MATTHEW 13:1-9,18-23 (NIV) - That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." "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 is 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."
SERMON: "Precious Seed" Jesus did a lot of his teaching using parables. A parable is a particular story-telling method that is filled with mystery and open to a variety of interpretations much like a crystal has many facets. Each facet is part of the whole crystal. So, too, each interpretation is part of the whole story. The very purpose of a parable is to reveal some things while concealing others. At the very moment we read a parable and say, "Now, I've got it," is the moment we've lost it again. Today's gospel reading is one example of Jesus' use of parables, commonly called The Parable of the Sower. This parable is, each time it is read, a mystery. Each time a new truth emerges, a new facet. A sower went out to sow. Several weeks ago I woke up one day with a line of a hymn running around in my head. It wouldn't go away. It was persistent in my consciousness. Has that ever happened to you? Then, you'll understand. It was so persistent in fact, that I had to pay attention to it. Where did it come from? What hymn? Why was it running around in my mind? As it turned out, seeing that I’m not really a hymn person, that it was on a CD that my parents had. It is an old hymn written about the year 1741 by a powerful German preacher and hymn writer by the name of Johann Christoph Schwedler. The text of the hymn is based on 1 Corinthians 2:2: "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" and on Galatians 6:14 ""May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." The line of the hymn is also its title: "Ask me what great thing I know." Ask me what great thing I know. The answer, given in the hymn, is "Jesus Christ the crucified." But the persistence of the line of the hymn wouldn't let me off the hook so easy. What "great thing" did I know? I have wrestled with this question now for weeks. Each day there is some new aspect added on to my understanding of the answer. The acclamation of our faith that is made at Communion, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again" was one understanding that came. I began to see the answer to the question implied in, "Ask me what great thing I know," as the Gospel, the Good News in a nutshell, in a seed, if you will. The words are still running around in my head; I think they always will be.
So, what has this to do with The Parable of the Sower? Good question. There are many ways of entering in ourselves to the story of the Parable. We could read the story and see ourselves as the seed or the sower or the ground sowed. Each way to look at the story is of profit. The sower went out to sow. The sower sowed seeds; seeds which were not created by any human being, so we that can garner no credit for the mystery that lies within the seed. The seed was spread upon soil which, again, no human being has created. We cannot say, "I have made the soil good" or "it's my fault the soil is hard or thorny." Today I want to look at the story from the aspect of us being bearers of the seed, carriers of the seed, sowers. But, even more I want to suggest that the seed and the ground sown are important aspects of this story. Jesus throughout his teaching and preaching career keeps talking about the Kingdom of God, about God's reign, about repentance, about the Good News. I suggest to you today that the seed contains the potential, in all its fullness, of the Good News come amongst us; the Good News of the Kingdom of God still to come. The Good News of freedom and release from bondage, of hope and love in a world desperately in need of the same, of restoration of relationship, of communion and fellowship with God and with each other. The Good News - as a response to "Ask me what great thing I know."
The other day I read what one gentleman said when he was asked to share what he had learned. His name was Sir James Simpson. He was a Scottish doctor in the nineteenth century who was also a courageous scientific pioneer. In fact, his own experiments cost him his life. In those days he had to use himself to experiment on. He was in pursuit of a chemical that physicians could use that would render their patients unconscious during surgery without jeopardizing their recovery. Eventually one of his experiments poisoned him and he died. However, not before he had discovered chloroform, which saved millions of people untold suffering, until something better could be found. Shortly before his death Sir James was asked what he thought his greatest discovery had been. Now remember that this man had been knighted by Queen Victoria, been elected President of the Edinburgh Royal College of Physicians, and had been said by many to be the greatest physician of his time. In his research he had made many important discoveries. However, when asked, without a moment's hesitation he answered, "My greatest discovery in this life has been that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour." Wow! Ask Sir James Simpson what great thing he knew. Despite everything that he did; despite all of his great achievements - Sir James recognized that nothing he could achieve or own could outshine what God had done for him. The greatest thing he knew was the Good News, the seed of the Parable of the Sower.
