Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
“A mother took her ten-year-old boy to a doctor to get his ears examined, because it seemed to her he had difficulty in hearing. When, after a lengthy examination, no physical cause was found, the doctor put his hand on the boy's shoulder, looked him in the eye, and asked, ‘Son, do you have any trouble hearing?’ The little fellow quickly answered, ‘I don't have trouble hearing, Doctor. I just have trouble listening.’”
Man I can really relate to that little boy. Anyone who has ever been a kid – or anyone who has ever been the parent of one – knows firsthand the difference between hearing and listening. Sometimes my beloved wife Nancy tells me I don’t always listen. It’s not that I don’t hear what she is saying – but she’s right. I don’t always listen. I think that’s a common thing among us men. And ladies – sometimes it’s true for you too.
So it should come as no surprise that when Jesus starts his parable today the first thing he says to the crowd is one word. “Listen!” It’s like he had to get their attention first. So today – I hope you’ll not only hear, but you’ll listen to this message. SO listen!
And please understand that the parables of Jesus are not meant to mean whatever we think they ought to mean. No. Jesus tells these stories so that we can be transformed. Jesus is into transformation – in other words – the transformation of our hearts and our lives into all that God wants us to be. So Jesus tells stories – he tells parables – not only so that we can ask questions about them, but far, far more importantly – so that the parables can ask questions of us.
Now, many of us are familiar with this parable, The Parable of The Sower. But this parable is not just a parable about the sower. It’s also about the seed and the soil. Quite frankly, it’s about us. The sower is Jesus. The seed is the Word of God. And you and I are the soil. By the way – even though soil and dirt are the same thing, aren’t you glad I didn’t say, “You guys are dirt.” No – we’re soil. It sounds so much better. And what really sounds better is when you and I can be described as being “good soil.”
So in this parable we learn that people can be of four different kinds of soil. Hard soil – where nothing gets in. Rocky soil and soil full of thorns or weeds – but the seed planted there has no depth of soil and eventually the rocks and thorns choke the young plants. Or there is good soil. And the good soil – the soil with depth – is where the seed – or in our case, the Word of God – takes root and flourishes. It grows – it multiplies – it produces fruit – it produces more seeds.
And this is where I want to park today. This is what the parable is asking of us. It’s telling us that we can and we do make choices about what kind of soil we want to be. We can harden our hearts to God’s Word. We can listen and accept only those things that we agree with. We can allow the cares and riches of this world to choke things out. Or we can allow the Word of God to take root and produce the kinds of fruit that God is looking for in our lives.
When it comes to the Word of God – especially as it relates to this parable – two things are going on.
First – you and I are recipients of the seed – the Word of God. What happens to that Word of God that is planted in our hearts? Will it grow or die? Will it shrivel up or thrive?
Second – when the seed of the Word of God falls onto hearts that are good soil – when we gladly hear and learn it – something good is going to happen. Jesus says it will bear fruit in our lives – 30 times over – 60 times over – even 100 times over. So not only does a seed planted in good soil bear fruit – but fruit then does what? The fruit bears more seed!
Folks – do you know what that means? It means we are in many ways nothing more than seed planters ourselves. That’s what we are. And don’t for one minute ever underestimate the power of just one seed.
For instance, “Fred Craddock tells a story about the time he got a phone call from a woman whose father had died. She had been a teenager in one of the churches he had served as pastor twenty years before, and he would have sworn that if there was ever a person who never heard a word he said, that teenage girl was it. She was always giggling with her friends in the balcony, passing notes to boys, drawing pictures on the bulletin. But when her father died, she looked up her old pastor, the Rev. Fred Craddock, and gave him a call. ‘I don't know if you remember me,’ she started. Oh, yes, he remembered. ‘When my daddy died, I thought I was going to come apart,’ she continued. ‘I cried and cried and cried. I didn't know what to do. But then I remembered something you said in one of your sermons . . .’”
And Fred Craddock was stunned. She had remembered something he had said in one of his sermons?! This woman who, when she was a teenager, never paid attention! It was proof enough to him that you can never tell how the seed will fall or where it might take root.”
