SERMON: “The Survival of the Seeds” 7-10-11

Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23 (NRSV)
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 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. 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 brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!
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 is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on 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 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. 22 As 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. 23 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 sixty, and in another thirty.

The Survival of the Seeds

“I remember when the church was so full that the balcony was filled on a regular basis.” This is a statement I heard when I first entered the ministry. The small town of Pennville, Indiana was home to a United Methodist Church which averaged 50 in worship. That’s what they had been worshipping for years before I got there. That’s what they were worshipping when I became their pastor. That’s what they were worshipping when I left. However, I heard on different occasions from different people about “the good ol’ days” when the balcony was regularly in use. That small church in that small town would worship upwards of 200 people on any given Sunday. Not any more.

The church has been lamenting their paltry numbers ever since their heyday in the 1950’s. In that time, society acted like a funnel which led to the doors of the church. There were blue laws which forced businesses to not conduct business on Sundays. For the most part, there was one person in each household working one job which only did business during the week. If someone was not in church, it was often viewed as a figurative “scarlet letter” which acted as motivation for someone who wasn’t inclined to attend or be active in a church to do so.

Fast forward to today. Society no longer funnels people to our doors. Blue laws are a thing of the past. Most families feature one or more of the members working two or three jobs just to make ends meet–if they are fortunate enough to have a job. Those jobs force working hours to happen any time within the twenty-four hours of a seven day week. If someone is not in church, it is often assumed there is a good reason. If someone is not involved in the church, we assume they have a negative view of “organized religion” and don’t pay them any other mind. It isn’t a “scarlet letter”–not that is necessarily has to be–just one of the days they should have to recoup for the work of the week ahead.

That’s a sad state of affairs. There is the church. We are here. We are holding on and enjoying the things that keep us coming back week after week. Then, there is the world. They are out there. They are going about their business. Sure, 80% of them claim a belief in God and just as impressive a percentage of people actually call themselves “Christians.” Does it look like it to you?

I can call myself a ferrier, but that doesn’t mean I can shoe a horse. I can call myself Babe Ruth, but I cannot hit that many home runs while being that proficient a alcoholic. It is faith that is spoken of as being able to move mountains and save men’s souls–not what we decide we are comfortable with others telling about ourselves or our faith.

I have painted a bleak picture for you. However, if my attitudes and hopes towards the church could be compared to the New York Stock Exchange, you could say I was very bullish on the church. The term bullish refers to a time when the stock market and feelings about the stock market are positive. My feelings about the church are very, very positive.

Why, you ask? A couple of things. My favorite verse in the Bible come from 2 Corinthians 12.9, in which Paul recounts the words of Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It is a great illustration of the relationship between God and man.

The church is not about us–it’s about God. The church is not defined by how society acts against it. The church is defined by how God is working through it. Those are the terms by which the church should define themselves. Remember what Paul says in Romans 8.31, “If God is for us, then who is against us.” He is the creator of the universe. A God so great that he has the time and care for that which he has created.

Our faith shouldn’t lie in our ability to fend off the world from that which we fear. Our faith should lie in the one who created and has control over it all.

Our hope should lie in our understanding that the church has survived two thousand years through much worse than we are facing today. The key to coming through these times is finding a way. I don’t mean finding a way out of the mess we so often believe we are in, but finding a way through. God always gets us through. Hopefully, he guides us through.

The difference between Roman persecution of Christians, Catholics selling indulgences and other times is that there was an idea or person present to get us through. Constantine ended Roman persecution of Christians after seeing a vision. Martin Luther saw the disgusting practice of selling indulgences as an opportunity to clarify what Christian Orthodoxy was concerning the grace of God. Constantine solidified the Christian movement into the church. Martin Luther saved the church from changing the definition of grace.

The only difference between those times and today is that there hasn’t been some body or some idea come along to begin a new resurgence in the church.

It reminds me of the movie Pleasantville. In this movie, two modern-day teenagers are transported into the make-believe town of 50’s style television show. Everything is black-and-white. Everything happens according to a script. Nothing is out of place and everything goes along perfectly.

After some slight mistakes by the teenage visitors to this world, things begin to happen. Whereas it never rained in Pleasantville, rain falls and surprises everyone. A tree catches on fire and the fire department doesn’t know how to fight the fire–because their only job before was rescuing cats from trees. The main character–having knowledge of these types of things–coaxes everyone along and helps them to learn this new way of living. It was still simple, but they had to learn a new way. Once the last person comes around to the new reality of Pleasantville, everything turns to bright colors and the citizens have a new look for life. Nothing ever was the way it was before, but they adjusted to these new and exciting things.

I think the church is ripe for something to come along and create the next great age in the history of the church. However, it has to come from within. We have to, once more, learn to engage our faith and not just let it happen to us. We have to take seriously the task of being a disciple. We have to take seriously the fact that things aren’t as they were before, and forge a new path forward. A way for us seeds to survive, as it were.

Jesus’ Parable of the Sower points out something very important for us as we seek to forge this new path. We might look at this parable and notice that a main theme is the fact that many of the seeds–representing people–don’t make a difference or are destroyed. This idea matches very well with other parables Jesus taught.

