A sermon delivered on the Parable of the Sower, by Mary Rathbone on 16th July 2023
Have you ever wondered why Jesus often spoke in parables?
This question must have occurred to the disciples as they seemed confused by the Parable of the Sower but didn’t want Jesus to know, so they asked him “Why do you talk in parables?”
The reason was twofold, first, the people he was teaching were from farming communities and would be familiar with the importance of sowing seeds in fertile soil.
But he also did not want to offer a blueprint of how the Kingdom of God was to be built for the Sadducees and Pharisees to pore over and find fault with.
So he told the disciples he wanted people to think about his words and work them out for themselves, and those with ears to hear and eyes to see will understand, he said.
The Parable of the Seeds and Soil
Like many of us, this is one of the first parables I learnt as a child in Sunday School, and it fascinates me as much today as then, although I now see things a little differently.
Jesus interpreted the parable symbolically saying the seed is the message of the gospel and we are the soil. He even goes so far as to tell us what each particular kind of soil represents.
The hard soil on the path is a block to the message.
The shallow rocky soil won’t allow faith to take root because the faith is also shallow.
The prickly weed-infested soil is too full of the ways of the world.
And only good soil will properly understand the message.
Having heard the description of the four different types of soil, it is quite easy to take away the message; we must be good soil and good soil only to enter God’s Kingdom.
You Must Be Good Soil
The thing is, Jesus knew how to tell a good story to provoke thought about the Kingdom of God, but he never actually said “You must be good soil and good soil only”.
The fact is, none of us is perfect and just fertile soil, each of us has all four kinds of soil in our hearts.
Because born into an imperfect world we cannot be anything other than also imperfect and capable of maddening thoughts and behaviour.
Of strange habits and peculiar views that can make us seem hard-hearted, shallow, and prickly to others – to a greater or lesser degree. The Garden of Eden has a lot to answer for.
That’s OK though, because we also all have a portion of good soil in our hearts too, however small it might be, it was placed there by God.
But despite all the talk about soil and seeds, there is still something Jesus wants to convey that has been left unsaid – because it was a message for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.
What About the Sower?
Another way we can look at this parable is by seeing an extravagant and all-loving God who knows full well that it is madness to try and sow seeds in barren soil.
What sense does that make? Would a gardener plant runner bean seeds on the barren paths around their vegetable garden today?
No, but the Sower, God, does it anyway, even today he continues to sow his seeds of love with reckless abandon into hearts that are made up of all four different types of soil; shallow, prickly and hardened, but also fertile.
He pours out his love unconditionally and relentlessly, hoping we will finally get it. And when he uncovers even the smallest patch of good and willing soil in a heart – a seed germinates, and the Kingdom of God begins to develop there.
So for me, the message in this parable is about the fractured and imperfect nature of all humanity, but despite our many fragilities God still showers us with his wildly extravagant love.
Because no one will ever love us in the way He does, and despite all our many irrational ways, he only wants the best for each of us.
What Does This Mean for us today?
It would be foolish to say that because God loves us so much, we should all dance in the streets and be happy because there are times in our lives when we can feel desperately unhappy.
However, the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms, are rich with verses about how suffering can be a refining experience.
St Paul, who most definitely did not start out as a happy man full of good soil, knew that the suffering of humankind is universal, and to be expected in one way or another in this life.
He addresses this in his letter to the Corinthians saying; God would not let them be tested beyond their strength, but with the testing, he would also provide a way out so that they may be able to endure it.
I have had my fair share of trials and tribulations, thorns and rocks, in life. But by surrendering my will to Jesus and handing my suffering over to him (by leaving it at the foot of the cross) I have not only overcome but somehow, have also become more understanding of life and others.
Because as we allow our hearts to be healed and nurtured by God’s love, the rocks, thorns and barrenness life has sown there, gradually fall away and the fertile soil takes over – producing fruits of the spirit.
What Does God’s Love Look Like Today?
We can see God’s love in each other; in the innocence of a baby, the joy of youth and the wisdom of age.
A more philosophical view is that when the word ‘love’ is used, in an adult capacity, we often think of romantic love. But this is a relatively new idea, developed in the eighteenth century, and possibly not an entirely reliable basis for long-term harmony.
The Ancient Greeks had a slightly different view, they saw adult love more practically, naturally wanting the absolute best for the other person. It was a pure, wilful, sacrificial love that selflessly and intentionally desired another’s highest good.
And this is what God’s love for us looks like today.
It is a love that encourages with hope and corrects with compassion, to help loved ones reach their full potential. It is a two-way process, creating supportive relationships in which all parties flourish.
God’s Assistant Sowers
Today, we in the Church are God’s Assistant Sowers commissioned to love others, in the best way we are able to.
As we worship and adore God our creator, he continues to throw his seeds of love at us, hoping that, despite our many human weaknesses, some will continue to lodge in the fertile soil of our hearts and nurture the deeply embedded pure and sacrificial love he placed there.
Within our own space in time, we may just be specks in a vast universe, with the length of our lives determined by God’s will.
But each one of us is significant and has the power to make a difference in God’s eternal kingdom – with even the smallest of our actions.
So, let us invite God’s holy power to dwell deeper within our hearts and nurture us with the seeds of His love.
Let us also actively cultivate our hearts to become the finest soil possible and able to release an abundant harvest of gospel love.
Let us find the right words, and do the best things, to locate patches of fertile soil in those we meet in our day-to-day lives.
Not only our families and friends in the church. But also to reach out to the good soil in those who are longing for more meaning and hope from their time on earth.
Those who do not yet properly know Jesus but have ears ready to hear and eyes ready to see.
In the name of God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen