Reaping What You Sow
with Rev. Alex Lang
February 21, 2021
In the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us that it’s the rare person who will become his follower. And yet, 30% of the world population identifies as Christian. This Sunday we will examine the conflict between Jesus’ expectations and our modern lifestyle.
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
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Last Wednesday, we entered into the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. If you didn’t get a chance, I would highly recommend going back and listening to Ken Hockenberry’s sermon. Ash Wednesday is a time where we contemplate the impermanent nature of life. I doubt there has ever been a time in recent history where all of us have been simultaneously aware of just how fragile life can be. This moment of reflection is what readies us to draw closer to Jesus over the next 40 days as he walks towards his death and resurrection.
Something I mention every year, which I think is so critical to appreciating the point of the Lenten journey, is that are you are not a casual observer of Jesus’ actions during Lent. You are not a passive participant, watching him undertake this arduous journey by himself. His goal should be your goal. The hope of Lent every year is that you too will experience a rebirth; that a part of you that is selfish, hurtful and not grounded in the gospel dies off and becomes remade in the image of Jesus.
One way we can achieve this is by getting into Jesus’ mindset to understand what he was thinking. During Jesus’ ministry, he was famous for telling stories. He used stories as a way to draw people in so they would listen to his message. The most common type of story Jesus told is known as a parable, a story that is told with the explicit purpose of illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson.
The parables Jesus told were almost always fictional and he rarely provided any further explanation to his audience beyond the parable itself. The beauty of parables is that, if they are told well, they convey deep truths to the hearer. The goal of this series titled Parables of Jesus will be to learn more about Jesus’ intentions for our lives by drawing on the lessons derived from his parables and to pose the question: how are these parables asking us to live differently both internally (spiritually) and externally (through our actions).
Ken began this series on Wednesday by talking about the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The point of Jesus’ parable is that those of us who own our mistakes and admit how we’ve wronged other people are those who are on the path to healing. One of the most fundamental aspects of being a Christian is coming to terms with how your faults and flaws have harmed yourself and others. Once you have a sense of how your actions impact the world, you can begin correcting them.
This is where the hard work begins. Changing your thinking and behavior is never easy. It requires concerted effort and choosing a path that will lead to success. Jesus offers us a path to change through the gospel message. The question we are going to examine today, and which is mentioned in the parable, is why the path to success offered by the gospel is rejected by the vast majority of people who encounter it.
The parable of the sower is one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. So let’s recap the parable real fast so we’re all on the same page. There’s a man who’s traveling out into a field to plant seeds. This man is peculiar because doesn’t wait until he gets to the field to begin planting the seed he is carrying. Instead, as he walks along the path toward the field, he indiscriminately begins tossing out seed.
Some of that seed lands on the path where the man is walking. The path is packed down and hard from years of people travelling on it, so the seed sits on the surface, exposed to the birds who will eat it for food. Some of the seed falls onto rocky soil preventing the roots from growing deep enough for the plant to weather the elements. Some of it falls among thistles and thorns, which choke the life out of the plant as it grows. And finally, some of the seed falls on good soil, yielding a lot of produce.
Now, in a lot of Jesus’ parables, we are never told exactly what the parable means. But in this parable, Jesus tells us exactly what it means so there’s not a lot of guess work involved about what the correct interpretation is supposed to be. The first thing Jesus tells us is that the seed represents the word. The ‘word’ is a term that was used among early Christians when referring to Jesus’ message. Therefore, the sower is any person trying to spread Jesus’ message, which means that the soil in this parable represents a person’s heart and how receptive they are to hearing Jesus’ message.
Some people’s hearts are hard like the path, so Jesus’ message does not penetrate. Some people’s hearts are like the rocky soil. They hear Jesus’ message and it sticks for a time, but if they endure any difficulty or persecution as a result of Jesus’ message, they abandon it. But then some people’s hearts are entangled in thorns. The soil in which Jesus’ message is planted is good, but life gets in the way. They have too much to do to really pay attention to living out Jesus’ message. They’re too focused on making a living and providing for their family. Then, finally, there are the people who hear Jesus’ message and it becomes everything to them. They completely invest their lives in bringing Jesus’ message to fruition in the world.
What I find to be so interesting about this story is how we assume that the seed is all the same. We always assume that the sower is spreading good seed. But, remember that the sower represents any person spreading Jesus’ teachings. The problem is the way you portray Jesus teachings and the way I portray Jesus’ teachings can be two very different things. So even though you and I are both sowers, we can be spreading very different kinds of seed for Jesus by preaching very different kinds of gospels.
The truth is that Jesus’ message is a hard message. It requires enormous sacrifice. Jesus asks us not just to give of our material wealth or our time to help those in need. Jesus asks us to rearrange our entire lives: to make his priorities our priorities; to think the way he thinks; to act the way he acts; to suffer the way he suffers. When you are a disciple of Jesus, you give up the autonomy to live life on your terms.
This is why in the parable of the sower there are so few people who actually end up embracing the gospel. Out of the four examples, most people simply fall away. This would make you think that the number of people who identify as Christians would be quite small, and yet, Christianity is the largest religion in the world with 2.4 billion adherents. Thirty percent of the world, almost 1 out of every 3 people on the planet are part of the Christian religion.
Clearly, something is not adding up. How can so many people identify as Christian and, at the same time, be sacrificing so little for their faith? The answer is in the seed, or more precisely, the type of gospel they follow. When you listen to the pastors who lead the most popular churches in the world, whose membership numbers in the tens of thousands, what you quickly discover is that their version of Jesus’ gospel sounds very different from what Jesus is saying in the New Testament.
