The question I have for each of us today is this: Are we an optimist, or are we a pessimist? Are we a glass half-empty person, or are we a glass half-full person?
Do we complain that rose bushes have thorns, or do we rejoice because thorns have roses? Do we see the storm clouds, or do you see the silver lining coming?
There are various activities and things in life that can show us whether we are either optimistic, or pessimistic. There are many things from life’s experiences that can pull this trait out. Perhaps, the thing that does this best is gardening.
The pessimist surely says, “Why plant anything if nothing results because birds, bunnies, insects, deer, weeds, creeping Charlie, blight, the hail, or bad weather can and truly ruin and kill what I’m trying to grow?! What is the point? Why take the risk and waste the time? Why expend the energy, spend money?”
The optimist, despite potential failure, plants. Why? Because there is a good possibility that both New Life, Good Food and Fresh Hope will eventually emerge from the untilled ground. A good farmer, or an avid gardener, lives in the confident hope of a rewarding harvest. Not every seed will produce, but enough effort will make it worth all the while. That is the parable of the Sower.
Today’s devotional looks at the hope and promise of sowing God’s Word. It deals with the failures, but also the joys that we can experience with this! It reaches back to Isaiah’s words and goes through Jesus’ parable of the sower.
Matthew 13:1-9 NASB
Jesus Teaches in Parables
13 On that day Jesus had gone out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach.
3 And He told them many things in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and they sprang up immediately, because they had no depth of soil. 6 But after the sun rose, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 Others fell [a]among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. 8 But others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty times as much. 9 The one who has ears, [b]let him hear.”
Word of God for the Children of God. In Excelsis Deo! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus compares sharing God’s Word to planting a field. He uses worldly realism that alert us to the potential failures, but He still calls us to faith and to action which leads us to potential success. He promises and teaches, that “If you are willing to work hard at it, to plant it, it will grow.” Our goal is to sow and grow in faith that produces the fruit of the Spirit, including the desire to be tillers of all types of ground, planters of the seed of God’s Word.
Except, we each have our own individually unique life experiences, whether we consider ourselves optimists or pessimists, what is it which will give us a secure and certain enough foundation to risk taking that very first step into the fields? We know what will move us forward without hesitation, but we all know what will give each and everyone of us the greatest rationales and reasons to pause. So, where can we place our confidence, our trust in the surety of our first step?
I suggest we all direct our faith unto the ancient words of God’s Prophet Isaiah;
Isaiah 55:10-13 New American Standard Bible
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it produce and sprout,
And providing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
11 So will My word be which goes out of My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the purpose for which I sent it.
12 For you will go out with joy
And be led in peace;
The mountains and the hills will break into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn bush, the juniper will come up,
And instead of the stinging nettle, the myrtle will come up;
And [a]it will be a [b]memorial to the Lord,
An everlasting sign which will not be eliminated.”
From Isaiah’s ancient text, we read Isaiah’s testimony, we witness the sure foundation and confidence for such a promise, “if you plant it, it will grow.”
God starts by using a simile to introduce His promise.
He says, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,”.
Before the rain and snow are taken back up into the sky (as mist), they achieve the purpose for which they are sent. God then makes His point and gives His promise. “…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
God’s living Word (Hebrews 4:12) will do the same! Whether we are either an optimist or a pessimist or perhaps somewhere in between, His living Word both accomplishes and will accomplish that task which God alone sends it out for!
It is an all-powerful word He sends forth! His Word spoke all of creation into existence. “Let there be…and there was….” This powerful word tears down and make alive, it strengthens, sustains, pardons, justifies, enlightens, and guides.
In Matthew, Jesus’ word brings people to faith, forgives sins, heals diseases, casts out demons, calms a storm, multiplies bread and fish, and calms anxious hearts. It is a word that does exactly what it says! This is no ordinary Word! This all-powerful Word will accomplish what it is sent out to do. Plant the Word, and it will grow! To teach this point, Rabbi Jesus gives us the Parable of the Sower.
Jesus says the Sower goes out to sow, and he throws seeds everywhere! Some seed fell alongside the path. The birds then came, and they picked and pecked that path clean. Not a single seed remained to be found. Jesus says that these people hear the Word, but they do not exercise a choice: to listen to the Word.
Jesus says the devil, the evil one, snatches away that seed, that word. “Snatch” evokes a powerful image. It is an overpowering, a wrestling away, a show of force. It is a ripping out of someone’s hands. It is a disregard for someone else.
I envision a bully ripping something out of the hand of a weaker individual. It is never a pleasant experience to have something maliciously snatched from you.
Sad to say, there are too many things in our modern culture that provide open ground for the devil, our sinful flesh, and our evil world, to rob people of the Gospel message before it ever takes root. It gets snatched from them, and with deadly consequence. But, the sower continues on. He still spreads that seed.
