The Kingdom Undergound: The Sower

A response to the "small group questions" for the 10 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Later that same day Jesus left the house and sat beside the lake. A large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat there and taught as the people stood on the shore. He told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel of Matthew [2]

One commentator has noted that how you understand this parable depends on how it is "branded." What is emphasized and what new point gets made if you call it:

(I wish the sermon notes included a citation for the "one commentator.")

The parable of the Sower?

I have heard this parable taught before with the speaker identifying with (and encouraging the audience to identify with) the sower. That is, I've heard it as an exhortation to evangelism. Sometimes this perspective is taken as an encouragement to share the gospel irrespective of how it is received; but I've also heard it used as a a point of pride, where the evangelist uses the classification of soil as a taxonomy for placing themselves over others as better soil.

I think this is very much missing the point. First, it is important that we recognize that Christ is the sower, not us; and while we are called to proclaim the gospel as Christ did, our calling as a servant in Christ's field is by the grace of God; not by works. It is not a source of pride, but thanksgiving. [3]

The parable of the Soils?

I personally probably think of this parable more in terms of the soils, as it is the soils where there is variability. With the example of the path; the shallow ground; the thorny ground; and the fertile soil, we are called to think about how the word of God enters our own lives. Are we worn and beaten, unwilling to receive God? Are we quick to respond, but unwilling to allow him into our hearts? Have we allowed other things--idols--to grow in our lives that leave no room for him? Or are we soft, pliable, and willing to allow the word to take root in our lives, filling us with new life?

But even here I have seen pride, when I have been taught this passage in the past. I've seen proclaiming Christians hold themselves superior over lesser soils. But I would caution: a soil that was once fertile can become hard. It can accept weeds and thorns that choke out the Spirit from year to year. The parable of the soils is an exhortation to each who hears it; not a law used to condemn each other.

The parable of the Harvest?

I'm less familiar with this particular perspective, though I believe it was part of the emphasis in the sermon. The idea is to consider not only the viability of the seed in each soil, but the overwhelming bounty (thirty, sixty, even a hundred times as much as had been planted!) that comes from the effective seed. I think this perspective plays well with a more encouraging and useful perspective on the sower as Christian evangelist, that we should not be discouraged when the word is not received. Seed lost on the inviable soil is nothing compared to the fruit of the successful seed. [4]

The parable of the Seed?

Through all of this I've assumed the interpretation that the seed is the gospel. The good news of Christ come to save all through his sacrifice. Immanuel. The spirit of God that lives in us. [5] Not that I have any other way to interpret this; but it's worth pointing out.

With this, the branding of the parable as of the seed is, to me, only a slight variation of the harvest: together, we see the gift of God, given to all, and effective in some.

In a culture focused on things like organizational efficiency, what bothers you or looks wasteful about your church?

I actually feel pretty good about the stewardship of our church at First Presbyterian of Boulder. I don't see any oppulence that isn't used to make the church a more effective expression of God's love for the world; a home for any who would sojourn with us or join us as brothers of Christ and children of God.

Not to say that there isn't any such waste; but our church is characterized in my eyes by a spirit of generosity reflective of Christ, at least corporately, serving as an inspirational example for us individually.

What harvest are you most interested in seeing through the scattering of God’s Word? What person, circumstance, or community are you most eager to see grow?

The population of Boulder has changed a lot in the last ten years or so, shifting the oppulent population from one that assumes some (if shallow) relationship with the Church to one that has rejected Christ, often due to our misrepresentation of him. While First Pres has continued to show commitment to the poor of means, I would like to see First Pres rededicate us to reaching the poor in spirit who have more recently come to call Boulder their home.

What about the soil of your own life needs to be emended to yield a different health? What can you pursue in this season of Lent that may create deeper and healthier roots for God’s Word?

Andi and I are currently in a season of patience [6], having seen the ineffectiveness of our impatience in our parenting. I've been reflecting on this same movement in my own heart in the last several posts: that I am often impatient with brothers and sisters who have forgotten the gospel or are perverting it to justify an anti-Christian heart. [7] I pray that the Lord will keep my heart soft, that his word will remain rooted in me, and that my spirit will be his.

[1] The Kingdom Undergound: The Sower
[2] Matthew 13:1-9
[3] Ephesians 2:8-9
[4] Romans 8:18-19
[5] John 14:16-17
[6] How Inuit Parents Teach Kids To Control Their Anger
[7] 1 Timothy 1:5-7,19