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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
I have never seen a “hit parade” of the most popular Sunday school stories. If there were one, the parable of the sower would be main contender for the number one slot.
If you went to Sunday school when you were little, you probably remember acting out this story. It was great fun as a 6-year-old pretending to be one of the birds coming to eat the seed that was scattered on the soil. It felt very mischievous to be throttling your mates, as you pretended to be one of the weeds which choked the good seed.
These memories, though, can lull us into a false sense of security. When we hear the parable of the sower, so many childhood memories come flooding back. We remember, once more, as little children being utterly rapt in the story of the sower, seed and soil.
If the parable of the sower, though, stays safely shut away as “kids’ stuff”, we are missing the point.
Jesus told this as an adult story, to an adult audience. It had an adult meaning. A meaning of sedition, secrecy and hidden codes.
Back then, it was political dynamite to talk about God’s kingdom. This was a time when there was only one kingdom that mattered. The Roman Empire. It controlled everything and everyone. To think that God even had a kingdom, let alone that it meant anything, would get you marked down as a nutter or an extremist, or both. The consequences were serious for anyone caught peddling such seditious nonsense.
Jesus came with a message that God’s kingdom was the only one that mattered, because God is the only king who matters. Preach that too openly and you wouldn’t last long.
Jesus’ solution? Put it in code. A code which would make you seem, to the outside world, like a very good but totally harmless teller of funny stories.
We are about to start cracking the code. We have been given a flying start, because Jesus himself was asked to decode this story of the sower (Mark 4:3-9). The code is laid open to us in Mark 4:10-20. We are about to start looking inside the hidden secret of the message which turned everything upside down. And still does.
If Jesus’ message hasn’t yet started to turn your life upside down, inside out, then you haven’t understood it. This parable, the first one Mark gives us, tells us how to receive Jesus’ teaching. Do this right and life will never be quite the same again …
First of all, let me ask you a question. What is the title of this parable? “The parable of the sower”? It is in England, but in Germany they call it “the parable of the four soils”. We are going to focus on the soils today.
Before we crack the code, the parable seems like an ancient Gardeners’ World lesson on soil quality.
Crack the code and it all comes much closer to home. You are the soil. The seed is “the word” – God’s message to you. It’s what is coming into your life every time you read one of these reflections, read the Bible or hear it explained.
A good harvest (the end result of hearing the message well) makes you fed, full … and rich, once you get to selling your crop. This word, coming to you, can do the same for you. Becoming “I just won the lottery” rich would turn your life upside down. This word brings rich treasures to you, which will also turn your life upside down.
This only happens, though, in soil which is good. Are you good soil for this seed? Let’s find out… we’ll think about what is happening as you read these reflections.
Seed which lands on the path has nothing to grow in. It stays on the surface, until it gets eaten by birds. Some people hear the word, but they don’t absorb it. It stays on the surface until Satan comes and takes it away. You might read these reflections but without pondering them and taking them to heart. You do not take the message inside you. The seed will get taken away, without doing you any good at all.
Then there is the seed which falls on the rocks. It grows for a bit, but has no root. It gets scorched and dies, because it can’t suck up water and nutrition. You read these reflections. To some extent you take the message to heart and it makes you happy. The happiness, though, doesn’t last through hard times. Why? The message has gone inside, but you haven’t taken it in deep. You take it in deep by pondering it, letting it affect what you think and what you do. Then your happiness will stand firm, even in hard times.
Then there is the seed which lands among the thorns and thistles. It gets choked out. Thorns and thistles are the distractions of life. Going to work, hobbies, earning enough for the latest “must have”, or spending your time enjoying it, for instance… no harm in this by itself. But you can get so distracted by “stuff” and “cares”, that you don’t find time to ponder the message of these reflections deeply. You have something which is growing by way of faith and that seems enough. If you don’t get your priorities right, then what you do have will get choked out by the competition. The “stuff” and “cares” of routine life, all around you.
Then there is the good soil. Those who don’t just hear the word, but “delight” in it. (That’s what the Greek word translated “accept” literally means.) The message you receive as you read these reflections is something you cherish. You keep on going back to it. You know it has the power to change your life and the way you are with God. You are thrilled it can do this and you ask God to make it happen.
Are you the good soil? If so, you are set for a bumper harvest. One that will bring you true treasure.