How can we cultivate a nurturing environment where all can thrive? Rev. Nicole Nyembo talked about the Parable of the Sower on July 16, 2023. As you listen to this sermon, look for ways to actively cultivate good soil in life as well as common distractions that make us hard to bear fruit for justice and mercy.
Glencliff United Methodist Church is an inclusive and justice-seeking congregation in Nashville, Tennessee. To see how we’re working in community to spread compassion and uplift one another in our spiritual journeys, visit www.glencliffumc.org
Our passage today is from Matthew chapter 13, verses one through nine and 18 through 23. If you want to follow along, it skips around a little bit, and it says that same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around on him that he got into a boat and sat there while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying Listen. A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched.
Nicole Nyembo [00:00:57]:
And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth rain. Some one hundredfold, some 60, some 30. Let anyone with ears listen. Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the Word of the Kingdom of God 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.
Nicole Nyembo [00:01:33]:
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet 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. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who fears the Word. But the cares of the world and the lore of wealth choke the Word, and it yields nothing. But 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 60 and in another 30. This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thank you.
Nicole Nyembo [00:02:25]:
Please pray with me. Loving God, may these words of my mouth and the meditations of the hearts of all of us be acceptable in your sight. Amen. So in my church, growing up, once a month until about fifth grade, our Sunday school time would be spent in a room down the hall. There was a big blue drapey stage thing watching a puppet show about faith. I guess puppet ministries were kind of a thing for a little while, I don’t know. But we had one. And the coolest part, to me, it was nice every now and then to go down the hall and listen.
Nicole Nyembo [00:03:07]:
But once you got to fifth grade, you got to put on the puppet shows. I loved that part so much more than just watching them. In the fall of my fifth grade year, we put on a puppet show during our fall festival. And that particular program was themed around the parable of the sower. I remember we had puppets of birds and vines and seeds. And our short program laid out this parable that Jesus told the crowds on that day. I don’t remember the songs that went with it, but we focused on what it meant for us to do the seeds in each scenario. What did it look like if we were planted among compact soil or forms? What were we doing wrong or right to land in that good soil? And it’s really easy to go there with the imagery that Jesus shares with him as the sower and us as the seeds.
Nicole Nyembo [00:04:06]:
But today we’re going to do something a little bit different. We’re going to think about ourselves as the soil. We’re going to be dirt today, and maybe the seeds might reflect the distance or closeness that we feel with God. So I’m going to read the passage aloud one more time. This time, consider how each type of soil might show up in your life, not what happens to the seeds. That same day, Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things, and parables saying, listen, a sower went out to sow.
Nicole Nyembo [00:04:55]:
And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth rain, some 100 fold, some 60, some 30. Let anyone with ears listen. Hear then the parable of the sower.
Nicole Nyembo [00:05:39]:
When 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. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet 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. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the Word. But cares of the world and the love of wealth choke the Word and it yields nothing. But 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 one hundredfold, in another 60, and in another 30.
Nicole Nyembo [00:06:37]:
Did anything stand out differently? So what happens when we think of ourselves as these active participants cultivating this good soil for ourselves and for others instead of just being susceptible to whatever environment we land in, just hoping for the best. The idea that we have some agency in all of this that we’re not stuck in whatever environment a seed might be thrown into it gives me hope. Especially after these last few years with COVID and political division so intense and everything else that’s gone on nationally and internationally. I can stand here for probably hours, if not longer. And that’s not even including any personal hardship that each one of us have experienced. And the idea that along with God we can create richer soil full of love and grace so that we can thrive no matter what environment we are thrown into both for us as individuals and in a community. That sounds a lot to me like doing our part in the kingdom of God. When reading through this passage a second time, what did you think of that might look like the soil of the walking path? The one where walking both animals and people had hardened the earth.
Nicole Nyembo [00:08:14]:
What did it look like to have rocky ground soil where roots can only grow so deep because rock after rock keeps getting in the way? And what about the thorns? What could either we as individuals or we could as a community do to change or work to co create the richest soil possible with God? I don’t know if you noticed in this passage listening is a crucial part in this process. We’re not left to figure it out alone because we can’t do that. When Jesus is initially telling this parable, he’s telling it to a crowd along the water. He’s in a boat speaking to a large group of people and he ends that section in verse nine saying if you have ears, hear. Later in verse 18 when Jesus is explaining the parable to the disciples so they sense move and he’s only speaking to the disciples, he says Hear then the parable of the sower this parable could be considered an invitation from Jesus into this discernment. As we grow in relationship with God and seek the kingdom here on earth together. When we truly hear Jesus’s words listening, listening with intention and discernment listening to hear how do they resonate with us differently? Our passage today ends with verse 23 which says but 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 one hundredfold, in another 60 and in another 30. Best understanding the word happens when we’re in close relationship with God.
Nicole Nyembo [00:10:24]:
When we recognize that God is always as close as our very breath. When we study God’s word Jesus’ministry and recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that’s when we’re able to best cultivate this good soil. So how do we constantly discern how we can show up as Jesus did, how we can love as Jesus did. How can we imagine a world full of the love and the peace that God intends for us? And not just imagine, but to work to bring it into existence? The idea that we are soil reminds us that no matter our environment, no matter what obstacles we face, we’re not just left wherever we landed. It might take some work. It will most likely take a community, and it will definitely take God’s help. But we’re never without hope, because that’s another thing about soil. It doesn’t self correct.
Nicole Nyembo [00:11:38]:
Have you ever just left soil alone and it continues to get better? That’s not how it works. It needs other nutrients to sustain it. It needs compost and tilling and constant care for it to be its best. It can’t sit dormant and alone and still fertilize these, just like we can’t sit alone. We need God, and we need one another. To thrive, we might be able to survive, but to thrive, we can’t do it alone. So imagine we have a puppet ministry and we’re doing a puppet show about this parable. What might it include? We might emphasize ourselves, the soil, and the importance of listening and discernment.
Nicole Nyembo [00:12:31]:
What kind of songs do you think we’d include? I think a few that we’re singing today, probably. I think we would have songs about grace and about resilience in the midst of change. Probably a song or two about hope. I bet. Puppets for soil might not be as cute as puppets for birds or vines, but we can make it work. Our puppet show will serve as a reminder that we are called to cultivate the soil for one another and for ourselves in such a way that leads to thriving amidst such a hurting and changing world. I read some questions about this passage from Professor Holly Heron from Christian theological Seminary in Indianapolis. She posed the question, what would we need to do for the seed to be able to take root in our bodies and souls? So as we go from here this week, I invite you to consider that as well.
Nicole Nyembo [00:13:36]:
What would we need to do to have soil so rich that it takes root in our bodies and our souls? Amen.