Sermon 1706 Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23 July 26, 2020
My youngest son is into sustainability. He believes it is a better use of water to grow pretty things that are also edible. Ornamental orange trees? No. Tasty Navel Orange trees? You bet! It makes complete sense for his city of Tucson, the first one to get the water turned off from the Central Arizona Project once the Colorado River gets too low. No wonder Tucson has led the nation in being water smart.
Sustainable. That’s good, unless it produces yields unable to meet demand. Bumper crops. That’s good, unless you can’t sustain it without methods harmful to the environment. How to get sustainable bumper crops? That’s the question.
At least when it comes to the harvest of believers, Jesus has the answer.
Sustainable Bumper Crops
God provides the good soil.
Spread the seed.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants (3-7).”
Not a cheery picture. The poor farmer! Three strikes and you are out! It certainly mirrors the story line for agriculture. Always losing money. “The weather was so bad the crops were few. The weather was too good so the surpluses pushed down the prices. Don’t know how I can make it until next year!” Not until I came to Las Vegas did I find a bunch who could lament more loudly than the farmers—the casino owners! “We lose money at every step of the way, inexpensive buffets, free drinks, comped rooms, the payouts—thank goodness we make it up on volume!”
Jesus is not a complainer. He’s stating the facts. That’s the way it goes. You have to spread the seed. Some will fall on ground that is not great for crops, but you can’t concern yourself with that. God provides the good soil.
“Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears to hear, let him hear (8-9).”
God provides the good soil. Now we see why the farmer was so unconcerned about the seed wasted on the path, the rocky soil or the soil infested with weeds. He was going to get a bumper crop from the good soil God provided! Let’s say 75% of the seed was wasted on bad soil. But from the 25% that hit pay-dirt, he was going to get a 3,000, 6,000, or even a 10,000% return! Factoring in an initial 75% loss, you still are getting a 750, 1500 or 2500% return. What casino offers those odds? What bank promises that on your savings account? God provides the good soil.
That’s a bumper crop. Remember, the crop Jesus is talking about is not corn or soybeans. He is talking about souls saved, people who will live forever with God in heaven. And it does not demand superhuman efforts on the part of the farmer. He throws the seed around as he has done year after year after year. The seed grows, it matures and it bears a harvest. Easy, peasy.
It’s easy, peasy because God provides the good soil. Like farming, where there’s a lot going on underground, there’s a lot going on behind Jesus’ words. His disciples scratch their heads and ask for an explanation.
“When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because to the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown (19-23).”
The Holy Spirit creates faith. “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12.3).” The Holy Spirit creates faith through the Gospel. “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Some have no idea what the Gospel is saying. They don’t believe. The devil comes and makes sure they don’t spend too much time on it. Others do believe. The Gospel works, as God promised through the prophet Isaiah. “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55.11).” But they fall away. They stop believing. Troubled times come. People start shunning them because they are Christians. Time for a choice. Fast time friends or Jesus? Home or heaven? They pick the easy life of an unbeliever over the eternal life Jesus holds out. Still others believe the Gospel but there’s so many distractions, so many demands on their time, they lose sight of God in the shuffle. I think every one of us has been guilty of that. Saturday nights lasted way too long for us when we were at a certain age. Thank God he didn’t sleep in on us like we slept in on him so many Sunday mornings.
But the good soil. The good soil. What was the difference? Since Jesus doesn’t spend any time on how to get more good soil or how to improve the weedy or rocky soil, he is showing us it is out of our hands. God provides the good soil. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Wasn’t that the Old Testament reading for last week? God makes the soil good when he sends his Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith.
When we worry about our soul’s salvation, look to God the Holy Spirit. God provides the good soil. Trust him to keep us faithful as he keeps us close to the life-giving Gospel. That’s the thirty, sixty, one hundred times sustainable bumper crop which brings forth a harvest all through our lives, from youth to a certain age. That’s the sustainable bumper crop of eternal life in heaven. God provides the good soil.
We’ve covered the sustainable part. Let’s move on to the bumper crops part.
We don’t have to worry about the soil. No need to worry about the sunshine. Since there’s absolutely nothing that farmer can do about how much rain is going to fall on his growing crop, what is there left for us to do?
