1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Ok, who are the characters in this story Jesus tells?
Who do you think each of those characters is in this room?
Today Scott, Taylor and I are sowing the word and we are all the soil. We don’t normally think of soil as active, but in this story the soil is very important. Jesus talks about four different kinds of soil. He talks about the path where the seed can’t sink in but instead gets eaten by the birds. There’s some rocky soil where the seed grows quickly, but doesn’t have enough soil to grow strong. Then there’s soil where there are thorns that choke out the grain. Finally, there’s good soil where the grain grows plentifully and multiplies.
There are lots of things that can interfere with the growth of God’s word. One of the obstacles Jesus specifically mentions is understanding. The Bible can be hard to understand and as someone entrusted with sowing the word, one of my most important jobs is helping you understand it. Without understanding the seed can’t sink in and grow.
A farmer doesn’t just plant seeds; he or she also takes care of them and nurtures them. Preparation, care and tending the soil and the new growth are just as important as sowing the word. But it’s not just my job; the elders of the church are responsible to help develop educational opportunities so we can grow in understanding. And each of us is responsible for actively engaging in our spiritual life, for understanding and applying the word to our life. The soil isn’t just a passive part of the story; Jesus calls us to work on being better soil.
The first question the passage has for us is what kind of soil we are and how we can be better. How can we become good soil to receive, nurture and grow God’s word in us? What gets in the way of that growth now and how can we remove those obstacles to growth?
Let’s take a few minutes to discuss these questions in groups. We aren’t just one type of soil. We are partly good soil, and partly choked by thorns. We’re partly so short on understanding we can’t grow and partly enthusiastic but too shallow to endure. If one of these kinds of soil really resonates with you I invite you to move to that group. Like I said, we are all responsible for engaging with the word, so whichever group you think is going to help you most is the place you should be. If you stay where you are, that’s fine too, since we each have each kind of soil in us.
Our role in becoming better soil and my role with other teachers and worship leaders here in sowing the word is only the first part of the story. You are not just soil to receive the word; when you receive the word it grows in you and the grain that grows is an important part of the story too.
The grain that grows, the fruit God’s word bears, nourishes you and others. It also becomes seed that you sow among people you know. Jesus sowed the seed first. That seed grew in his first disciples and others who heard him. Some of those first hearers bore fruit and multiplied the seed many times. Then they sowed the seed among others and the word continued to multiply and spread through the years. Now the word comes to us and we work to become better soil, to bear more fruit. We also sow the seed for others so they can hear the good news about Jesus and the word can bear fruit in them too.
Our actions are a big part of making the soil more receptive. When you live the word others will be more likely to listen to what you say, more likely to give the seed room to grow in them. Your kindness and generosity, your integrity and gentleness are part of preparing the soil for the word. Your care and faithfulness are part of tending the newly planted seed so it can grow strong. Prayer is part of that preparation and tending as well, both for how the word grows in us and how it grows in others.
We are each soil and sowers. We give the seed room to grow inside us and help it grow inside others. We plant and tend and wait. Sometimes we can see the growth, but often we can’t. Sometimes we think we’ve wasted the seed on bad soil, but often the seed grows in ways we can’t see. Sometimes we sow the seeds of faith in a child but don’t get to see how those seeds bear fruit in adulthood.
We prepare and we sow and we tend, but God gives the growth. We cannot control how the seed grows. Our job is to sow and tend trusting God to do the rest. We know that not all the seed we sow will bear fruit. That’s just a reality of the farmer’s job. But the seed that does grow well can yield enough grain to make it well worth the effort.
As we leave Laurelton today, especially as we look forward to the first week of vacation Bible school, we take the story of Jesus, into the world to share. Just as part of my job is sowing carefully and tending the grain within the congregation, your job is to help the seed grow for others. During this week I invite you to pray frequently that our ministry with kids and adults at vacation Bible school will be fruitful, that we will do a good job sowing the word and helping it to grow. I invite you to pray also for your own ministry that God would give you wisdom and persistence in sowing seeds wherever your week takes you.
Thanks be to God.