Jesus says some seed fell on rocky ground.
Believe it or not, soil can be quite rocky. Growing up, my father had a corner lot on a busy thoroughfare. For several years, we would have family gardens there. The first year we set the boundaries of our garden. The ground had never been tilled prior to this effort. So with my garden shovel in hand, I set to working in the hardened unworked soil. Almost immediately, I struck rocks – big rocks just underneath the surface of the grass. My garden shovel just stopped right there.
It took a whole lot more effort and a bigger shovel and still I had little success. We borrowed a rototiller from a neighbor to see what progress we could make. The only reward for me was a sore chin when those handles crashed upwards. It became an all hands on deck effort – two with shovels, one rock mover and me! We were all anxious and excited to see what success our first efforts will bring. So, we just kept right at it until virtually our whole front yard became a garden.
Some seed fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil. The seed quickly sprouted, but since there wasn’t much depth, it withered away once the sun hit it. Jesus says these people will hear and listen to the Word, but only for a while.
Their faith blossoms quickly, but then just as fast wilts and withers, often when under pressure. When my father was in and out of the hospital, I remember my Mom commenting, “You see a lot of people searching and calling out for Jesus, here.” She was right. You would see many people praying or talking about faith.
But, I often wondered, how many people continued to do so once they left! Once their crisis passes, faith can disappear. Once the need is gone, they have no need for Jesus. Their seed withers away. But, despite of this, the sower continues on.
Jesus says some seed fell among thorns. To the sower, this seemed like good ground. The perennial thorn roots weren’t visible. Initially, it looked promising. But, once the seed sprouted up, the thorns grew faster and grew first, and they eventually, inevitably choked the seed, limiting it, killing it. It was unfruitful.
Jesus says these people hear and listen to the Word, but imagine that God does not somehow and in some way continue to need their undivided attention and devotion. Jesus presents the challenge of faith in good times, as well as the bad.
Notice the word He uses: “choke.” It is a brutal and violent word. Being choked is a slow process, where you lose all power, life, awareness, and ability to resist.
It is where you tense and shrivel up. Jesus does not mince words here. What is it that chokes? The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of pride. Jesus says these things can slowly choke and kill off that seed, kill that Word. This is the context we find ourselves in. This is the soil of too great degree of our world!
With the lack of success so far, it is enough to make this optimistic sower a truly pessimistic one! It is enough to make anyone go home, throw the bag of seeds, and say, “What is the use? It seems pointless! Nothing is working!” But, hold on. The harvest is to be expected. All is not lost. This Word does that for which it is sent. Work the ground! Plant the seed (Word), and it will grow. God promises!
The harvest is to be expected! Be the optimistic gardener! Some seed fell on good ground, and it produced an extravagant harvest! It produces 100x, 60x, 30x, what was sown. The sower’s work wasn’t in vain. Jesus says these are those who keep on hearing and listening to the Word. They grow in their faith and sanctification. The Gospel always bears fruit. It will always make a harvest.
This Word makes a harvest within us. God’s Word does not come back empty or void; it does exactly what it is sent to do. This word delivers Jesus Christ. It gives all that He has and all He is: His righteousness, His works, and His merits. It gives us all what Jesus gives and does: His grace, forgiveness, life, salvation, won at the cross, confirmed at the Tomb. Jesus comes in that Word through baptism and His Supper. Jesus comes in that Word that is spoken and read. This Word, this Gospel message, always produces a harvest. It always bears fruit.
What does this look like? Paul gives us this picture in Galatians 5:22-25.
Galatians 5:22-25 AKJV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit produces this fruit, this harvest in us through the Word. He also produces another fruit, too, good works.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the sheep, the elect, some of their good works.
He says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink, I was a stranger, and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison, and you came to me….as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Talk about difficult places to both plant and sow seeds. Talk about difficult places to work the hardest soils beneath your feet. Talk about a harvest! God produces a harvest in others through us, through His Word, by the Spirit.
Work the ground. Plant the Word, Sow the seeds of God’s truth and it will surely grow. This promise and reality encourages, emboldens, and also empowers us! It encourages us to be patient sowers, so others can enjoy the same harvest, too.
Let’s all now contemplate the Word of God as it has now been planted and sown within us. Let us move that much closer to Jesus Christ – our ONLY living HOPE!
Holy God, you are the wisest teacher. I pray that through your living Word you will instruct me in such a way that I show wisdom to others. I pray to ask for patience so that I can understand information and not get defensive. Help my words to matter. Help them to plant seeds in the hearts of other people. Work in the hearts and minds of them so that wisdom grows in them. Alleluia! Amen.