The Sower and the Seeds
Pentecost 8A Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
It is one of those hot summer days, one of the gloriously hot summer days, and he was out on the lake. It was a beautiful lake. Eight miles wide and thirteen miles long. It was perfectly blue, on a perfect day for swimming, boating, sailing, fishing. Like Eastern Washington. Warm, hot, brown rolling hills all around.
This lake was known as Lake Galilee. Some people call it the Sea of Galilee but when you hear the word “sea,” most of us think of salt water. We need to know it was not salt water but a fresh water lake by the name of Lake Galilee. Jesus was having a wonderful time on that beautiful day on Lake Galilee. He was up on the north end of the lake in the little town called Capernaum. We recall that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; he was reared in the town of Nazareth; but in his adulthood, he was living up in the town of Capernaum on the shores of Lake Galilee.
Jesus was in his home there in Capernaum and he came out and everybody said to him, “Tell us a story Jesus.” Now Jesus could really tell a story. They loved his stories because he knew down to earth language. He didn’t use any fancy, high falootin words that he learned at some graduate school. Jesus told stories from everyday life about the common things of life. He would tell stories about donkeys and camels and cows and sheep and seeds and soil. Jesus would tell stories about the common things of life. And then at the end of the story, he would often give an exaggeration. Jesus had an exaggerated sense of humor. Jesus made everybody laugh because he told these outlandish stories. And then the people would go home and try to figure them out.
So one day, Jesus walked out of his house that was in the little village of Capernaum located on the north end of Lake Galilee. The people said, “Tell us a story.” So Jesus went and got a little rowboat from the lake. Jesus said, “I will tell you this story. It is about….
Now, I have to make this a contemporary story. I have to tell it in my language, my culture, my century. Jesus said, “I am sitting in the middle of winter time, January or February, and I was reading my Burpee Seed Catalogue. I often read the Burpee Seed Catalogue and look for good ideas for gardening. I saw some really good seeds in that Burpee Seed Catalogue. Those seeds made really, really big tomato plants that had big tomatoes on them. I have always wanted to have those big tomato plants with big tomatoes in my garden. So I ordered these seeds from the Burpee Seed Catalogue. The seeds came in the mail. I looked at those seeds for a couple of months. Time passed. Spring was here. It was time to go out and till the soil and got the soil all ready. The soil got warm by the sun. I put on my apron with its pockets in which I put my seeds. I was walking along with my apron on, with my seeds in its pockets, and I was walking out to my garden. On the way out to my garden, some of the seed from the apron fell onto the path. Some of the seed fell on the side of the path where it is kind of rocky. Then some of the seeds fell there in the weeds by the rocks of the path. And I got to the garden. My, there was good soil in my garden. One part lama doo; another part horse doo; another part chicken doo; another part grass; another part leaves. It was good soil. I spread my seeds with my hand, scattering those seeds on the good soil. Job done. I went back home and hung around for a little while. I would go out and check the garden occasionally.
One time when I came back to the garden, I noticed all the seed that had spilled on the hard path. The birds had come and eaten the seeds all up. And then I noticed those seeds that had fallen on the rocky edges right by the side of the path, those tomato plants had grown up but they had all withered and died. Those plants had been there a little while but they shriveled up and die. Then, next to the rocky edges were the weeds. There were the tomato plants right there in the middle of the weeds, but there was not any fruit on them. Then I got to my garden with the great soil in it and my tomato plant and my tomato plant had a hundred tomatoes on it. And Jesus laughed. And the children laughed. And he said, I had another plant that had sixty. And the little old grandmas laughed. And I had another plant and it had thirty tomatoes on it. And an old Jewish grandpa who was part Norwegian said in his gruff voice, “Hey Jesus. You can’t get a tomato plant to give out more than ten tomatoes. What do you mean, you got thirty, sixty, a hundred. That is impossible.” And all the people laughed. Jesus then said, “When you go home today and have lunch, figure out the story.”
The people all went home laughing. They liked Jesus’ stories because he knew this down to earth stuff and he also had wonderful exaggerations, especially at the end of his stories.