A traditional sermon might address the differences between the types of soil the seeds found themselves in. Why not? That’s the traditional way pastor’s attack this passage of scripture. However, when we go that route, we spend most of our time covering the negative of the parable and miss the very important positive.

Of course, time should be taken to understand what Jesus means when he warns against the first three types of soil. The first soil is unfit to support the implantation of the seed into the ground. This refers to those who don’t hear the gospel. They are easily swayed to other ways of living. We often look down on these types of people, all too easily forgetting that we were there once.

The second soil is rocky. The seed can sprout and grow, but it withers for lack of roots–the proper way a plant receives nourishment. Here, Jesus is referring those people who may be what we call “new converts.” You’ve seen a new convert before, haven’t you? They are super excited and all sold out to Jesus. However, when the first sign of pain or persecution shows itself, they fall away. The bad news about these types of “seeds” is that however excited they were in the beginning, it’s that much harder to ever get them into a church again.

The third soil is plentiful, but full of thorns. This refers to those believers who hear the word, but still put to much stock in the things of the world. These types of “seeds” bear little to no fruit because their desires still coincide too much with those of the world. Politicians nearly always claim they are Christians. They go to services and may even wear a cross-themed piece of jewelry or lapel pin. However, when you see who they are and what policies they have supported while in office, you see that their concerns have lined up much more equally with the things of the world–rather than the things of God.

Those are the first three types of seeds. I am positive that many of you see yourselves in those types of soils. If not now, at some point in your life. Yet, when we read this scripture, we often look to others and make judgements upon them about in which soil they have decided to make their home. I would encourage you to take a second and attempt to correct that behavior within yourself. Not only is it in the teachings of Jesus not to judge others, we miss the important lesson from this scripture when we do.

The last soil which Jesus mentions is good soil. It represents those who have heard and understood the gospel of the God who provides the soil in the first place! It bears fruit to the evidence of its understanding and doing. Not only does it bear fruit, but it bears an abundance in mass proportions. An overabundance! Jesus is illustrating for us his understanding of God’s ability to do amazing things through those who hear, listen and do.

Here is where I think this parable begins to speak to us. I am sure there are some great saints sitting in these pews today. You have been in church for as long as you can remember. If you haven’t been in the church for that long, you have heard and understood the word and consider yourself a disciple. Either way, I am positive we have a bunch of seeds sitting in some great soil right here in the Forest United Methodist Church. They are just waiting to bear some fruit!

Plenty of you have been or are currently farmers. You, maybe as well as anybody else, know that there is only so much you can do. You can prepare the land. You can plant the seeds. You can apply fertilizers and pesticides. You can get the machines out there to collect the harvest. However, whatever else happens is up to the land and God. You know the power of the miraculous. You have looked at what you thought was going to be a bushel-busting crop and seen your hopes dashed. You have also looked down those rows of crops, shook your head and ended up flabbergasted with the amazing crops that land yielded. You know the power of the miraculous.

What became of the seeds placed in good soil? The yields were amazing. Not just amazing, they were miraculous! Jesus is signaling something to us that we should definitely have picked up on by now. The amazing things that can happen when we allow God to work. We don’t have to be good seeds sitting in good soil wondering where our yields are. When we engage in our faith, and trust in God for the touch of the divine, that harvest can happen whenever and wherever we are.

There is a nationally syndicated radio station which has affiliates all over the country–it’s called K-LOVE. I hope you have heard of it or have heard it yourself. I often make fun of my wife for listening to it. It’s tag-line is: positive…encouraging…K-LOVE. I make fun of her because it is my belief that teachers selling the Christian life as a bed of roses are bad teachers. However, it’s only good-natured ribbing. Anyway…

We were listening the other day to the story of a young girl who had cancer. As most children with cancer have to do, she spent an inordinate amount of time in the hospital or doctor-related facilities. Aside from being a child with cancer–and all the things which go along with it–she was bored! So, she found some stuff to do and had some stuff brought to her–which gave her an idea. She has started a ministry which fills a back-pack full of activities and things to do and takes them out to every child diagnosed with cancer–in her entire state!

This little girl, in the midst of one of the most difficult and trying times a child can face, trusted the good which was in her. Her trust in the divine made it such that the vision she had for reaching the world happened–even though she was just one girl. Just as it is a child’s want to do, she credits God for the work he had done through her.

And that’s what it comes down to. God works through us. Period. We can do nothing apart from Him who created us. However, we have to give ourselves over to the work he has for us to do. That requires us to engage our faith. We must set ourselves down in the good soil and make ourselves willing vessels of God’s continuing work in the world.

At that point, it ceases to be a question of whether or not the seeds can survive. No, the question becomes about how much the seeds will thrive! Let’s be all about thriving–all for His glory. AMEN

One comment on “SERMON: “The Survival of the Seeds” 7-10-11

  1. Eric Allman
    July 11, 2011 at 11:24 AM #

    Wonderful sermon and everything will be OK

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