his seed" (3b).

The parable of the sower is a familiar one. It is one of only three parables that is recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is among of a handful of parables that Jesus explains after he tells it. You probably know the story. You might be able to tell me the story, and so you might be tempted to tune out this morning. Don't give in to that temptation. Don't give the devil the opportunity to do what he did in the first part of the parable.

"As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up" (4). It probably wasn't a big deal to the farmer. When he reached into his bag and scattered the seed, he didn't expect every last seed to find its way into the soil. And he wasn't all that upset when he saw birds picking a few stray seeds off the path.

Jesus' explanation of the parable is much more serious because the seed isn't just seed. It is the Word of God, the only way we can come to know who God is and what God has done for us. And the birds aren't just birds. They represent the devil. The devil knows how powerful God's Word is. The devil knows that the best way to destroy a Christian's faith is to keep it from sprouting in the first place. And so he makes it his goal to snatch the Word away from people before the seed of saving faith has a chance to grow.

Sometimes the devil wins these quick and decisive victories, but not always. The parable continues: "Some (seed) fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and they withered because they had no root" (5,6).

The seed was able to grow in the second type of soil. And the plants looked good, at least above the surface. But because there were rocks beneath the thin layer of soil, the roots had nowhere to go. And when the sun came up, the plants in the shallow soil withered as quickly as they grew.

The Lord identified this type of plant as the person who hears God's Word and believes it. He is full of faith. His heart is filled with joy. He is on fire for Christ...for a while. But when he faces adversity as a Christian, or because he is a Christian, his faith dries up like a withered plant.

Still other seed fell on good soil that allowed it to grow. That's the good news. The bad news is that this fertile soil allowed other things, like thorns and weeds, to grow up right along with it. The thorns eventually choked the life out of the plants, and they died.

According to Jesus, these plants represent people who are (or at least at one time were) believers. They heard the Word. They believed the Word. They trusted in God, until the thorny problems of life and the deceitfulness of wealth suffocated them. Somewhere along the line they stopped producing the fruits of faith in their lives and became examples of James' warning that faith without deeds is dead (2:26).

If the story ended here you might conclude that this farmer was a complete failure. If Jesus stopped explaining the parable at this point you might wonder to yourself: "With all the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of God's Word, does the Christian church have any chance of survival?"

Jesus answers that question for us with an emphatic, "Yes!" Yes, the church will survive because God's Word works. The Word of God is powerful. The Word will always produce fruit. How much fruit? The seed that fell on the good soil "produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (8).

When I read the parables of Jesus, I try to ask myself: Where do I fit in? Why did the Holy Spirit preserve these words for me? What is Jesus saying to me? Given the four available options in the story, I think that we would all like to believe that we fit neatly into the fourth category. We are the healthy plants. We gladly hear and learn God's Word. We are eager to apply God's Word to our lives.

That's what we would like to think, but that would be a mistake. With this parable Jesus isn't dividing people up into four different classes of Christians: the kind with hard hearts that the Word can't penetrate, the shallow Christians whose faith flashes as brightly as a Fourth of July firework and then fizzles out just as fast, the so-called Christians who are consumed by worry or money and lose their faith, and the good Christians who produce good fruit.

If we do a little soul searching, and if we are honest, we can probably remember times when we fit the description of each type of soil. By nature, we were dead in our sins. We are no better than anyone else. We are no better than people who believe in other gods or no god. It is only by God's grace that we believe. And there are still times when the seed of God's Word bounces off our hardened hearts, when we know what God's Word says and don't care what it says and don't do what it says. And the devil smiles.

And we can all think of people who were like the seed that fell on the shallow soil, people who were new to the faith, people who were eager to grow in their faith and share their faith. But they aren't here today. They don't go to church anymore. They might not even believe in God anymore. They tried out Jesus for a while, but he wasn't a good fit. So they moved on.

It's a good thing our faith isn't so shallow, or is it? Do we dig deeply into God's Word? Do we seek out opportunities and seize the available opportunities to grow in our faith? Do we have a plan for spiritual growth, or do we live by the lazy philosophy: "Jesus loves me this I know, and this is all I need to know?"

And then there is the seed that fell among the thorns, the people whose faith was choked out by worry and the pursuit of wealth. There are two types of people in the world, people who admit that they worry and liars. If you have ever lost sleep worrying about a problem, maybe a money problem, you have plenty of company.

Notice that Jesus didn't warn against wealth. Wealth itself can be a blessing. Wealth is a tool we can use to do God's work in the world. Jesus wants us to guard ourselves against the deceitfulness of wealth. If you have money, don't put your trust in it. If you don't have money, don't fool yourself into believing that having more money will make all your problems go away. The stock market goes up and down. Earthly possessions come and go. Only God endures. Only God can meet your every need. In fact, he already has.

The man who told the parable of the sower was tempted by the devil, but he warded off every one of Satan's attacks with God's Word. After searching in Jerusalem for three days Mary and Joseph finally found their son in the only place he could be, in the temple, in his Father's house, asking questions, growing in understanding. There were times when Jesus went without sleep at night, not because he was worrying, but because he was praying.

Jesus entrusted everything to his heavenly Father, even his life, and then he willingly gave up his life for the sins of the world. Jesus sacrificed himself for us, to forgive us for the times when we reject and neglect and doubt God's Word. Jesus has forgiven all of our sins, and he gives us hope. Jesus gives us the hope of eternal life in heaven. And he has given us his Word so that we can grow in our faith on this earth.

Commentators aren't agreed on the significance of the one hundred and sixty and thirty fold yield at the end of the parable. Maybe the best way to interpret the numbers is to not focus on the numbers and just give thanks for a bumper crop, to rejoice that God's Word is powerful, to rejoice in God's promise that his Word will bear fruit.

But if you are wondering what you can do now, if you want to live your faith, if you are looking for a specific way to put your faith into practice, I have an idea. In my hand I have an invitation to this year's outdoor worship service/church picnic. We printed 500 of these cards, and we will be handing them out at the end of the service.

What I want you to do is take one of these cards, but don't keep it. Give it to someone else. Give it to an unchurched co-worker or neighbor. Give it to a friend who is struggling. Give it to someone, give it to anyone who doesn't know Jesus the way you do. Invite that person to join you for our Friendship Sunday on August 24 (which is three weeks from today).

And then pray. Pray a simple prayer with a single focus. Pray that the Holy Spirit will bless our efforts to spread God's life giving Word. Pray that the seed we sow will find fertile soil and bear abundant fruit. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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