Sermon: The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-34)

Sisters and brothers today in our gospel reading we have the mother of all parables. Today’s parable is probably the most widely known, I would bet that most people here could probably recite, at least part it, from memory.

So, to recap, there is a sower that has see fall on four different types of soil. The common understanding, from what I can tell, is that the sower is supposed to be God, the seed is supposed to be faith, and the soil is supposed to be humanity. Are we all on the same page here?

Sower, God. Seeds, faith. Soil, us.

4 Types of Soil

First, there are seeds that fall along the path. Poor seeds never had a chance. Compact dirt that people are constantly walking on doesn’t even make the see have a chance to make into the ground. Even if they did make it into the ground, that dirt is not good for growing anything. Birds quickly came and ate them up.

Some might describe this as people who are hard hearted to the gospel. Faith, the seed, has nothing to hold on to. The Faith has no soil, no community, nothing to help cultivate it.

That is the problem with the path, it get’s trampled by others. It doesn’t even have a chance. I’ve known some people who didn’t have a chance. I’ve known people who were like the path were the seed fell and birds came and quickly ate it up. Jesus says that with this kind of soil Satan comes and snatches it away.

The second one, the second place that the seed falls is on rocky ground. It at least has the opportunity to grow. It at least knows what the soil feel like, even though it’s shallow. This is like a flower growing in the crack on the cement. This is a plant springing forth from cracks in the rocks. They can grow, but, inevitably, they are doomed. The plant grows a little bit, but eventually it hits the rock and can’t grow anymore. The crop can only get so far. Jesus says that these are the people who initially receive the gospel with joy, but when bad stuff comes along, well, their faith quickly whither and dies. I’ve known people who have been like this type of soil.

Well, we move onto the third soil. It looks good, but you don’t know it’s bad because it has had thorns sown with it. It looks like good soils and yet it’s not. The plant grows and blooms and eventually moves forward, but the thorns grow too. The thorns slowly begin to choke the life out of the crops that the sower scattered. Eventually the crop dies because the thorns have killed them. Jesus says that these are the people who care too much what the “world” can offer, allure of wealth desire for stuff. It can chokes the life out of them. I have definitely known people like this soil.

But then, we get to the fourth! The fourth is the good soil, and it produces more than could ever be imagined. It produces more than expected; 30, 60 100 times more than expected. This type of soil produces so much crop that it seems to make up for all the soil that didn’t produce. Interesting.

Thoughts on the Soil

When I reflect on the different types of soil, I think that I’ve known people who were all types. I have known people who were both bad and good soil. I have known folks who were no ready for the gospel or just had other things going on. The reason I know this, is because I have been each type of soil. In my life I can see moments where I can identify myself with each soil Jesus is describing.

It seems to me that the soil is the problem here folks, not the seed, not the sower, but the soil. So, what can be done about the soil. What is the prescription for making the soil better? Well, if you look at the scripture today, it’s not more seed and it’s not more of the sower sowing. No, actually, in this parable, it seems to only give a description of the soil, not a prescription for becoming better soil. Let me say that again. This parable gives a description of the soil, not a prescription for becoming better soil. I am unable to give you a prescription for becoming better soil. I can’t give you any ways that you cannot be like the path, the rocky ground, or the thorny ground, because the parable doesn’t give any advice on how to do it.

It makes me think, since we are not given a prescription for becoming better soil, maybe this parable is not about the soil at all? Maybe in describing the soil, it’s only mean to be a description of our reality? Let me say this again. Maybe the focal point of this parable is not the soil.

The Sower

 If it’s not about the soil than maybe it’s actually a parable about the sower. I didn’t grow up on a farm and have only been to a couple in my life. Farmers know their land intimately. They know what good soil and what bad soil look like. They know when to plant and when to harvest. They have the rhythms of the season down.

But honestly, the sower in this parable seems to be a little off. The sower sows seed everywhere. I can’t imagine any good farmer going out and just scattering seed haphazardly on everything that the farmer sees. I can’t image a good farmer scattering seeds on a path, or in rocky ground, or even among thorns. It’s the farmer’s business to scatter the see where it will grow.

But, really, that’s not this farmer. The farmer is so extravagant, so reckless, so foolish, as to scatter the seed everywhere. Even in places where he knows it won’t grow. He doesn’t judge the ground. He doesn’t decide if it’s useful, he just scatters the seed. He doesn’t see if the ground is worthy. He just does it.

And that, my friends, is what God is like. God loves humanity so much, all of humanity so much, that he did not send his only son to die for a few, but for all. God is so foolish as imagine that God would sow seed where it would never grow and because God loves us so much, God sows it anyway. That is grace. That is unmerited favor. And to us it looks reckless and foolish and we can’t totally understand that kind of grace. But, there it is.

I believe the sower is the point of this parable. The sower is the one we have to look at. We could spend the rest of our lives meditating and being grateful for the extravagant love that the sower has for us. We could spend the rest of our lives trying to comprehend what God’s grace is to all of humanity. The kind of love that God has for us frees from having to judge others. We are free from putting ourselves in the position of God, determining who is a good and faithful Christian and who is not.

Sisters and brothers we spend so much time judging the soil. We spend so much time judging other people and why they are the way they are. We love to talk about the soil. We love to think that we are the good soil and everyone else is something else. This actually is not the way of Jesus. Luther wrote in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” We can’t judge soils friends.

Maybe the world needs a God who is so caught up in scattering seeds of faith that it almost looks foolish. Maybe what the world needs is a God who is so extravagant in God’s love for us that this God would do something so foolish as to die for us. I Corinthians says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.” Maybe what we need is a little less judgment and a little more grace.

Brothers and sister you are free. You are free to love yourselves and others. You are free to look to the sower who sows liberally, who sows generously, who sows foolishly. Be of good cheer, God has overcome the world with God’s grace through Jesus Christ. There is nothing that you can do about it. Amen.



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