This is Pastor Jim’s final sermon as he is now retired.

West Nottingham Presbyterian Church
June 3, 2018
Dr. Jim Horn

Mark 4:26-34

Seeds and Soil

Most of us have planted a garden or lived on or near a farm. I grew up in Chester County, PA. It’s the county east of Lancaster County, PA. From here, Lancaster County is north of us. Lancaster County is reported to have some of the richest soil in the world. My mother bought fresh produce from the Lancaster County Farmer’s market every Wednesday and Saturday. Those vegetables are so much better than what you get in the grocery story. For all farmers and gardeners, the quality of life is intricately linked to the soil. This is helpful when it comes to looking at the three parables of the soils and the kingdom of God in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

The first such parable is called the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:4-20). There are four different kinds of soil, Jesus said,
* hard soil (a path);
* rocky ground;
* thorny ground; and
* good soil.
The Word of God is the seed which falls into these four different kinds of soil. The second parable in the fourth chapter of Mark is the parable of the harvest (Mark 4:26-29). The seed grows as the farmer works day by day. The day comes when the grain is ripe. Then comes the harvest. We must live with a knowledge that for each of us there will be a harvest or reaping. That day is the time when we are cut off from earthly and worldly powers, taken up to God. Who knew that the Kingdom of God comes from a seed planted in soil?

The third parable about soil is the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32). The Kingdom of God, like the mustard seed, starts small, but grows into a large shrub with many branches.

These parables of seed and soil are designed to take the familiar and use it to show something new. What is the Kingdom of God like? It’s like four different kinds of soil, Jesus here urges responsive hearing God’s Word.

Some people have the hard soil of a well-worn path. Path people are trampled over by many feet and are well traveled by many. Path people don’t need God because they are popular, self-sufficient, and self-centered. Don’t worry, Jesus will forgive everybody for everything. The good news of salvation becomes the world’s doormat. Path people wipe their feet on the Gospel.

Some people are like rocky ground. They receive the Word with joy, “but they have no root” (Mark 4:16-17). They endure for a while, but soon fall away. Superficial Christians, dramatic starters, and “hotheads” are all like rocky ground. They are lives broken up into pieces. The Word gains no real foothold. There is no endurance.

Some people are like thorny ground. The Word falls into seemingly good soil, but “the cares of this world, the delight in riches, and the desire for other things enter in and choke the Word of God, and it proves fruitless” (Mark 4:19). Thorns and weeds choke off good beginnings. Thorny people have short lived responses to the Word of God.

Some people, Jesus says, are like good soil. The intention of Jesus is to encourage all people to really hear the Word of God. The first three elements in this parable are not intended to put people into irrevocable categories, but to encourage openness for the Word, to be good soil. West Nottingham Presbyterian Church is good soil.

Chances are that as I retold this parable, you thought of people you know, perhaps in your family or among your friends, who are like:

* the hard path;
* the rocky ground; or
* the thorny patches.

Jesus never says that these labels are permanent. A more proper reading of this parable is to realize that there are elements of all four kinds of soil in each of us. Thus, we should be more understanding and Christ-like in our treatment of people who are hard, shallow, or worldly.

Those who are like good soil “hear the Word, accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20). This faithful reception and production is at the very heart of the Kingdom of God. It means cooperation with our maker and cooperation with the productive elements of life all around us. God’s hope is that we all labor with him.

A farmer was admiring the beautiful field of his neighbor, remembering that the field used to be nothing but rocks and weeds. “George,” he said, “Look at how God has turned this field into a thing of beauty.” “Yes,” said George, “But you should have seen it when belonged only to God.” God expects us to work the good soil, adding compost and mixing it in with a plow or tiller to cultivate it.

God has dignified his creatures by giving them the potential for cooperation with him. Faithful cooperation and hard work make productive, good Christians as well as good farms. The parable of the sower and the seed reminds us of the need for faith and faithfulness. This parable raises the question, “What is the Kingdom of God like? Is it like four soils? Is it also like the harvest in another parable?” What is the Kingdom of God like?

The Kingdom of God is like a harvest. God is the Lord of the Harvest.
Twentieth century grocery shoppers are clueless about the meaning of the Kingdom of God being like a harvest. “As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” We think of food quick frozen, sealed in plastic and boxed and priced for the consumer. Today’s people live as if there will never be a harvest, only coupons and freezers. Increasingly we have become a secular society where people go about their daily business of earning a dollar and caring for themselves. We all come to face God.

The parable of the harvest provides a new perspective for those who fear death so much that they pretend that it will never come. To every life comes the inevitable announcement, “the harvest has come!” (Mark 4:29).

The point of this parable is not that we should turn to God because we are afraid of death, but that we should wake up to the reality of death. God’s reality is full of marvelous grace in life and in death. Grace is God’s continued loving orientation toward us. Grace is God’s unmerited forgiveness through Jesus Christ. “So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (II Cor 5:10)

Yet many take it for granted! For example, think of the agricultural truth shown as “the earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mark 4:28). We ask the Lord of the Harvest to send us. We are like a seed being planted and moving with a marvelous certainty toward its destiny – the harvest comes by Jesus’ death and resurrection – twenty-fold, sixty-fold, a hundred-fold. This isn’t a parable. It’s the gospel.

The Lord of the Harvest wants us to enjoy forever the Kingdom which God has prepared for those who know him. Forever. Think of eternity for a moment. Jesus said, “It’s like a mustard seed which when it is sown is the smallest of seeds, yet when it grows up becomes the greatest of shrubs” (Mark 4:31-32). Tiny Kingdom beginnings will yield a magnitude beyond the imagination. Jesus turned to his followers and said, “The Kingdom of God is like a sower that went out to sow. Listen. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Be bountiful, abundant. West Nottingham has received good seed – the Word of God. West Nottingham Presbyterian Church is good soil.


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