Folks, may I suggest to you that sowing seeds is never a waste of time? You – you might never know – or perhaps not know right away – it might even be 20 or more years from now before you find out. But planting seeds is never a waste of time. A smile here. A friendly touch there. A word of encouragement. A word of thanksgiving. A helping hand. A word about Jesus. A teaching moment to speak about the loving kindness of our Father in heaven. A word of grace and forgiveness – demonstrated – demonstrated as well as spoken.
These are seeds. These are the seeds that you and I plant. Whether as moms or dads when we talk about the things of God at home – around the dinner table – before the youngest child in the family goes to bed at night. As a Sunday School teacher or an usher or a small group leader – or any responsible adult who welcomes a child – or a stranger – into this place. You are planting seeds.
Some of you know that I love to tell the story of something that happened to me a long time ago. I had been here at Zion just a few years. One day I was shopping at Tops, just picking up a few items. And I was in a hurry. I don’t even remember why I was in such a hurry. But I was in a hurry. I stepped into one of the checkout lanes where a young lady was busy with customers in front of me.
She was slow. Maybe it was because I was in a hurry that she seemed so slow, but for whatever reason, I must have been in a foul mood. When it finally came time for me to check out the few items that I had, I was ready to give that young lady a piece of my mind. And I am not proud of that. Not just wanting to complain to her about being so slow, but with an attitude that might have led me to say something that I ordinarily would never say.
Thankfully – thank God – before I had a chance to open my mouth – this young lady spoke first. And she said, “You’re Pastor Milleville aren’t you!” Let me tell you, my attitude changed just like that. And I smiled broadly, and said, “Why yes. How did you know?” And she said, “I was at your church this past Sunday with my friend Amanda.”
Can you imagine the damage I had done if I had given that young lady a piece of my mind – pieces by the way – which I can no longer afford to lose!
When it comes to planting seeds – not only should the seeds we be sowing come from God’s Word – you know – love God, love your neighbor – but we need to be careful not to be planting bad seeds. Seeds that will grow nothing but weeds.
When it comes to sowing seeds –let us be sure that the seeds we sow are good seeds. And here’s why. It’s because sowing seeds – sowing good seeds – is never a waste of time. You just never know what kind of soil will be receiving those seeds you will be planting.
Let me share a reflection by a man whose name is Johnny Dean, and then I’ll sit down.
“One summer, for some reason I have yet to discover, I volunteered to be a summer camp counselor and resident musician for a group of 23 pre-teenagers. It was a trying time, that loooong week, but we all made it through somehow without maiming or killing anyone.
“On departure day, the vast majority of the campers were crying, sad to be leaving camp. I take that as a sign that they at least had a good time. But just so you will know that every great once in a while, we ARE accorded the rare privilege of seeing the seeds beginning to sprout, let me share this with you.
“On the last day of camp, I went around to several of the campers and asked them, since I was music director for the week, which songs they had gotten the most enjoyment out of singing. I expected their choices to be the rowdy, lively songs we had sung, like "Pharaoh, Pharaoh," or "Rise and Shine," or "Do Lord." But the song most of the campers I asked said they would remember most from camp was a little praise chorus I had taught them, "Lord, You Are." Do you know it? It's a quiet, beautiful hymn of praise.
“Lord, you are more precious than silver;
Lord, you are more costly than gold.
Lord, you are more beautiful than diamonds.
Nothing I desire compares to you.”
And then Johnny Dean goes on to say, “Now, you can call me a dreamer, or call me a cockeyed optimist. You can say I was grabbing at straws, trying desperately to see something positive coming from that difficult week. But I think I saw a few sprouts that day. Will they grow? God only knows. But what joy there was in the sowing!”
Folks, it seems to me that that’s what Jesus is saying. We who have been – and still are receptive to God’s Word – we’ve seen the difference that it makes in our lives – now find ourselves as seed sowers. Sowing the word of God somehow someway. And we don’t need to worry about the results. That’s in God’s hands.
We just need to remember that we are good seed sowers. And that sowing seeds – sowing good seeds – is never a waste of time. Amen