Sunday, 16 July 2017

Pentecost VI (Proper 10 A) [Matthew 13:1-23] (16-Jul-2017)

This sermon was preached at St Matthew's Lutheran Church, Maryborough, 8.15am, and Grace Lutheran Church, Childers, 10.30am.

Click here for PDF version for printing.

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

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.

Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, send us your Holy Spirit, to me that I may preach well, and to all of us that we may hear well. Amen.

In the Gospel of Luke, when we read about Jesus explaining the parable of the sower, the first thing he says is: The seed is the word of God. Our parable today, very simply, is about the word of God.

Now we believe as Christians that the Bible is the word of God. This word of God was written down by holy people that God himself sent. If we look through the pages of the bible, we will see that all the different books were all written down by different people. We see all kinds of names there: Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter… all these people actually existed and lived in real times in history. And yet, God used them not to write their words, and their opinions, but his word, and the exact message that he wanted to speak.

We read in 2 Peter 1: No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Did you hear that? They were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Each writer in the bible has their own style and their own character, but each of them speak the same word of the Holy Spirit. Paul says: All Scripture is breathed out by God. It is God who breathed out the Scripture, and so it is not simply the word of Matthew or Mark or Luke, or whoever, but it is God’s word.

Now since the bible is God’s word, then it means that it is completely true and completely pure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with God’s word, there is not a single error in it, and in everything it speaks about it doesn’t lie. Just before Jesus went out to the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed a wonderful prayer to his Father where he said: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. And also in John chapter 10, Jesus himself says: The Scripture cannot be broken. The Scripture is one golden ring that fits beautifully and harmoniously together.

Now, sometimes, we read the word of God, and we don’t understand it. And this is what Jesus is talking about in our reading today. He tells them a parable about seed being sown in four places: along the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and in good soil. Now, when he says all this, nobody understands it. Can you imagine coming to church, and not understanding a single thing?

Actually, there are many people who go for years and years and listen to the bible in church, and have no idea what they’re listening to, and when the reading finishes, they say: This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God, and they say to themselves, “Well, I haven’t got the darndest clue what that was all about!”

Now, sometimes we don’t understand. But what did the disciples do when they didn’t understand? They give us a wonderful example to follow: They simply went to Jesus and they asked him about it. Jesus tells the parable of the sower, and they say to him: Why do you speak to them in parables? This is one of the most important parts of our reading. There are plenty of people who listened to Jesus, but only a few people who asked him what it was all about.

And the same goes with us. Many times we hear the bible and we don’t understand it. But then do we ask Jesus what it means? Do we ask him to send the Holy Spirit to help us understand it? You see, if we are reading some old book—like Oliver Twist, or Treasure Island—we can’t write a letter to Charles Dickens or Robert Louis Stevenson, or whoever the author is, and ask them what they meant, because they’re dead. We can only guess. But the author of the bible is alive, and he is called the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! And we can go to him, and say: What do you mean by this? I don’t understand! And the Holy Spirit will gladly guide us and lead us more deeply into the Scripture and help us to understand it. If we don’t believe that the bible is God’s word, then we would never ask him to explain things to us, and so it is as if it is dead to us.

And so the disciples ask Jesus: Why do you speak to them in parables? And Jesus says to them: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given… But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 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. When they ask Jesus, then Jesus gives them an answer. He speaks in parables, not to confuse them, and to turn them away, but to lead them in deeper, and to make them ask questions.

You might have questions about Christianity and the bible too. There’s no silly or stupid questions! Ask your questions, and pray that the Holy Spirit would guide you and lead you to show you the answer. And Jesus says: Ask, and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you.

Now let’s come to our parable. Jesus talks about a sower planting seed, and  this seed falls on four types of ground: along the path, rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil.

So let’s go through each of these four types of soil:
Firstly, we read: some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Jesus explains this part by saying: 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.

Jesus gives us a warning here, and wants to warn us about the first enemy to God’s word, and that is the devil, or as it says in our reading: the evil one. Jesus compares the devil to a bird. And just like a bird comes down and eats up the seed along the path, so also the devil comes along and eats up the word of God from people’s hearts, when they hear God’s word and don’t understand it, or when they don’t take it to heart.

Now one thing we have to know about the devil. All his power is borrowed power. He really has no power of his own, he just bludges around and sponges off God. So when God says something, the devil just wants to twist it around and make it say something else. The devil doesn’t have ideas of his own; God is the one who has all the wonderful ideas. The devil just wants to take God’s ideas, and try to mess them up.

So, let’s take an example. In the Garden of Eden, God said to Adam and Eve: You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die. And then the devil comes to Eve and he inserts a little word of his own in there: one little word: “not”. God says: You will surely die. And the devil says: You will not surely die. And so you see here that the devil feeds like a bird on God’s word, and then takes it away. When God’s word is twisted around to say the opposite of what God said, it’s simply not God’s word anymore. And so it’s taken away.

This is what Jesus says, when he says: The evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart.  

Let’s come to the next part of the reading where Jesus says: 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, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Jesus explains this by saying: As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receive it with joy, 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.

So here, we see a picture where there the seed falls on rocky ground, where there is not much soil. Then the grain sprouts up immediately. This is when people hear God’s word, and they’re really excited about it! But then the sun beats down on the rocks, and the little plant is scorched and it withers. This is like when tribulation comes or persecution comes, and then people fall away from the faith. Particularly, we should note that Jesus talks about tribulation (that means, troubles) and persecutions that comes because of the word.

