We love a good story.
It could be a fiction novel that stirs our emotions as we turn the pages. A historical tale like Paul Revere, the Pilgrims, or the first settlers to cross the Appalachians into Kentucky. It could even be legendary stories from our families that pass from generation to generation.
We love to tell stories and we love to hear stories. We even like to tell the same story over and over again. If you’re around me long enough, it’s likely you will hear the same three stories – The time I was shushed by Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open, how I was sent to the emergency room while serving as a counselor on a youth retreat because of a small push in the back from a sixth grade girl, and how my constitutional law professor thought my name was “Sharon” in college.
Stories are part of who we are. They tell something about us. They bring us into the depths of our character. Stories can even give us a glimpse into a desired reality that we want to reach.
A parable is a story that tries to do just that. These are stories Jesus used to point the listener to some deeper understanding of what it means to be a people of the kingdom. The parables were analogous stories where Christ took things from that culture – agriculture, shepherding, relationship with the tax collectors, Samaritans, and so forth – in order to point all of Christ’s followers to what it means to live in a deep and meaningful relationship with God.
For the next few weeks, we’re going to take a look at some of the parables of Jesus. We’re going to attempt to see what Jesus is saying to us today as a church, both here and across the spectrum of Christianity. We want to place ourselves in these stories, and see how they open a deeper understanding of what it means to live for Christ.
Today, we are going to focus on the “Parable of the Sower.” It is the first parable in Matthew 13, a chapter that is devoted to recounting Jesus’ teaching on a boat. Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and many were questioning why he was doing the things he was doing. Even more, Jesus had just told the people who his true family was – those who would follow the will of the Father are in relationship with Jesus.
So, Jesus heads off and a large crowd begins to follow him. Never missing an opportunity to engage, Jesus finds a place in the boat and addresses the crowd. He uses this imagery of a planter , a farmer, who was planting seeds in the field with the hope of producing a good crop. When we hear this story read, it’s not hard to imagine that Christ is the farmer in this story and the seed is the message that Jesus is the way to life in the kingdom, a relationship with the Father, and life eternal. The seed is the good news of Jesus Christ. The good crop is the followers of Jesus, who have staked their entire lives on the gospel.
The entire parable wrestles with the idea of what it means to understand the message of Christ, which the is the good news of Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
This idea of understanding is not what we may think of it. We think of understanding as something we know or do not know. It is our head knowledge. When we think of understanding, here, we’re looking at not a theological or head knowledge, though that is important as well, but a deep spiritual knowledge and assurance of the love of Christ. It is an understanding that Christ lives and reign. The message of the Good News of Jesus Christ is implanted in the depths of our soul, and transforms us to live as people of the kingdom in our communities.
To really get to the heart of this parable, we need to walk with the farmer through these plantings. That way we can see what the plantings have to say, and what they continue to say to us today.
In the first planting, we see is of the seed that is scattered, but some birds eat it before it could be implanted. The message of the Gospel never had a chance to be implanted into the soil. The soil is our soul, our center of being, where we hope Christ will live. The message is gathered up, by the evil forces that work against the proclamation of Christ, and is taken away by those who would seek to steal the message from being planted.
What does it look like today? We live in a world where there is a constant competition between the message of Jesus Christ and the message of the world. Sometimes other messages, and viewpoints, become our focus and dominate our way of thinking and engagement with the world. Instead of the message of Jesus Christ being planted in our soul, we become led by the world’s message. We become defined not by Christ’s love, but out political positions, our consumerism, our loyalties, and our own self.
This image is that of the unChristians, those who are outside a relationship with God for whatever reasons. It is an ever-growing group that often includes the youngest in society. A book by Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons showed that 40 percent of the younger generations are outside the church. We must bring the message of Christ’s love to them, and be a living witness of the love of Christ to this generation, who needs to hear that Christ’s love them, and that we love them as well. We must be willing to plant the seed, the message of Christ, in the hearts of this generation.