We might scratch our heads like the disciples if we think too deeply. Lots of people have thinked thunked kerplunked too deeply and found themselves in over their heads. They have turned Jesus’ words into an autopsy on unbelief. They have made models predicting what types of people are receptive to the Gospel. They have even patted themselves on the back for being the good soil. The devil goes to church, too. Perhaps church is one of his most productive fields.
What did Jesus say? “A farmer went out to sow his seed.” That’s how it starts. It is so simple. No wonder it was so easy to overlook. It is so simple. I have learned from bitter experience you keep it simple. If it isn’t simple, people can misunderstand. Even if it is simple there might be some need for clarification.
What’s left for us to do? Spread the seed. That’s how to get bumper crops! And remember, the seed is the Word of God, the Gospel. Spread the Gospel. It makes all the difference in the world.
At one time our congregation was a lot bigger. We had 530 communicant members and 230 children for 760 in all. That year we received 66 new members, more than one a week. We had sixteen who became members through adult baptism or adult confirmation. We currently stand at 395 communicant members and 98 children, 493 in all, with five adults confirmed. That’s down thirty over the past year, much of it before the current health crisis engulfed us. What happened?
Oh, there was a recession--The Great Recession, they called it. Then there was this COVID business. Certainly our town grew up. We raised a whole generation of Christians and saw them move out of town. Another generation was promoted to heaven. A lot more churches moved in. I know. I know that. I was here through it all. Green Valley and Henderson are not the same as they were. But something else happened. Did people out there stop seeing us as a group that spread the Gospel? Did they start seeing us as a nice, contented, little group who were more into sustainability? Did we give the impression the Jesus who was preached here was for us and that was about it?
It can happen. And it’s no fault of ours, maybe. Just three weeks ago a young man, a first-timer, was approaching the church. I was outside. “Can I help you?” “Yes, I am looking for a church to hear the Word. Is this a church?” “Yes!” I exclaimed. “We are a church! Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church.” “Is that, like, Catholic?” “No, we aren’t Roman Catholic. In fact we were the first ones successfully kicked out of the Roman Catholic Church. You will hear the Word here.” He came in. He sat down. When I got up to preach the sermon he had already left. I never had a chance. He felt we didn’t have the Word, as he defined it. That’s not on us. We tried. And with social distancing it is hard to convey a warm welcome.
But that is one person. We are talking fourteen years! We are talking 267 souls, 135 adults. That’s a lot of misunderstanding!
Even if that is not on us, we want to go the extra mile to make sure people know we are here for them. Spread the seed. That’s what Jesus is telling us. In many ways, that might be the only reason Jesus leaves his people here on earth—to spread the seed of the Gospel in what they say and do.
I know you have been living the Christian life. Your deeds show through. Your families display the Christian love, sacrifice and guidance you have been providing, not only to the children, but to each other as we spur one another on to faith and good deeds by our church attendance and membership. I have seen that faith stand up strong in the face of death itself as husbands or children care for a dying mother or wife until the day Jesus decides the only place they can get better care is in heaven.
I also know in a town that jealously guards its privacy, the door-to-door stuff is not well received. President Trump or Joe Biden themselves could come into town, knock on doors and call us by name. Nobody would be happy to see either of them on their doorstep and everybody would be wondering, “How did they get my name?”
So how can we spread the seed? How can we spread the Gospel?
Maybe it isn’t that difficult. Maybe we can simply invite a relative to watch the online worship with us. Or we could invite them to come to church with us. I still think church is better in person, just as I have always thought dining in is better than take out, concerts are better than recordings and sports in the stadium are better than on television. Maybe we can send them a link from the church website. “Hey! I found this uplifting!” We certainly forward enough cats-on-the-piano videos. We can talk about how Jesus is helping us get through this pandemic when we have a friend or relative on the phone who is not doing very well and one of the reasons they are not doing very well is that they think this life is all there is and they are terrified of losing it.
I can’t say this way or that way is the way to spread the seed. I know the more fish hooks you have in the water, the more fish you catch. But there are lots of fish hooks in the water, because we all are fishers of men. We all are farmers going out to sow the seed. Don’t be stingy with the seed.
Sustainable Bumper Crops
God provides the good soil.
Spread the seed.
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.