What Grows Within – July 22, 2012

Isaiah 6:1-10, Matthew 13:1-17

July 22, 2012

The story we read today from Matthew is one of the parables we’re looking at Kirkwood this summer. As you probably know, it is called “The Parable of the Sower.” It’s the story of the farmer who went to sow his seed, and what happened to that seed when it fell in various places.

Here again, these parables of Jesus are amazing! They were simple stories, taken from the people’s life experience. And when Jesus told these stories, he drew the people into them in ways it’s hard for us to fathom. Because these are not necessarily our experiences. So sometimes it helps when these stories are “interpreted,” or “brought to life” – by a sermon, or by a book or a commentary. Well, in this case, the “interpretation” comes from Jesus himself. He ‘splains it to his disciples! And that’s because they ask him to. And you can sense a bit of frustration here. They liked this story. It was compelling to them. But they didn’t understand it. So they ask Jesus, “What does it mean?” And they also ask, “Why are you speaking to us in these parables? Why don’t you just teach us, like the other rabbis?”

It’s amazing how often in the Gospels the disciples appear to be “clueless!” Some have referred to them as the “comic relief” of the story. But can we really blame them? Who of us would have understood a lot of what Jesus was saying had we been there? I’m not really sure they understood it even with the explanation! I know we think they should, because we understand it from our perspective. But as I always ask you, try to imagine what it was like for them!

At the same time, there’s a sense in which they should have known this stuff! And so should have everyone else that day! Because Jesus wasn’t telling them anything new here. What he was doing, was teaching them these things in a new and compelling way. But this was not really new. I once read a book which said that somewhere around eighty percent of everything Jesus taught were things the people should have known anyway!

Just as an example, the Old Testament is full of references of the Hebrew people being the “chosen people,” so that they could be “a light to the nations.” God didn’t choose them to be in an exclusive relationship with him. But they had made it that way! They were chosen to bring God’s light to the world, but they had taken their “chosen” status to be an “excusive” status held by them alone. They had even learned to look down on the non-Jews of the world.

So, doesn’t that bring new meaning to the words of Jesus when he told them “You are the light of the world.” That was not new. Their scriptures told them that. But they had become exclusive and kept that light to themselves. Does that sound familiar? Do we ever do that? Think about it.

So then, in this case, the idea of “the word being planted in people’s hearts” was nothing new, either. The Old Testament said that in a number of places. But Jesus made that idea come to life in a wonderful way that was illustrated, again, by examples from their world and their experiences! And he told this story in a way that compelled them to compare it to their lives. And it still compels us to do that! Like the people then, as we think of this story, we are called to ask ourselves the same questions. “What are the things that keep the word from growing within us?”

Now, believe me, we could spend an entire worship service on each one of the elements of this story! But for now, let’s just take a cursory look at them. And let us ask ourselves the personal question about how our lives compare. (There may be more value in doing that, anyway!)

So, Jesus first tells how some of the farmer’s seed fell on the path. And the birds came and eat it. I know what that’s like. Sometimes when I’m planting grass, I feel like I’m just feeding the birds! Jesus is tell us that sometimes we hear, but what we hear has no chance to take root. We don’t give it very much merit. Our hearts are hard and impenetrable. And sometimes forces or influences in our world take it away before it can even germinate. And let’s not go by that too quickly! Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that this never happens to us. After all, we’ve already “received the word!” “We’ve been in the church our whole lives!” Well, maybe sometimes God is trying to break through to us and get us to go deeper in our relationship with him. Maybe he’s trying to teach us something new. And we’re resistant. Sometimes we are like that path!

Next, Jesus tells about the seed that fell on the rocky soil. And as he explains it, for some people there is an initial acceptance of the word – even an enthusiastic acceptance! But there is no depth. And when the heat of the day comes, the plant withers. Anybody who’s trying to plant anything in this weather knows exactly what Jesus was saying here! When we don’t let the depth happen in our faith, we will quickly lose our enthusiasm and our commitment in the “heat of the day.” In other words, when the difficulties of life happen, when “the heat is on,” if we have no depth in our faith, it all starts to make no sense and if we’re not careful, it goes away.