But, the farmer planted other seeds as well. Unlike the first planting, some did catch soil. The message of Christ was able to reach into their heart. The seed came up quickly and the roots didn’t grow deep. This plant didn’t last long, because it didn’t have anything to hold and sustain it.
This becomes a shallow faith. Our faith is shallow when we have a superficial relationship with Christ, and never seek to grow in our relationship. We say we believe, but we never pray. We’re not in fellowship with other believers. We don’t fully trust God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s a faith that says it believes, but never really lives it out. I want to call this a “Christian in name only” faith. We stake our claim to the Gospel, but it never becomes part of who we are. It just sits there.
Our roots must have the chance to grow deep in the soil. For plants to survive, the roots have to dig in deep, and reach the water that lives below the surface. That is the case with our faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith needs the living water that is found in Jesus Christ. Our soul needs to be replenished by the blood of the lamb. This only happens when we place our full trust in Christ. We make time to study the word, and allow it to impact every aspect of our lives. We make time to pray and seek a personal relationship with God. We must be “rooted and established” in the love of Jesus Christ.
If these first two seeds aren’t depressing, the third makes you weep in the depths of your soul. The farmer plants his seed and it lands in the weeds. This new life in Christ, is choked and dies off. It had a chance for a full life in Christ, but the things around it controlled it and took the life away from the plant.
This is a life that heard the message of Christ, but fell away over time. The pressures of this world became too much. Instead of growing in faith, they chose to walk away. In the difficult moments of life, those challenges that Paul says in 1 Corinthians that we all face, the life in the weeds is likely to walk away and say, “This isn’t what I signed up for. I was promised a life of blessings, but this is not what I was promised.” It may not even be the difficult moments in life – health, death, relationship struggles, and so forth – but also our own desires. When we become too focused on our need for money and success, we drown out the message of Christ. We’re no longer living for the true God, but for the god of wealth, financial stability, and happiness.
For our life to grow in Christ, not only do we need to take the message to others, not only do we need to be rooted in the living waters of Jesus Christ, but we also must be in relationship with other believers. Christ calls us to a communal faith – a faith that is lived in community. Even those who have chosen the path of solitude, do so in community with others who desire that life. We need other believers. We need partners in faith – brothers and sisters – who will be our guides to Christ in these moments of struggle. We need someone who is above us – a pastor, a teacher, a mentor – who will show us what it means to live in Christ. We need someone beside us who we can call in the difficult moments, who we are in relationship with, and we need someone whom we are walking with and showing them how to live this life. The call to discipleship is a call to community with one another. If we want to overcome the difficult points, we must do so in community.
Finally, there is hope. The message is rooted. When the message of Jesus Christ penetrates our soul and is rooted in our hearts, it is a beautiful sight. It transforms everything about us. We become centered on Christ, and Christ becomes our guide, our focal point, and our inspiration. It is the beautiful plant the one that is rooted in the love of Christ.
Here is the amazing and exciting news about this plant: it doesn’t stop growing. Just like our good plants, those who have heard the word of Christ, and our rooted in Christ’s love, will reproduce other disciples. We will produce additional followers of Christ, who will then share that love with others. It will produce a field of believers that will be the most beautiful garden of life that you will ever see. We have the potential to transform our world by simply sharing the love and message of Christ with them, and helping someone to understand in a deep level what it means for them and their world around them.
Four seeds each with a story to tell. We could probably find ourselves in each of these seeds. We’ve probably been one or more at different points in our lives. No matter what seed you are today, I challenge you to grow in faith. It’s never too late. If the seed was taken away from you at one point, the Farmer – Christ – is ready to give you the message of salvation once again. If your faith has lacked the joy, Christ is there to show you what it means to have a faith that is deeply rooted in his love. If there are weeds in your life, Christ is there to help you grow.
And, if you are growing, Christ is there to sustain you through it all. Amen.