We carry seeds around with us; we are bearers of seed, bearers of Good News. There is ground to be sown all around us. Now, the ground to be sown might not look so healthy to us. Lots of weeds over here, thin rocky soil over there. Surely, we're not meant to plant in such barren spots? But that is not the way of God. God is magnanimous, generous, extravagant, prodigal, abundant in His sowing. Just picture in your mind the millions of tiny parachutes floating on the air each dandelion season; the never- ending puffballs of seed drifting on the slightest breeze. Wildly extravagant is our God. God doesn't quit. Neither should we. God has given us seeds to sow. Paul, in First Corinthians says that some sow, others water but God gives the increase. God provides the harvest. Remember that the next time you see a determined dandelion break through a crack in the asphalt to fulfil its destiny. We are not to choose only the fertile ground. Ask me what great thing I know. I know this. We are, bearing the precious treasure of the seed, to sow like God, generously, haphazardly, everywhere. It is not always easy to do what is required. We get discouraged. We get judgmental. We get tired and weary from depending on our own strength, our own wisdom. We begin to see hard, thorny ground everywhere. We begin to believe it worthless, pointless to keep on sowing the seeds. We never see any increase. What's the use? Just what is the hard ground in our lives? Is it the person we've known since forever who, no way, no how, is ever going to change? Is it those kids lingering and lounging on the corner, their mouths filled with foul language? Is it our neighbour? Is it someone in our family? Or, is it us, hard of heart and afraid to change? What is the hard ground in our life as a church community? Is it, "we've always done it this way" or "we tried that once before and it didn't work" or "they only come to church about once a year" or "we're too small, we don't have any money to build, we're always broke" or a dozen other pieces of hard ground that we've gotten tired of throwing seed at. Discouraged because we see no discernible results; thinking that maybe it's our job to get results. The hardest thing to learn is that the results are not up to us. They are up to God. We're just supposed to be obedient to the great commission, to go out and keep sowing, keep broadcasting the seed. We may never know what growth is taking place. I read this story that H. L. Gee tells. In the church where he worshipped there was a lonely old man, old Thomas. He had outlived all his friends and hardly anyone knew him. When Thomas died, Gee had the feeling that there would be no one to go to the funeral so he decided to go, so that there might be someone to follow the old man to his last resting-place. There was no one else and it was a wild, wet day. The funeral reached the cemetery; and at the gate there was a soldier waiting. He was an officer, but on his raincoat there were no rank badges. The soldier came to the graveside for the ceremony; when it was over he stepped forward and before the open grave swept his hand to a salute that might have been given to a king. H. L. Gee walked away with this soldier, and as they walked, the wind blew the soldier's raincoat open to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier. The brigadier said to Gee: "You will perhaps be wondering what I am doing here. Years ago Thomas was my Sunday School teacher; I was a wild lad and a sore trial to him. He never knew what he did for me, but I owe everything I am or will be to old Thomas, and today I had to come to salute him at the end."
Thomas did not know what he was doing. No preacher or teacher ever does. It is our task to sow the seed, and to leave the rest to God. People respond to the Good News in different ways. The ground represents the different ways that people receive the message of the Gospel. The Good News is that God loved us enough to give his Son to die for us. But each of us reacts differently at different times to this call of love. The seeds represent the message of the Gospel, the message that God loves us, the message of faith and hope, the message that, when we least deserved it, least expected it, our Heavenly Father gave us a saviour. For God So loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He (sowed) His only begotten (seed) that whosoever (the world/the Body of Christ/the Church/you & me) believes in Him shall have eternal life. It really is that simple. Ask me what great thing I know. We have this very great treasure, this Good News, these seeds, to carry to the world, the whole world. All we have to do is keep sowing them, broadcasting them lavishly, extravagantly. Each one of us is to take that flask of precious ointment, the seed of the Good News, and break it open and anoint the world, the whole wide world, everyone, with the fragrance of the Good News. Blessed be our God this day and forever!
PRAYER - Loving God, we praise you for being such an awesome farmer - for casting your seed far and wide without regard to where it might land or how it might be received. We praise you for your indiscriminate love - your willingness to forgive - your desire to see all people made whole. Oh God, we pray that in us, instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
Lord Jesus - we praise you for being such powerful seed - for growing and producing such abundant fruit among those who not only receive you with joy - but who in faithfulness continue to listen to you once you have taken root in them. We thank you for offering to take our burdens – those burdens that might choke out the good news of the Kingdom of God - and for offering to us your yoke and your burden - the yoke of being a sower of your love - the burden of caring for those you care for. Help us Lord to have the ears to hear and the will to do what you want us to hear and do. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen