Sunday, July 10, 2005

Good Soil? Good Gardener!

Today's sermon for the 8th Day of Pentecost, 2005.

Text: Matthew 13:1-9, The Parable of the Sower

Today’s sermon is based upon the Gospel reading we heard just a few moments ago, where Jesus is telling a crowd of people a story. Now, Matthew the Gospel writer does a good job of setting the stage at the beginning of our reading, so let me do a bit of the same thing for you. The first thing you need to know is something you’ve already gotten from the little heading for this section in your Bible—that this is a parable. Well now, that’s good and fine . . . unless you’re not quite sure what exactly a parable is. And since you’ll need to know that for the sermon today, let me tell you that a parable is a little story-telling device, one that Jesus uses quite often. The story has a plain meaning that’s right up front—and we can see that here, when the seed hits the dirt, it grows!
But the thing that gives the parable its kick isn’t in its plain, up-front meaning. NO, the guts, the mean, the lifeblood of any parable worth its salt is in the hidden meaning—the thing that the teller of the story is really talking about. This parable is no exception, because it’s not just some farmer’s story about the crop he brought in this year. We’re not just talking about seeds and dirt; Jesus has got some important truths He wants to communicate.
The second thing you ought to know about parables is that, in the Bible, they are typically divided into two types, called Kingdom parables and Piety parables. A Piety parable’s basic function is to say to you, “Do what’s right!” It gives us examples—both good and band—for how we as Christians ought to act. It’s all about our works. Now, a Kingdom parable is something different. A Kingdom parable gives us an inside look into how the Kingdom of God works. It tells us things about God and His working that we just wouldn’t know otherwise. Things we couldn’t even guess at. This parable—the parable of the sower—is a Kingdom parable.
Now, why have I just spent all this time telling you this? Because I feel that the truth we’re going to learn today from this parable is so absolutely groundbreaking, so vital . . so very critical to your faith in Jesus Christ to spend a few extra minutes so that everyone in the room is on the same page. Listen! We’re not talking about seeds, and we’re not talking about your works. This is God’s stuff, and He is giving us a chance to listen in on Heaven’s master plan. Got it? Let’s move on.
Verse nine says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” That’s a phrase we hear Jesus use quite frequently when He tells a parable. Basically, what He is saying is that if can understand the parable . . . well, then you can understand the parable. We might say, “If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.” It’s a statement that almost instantly makes two groups of people: the insiders and the outsiders. The insiders are those who get it.
But even the insiders don’t quite comprehend it just yet, so Jesus of course has compassion on these poor souls and explains the whole story to them. But not before He says something quite astounding. Even before He gives them the explanation, in verse eleven He reveals to the small group of seekers gathered around Him that they had been given “the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,” but all that the outsiders got was a parable! One group gets the words of life, and all the other gets is a puzzling riddle!
And strangely enough, that is the exact same teaching He gives in the explanation of the parable! Some get it, others don’t! Listen to His answer in verses 18-22. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns in the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
There are a couple of obvious things here. First, since this is a Kingdom parable, then it must be Jesus who is the sower, as He is the central revealed figure in the Kingdom of God. Secondly, the seeds are the Word, which gets sown into our hearts. It gets sown to everyone in all places, and in all times.
And yet there is one thing that is tucked away neatly in this passage that we can’t see right away. But let me ask a few questions to see if we can’t bring it out. The parable is about seeds and different types of soil. Do any of you garden? I know we’ve got a few farmers. How about work in the yard? What happens if you just throw some seeds in the dirt; do you always get what you want? Of course not! You have to spend considerable time and effort working the plot of land so that the seeds can grow to maturity. And that is my point—good soil implies a good gardener. A gardener that has a considerable amount of time picking out the stones and cultivating the land, a gardener that works diligently at keeping the weeds away and the crows at bay.
You understand this? If you are a believer, if you have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ, it is only because God has spend considerable time working in the soil of your heart. Just as you’ll never see a beautiful garden or a bounteous fields that doesn’t have a hard-working caretaker, you’ll never meet or be a Christian that doesn’t have God working in his or hear heart. God chose you at your baptism . . . or when you heard His Word, or when you receive the Lord’s Supper, and He chooses you over and over again, each and every day, calls you by name and says, “YOU . . . you are mine.”
Isn’t that amazing? God chooses us. And what does He demand from us in return? Does the sower demand anything from the seed? No, he doesn’t, but he does work the soil so it can produce a harvest. In the same way, according the point of this parable, God’s only “demand” of us is to believe with the faith that He has already planted in us. We can only offer what He has already given us. That’s rather astounding, isn’t it? That God would give us everything, that He would spend His very life working the patch of soil that is our hearts, and then expect nothing except the harvest He had worked for? That very truth—that God’s grace cannot and does not demand anything from us—that truth has made more than a few great Christians of the past pause in amazement at the gift that they had been given.
And maybe you’re like that. Maybe you’ve spent some time asking, “Why me?” I don’t mean the pity-party question, either, where we sit around moaning and holding our heads over some difficulty and whining, “Oh, Lord . . . why me?” No. I simply mean the question as it stands. Why me? Have you ever asked yourself that question?
Why me? Why hasn’t Satan come and stolen the Word away from my heart as soon as it’s sown? That could have been me . . . why wasn’t it?
Why me? Why have my roots grown deep enough so that I can weather the tough time? What could havea been me . . . why wasn’t it? Why am I still here, today, in this church?
Why me? I’ve got my own share of worries about my job, my family, my mortgage . . . why haven’t they choked off my faith yet? I’ve it happen to other people, and it could have been me. Why wasn’t it?
Why me? Why you? Why do we get the awesome privilege of bearing the title “Christian” when you only title we’ve ever deserved is “Enemy of God”? Why do we get the glorious gift of Heaven when the only thing we’ve ever deserved is Hell? Why, when . . . let’s be honest, here . . . when every single moment of your life and mine has been lived for Number One, when all we’ve ever done for God is try to push Him into a box and maybe . . . if He’s lucky . . . maybe we’ll let Him out for a bit on Sunday morning or at a meal-time prayer before we shove Him back in His box and out of our sight.
I just don’t get it! We could take the list on and on, rattling off all the reasons we don’t deserve a wooden nickel from God. We’ve taken His gift of life and spat on it, we’ve taken His gift of sex and twisted it into something grotesque, we’ve taken His gift of the church and turned it into some sort of elite country club . . . so why hasn’t God given up on me yet? Why hasn’t God given up on you? Why does He continue to work the soil of our hearts, keeping the weeds away and Satan at bay? Why does He continue to grow our faith? Why does He continue to love us?
I used to think I had about a million answers to that question . . . but more and more I feel that I’ve got only one. That answer comes from a very personal, very emotional story, and I’d like to share it with you now in the hope that you may understand why God loves you.
It’s now been about 5 years ago. Stephanie and I were looking forward to heading to seminary. I was working full-time as a copier technician and taking full-time classes to finish up my Bachelor’s degree. We were happy! Then one Sunday, as we were getting ready for church, Stephanie has this splitting, tearing pain that shot from her upper leg up through her body. She was cold, clammy, and pale, and it was all she could do to just lie in bed. I’ve never seen her like that before.
A few days came and went and she wasn’t much better, so we decided she had better see a doctor. It turns out she was pregnant. Now, you’d think that would be a good thing . . . I hope it’s obvious to everyone how much we love children . . . but the baby wasn’t lodged safe and sound in her womb where he should have been, but in her fallopian tube, what they call an ectopic pregnancy. There was no hope for the baby. He would continue to grow until the point at which the tube would rupture, and then he would die. And if we allowed that to happen, there stood a good chance that Stephanie might have died, too.
Now, understand this point—in just a few hours we had gone from not even knowing we were pregnant to facing the certain death of our very own child. And we cried . . . and we prayed . . . and I took my wife to the hospital for the operation that would save her life but would end the life of my child.
But in those few hours I would have given everything for just a chance for my child to live, for even just one chance to hold him . . . for a chance for his daddy to hold him and protect him and let him know everything would be all right. Even if it had cost me my own life, I would have given it. I would have offered my life in exchange for this little person—no bigger than the nail of my pinky finger—this person I had never spoken to, had never touched, had never met, but was still mine. Though he couldn’t have possibly have had anything to offer me, though he couldn’t do anything for me, I loved him just because he was mine.
And in the days and weeks that came afterwards, God began to teach me something that I hadn’t been expecting. As I prayed and as I thought about the whole event, God began to teach me why. He began to teach me the answer to the question, “Why me, Lord? Why do you do these things for me?” And it was though as God said to me, “You know the way you felt about the baby? That you loved him for no reason, that you loved him just because he was yours? That’s just the way I feel about you! Everything I’ve done for you—planting the seed of faith in your heart, working in your life, sending my Son to die for you . . . I did it all just because I love you, just because you are mine.”
I’ve never forgotten that, and I pray that I never will. God loves me with a wild, reckless, giving-it-all-away kind of love . . . and He loves me just because I am His.

And if you’re here today, hearing His Word being proclaimed to you, I am here to tell you that God loves you in the exact same way. You didn’t earn it, and you can’t make Him stop, no matter what you might do. And when you sin, when you turn your back on God, He’s right there to take you into His arms. He’s the Eternal Daddy holding you . . . and protecting you . . . and telling you everything will be all right.
You might question that. But I’m standing here today and looking you dead in the eye and telling you that God loves you. I know it because He did what I couldn’t do. I didn’t have the power to offer my life in exchange for the life of my son . . . but God did.
Christ offered His life as a ransom for yours when He was put on trial for the sins He never committed---yours. When the flogged His back to shreds He gave those wounds for your healing. When they lifted Him upon the cross, naked and bleeding, He endured your shame so that you be wrapped up in His protection. And when the Father turned His back on Him, Christ endured the rejection of Hell so that you could freely enter into the acceptance of Heaven. He died so that we might life, and He lives so that we may no longer die!
And why? Just because you are His. I remain convinced that, even in Heaven, if we asked, that that would still be the answer. No other reason; just because. Christ gives everything to you with no demands, no regrets. His great, mighty, wild, and reckless love for you, which will endure forever, causes Him to do it.
He who has ears to hear, let Him hear. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:16 PM

    Thank you for posting your sermon. I've missed them.

    Grandma Kathy

    ReplyDelete