Now, many people at some point in their life hear God’s word, and they are really encouraged by it. But they only believe in a part of it, they only believe in the part that helps them in this earthly life. But what does that the first verse in the bible say? In the beginning God created the earth. That’s true, but it’s not everything. It says: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. We are not here simply on this earth to live a live on earth—we are also called to continue our life in heaven.

And so sometimes someone comes to church, maybe for a funeral, and they come to me at the church door, and say: Thanks for your sermon, pastor! I was really uplifted. You made me really feel good! But then they go back to work the next day, and they carry on their miserable, futile existence, and they forget all about it.

Now, God’s word does make us feel good sometimes. And that’s great! Sometimes, we feel that God’s word helps us get through they day. And that’s great! But then, what about when the sun beats down? What about when all your friends or all the people you know or the media or the pressures from wider society or whoever, make a whole lot of noise and create a whole lot of heat and hot air around you that makes you sweat, and it makes you doubt what you have heard? And some people say: I can’t be bothered sitting around in this hothouse—I’m off! And so they fall away.

In Australia, many people think that life is all about coping. As long as you’re coping, you’re fine. But if you’re not coping, bad luck. A friend in need is a pain in the backside! But God doesn’t call us to cope. He doesn’t say: [Cope] unto death and I will give you the crown of life. He says: Be faithful unto death. He calls us to believe and trust in him, even when we’re not coping. And he will give you the crown of life.

Today Christians suffer persecution all around the world. We could talk all day about this topic! And in our country, Christians don’t suffer persecution by being locked in jail, or being shot at, or whatever. Mostly, we live comfortably, but we are often ridiculed and pressured into silence and smeared. How many times have I seen a person in one of my congregations as the only Christian in their family trying to organise a Christian funeral for their dead mother: and all their brothers and sisters think this person is the family’s religious nutcase, and they do everything possible to make sure that the funeral is anywhere except the church. This is a kind of persecution too. It’s not easy to live a quiet and honest Christian life in this country. And for some, when the sun beats down on them too heavily, they fall away, dead scared of looking old and having missed the boat, and they say: Christianity is too old-fashioned for me, I’m a modern person, I’m a forward-thinking person. And so, they are tricked into thinking that they are so progressive and modern that they don’t need God anymore. At one time, God’s word made them feel good, now feeling like they know more than God’s word makes them feel good, and Jesus calls this: falling away.

So don’t worry about people here in this life thinking you are an idiot for being a Christian. God doesn’t think you’re an idiot: he sees, he knows, and he will keep you safe.

Now, let’s come to the third part of the parable where Jesus says: Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. He explains: As for what is sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the [delusion] of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

Here we see a little plant trying to grow, but it is choked by all these prickly rival plants in the garden bed. The word of God can have no rivals. Often in our sinful hearts, there are many rivals to God’s word. We have all kinds of philosophies and ideas that compete with God’s word. Sometimes people think that we are actually inherently good, and that we have no sin, and that we all have a divine spark within us that we just need to blow on and fan it into flame. If only we meditate long enough, we can turn ourselves into a god! People think that God’s word is nice, and it’s helpful, but they don’t really believe that it’s true. Or sometimes, God offers a solution in his word to some problem of ours, and we just don’t think it’s real. And we think the way we think with our own reason or intellect… we think that is what is real. We think God’s word can’t possibly mean that. But then, what ends up happening? We start to worry about our life, we are weighed down by the cares of this life. We think that everything is fine so long as there is money in the bank. We are deluded by riches. And so when the cares of this life, and the delusion of riches grows up, it chokes God’s word, and we are unfruitful. And so God call us to trust his word, completely blindly, completely in the dark, when we can’t see how we are going to provide for ourselves, or when we can’t see how we are going to get ourselves out of whatever mess we’re in. Jesus calls us to trust in the riches of his heavenly treasures, that our sins are forgiven because of his death on the cross, that we are promised eternal life with him, that our bodies will be resurrected and completely healed and transformed in eternity. And when we trust in Jesus and his promises and his word, then we are fruitful.

But then, let’s come to our last part. Jesus says: 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. Here Jesus promises us that when we hear his word and take it to heart, then faith grows there, and it produces fruit, and the fruit produces a harvest. Faith is like a little plant which produces all kinds of fruits—when it grows up towards the sky, and waits for the blessings of heaven, it produces hope. When faith grows in such a way to support and prop up a neighbour plant, it produces the fruit of love. When the little plant grows strong during difficult weather, it produces patience. When the little plant of faith starts to long and reach out for the rain and sunshine, it produces prayer. And so you can see that all these other things come from faith and faith alone.

But funnily enough, it all begins in the dark. Good soil is black, dark soil. The fruit comes when we believe that the word is everything, and we are nothing. The word is the light, and we are darkness. John says: The light shines in the darkness. St Paul writes in Ephesians: You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…but God made us alive together with Christ. How? Through the word, through the seed planted in you. You have done nothing, because you are completely incapable of doing anything to save yourself. But the word has been sown, and the Holy Spirit makes you to be born again, and makes you completely new, and he is the one who creates faith in you, and gives you a completely new heart, a new mind, and new desires. It is Jesus himself who just like he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, opened their mind to understand the Scriptures.

And so, let the Holy Spirit spread his wonderful roots in us, and give us understanding. Let the Holy Spirit give the wonderful growth in you. Let the Holy Spirit bring the fruit, and let the Holy Spirit bring the harvest. Amen.

Dear Jesus, open our minds to understand the Scriptures, and send us the Holy Spirit so that we may believe your word and live godly lives both here in time and there in eternity. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. FYI - if you want to add video sermon/service from Pr Mark Smith, Halifax NS to your list of links it is: