Jesus’ Summer Reading List: The Story of the Sower



A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

Jesus’ Summer Reading List: The Story of the Sower

Mark 4:1-20

June 3, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.


When the staff was discussing our summer themes for preaching, somehow our thoughts turned to what many of you do in the summer… you like to read a good story. You take a good book to the beach or the mountains. Everyone loves a good story.


Apparently, Jesus did as well. He told many stories… short stories, called parables. According to one count, 37 different short stories.


Some famous—the prodigal son… the good Samaritan… others obscure…the parable of the two debtors. Jesus used stories to convey the truth of the gospel. He created his stories from the experiences of everyday people… story of a woman looking for a lost coin… people on the road traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho… or even the story today… story of a someone sowing seed… like people did all the time. Like many of you have done this spring.


He was a great story teller… and you might think he told stories that were simply entertaining… that the reason crowds gathered around him is the same reason many of us gathered for years to hear Garrison Keillor tell the stories from a fictitious community Lake Wobegon


You know, “Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and (let the congregation complete) all the children are above average.”


Who doesn’t like a good story?  Jesus loved them… and used them to convey a truth that was funny, provocative and sometimes hard to understand. I trust you know that many of his stories were funny, don’t you? I mean, you know Jesus had a sense of humor.


Take our story today for example. I can hear his crowd chuckle when he tells them that a sower went out to spread the seed… and he just spread it everywhere… everywhere… on the road (where the birds would eat it up)… on the rocky ground…everyone knows  not much will grow there… among the thorns where the weeds choke out the seed… then the rest on good soil.


Imagine me seeing you sow seed on the driveway or telling you to sow seed on the pinestraw in your yard.  What a stupid thing to do! You might laugh! I mean, 75% of the seed that you paid good money for is wasted… only 25% produced anything.


You have to laugh at the foolishness of the sower… which is how we know God’s ways are not our ways. God just throws seeds everywhere in this world knowing some will take root and others will not.


His stories made people laugh.


They also made some people mad. Angry… angry enough to have him killed. Not everyone laughed or got the joke..


In the story today, I think Jesus has in mind how his message has been received or not! Jesus has been spreading the word of God… he says the word is sown and not everyone responds. About 25% of the population receive it with joy, but the others are not willing or able to hear what Jesus has to say. (Sort of confirms the old 20-80 rule doesn’t it… 20 percent of the people produce 80 percent of the work)


There are the Pharisees and religious leaders who are like hardened ground… they have life and faith all figured out… they are clear about the law of God… they are not open to hearing Jesus out. They are angered by what Jesus says. Closed minded ideologues we would call them today. Fundamentalists who are both conservatives and liberals. They are not open to hearing anything that changes their worldviews.


Then there are the crowds who followed Jesus… oh, how they loved hearing Jesus preached about love and grace… they loved his word on forgiveness and loving the sinner… they love him when he fed and healed them… but when he starts talking about what it costs to really follow him and become his disciple… then the crowds fall away… The excitement dies when cost is involved. Jesus saw that happen.


Then there are those who are trying their best to listen and follow… but their lives are so full and busy and full of worry and anxiety… their dreams of being healthy, wealthy and wise  and  all of that activity and worry sort of crowds out the message of Jesus like weeds choking a garden if left unattended.


Jesus saw people who wanted to follow him… but life got in the way. As Peterson says, “the stress strangles what they heard, and nothing comes of it”


Then there were the 25% who actually listened and followed…it is the seed planted in the good earth that represents those “who hear the Word, embrace it and produce a harvest beyond their wildest dreams” (Peterson)


Depending on where you put yourself in that story… it can be a story that sort of makes you feel guilty.  I mean, and please tell me I am not alone… but I can think of times in my life when I have not been open to listening to the word or wisdom of Jesus… I mean all of that talk about loving your enemies… all of those beatitudes… I like nursing my grudges, thank you very much!


I know of times when I have tuned Jesus out because I didn’t like what Jesus had to say…  his message did not fit nicely into my theology, politics or ideology. Sometimes the words I hear from MSNBC, Fox and talk radio sort of drown Jesus out. Please tell me I’m not the only one here.


And yes, I remember growing up and wanting to follow Jesus because I thought following Jesus would make me healthy, wealthy and wise… maybe Jesus would help my team win if I prayed to him (not thinking that there were Christians on the other team also praying…) I thought following Jesus would be a way to help me get ahead in this world. Some people still think that. They call it the prosperity gospel. Joel Osteen for example.


The preachers of that prosperity gospel tell you, “follow Jesus and you will prosper. You will become healthy, wealthy and wise!”But when it turns out not to be that simple- cancer comes to you or someone you love… or you lose your job… then it becomes a crisis of faith. Many give up on Jesus and the church. They become disillusioned with the church and with God. I mean, if God can’t deliver on my dreams, what is the point?


Fortunately I had mentors in the church who helped me grow up and learn there was more to faith than that. I wonder I you went through that stage in your faith development…


Then there are times… far too many times when the stresses, strains and worries of life sort of choke at the word. It’s not that we do not try… we read the Bible and pray when we can make the time… worship and faith development are important to us… but it is so hard to fit into the soccer or music or work or school schedule.

Our worship and faith sort of get crowded out in the calendar.


Time for prayer, study of the Word, and devotional life take a back seat… and then when the crisis hits, we are surprised when our relationship with God is not as strong as we thought. Oh, this story can make you feel guilty if depending on where you put yourself in the story…


But, here is the thing.  I don’t think Jesus was telling the story to pile on a load of guilt on us… that is not his way.  I think he was trying to teach some basic lessons to the disciples and to encourage them.


Lesson one: the church is not to be like a careful farmer who only plants seed in the place you think it will grow. Those who follow Jesus are to take the seed in their hands and toss it anywhere and everywhere it will grow. The truth is you and I don’t know where the good soil is or the bad soil. Only God knows. In fact, I’ve seen grass sprout in the middle of my driveway. How does that happen?!


Fred Craddock interpreted the parable and says that we learn never to give up on anybody. Why? Because we never know- we just never know- where or when that tiny little seed will begin to grow in someone’s heart and soul. He also says we need to give up on the notion that the harvest of the seed is up to us. “I get a little weary” he admits, “of people, good-hearted, good-spirit people , who,  on behalf of their churches worry you to death. Just plant the seed. It is God’s seed, and the seed carries its future within it. It is the seed, and it will grow. Just plant it. Be prodigal in planting; cast it anywhere and everywhere, no fences. Trust the seed, the gracious God (who spreads it)


One of the great things I love about the Kirk is how willing we are to cast the seed wide around here. Most of the things we love are because someone cast the seed wide. Sometimes take root. Sometimes not.


I’ve watched Jordan work with developing ministries with young adults. It’s kind of interesting. She’s been casting some seeds out there. I wonder which ones will fall on good soil and grow. So is she!


When I first came here, I would park my car up in the upper parking lot. People had told me that Cary is full of middle class and wealthy people. And we are. No one told me we had Latino neighbors within a mile of the church. But no one had to tell me… I said hello to them as they were dressed in their McDonald’s and Wendy’s uniforms on the way to work. Our neighbors were walking through our church. Little did I know this would blossom years later into a vibrant neighborhood ministry – Food, Fun and Fellowship. Oh how that has grown.


But it did because there was Stephanie… but not Stephanie alone… but many of you casting the seeds. Not knowing what would happen… but by God’s grace we have seen a harvest beyond our dreams. The Kirk is that kind of place.


The reason we are that kind of place is that there are people in this church who are like the good soil… they have been listening to Jesus… the stories of Jesus… they have been paying attention to the world around us… and they have decided to follow Jesus and trust in his word… every ministry we love started with seed being sown.

I know the reason we are that kind of place, it is because so many of you are people of prayer, of devotion and a growing faith whose deepest desire is not to ask God what God can do for me, but to wake up every day and pray to God, “God, what do you need me to do for you today? How can I help bring your kingdom a little closer to earth?”  If you want to know what good soil looks like, it looks like that. People who hear the word, embrace it and allow it to transform them.


To our graduates, I say this: the story Jesus tells is a story that is not only good advice… I think it reveals a truth about life. It is a law like the law of gravity… it is true whether you believe it or not.


And this is the truth Jesus wants us all to know… if we want to enjoy an amazing life that is exciting beyond our wildest dreams… if you want to live a life that can make a real difference in the lives of others… then listen to Jesus… listen to his stories… they can change your life.


My prayer for you and for all of us is that we can offer God the good soil that produces abundantly. This prayer is expressed well in a song we will sing… and I leave it with you as my prayer for today:


Lord, let my heart be good soil,
open to the seed of your Word.
Lord, let my heart be good soil,
where love can grow and peace is understood.
When my heart is hard,
break the stone away.
When my heart is cold,
warm it with the day.
When my heart is lost,
lead me on your way.
Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart,
Lord, let my heart be good soil.