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.