The Explanation of the Parable of the Sower; Short Sermon

It’s a good thing to learn how to preach short sermons.

At Wycliffe College, every third year student has to preach at least two 5-minute sermons at morning or evening prayer. This past month I was assigned to preach for 5 minutes on Matthew 13:18–23. The sermon would have benefitted from sticking with one main image/question from the outset that clearly and obviously related to the main point. I think I made the five minutes enjoyable, but that’s not the point of a sermon.

So, if you read this, please comment and summarize what you think the main message was in a sentence or two. After that, feel free to ask or comment anything 🙂


Read: Matthew 13:18–23

Prayer: Jesus, may our eyes be blessed and see and our ears be blessed and hear.

I love parables.

In my first tutorial for New Testament, here at Wycliffe, with Terry Donaldson, we were asked to introduce ourselves and to share what our favourite gospel was, and why. I said, “Luke,” because I like all the parables.

But why? What’s up with my fascination of parables?

I imagine that it is, in part, a holdover from my childhood. I can still picture myself in Sunday school, with my friends and teacher reading and teaching the parables of Jesus. The metaphors and similes from nature and common life, their vividness or strangeness drew my thoughts then as they do now.

A farmer went out to sow his seed…

What is the seed?

We read in Matthew: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom…”

We read in Mark: “A farmer sows the word.”

We read in Luke: “The seed is the word of God.”

Some falls on the path, some in shallow rocky soil, some among thorns, and some on good soil.

Our text today explains the meaning:

Some people hear and don’t understand: and the evil one (devil, or Satan) takes the seed away. Some people hear, embrace it, and grow: but once hard times or persecution come their way, the plant withers. Some people hear, receive it, and grow: but they grow alongside the desire for the pleasures of this life, alongside the deceitfulness of wealth, and worries of this life. This plant bears no fruit and never matures. Some people hear, receive, and flourish: they understand, keep it, persevere, and produce a crop a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.

The first three explanations make a whole lot of sense from an agricultural standpoint.

Nothing is going to grow on a path. Shallow, rocky soil will only support short-term plant life. Thorns can choke out a plant.

But the last one is simply ridiculous.

No farmer is going to believe that any seed will produce 100 times what was sown, let alone 60 times or 30 times.

Not in ancient Palestine. And not in modern mechanised industrial farming with high-yielding varieties with increased nitrogen absorbing potential. It’s just not possible.

When I was younger, I failed to grasp that parables are both prophetic and apocalyptic. That they witness to the new age begun in Jesus. That they offer both redemption and judgement at the same time.

It almost feels silly to ask the question that the parable begs us to ask:

“What kind of soil are we?”

The Apostle Peter’s responses to Jesus often make it seem like he is on the path or in shallow rocky soil. So often is Peter ready to jump ON a lake for Jesus or declare him Lord. We too can be so eager to follow Jesus, but are we, like Peter, really sure what kind of Messiah Jesus is? Are we ready for the things to come—even what Jesus warns us of?  Are we sure we know the cost of discipleship?

Jesus has already said in Matthew 6 that you cannot serve both God and money. Jesus is insistent on this point. Here he is reiterating the fact that the Word cannot flourish among those who continue to care for and are shaped by the things of this world. It’s not an easy lesson for his disciples and it’s not an easy lesson for us.

When I was younger, when I was ignorant about judgement in parables, I assumed I was in the good soil. I lived a moral life, I read my bible, and went to church with decent, kind, and hard-working people. But this is not just a thought from my youth. This is an assumption all Christians have to keep in check.

The good soil produces 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown. We can thank the disciples for being good soil—without them, there would be no church.

Do we believe the ridiculous claim that seed can flourish 100, 60, or 30 times in good soil? Do we see this fruit in our lives? Or, do we scoff at the idea… do we think it’s just not possible. Can the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually work in our lives, in our relationships, in our churches, and in the world?

Maybe our church growth strategies simply have too much money—and so our imaginations are choked.

Maybe we’ve fallen into sentimentality, and crafted idols for ourselves.

Jesus, may we hear the message of your kingdom and receive your word and understand it.

May we be possessed by the joy of the kingdom, like the man who found a hidden treasure in a field or the merchant who found one pearl of great value, both sold everything they had.

Jesus, help us be good soil.

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A thought on suffering and the call for Christians

A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When a baby dies alone in a Calcutta alley, where is God?” She responded to him,

“God is there, suffering with that baby.  The question really is, where are you?”

This quote came up in a sermon I just read from a friend.

I don’t want to be clichĂ©, nor do I want non-christians to be offended, I’m looking at Teresa’s response as a call for Christians.  Christians are called to a rather high standard: love your neighbour; give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back; welcome the strangers, feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

Where are we when there is such suffering?

In Tom’s sermon he discusses how we are called to the margins, called into relationship, called to equal relationships where barriers are broken down.  We are called to have reciprocal relationships where we “walk with” the other, don’t have defined rules that can stifle the spirit of Christ to work, care, and show gentleness.

I like what Tom has to say about our society, our comforts, and the call of Christ:

One of the major faults of JesusĘĽ society and ours is that
we push people out. We see certain people as having more importance and others as having less. This simply will not fly for Jesus. If there is any group or individual that we devalue, that is exactly where Jesus will go. This therefore is where the church of Christ and his followers must also go in order to serve.

We like to be with those who are at the centre. We like
to be with those who we know, those who aren’t struggling with money, who are self-sufficient upstanding citizens.

So the call to be yielded to Christ is a very scary one because we very much know where it will take us.

What do you think?

Better thinking

After watching a splendid sermon entitled “Anti-Intellectual” by Michael Krause, in Southridge Community Church’s UnChristian series, there were many things I agreed with and was intrigued by.

One such thing was a quote (turns out, so says the internet, that it’s rather popular… I’ve never heard it) by St. Augustine from his “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” written in 408 AD. (His meaning of the word literal is different than what you’re thinking):

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens and the other elements of the world, the motion and orbit[s]… about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such and embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.”

Now, there’s probably a lot of things I could follow up with after this quote, but I think it’s rather obvious that since the 5th century there have been plenty christians who’ve done such disgraceful and dangerous things.  Least of these things would be the Kirk Cameron Banana video.

I’m just going to keep things simple and in thought with the sermon.  I apologize if these things are rather redundant.

  • Scriptures are not to be treated as science textbooks.  Therefore, don’t give the creation story in Genesis 1 a timeline of 7 “earth?” days (or a timeline at all – St. Augustine would say it all happened at once).  Giving it such a timeline is similar to agreeing with the Sun rotating around the Earth as written in the book of Ecclesiastes.  On this topic Galileo says:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

  • The primary role of scripture is to describe the redemption of the universe through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through the spirit filled community of the Church.
  • To in-errants, theologically, the age of the Earth is a matter of indifference.
  • In reading Genesis 1, one must engage with the history of the ancient world – especially the text of the creation myths of other cultures, engage with systematic interpretation of the genre of literature that Genesis 1 is, and engage with all that modern science has validated.

Nearing Michael’s conclusion he states that Genesis 1 both is and is not history, its definitely not science, and is primarily theology.  Disagree with this because of better thinking, not less thinking.