And the people asked, “What does that mean? What does Jesus mean by that story?”
Jesus said, “Why is it, that so much goodness is produced in some people’s lives? Why is it that some Christian’s lives are so productive? Why is it that some Christians produce a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control? Why is it that some Christians produce a hundred tomatoes of love? Why is it that some Christians have a hundred tomatoes of happiness? Why is it that some Christians have a hundred tomatoes of patience? Why is it that some Christians have a hundred tomatoes of goodness?
Why is it, when you look at some people’s lives, that they produce such an abundance and other people don’t produce anything at all? Why is that?
That is the underlying question of this parable. Why is it that some Christian lives are so enormously productive and others are not? That is what Jesus is addressing in his story for today.
Jesus said, while walking along the path to the garden, some people are just hard. Their hearts are hard. Their hearts are hard towards God, the things of God, hard towards prayer. Chances are, these people are not here in church today. Chances are, you know these people from your work, your school, your neighborhood. I am now thinking about someone from my neighborhood.
When you talk to people with hard hearts, you sense that for them, Christ is a waste of time, God is a waste of time, prayer is a waste of time. Anything to do with these kinds of things is a waste of time. And if you talk to these people about the poor and the starving of the world, they could care less. Of if you tell them that 79% of the children are on federally subsidized lunches at the schools, they could care less. Their hearts don’t care for people who are hurting. And to be honest, often their hearts are hard to their mothers and their fathers and their husbands or wives. And this is the worst thing: they aren’t nice to the other kids in the neighborhood. That is always a clue to me. If someone has a hard heart, they don’t like the little kids in the neighborhood.
Jesus said, “That is the way it is.” You go and sow the seed of God, the Word of God, and these people are just hard.
Jesus continued, “There is another kind of people who are not very productive. Those are the kind of people who are like rocky soil, like the rocky soil by the side of the path. The seed comes up ever so quickly. God comes up ever so quickly but then the plant dies. That is because of the suffering and persecution that comes in their life.”
Let me try to explain this teaching of Jesus. I think that there are some people who are into the illusion that when you are a Christian, you have a better family, better kids, better job, better everything. There are some churches which actually preach this. It is called “health and wealth Christianity.” You find this kind of Christianity all over the television. That when you get God, you get healthy and wealthy. And so when life is not so healthy and wealthy and things in life don’t work out so well, they kind of give up and say, “God does not work after all.”
Or, there are other people who have really experienced great trauma and suffering in life and they have been angry at God ever since. Like the little boy at the campfire who said, “I’ll never forget what God did to my grandma when she got a stroke.” And the little boy at the campfire who said, “When my dad committed suicide, I won’t forget that.”
There are all kinds of people who have critical moments in life when something enormously tragic happens to them and they never get over it. To their dying day, they blame God for the tragedy which happened in their life. They also blame God for all the other tragedies that happen in the whole wide world. These tragedies are part of human misery.
Still others are not like the little kids I am talking about. Still others who go through a divorce or when your marriage dies or your child dies through a sudden car accident or your spouse dies prematurely, and as a consequence, you just give up on the Christian faith. You are out of gas and you quit the faith.
Have you ever hear the phrase, “fair weather fans” or “fair weather Mariner fans.” Fair weather fans are when the sun is shining and the team is winning. A fair-weather Sea Hawks fan is when the Seahawks are winning. Fair weather Christians are those who believe in God and are committed to God as long as they are winning. As long as their health is good, their family is good, their kids are good, their grandkids are good, their job is good, they are fair-weather Christians. But when the weather gets nasty, they start giving up their faith in God. I see it all the time. Not realizing that the purpose of God is to make us strong in the midst of tragedy. I guarantee you that your life and mine is going to have tragedy. I guarantee you. It is going to have tragedy. The purpose of the Christian faith is not to insulate us from tragedy but to make us strong in the midst of the tragedies of life. But some fair-weather Christians, truly don’t understand this. The plant comes up and it actually dies.
