July 13, 2014
Psalm 65: 1 – 8, 9 – 14
Romans 8; 1-11
Matthew 13: 1 – 9, 18-23
I consider myself a seed gardener. There are many people who have beautiful house plants and others who have beautiful landscaped gardens but my passion is collecting seeds and watching them grow. All of the trees in my yard except one, I have grown from a seed or seedling.
Consider a seed for just a moment. Most people cannot tell just what type of plant will come from a seed. If one judged by size you might plant a coconut and thing a giant sequoia would emerge. Bulbs are so much larger than seeds and one might think that the plant that emerges might be huge. We know the pine nuts we sprinkle in our salads or dishes. Those are the size seeds that grow into beautiful majestic trees.
Most of the parables have to do with the Kingdom of God and what it might be like. Once again here we have the kingdom of God compared to a growth process that begins with someone sowing or scattering seeds. There is something about the seed sown, the sower sleeping and rising, and the seed spouting, growing and bearing fruit without any help from the sower – who at the right time becomes the harvester – that discloses the nature of the kingdom of God.
Jesus told lots of stories about farmers. Today’s text is one of those stories. However, the farmer in this story is not particularly gifted at his profession.
The greatest things in this world, including the kingdom of God, grow from tiny seeds.
Of course, this story which we normally refer to as the parable of the sower is not about farming at all. And it’s not about a careless farmer, but a generous God--a generous God who sows seeds of love and acceptance for all people. But different kinds of people respond in different ways to that love and acceptance. Jesus describes them as different kinds of soil.
Some people he describes as hard soil. This is the seed sown along the path. Now you may think Jesus is talking here about atheists and agnostics. Not necessarily. There was a man named Bob in his mid-sixties. He has gone to church all of his life and thinks of himself as being a very religious man. However he has never let his religion get in the way of his lifestyle. He hears the Gospel every Sunday, but the seed never really penetrates the soil of his heart. Very few of the values that he hears in church are translated into his everyday life.
Bob is the king of his own life. Bob gets turned off by anything that might take him out of his comfort zone.
There is second group, represented by the rocky soil--people who had faith at one time but it was not firmly rooted, and they let it slip away. We can feel great compassion for some of these people.
Tom Sutherland is such a man. At one time Tom was an upstanding Christian, an elder in his home church. But that was before he was held captive in Lebanon for 6 1/2 years. “During his captivity, Sutherland was held in 26 locations. Some of his cells were cold, dark, underground 6x6 holes.
Tom is a free man today. However, one casualty of his experience is that he no longer believes in God.
We feel compassion for Tom Sutherland. You and I don’t know how we would react to such a terrible experience. However, we do know that there were others who went through the same sort of experience and came home with their faith strengthened, not weakened. Jerry Levin, a Middle East bureau chief for CNN, was taken captive in Lebanon, and he not only held on to his faith, but he even learned to pray for his captors and forgive them. Different people respond to life in different ways. Some of us lead very sheltered lives, but one day we, too, will be tested. We will lose someone we love, or have to deal with a serious health issue OR fall on hard times ourselves. Is our faith rooted in good soil that will sustain us?
The seed which fell among thorns, says Jesus, refers to Christians who have let worldly concerns such as material things choke their faith. Jesus could be talking about some of us. We live in a very materialistic society. Some of us believe we can buy our way to happiness. Evangelist Billy Graham tells a wonderful story in his autobiography Just as I Am that speaks to this issue. Billy and his wife Ruth were on an island in the Caribbean. One of the wealthiest men in the world had invited them to come to his lavish home for lunch. This wealthy man was 75 years old, and throughout the entire meal he seemed close to tears. “I am the most miserable man in the world,” he said. “Out there is my yacht. I can go anywhere I want to. I have my private plane, my helicopters. I have everything I want to make my life happy, yet I am miserable.” Billy says that he and Ruth talked to this wealthy man and prayed with him, trying to point him to Christ.
Later they went down the hill to a small cottage where they were staying. That afternoon the pastor of a local church came to call. He was an Englishman, and he too was 75. He was a widower who spent most of his time taking care of his two invalid sisters. And yet he was full of enthusiasm and love for Christ and others. “I don’t have ten dollars to my name,” he said with a smile, “but I am the happiest man on this island.”
I ask you…… Which one was the richer man?
Jesus say that some of the seed falls upon good soil. This is the Good News for the day. Sometimes the message of the Kingdom falls upon hearts that welcome it. When good seed falls on good soil miracles occur.
Seeds really are miraculous. Consider the potential of one kernel of corn. A kernel of corn buried in the soil will produce one corn stalk. Each stalk then will produce one ear of corn. The average ear of corn has 250 kernels, so that a single kernel of corn, under the right conditions will yield a 250% return on investment.
Last week we celebrated Independence Day. We celebrated how much our freedom means to us. We have this freedom because of some amazing people--like Thomas Jefferson, John Madison, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and many of you as well—all of whom have planted seeds in this great world of ours to bear abundant fruit. That’s how it works. Good seed is sown on good soil, and miracles occur. Sometimes it will even fall on unpromising soil and will produce abundantly where we would least expect it.
I would like to end with this poem and song by Natalie Sleeth, a church musician:
In the bulb there is a flower -- in the seed, an apple tree
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free.
In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
As long as there is a seed, no matter how tiny or unpromising, there is hope.
In this parable we are the soil. This day Jesus would have us look within and ask what kind of soil is there? Have we become so hardened by self-preoccupation like Bob that the seed cannot penetrate our hard hearts? Are there rocks in the soil that keep the roots shallow so that it will not survive in the time of testing? What are the worldly thorns which are choking the life out of your spiritual devotion? Do we have receptive hearts prepared to go where God wants us to go? God wants to plant a seed in your life. Let us get our soil ready! Amen