Sermon: Take a Soil Sample before Tilling the Soil
Scripture: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: July 12, 2020
Today’s scripture comes from Matthew 13 which contains several parables from Jesus talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus not only inaugurates the personal presence of God in the world; Jesus sets out the plan for how his followers will engage the world when he’s gone.
Listening to our text today, you may be very familiar with it. It’s well known and we are tempted to begin hearing its wisdom and automatically flash sort our impressions of it and immediately categorize where we are in the parable. Let’s try not to do that and simply listen to the text as though you’ve never heard it before. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
13.1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!” …18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” 
Did you hear it? Did you notice how Matthew bookends the first part of our text to make sure we get it? Jesus begins by telling his followers, “Look here!” and he ends the parable with, “Listen up, now!” He wants us to be sure to get what he is trying to say because what he said is the key to breaking the code of this parable!
Professor of New Testament at Whitworth University, Dale Bruner remarks, “Listening to Jesus’ words is the key to life; our ears are the soil of our lives. Ears attentively devoted to the Word of Jesus are good soil; ears that are distracted, inattentive, casual, or diffused in concentration are the several unfruitful soils of the parable.” You see, friends, all the different soils received the seed, i.e. heard the Word from Jesus yet only one paid attention to what he said and produced a crop. Beloved, Jesus is grabbing our collars and looking at us in the face and wants us to get that the key attitude in the spiritual life is the attitude of listening to Jesus’ Word! Are we?
So, what type of soil represents you? I mean, you’re tuned into worship and all and that’s a good thing! If you’re participating in worship then surely you’re the good soil! Let’s unpack that a little.
Jesus is speaking to the disciples and to you and me, the Church. He is speaking to four various types of people who have comprised the Church’s community since the days of Jesus himself. Within the Church, there are Path Soil people, Rocky Soil people, Thorny Soil people, and Good Soil people. My colleagues Pam and Nic are mathematicians and they would indicate that statistically as you and I look at the whole group, each of us has a one in four shots to be in the Good Soil camp. There are four options; we get to choose one. The unfortunate reality is that seventy-five percent of us will not get, hear, and internalize the message Jesus is trying to convey. As scholar Dale Bruner reminds us, only one in four will understand the Word but yet all four soil types are in the church. It’s a reminder of the Old English proverb that says, “Not all people who go to church say their prayers.”
First, there are Path Soil people. The gracious, whimsical Sower enthusiastically scatters seeds and some of it lands on the path. The path, the road, is heavily used and the soil has been compressed tight from all the weight of the people tramping on it over the years. The seed, the Word of God, isn’t able to penetrate the soil because the soil is dense and the seed is exposed to birds who swoop in and eat it before it has a chance to germinate. Jesus is telling us that there are some people in the faith community who are so hard-hearted that even when the Word is shared, it fails to penetrate their surface. Have you ever seen Path Soil people in the Church? They’re here.
Next, there are Rocky Soil people. These are the people who are spiritually all drive-shaft but no engine, tall hat but no saddle. They look well put together and behave like Christians are supposed to behave on the outside but there’s not a whole lot of spiritual substance to them on the inside. First-level thinkers, they tend to go with the flow of what others are saying but once another compelling story or personality and charismatic preacher, speaker, or author come along, when problems arise, they forget the Good News Word Jesus has proclaimed. Have you ever seen Rocky Soil people in the Church? They’re here.
Third, Jesus says there are Thorny Soiled people. These are attentive hearers of the Word of Jesus but they have the attention span of a Labrador retriever puppy; they hear the Word but are distracted by too many other things. Jesus says they are consumed by anxiety about life or they are too wrapped up in their financial portfolio to let the Word of God take root. Driven by issues and distractions, their inability to be still and quiet inhibits them to really absorb the Word of Jesus into their lives. Have you ever seen Thorny Soil people in the Church? They’re here.
Finally, we have Good Soil people. These are people who hear the Word of Jesus and take it down deep into their hearts and lives only to have the seeds grow and blossom into bountiful fruit everyone can see and experience! These are the Christ-Followers whose lives of faith explode with a harvest producing yet more seeds to catch the wind and have the chance to grow as well. Have you ever seen Good Soil people and the results of their planting in the Church? They’re here.
Friends, the positive test of a good soil sample is simply the fruitfulness of the disciple and the church. Jesus claps his hands and shouts, “Look! Listen!” He’s telling us that when you and I hear the Word and receive it deeply into the soil of our heart, then our life, our ministry, our church will be fruitful. A person’s or a church’s fruitfulness and faithfulness are first and foremost determined by whether you and I, whether we as a Church, receive the Word of Jesus into our lives. It’s not rocket science. You and I, the Church, is useful and fruitful and productive for the Kingdom of heaven when we simply place ourselves under the Word and receive it.
The path’s soil heard the Word but did not receive it.
The rocky soil people heard the Word and received it with great joy but when the pressures came, they let it go.
The thorny soil people heard the Word and held it in one hand while they filled their other hand with anxieties and wealth and couldn’t hold onto both and the Word slipped away.
The good soil people hear the Word and cups both hands together to catch all the seed to keep it safe for its intended use; they take the good seed and strategically plant it in good soil for the greatest amount of fruitfulness to occur.
Beloved, what’s the state of the soil of your Spiritual life? Is it hard, rocky, thorny, or prepared to receive the seeds from the Word of Jesus? What’s the state of the soil for our particular church? Is it hard, rocky, thorny, or prepared to grow deep in the Word? How shall we really know? Well, I suppose we will have to get through this season and see how much fruit we bear and can give to others in Christ’s and the Kingdom’s Name. Faithfulness, i.e. fruitfulness to the Word of Jesus is determined by the crop we generate and how much seed we spread for the Kingdom of Heaven. God help us be a part of that 25%!
Let those who have ears listen!
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2020 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and may not be altered, re-purposed, published, or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Dale Frederick Bruner, Matthew. A Commentary. The Churchbook, Matthew 13-28, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 4.
 Ibid., 23.