It reminds me when I used to be a canoe guide up in Northern Minnesota. When I was a young buck going through college, I would spend summers at a canoe camp in Northern Minnesota. I was a canoe guide. We would take kids from a reform school called Redwing State Training School. These kids had gotten into trouble with the law. We would take them out on canoe trips that would last one to two weeks. For these kids from the reform school, it was really spooky. They were stuck with me out in those woods there at night. We were out there and these kids would see these tall pine trees. They were so impressed with these tall pine trees that were sixty-five feet tall. But when the wind would blow, we would get out canoes and tents away from those tall trees. I said, “Those trees are dangerous.” “What do you mean?” the kids questioned. I said, “All this land is Saganaw granite. The soil on top of the granite is only a few inches deep. The tree is sixty-five feet tall. When the wind comes, it blows those gigantic trees right over because they don’t have any roots. Whereas, if you go down to California and the giant redwoods and sequoias, the roots of those trees go down deep. Those trees have a deep root system and those deep root systems are interconnected. So when the winds blow, the trees don’t blow over.
I have discovered that is the way it is with some Christians. Those Christians can live for sixty-five years; they can be sixty-five years tall; but when the winds of life come, they get blown over. You erroneously think that because they are sixty-five feet tall and sixty-five years old, they are strong, but they are not. They fool. They fool you when you think they are strong. Their apparent strength is an illusion. When the winds of life are strong, their faith blows over because some tragedy has happened in their lives, not knowing that the purpose of God is to give us strength in the midst of tragedies.
There is another example of what I am talking about. Quickie Christians. Some of you may be Quickie Christians. When things are really going bad, some of you come to the church and Jesus Christ for quickie solutions. You hope that God will give you a quick solution for the problem you are facing. You come through the adult inquiry class, get baptized, and come to a few classes and worship services, hoping that you will get a quick solution to your problem. But it does not happen.
So in the parable for today, there is initial faith but it quickly dies.
Jesus has been asking the question: “Why is it that some Christians are so abundant in their Christian lives and other are not?”
The third kind of soil is those who are raised among the weeds. The weeds choke them out. If you are a gardener, you know about weeds. This morning, I parked my car right outside the church, and I could see the morning glory taking over the blackberry bushes. Honestly, there was a war going on between the morning glory and the blackberry bushes. If you are a gardener and you leave morning glory unattended in your garden, what is the result? If you leave the blackberry bushes unattended near the edges of your garden, what is the result? The very essence of gardening is to get out the weeds because if you don’t, the weeds will choke out the plants. It is an absolute. The gardener’s life is to fight with and dig out the weeds.
And Jesus said, “What are the weeds?” It is interesting what Jesus said. I like the translation of the Revised Standard Version more than the New International Version which was read for you today. Jesus said, “Where the cares, the riches and the pleasures choke out your Christian faith.”
I would like to talk briefly about the cares of life, all the legitimate cares of your life where you care for your wife, your kids, your work. I am so busy caring for my family. To be honest, it has changed for me now. I am at a point in life where my youngest is turning twenty in a few days. I will not have a teenager in the family. How blessed am I (making a sign of the cross.) Do you know how busy it was for the past twenty-thirty years? Do you know how busy it is when you try to take your kids to soccer and band and church and retreats and you don’t have enough time. Have you ever played the game, “Run yourself ragged?” We have this wonderful game at home, and I absolutely hate it. You have to do all these things so fast and the timer is on and you are behind. We are all late, late for this and late for that as we are all running ourselves ragged.
The legitimate cares of our lives interfere with the growth of this plant, with the growth of our relationship to Christ. The plant is alive there in that dirt but it just doesn’t produce any fruit.
After “cares,” the text for today mentions the “riches and the pleasures.” This has to do with the abundance of possessions and the pleasures of life. Now, be honest. When the kids were young, we were always short of money. But now when the kids are older, and they are actually paying their own rent, there is more money. In our house, nowadays we actually have discretionary income. This is incredible. And I have found out that the devil is also active now. It is amazing. The devil was not only active in our lives when the teenagers were young kids so long ago, but now when we get hooked on material possessions and prosperity. I think that it is true, that we get so wrapped up in the cares of life and the riches and pleasures of life and we give God the leftovers. Chances are that we are so busy with the cares of life and the riches and pleasures of life, we really don’t have much time left over.