Then Jesus tells about the seeds among the thorns. He says that some people receive the word with enthusiasm, but then the cares of the world choke it out. I think this is the 21st century part of the story. Nowadays, there are so many distractions, so many anti-christian influences, so many nay-sayers to spiritual things, that it’s hard for our faith to flourish. We have to put extra effort into living our faith, just by virtue of the times we live in, or it will be easily forgotten! As I’ve said for years, if you think you can live a meaningful life of faith while only “practicing” it one hour a week on a Sunday morning, you’re fooling yourself! Those other 167 hours will simply drown out the 1!

Of course the point of this parable, the place Jesus is leading them (and us), is that we are to be like the “good soil.” It is our goal as Christians to to flourish in our life of faith, and to grow in our relationship with God. But if you’re a gardener (and by that I mean a better gardener than me) you know that there’s more to growing things than simply putting seeds in the ground. If you want things to grow and flourish, you need to cultivate the soil! That’s one of the most important things! Sometimes that’s hard for me! Because I’m the kind of person who believes that you just put seeds in dirt, water them, and they grow! But no! There are other important factors in good growth, things like Ph level, nutrients, moisture, and organic compounds. In other words, the “dirt” has to be “good dirt!”

So, we need to be “good dirt!” We need to cultivate the soil! We need to be prepared to grow. Again, that doesn’t happen all by itself. It happens through the spiritual choices we make. It happens through our reaching out to, and being open to, God. It happens through things like bible reading and prayer. It happens through our striving to be like Jesus. It happens through personal worship – not just worship here on Sunday. All those are all important parts of that process of cultivating our “spiritual soil.”

The other thing that’s important here is fruit. That’s another thing Jesus is pointing out about the good soil. Good soil doesn’t just produce healthy plants. It produces fruit! And of course, that is the objective of the farmer. What good is a farm that produces wonderful plants, but no fruit?!

Jesus was always concerned with fruit! And he often used the example of “fruit” in two ways. One way he used it was to say that fruit is the way for us to know the kind of plant it comes from. He said “You will know things by the fruits they produce.” So I ask you, will people know we belong to Jesus by the fruits of our lives?

We also have to realize that it’s possible to produce both good fruit and bad fruit. And we need to ask ourselves about that, too. Which are we producing? Are we producing bad fruit? Are we producing the fruit of strife, bitterness, and discontent? Or are we producing the good fruit? Are we producing peace, growth, and abundance? And which of those makes the difference in the multiplication of the kingdom that Jesus is talking about here at the end? That “hundredfold increase” has everything to do with, and is dependent upon, our producing the good fruit!

Do we see that? And let me ask you this. Which type of fruit, evident in us, do you think will attract people to our Church? I don’t think I really need to answer that question, do I! But let me tell you that it’s up to each of us! This is the part of “evangelism” that isn’t left to committees or leaders or pastors. If they get people to come here, and they see strife, they will leave. That door works two ways! We need to present to the world a caring community, a community of people who show the peace of Jesus Christ, despite the cares and stresses of life!

If our fruit is good fruit, we’ll be blessed with the second way Jesus used the metaphor of fruit. And that has to do with “multiplication.” Fruit is the end product of a plant. And as you know, one seed produces many fruits! Jesus used the production of fruit, and harvest as metaphors for the kingdom all the time!

So then, think about it. Are we like the seed that fell on the path? Are we hard and impenetrable? Are we like the seed that fell on the rocky ground? Do we get enthusiastic, but just for a while? Are we like the seed among the thorns? Do other things choke out our faith too easily? Or are we like the seed that fell on good soil? Have we cultivated the “spiritual ground” – that “Holy Ground” – in our lives? Think about all that as we close in prayer.

Prayer.

Eternal God, we know that we are called to be the light of the world. We also know that’s not easy! Too many things pull us in too many directions. Too often the difficulties of life get the better of us. It’s hard to follow when we face discouragement and despair. Help us to go deeper in our relationship with you, so that our roots may grow strong and our love may increase. May we bear the fruit you want us to bear. We give you the glory and praise, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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