13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears,  let him hear.”
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.
15 For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.  22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds  among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants  of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”The more I learn about the Kingdom of Heaven the harder the teaching is to listen to. I always, always, always used to think that what Jesus was teaching in the Parable of the Sower (vs. 1-23) was a word for all of us would-be evangelists. The idea is that we're going to go OUT and preach to people and some aren't going to understand the message, some will receive it with joy at first but will fall away when hard times come, some will endure for a while but when it comes to giving up certain sins/extravagences they fall away, and a few (we're always told a VERY few) will receive the word and come IN to become members of our church.
But we have to place the first parable in the proper context along with the second. Now admittedly, Jesus probably never told these two parables at the same time to the same audience. But for interpretations' sake you have to look at the "body of work" of what Jesus said and judge each piece against the whole. That's what you would do with an modern author whose meaning was hard to discover. That's what you need to do with Jesus, whose clear intent isn't to separate evangelism from discipleship, outreach from membership.
What we need to know is that from the very beginning there are always going to be people listening to the word -- in church and out -- who don't get it. When the crowds gathered around him in such numbers that he had to go preach from a BOAT to be heard, there were people of all four types present. In the early church there were people of all four types present. In the church of the Reformation there were people of all four types present. In any congregation in any church in any place in the world there are people of all four types present all the time. That's why Jesus tells the second parable.
It would be easy to take the position that The Church is for The Redeemed and that we need to guard carefully who we let in for more than a visit. And surely, from the earliest days of The Church there have been standards for membership, guarded by the classes we offer and the qualifications we impose. But if Jesus is saying what it appears he is here: that The Church is always going to be made up of people who have received the message and are growing AND people who have not received the message and are nothing more, in the end, than dead wood in the forest, then it is not a question of whether we will grant membership to some weeds. That we will do that is certain. It is rather one of the secrets of the Kingdom that the four soils are present everywhere and at all times and that Jesus is sowing the seed (people) on all kinds of soils at all times.
This Sunday we're going to think together about the idea of re-imagining The Church as a parish of the old Roman Catholic type and begin to realize that Nottingham Congregational Christian Church is not nearly as small as we may think it. Ours is a parish with some 4,000 members, of which roughly 150 (including children) have spent some time in the parish meetinghouse in the past year or two, and of which about 75 have stated publicly that they desire a close bond of belonging with one another, and of which about a dozen are actively leading the life of the parish.
The question at hand isn't "are there weeds among us?" The question is whether those whom Christ is calling (and they are present in all four groups above) are effectively tending the garden of the 4000. Are they fertilizing, planting, watering, pruning, tending, and harvesting -- being the hands and feet of the Master Gardener -- that the whole garden may grow.
Inch by inch, row by row
Gonna make this garden grow
All it takes is a rake and hoe
And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row
Someone bless these seeds I sow
Someone warm them from below
til the rains come tumbling down.
-- David Mallett, 1978