So at a lot of these megachurches that broadcast their services on television, the core of their message is about how God wants you to be financially prosperous. God wants you to have a good job, a nice home, a fancy car—all the money and material possessions your heart desires. The way you get access to this prosperity is by having faith. The more faith you have, the more you believe and trust in God, the more you will be rewarded with riches.
Now, I have to admit, that’s a pretty good deal! Who wouldn’t want to be a Christian if that’s what you get in return? And it’s not like this idea isn’t found in the Bible. It certainly is. If you look at the Old Testament, this a very common theme. Those who are chosen by God are often materially wealthy. Just take Abraham as an example. Once God makes a covenant with Abraham, his flocks multiply, he marries a beautiful wife, he obtains lots of servants. Life is good because God favors Abraham due to his faith.
The same thing happens to the Abraham’s descendants when they enter into the Promised Land. God not only gives them the ability to conquer this amazing land and claim it as their own, but the Hebrew people become prosperous. Each tribe has access to resources that allow them to build beautiful homes, grow amazing food and benefit financially from controlling the trade routes in and out of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
And what we find throughout the Old Testament is that as long as you maintain faith and dedication to God, then God will continue to reward you. But the moment you turn away from God, the moment you have a lapse in your faith, then that is when God will punish you and strip you of your riches. When Babylon comes in and decimates Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the explanation Isaiah provides for why God allows Babylon to destroy their homes and ransack their wealth is because the inhabitants of Jerusalem were not faithful enough to God.
So there’s this equation: if you have faith, God will reward you. If you lack faith, God will take your rewards away. What’s interesting is that Jesus upends this thinking entirely. For Jesus, being one of his followers does not mean that you will get more riches and wealth, it means you will get less. Take a look at these scriptures: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Lk. 12:15) “Sell your possessions, and give alms…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Lk. 12:33-34) “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Lk. 14:33)
When you see these sayings of Jesus right next to each other, it becomes crystal clear that Jesus is very anti-materialistic. The accumulation of wealth and possessions is the exact opposite of what he wants his disciples to do. So when we’re talking about the parable of the sower and how so few people accept the gospel, it’s easy to understand why that’s the case. Jesus is asking you to give up everything to follow him.
But that’s not what we do as Christians today. We all live in homes. We all have lots of possessions. We’re not selling everything we have and giving it to the poor. We are storing up treasures for ourselves all the time. We’re saving. We’re investing. We’re doing the exact opposite of what Jesus wants us to do. In our modern world, most of us don’t want to hear the difficulty of Jesus’ message because it would mean we would have to sacrifice too many of our comforts.
We live in a world that is driven by materialism. Capitalism propels itself forward by creating the consistent need for us to continually purchase more items. If we did what Jesus was talking about and gave away all of our wealth, the economy, as we know it, would collapse. That is why Jesus’ message has been dulled, muted or completely controverted by many pastors. It’s far easier to say that God wants you to be rich than to say you need to give away all of your possessions.
When you preach the gospel correctly, when you say the things that Jesus actually said, your congregation is going to shrink. It’s going to get smaller, not larger. Because it’s like the parable of the sower, there’s very few people who are willing to commit to that level of sacrifice. So if you come across a church that has 10s of thousands of members, I would be willing to wager they’re not preaching Jesus’ gospel. The gospel that they’re sowing is the seed of prosperity.
So the message of this parable is simple: You reap what you sow. If you sow a simple, easy, digestible gospel, then you end up with people who want a simple, easy and digestible faith. They want a faith that asks little of them and allows them to live in whatever fashion they choose unabated. Likewise, if you sow a challenging, hard and demanding gospel, then you will end up with people who are willing to make sacrifices for their faith because they know their faith asks much of them.
The question we must consider for ourselves is what kind of gospel do we want to sow at this church—one of accommodation or one of sacrifice? The gospel of accommodation certainly comes with benefits. There’s more people in the pews. More money for staffing and programs. More opportunities for fame and glory. The problem is that Jesus did not preach a message of accommodation.
So many people have this warped idea that Jesus never said anything to upset anyone. And yet, if you read the gospels, that’s most of what Jesus spent his time doing. He said things that made people angry. He was constantly pushing people outside of their comfort zone. He questioned their behaviors, theology and traditions. And eventually, he pushed people so hard that the establishment was looking for ways to shut him up.
If you haven’t noticed, I model my ministry after Jesus. The gospel that I choose to preach is one of sacrifice and I have known for a long time what the consequences of that will be. I know over time there will be less people in the pews. I know over time there will be less money in the coffers. I know over time my sermons are going to make me less popular because they make people feel uncomfortable. But I also know that I can look at myself in the mirror because I’m being true to Jesus’ message.
So you might be thinking, “Does this mean you’re going to ask me to sell everything I own so I can give the money to the poor?” No, but I am going to push you to do as much as you can to make a difference. It’s not easy being the good seed. It’s not easy doing what Jesus asked of us, but I believe in what Jesus teaches us through the parable of the sower.
I believe if you sow a challenging, hard and demanding gospel, then you will end up with a church full of people who are willing to make sacrifices for their faith. I have seen this happen with many of you already and I know even more of you are ready to step up—so let’s do this together and sacrifice for our faith so we can create the world that Jesus envisioned. Amen.