Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Sower, the Seed, and the Soils

Luke 8:4-15 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
            It is the simplest little story.  There is nothing difficult about it at all.  The events portrayed were repeated thousands upon thousands of times- over thousands upon thousands of years- in the ancient world.  Even the smallest child could understand the story.
But this simple story reveals one of the deepest mysteries of God’s work in the world—something that we have all wondered about.  Maybe you’ve seen it in your extended family.  Maybe you’ve seen it in the congregation. 
The Word of God was preached to every member of the family; to every member of the congregation.  Everyone was baptized and went to Sunday School and confirmation instruction. 
And yet somewhere along the way, their lives of faith turned out very different.  Some of them led a fruitful Christian life and persevered in the faith unto the end and were saved-- and others fell away at some point and were lost.  It grieves our heart.  We wonder what happened along the way.
That mystery is what is revealed in Jesus’ explanation to the parable and when Jesus says, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” he is not inviting our speculation about where others in our family and congregation have ended up—but he is asking each one of us to carefully consider where we are right now and how God’s Word is working in our lives.
Have we made room for the devil who would steal our salvation?  Is our faith shallow because we are not grounded in the word of God?  Are the cares and concerns and the priorities of the world crowding out the Word of God in our lives?  Or, are we holding fast to the Word of God and growing in our faith and producing the fruits thereof?  Jesus says that:
 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
            In this story, Jesus especially is the Sower of the Word because his death and resurrection is the content of that Word--but along with him is every other Minister of the Gospel who works with him to share the story of salvation-- and in fact, every other Christian who shares in that work of speaking forth the Word of life that is found in the Gospel.
Jesus likens the Word of God to a seed because from that Word alone does our new life with God come.  The Bible says that we have been born again by the living and enduring Word of God.  The Gospel is the power of salvation because it tells us of Christ’s death for our sins and the hope we have in his resurrected life.
That is how important the Word of God is!  Life with God; a place in his kingdom; salvation life itself comes from no other place than the Seed of the Gospel as it is spread throughout the world like an ancient farmer sowing seed in his fields.
As the farmer in the parable spread that seed, some fell upon the hard-packed path between the fields and immediately birds came and ate the seed. 
Jesus says that’s the way the devil works—watching and waiting—always following behind those whore are sowing the Word—doing everything in his power to steal the Good News away before it even has a chance to begin to grow into faith in human hearts.
The Bible says that:  We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  The Bible says that our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
From the beginning, when the devil asked Adam and Eve, “Did God really say?” his chief mode of attack has been an attack on the Word of God because he knows that in the Word alone is life.  And so we ought to ask ourselves in all seriousness, “Is there some place in my life where I am giving the devil a foothold?” 
I know that the Word of God says that I am to forgive and keep on forgiving but I can’t be expected to forgive that, can I?  I know that the Word says that looking on a woman with lust in my heart is adultery but these TV programs I watch and these websites I visit can’t be that bad, can they?  I know that the Word says to put God first and his kingdom but I’ve got to make a living, don’t I?  And on and on the satanic attack goes and it is a demonic, deadly danger to our life of faith—but so is the weakness of our own flesh.  Jesus went on…
Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.
            We’ve all seen this.  A couple loses a child or grandchild to a terrible accident and along with the child they lose their faith.  A man suffers one financial setback after another and his life is never what he thought it would be and he loses his faith.  A woman has a glass of wine to wind down at the end of the day but it becomes another and another and she eventually succumbs to addiction and loses her faith. 
Let’s be very clear, we are made of no better stuff than they.  We are broken people who live in a broken world.  The Bible says that "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" and we know how many don’t make it past those hardships   
It is so easy to make a good start when it comes to our life with God; to be filled with enthusiasm for his ways; to be an involved member of a congregation-- but to never the deep-rooted faith we need to withstand trials and temptations.  And so then…
We need to be hear God’s Word and study God’s word and apply God’s Word to our lives and put it into practice if we are to develop the spiritual roots we need stand fast in times of trial and endure in faith unto the end so that we can be saved-- and often times the trials and temptation are of our own making and our own misplaced priorities.  Jesus says:
The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.
            For me, and perhaps for you too, a life of ease such as described here is much more dangerous to my faith in Jesus than the hardships of life.  When I go through hard times and trials I am reminded how weak I am- and how much I need God- and I turn to his Word -and call out to him in prayer- and trust in Jesus for the help that only he can give.
But when my life is filled with ease and comfort and material blessings I am always tempted to let my life be about ease and comfort and material blessings.  And perhaps that is true for you too—that there is a temptation to let the gifts God gives become more important than the Giver of the gifts.
Here in the United States we live in a time of prosperity and peace and plenty that is previously unknown in human history.  What we consider to be the bare necessities of human existence, would be considered unimaginable luxuries just a few generations ago.
Now, there is no way to go back.  We can’t pretend that we are living in olden days.  In fact, that would be easier than what we actually need to do!  What is much, much more difficult-- and what must be done if we are to be faithful, fruitful Christians-- is to make sure that the trappings of modern life do not become an all-consuming top priority in our lives.
We must ask ourselves:  Is the Christian training of my children even as close to important to me as their academic or athletic success and how do I show that?  Am I filled with peace and hope because I am a child of God or because I am good shape financially?  Compared to all my other activities and interests, how does time spent in God’s Word compare?
The seed of the Word that is planted and begins to grow but has to compete with the things of the world will eventually be choked out.  What a tragedy to say about ourselves or our children that we gave them everything they could ever want except the one thing needful: a true and living and fruitful faith in Christ!  Jesus says that:
The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
            There are those sitting in Christian churches today who are letting the devil steal the Word from their heart; who have never really let the word of God sink deeply into their lives; who are doing their level best to make a place for God AND for the things of the world on the altar of their heart.  I know this because Jesus teaches it in our lesson today.  Where are you?
These words of Jesus about good soil are where you want to be.  A heart that believes and holds fast to God’s Word.  A heart that loves God’s Word and wants to grow in God’s Word.  A heart that is ready and willing to take what is learned in church and bible study and personal devotions and put it into action in their lives bearing the fruit of faith.  Dear friends in Christ…
It is not enough to begin well.  It is not enough to have an intellectual assent to some dogmatic truth.  It is not enough to have a superficial knowledge of the things of God.  Jesus says that it is only the one who endures to the end who will be saved. Jesus says that it is only the fruitful faith that is a saving faith. 
This is what the Word of God will accomplish in us if we will only hear it and believe it and step out in faith upon its promises. 
Jesus has given us this day for that and we must take hold of it, for to delay will only lead to more and more spiritual difficulty in our lives and eventually, the loss of faith altogether.  The Bible says that:    
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’
            Today we have heard the Word of God.  It has been read and taught plainly.  There are lessons in it we can all understand.  And Jesus wants us to take them to heart without delay. 
            Those that he spoke to that day had turned a deaf ear again and again to God’s Word.  They had failed to step out in faith on the promises of God’s Word again and again.  And it would be increasingly difficult for them to change their ways and believe the Good News and show that faith in their lives. 
            And that was God’s judgment upon them. But that is not us!  Today is the day of salvation!  Today is the day to hear God’s Word; take it to heart; and begin to live our lives as the fruitful Christians God desires us to be.  Amen.

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