But what Jesus is suggesting that before your cares, before your riches, before your pleasures, you put God first in your life. You give God the first and best of your time. You give God the first and best of your emotional energy. You give God the first and best of your money. And all the other stuff falls into place.
All I know it is a constant battle at our house to fight off the weeds. And I sense that it is a constant battle in your lives as well.
But then we get to the last soil. We come to the last soil and it is the good soil. It produces a hundred tomatoes. Sixty tomatoes. And thirty tomatoes. On one plant. A hundred tomatoes of patience. A hundred tomatoes of love. A hundred tomatoes of goodness.
Why? Why is it that some lives are so productive of fruit? See here in this bucket. It is in the soil. Three parts lama doo. One part horse doo-doo. One part chicken doo-doo. One part grass. One part leaf clippings. And you age this dirt for two years. And you get this luscious, thick, light, nutrient soil.
Good soil is a miracle. Good soil is a miracle where you work hard at the soil. Where you pull out the rocks. This soil once was filled with rocks and somebody had to dig them out. When you pull out the rocks and when you pull out the weeds and when you bring in the sawdust and all the different manures and you let it age. It take time to age good soil. It takes time of prayer and patience and goodness.
And when you put that seed it, that plant grew up so big and it had one hundred tomatoes. Wow!!!
One day, Jesus was sitting there on the shores of the north end of the Sea of Galilee. It was a wonderful hot summer day in the nineties. It was wonderful. Lake Galilee was shining there with its blue shimmering water. It was perfect for swimming; perfect for fishing; perfect for hanging out in the sun.
The crowd said, “Jesus tell us a story.” Jesus said, “OK. I’ll tell you a story. One time there was a farmer who had some seed. As he walked along to his garden, some seed fell on the hard path. Some seed fell on the rocky soil. Some seed fell among the thistles. And some seed fell on the good soil. The first seeds got eaten by the birds. The other seeds withered on the path. Some other seeds got all choked out. But this soil produced a hundred tomatoes.
The people said, “We’d all better go home and think about that. I wonder what that means for my life.” And they all went home and thought about it. Amen.
(As usual, this sermon was given from memory, with no notes, and was then later typed up to have a record of what was said.)
CHILDREN’S SERMON Look in here kids. This is a large white plastic bucket that is filled with dirt. It is really good dirt. Put your fingers in it. Touch this good dirt. This is really good dirt. It is made out of several different ingredients or parts. One part is lama doo. Does anyone know what lama do is? You’re right. Lama poop. And it also made out of one part horse doo. What is horse doo? Yes, you are right. Manure. And a third part is chicken doo. And then they put grass in there. There is also one part leaves. There are a bunch of old leaves in there. Then they let that mixture age. They let it set for two years. Look at that soil. Feel that soil. Touch that soil. Now, if you were a seed, that is where you would want to be planted. … (Select one child and have a conversation with that one child.) Now if I had a seed and planted it out in front of the church on a sidewalk, would that be smart? Child: “No.” Why. “Well, that seed wouldn’t spring up. It would die.” How about if I planted that seed on a busy intersection out there in front of the church, the intersection with the streetlight on it? “The seed would be crushed and smushed and not even spring up.” How about if I took that seed and planted it in a sandbox, what then? “I don’t think it would grow. The roots wouldn’t come out.” How about if I took that seed and planted it there in that good stuff, what would happen then? Wouldn’t it sprout and grow mightily? Let’s pretend that the good soil is a loving Christian family. I take your life and plant your life in a loving Christian family, what would happen? “Roots would spring out. I would grow up and I would be a loving daughter.” What if I took your life and planted your life in a family which was really hard, mean and nasty all the time, and it was a family that was hard like a rock, how would you turn out? “No, it wouldn’t work.” So, you are saying for you to grow up and be a beautiful flower, it would really help to have you planted in the good soil of a loving family. Is that right?” Right. I think you understand. Thanks kids. See you next week.