Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Let me share with you this morning a reason why I’m glad I don’t have a house in Fairview. You all don’t have to look at my garden. I’m not a good gardener. I like mowing the lawn, but don’t ask me to care for a garden, or potted plant for that matter. I can manage a lawn mower, it’s a machine, I’m a man, it works. But as for tending to a flower or any other plant fancier than grass, it’s not a good combination.
When I first arrived in Montague for my internship there was a plant in my office. I suggested that it might be in the best interest of the plant to find it a new location. It survived the year, how I have no idea. When I packed up my office I think I looked at it for the second time. The first time being when I moved into the office. So either the secretary looked after it for me, or it was a very hardy plant. I have no idea which might have been true.
So for me to stand up here and preach in the parable of the sower might seem a bit odd or unnatural. But of course gardening is not the point of the parable, and even if it was, it’s basic gardening principles Jesus is talking about. I think even I can figure those out.
He’s telling those around him what they already know. You want a seed to grow, you give it the best chance possible. You don’t plant it in rocky soil, you don’t plant it on paths or sidewalks, you don’t plant it in hostile environments, you find the good soil and plant it there. This way you give it the best chance possible of growing. Common sense, right?
Jesus does go on to explain each of the scenarios where the seeds fall, so he has done some of my work for me it seems. But is there more to be heard here?
The parable of the sower talks to us about what it means to be Christian, to be followers of Jesus Christ. How does this parable fit? What is it telling us? Who is the gardener? What are the seeds? What is significant about the locations Jesus chooses for the seeds to fall?
It’s easiest to begin with the seeds. The seeds are the word of God, as Jesus explained. This isn’t the only place where seeds are used to show the word of God in the Bible. Who then is the gardener? The gardener is the one who plants the seeds, so the one who shares God’s word. So preachers and church leaders would be the first who come to mind right. Who else can share God’s word, to plant the seeds? Anyone. Anyone can share God’s word, planting little seeds all over the place!
Jesus first explains what it means for the seed to be planted on the path. For anyone, he says, who hears the word of God and does not understand or seek ways to understand it, then the seed is taken away by the evil one.
The word of God planted on a path will be taken away by birds. What is a path? What are the characteristics of a path? What does one look like? It’s well worn and devoid of vegetation, it’s hard. Not a good place for seeds to grow now is it?
If the seed is the word of God, then the gardener is the one who plants the seeds. What then is the path? Who is a path? In my mind would be someone we share God’s word with, and they refuse to engage it. The don’t want to understand, they pretty much reject it outright. We might say they have a cold, or a hardened heart. Jesus warns those who are listening, these people will be lost. The work done to plant seeds in them will be taken away.
So what about the rocky ground? The seed will grow quickly, but once the sun comes out it will wither and die since the rocky ground keeps it from putting down strong roots. What does that say to us today? To me it speaks of evangelists who come in to win souls for Christ. To make sure people are saved. These people are great at sharing the word of God, they are indeed good gardeners. But here is the problem. People are excited, they get excited to hear about what God can offer us all and come forward to offer their hearts to Christ. What happens when the evangelists leave town after the big revival meeting? People don’t know what to do next. They have this great energy for being a disciple, but there’s no one left to care for them. They don’t have a connection to a local church, their roots have not been developed, they can’t sustain the energy and eventually go back to their old lives. Their passion for Jesus Christ withers and dies. They can’t handle the pressure of trying to maintain their faith without a solid grounding to hold on to. So when things they encounter challenge their understanding of God, then they get lost.
So what of seeds planted in the thorns? It’s similar to the rocky ground in a way. These people are who are in bad environments, surrounded by temptation and bad influences. The seeds planted there don’t have a chance because of what is all around them. Bad choices live on every corner, bad influences working against the word of God, the temptation is far too great to overcome. The seeds are lost.
I think we are aware of some thorny spots in this area of the city, people who are in places where they are trapped. They may want to do the right thing, but because of their friends or life situation they are unable to break out of the troubled life they live. They just keep ending up facing the same choices over and over, and instead of making the decision to break the cycle, they continue to follow the same destructive patterns they always have.
Which brings us to the final setting. The seed planted in the good soil. People who are in the right place in their lives to receive the word of God. What happens then? Jesus tells us it will grow and produce fruit, up to 100 fold.
When someone hears the word of God and makes the conscious decision to become a follower of Jesus Christ, and everything is in place for them to grow and be nurtured, they will then produce fruit. What do plants do to reproduce? The produce seeds, which allow the plant to produce other plants.
Think of a dandelion as a very obvious example, as much as we love them, don’t we! If you get a dandelion on your lawn, what can you be sure of? More dandelions right? The dandelion produces something like a 100 or more seeds, which then fall and blow all over the neighbourhood, where they land and take root to produce a lot more dandelions.
When we accept the word of God, and it has taken root in our lives, we then have the opportunity, some might even say obligation, to share what we have learned with others. To share the seeds we produce with others, to help them grow and produce their own seeds. We start as a plant, you might say, and turn into the gardener.
So what do we do with those who are in the other situations? Those who are on rocky ground, those who are among thorns, those who get trampled on the path. What of those people?
What do you do in your own gardens when the soil isn’t able to produce the desired plant life? You either do something with the garden to make it better, or you move the plant to a better location. In short, you take care of whatever is keeping the plant from growing.
The house we live in has a couple little gardens. The problem is, I have no idea what’s a weed and want’s a plant. What’s supposed to be there and what is not. So we left them to fend for themselves. The problem is, of course, now what are probably weeds have taken over, and the â€œgoodâ€ plants cannot grow. Think of the seed in the thorns. What I need to do is take away the weeds so the good flowers can grow. If someone is in a place in their lives where all they can see are thorns and weeds, then the weeds need to be removed so they can see clearly. We either move the person, or we take care of the weeds.
The same goes for the rocky soil. What has to happen is the soil needs to be changed in some way. There needs to be a place for growth to happen, for roots to develop. And also for the seeds on the path. Loose soil needs to be found, a safer place needs to be found for a seed to grow.
If we are people who have the seeds, then we need to be good gardeners. We need to help people be ready to hear the word of God. If they are not in a place to receive we need to be good gardeners and help them get into better soil. For some it will be easy, for others it might take a very long time of very small changes. As gardeners our responsibility is to have the garden ready for the seeds to plant. People will make their way to the garden we prepare on their own speed, but we need to be ready for when they do.
Gardening is not easy work, it takes a lot of preparation to have the garden ready for plants. Where’s our garden, and what kind of shape is it in?