Sermon transcript for July 13, 2014
A Sower Went Out to Sow
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
Belmont UMC—July 13, 2014
Ken Edwards, preaching
I watched my Dad load the seeder filled w/ bags of seed. As a boy my job was to sit beside him on the tractor and watch the machinery being pulled by tractor. If it clogged, jammed, I was to tell him to stop.
I asked lots of questions: “Why so many seeds?”
Dad answered, “It takes a lot of seeds for a big field, and some won’t come up.
“Why won’t they come up?”
Dad answered again, “Some are bad, some are old and won’t sprout, some will fall on soil that won’t grow anything, some will get eaten by birds, weeds will choke out some, and so we overplant to get a good yield. Why do you ask so many questions?”
Two weeks later we would revisit the field and Dad would scratch in the dirt to look for signs of germination, of sprouting corn. He would take off his cap and rub his head and try to offer a verdict on the year’s crops.
I’ve watched him replant small patches of fields with an old canvas hand seeder strapped onto his chest. He’d turn a grinder—he always looked like one of those organ grinders you see on the streets in old movies.
Seeds intrigue me. I’ve been around the planting of crops all my life. Even now, with flower beds filled with perennials and annuals from the youth flower sale, I have to sow some seeds to enjoy the process.
Seeds come in all shapes and sizes. Some are long and narrow, some are miniscule, and some are round flat seeds. But all seeds are dry and lifeless. No one would give them much of a chance on first glance. Seeds need warm, moist, dark earth to germinate. I’ve planted old seeds that I found in the cupboard and they surprise me with new flowers in the garden.
Sowing seeds can be fascinating and delightful or frustrating and disappointing. Some farmers on television were complaining of too much water and of seeds rotting in the earth. Some were complaining of drought and of seedlings that had dried up and died.
Jesus said that a farmer went out to scatter seeds—full of anticipation—he’d done it many times. The farmer broadcast seeds all over the place, because he knew that some seeds won’t make it.
It seems wasteful to me--all those seeds that won’t produce anything but compost or bird food. I don’t like to waste things. I pick up paper clips off the floor, and I save rubber bands until they dry rot in my desk. I pick up pennies along the road when I’m running and walking. I find lots of interesting things on the road—things that have fallen off of trucks. I once found a huge ball of twine and I picked it up and ran home with it. The most unusual thing I ever picked up was an axe. I ran home carrying an axe, not calculating how strange that might look to passersby.
John Wesley discouraged us from wasting time and to use it wisely—I carry a book and note cards with me everywhere I go. I find a way to write a letter or read a chapter. I don’t like to waste seeds. I place them in the garden with great care.
A farmer went out to sow and some seeds fell on the path. I pictured a cow path when I read this. Cows like to walk over the same place repeatedly and they create cow paths in the field--paths of dirt that are packed and hard from the abuse and weight of cows. My folks used to refer to stubborn people as cow paths. You can’t plant seeds on a cow path. Jesus said some people are like that—you can throw seeds at them all year long, but nothing will grow.
I don’t like to waste seeds on cow path people. They are not bad people, just resistant. They can sit in church on Sunday morning, tears welling in the eyes of people all around them because of the wonderful choir anthem or because taking the bread and cup of the Eucharist means so much to them, and there they are, the cow path people, thinking about the pot roast in the oven or planning on shooting bottle rockets in the back yard. You can offer the seeds of God’s word and nothing grows--no love or justice, no hope of transformation, no compassion, and no desire to reach out to anyone.
Some of the farmer’s seeds fell on rocky ground. Why do we have to spread seeds on rocky soil? I planted some flower seeds on the rocky side of my house one year and they sprang up and looked promising for a week or so and then started to fade.
Those rocky soil people get so excited for awhile, joining the church, volunteering for everything that comes up. There they are every time the church is open. They will say, “Pastor, we love it here, nothing could be better.” Six months later they are sleeping in on Sunday mornings or eating brunch at the newest restaurant in town but can’t find the energy for church. And we wonder why we wasted so much time on those folks.
And then there are those thorns—outside forces (hopefully not inside forces) that choke and kill the spirit of people who would otherwise be disciples for Jesus Christ. There are thorns like tragedies, being excluded, injustices, weird and harmful theology, depression, life-defeating experiences, and poverty. The list is long. A lot of us carry the wounds caused by life thorns. On July 27 our worship will be a Service of Healing and Wholeness and we’ll have time to pray for our woundedness.
A famer went out to sow, knowing full well the risk of sowing. It takes a lot of patience—you can wait a lifetime to see some seeds sprout and some you will never live to see.
A young woman came up to me at Annual Conference a few years ago and introduced herself to me. I knew her name but did not recognize her. She had been a teenager in a church I had served years ago. She proceeded to tell me how my presence in her life had helped her. She quoted some things I had said in sermons and told me that I had made a huge difference in her life. I had no memory of saying or doing any of those things.
Her words reminded me that the sower must be faithful—in bad years and in good years—she still heads to the field to sow those seeds.
Remember we are called to be faithful not successful—we are the sowers of the seed of God’s word. We go out to sow the seeds of grace, justice, and forgiveness--faithfully going out to do what God has called us to do.
So what are the lessons from this parable?
We do not get to be selective--sowing one seed here and one over there. We are called to share the seeds of God’s word everywhere, never knowing where they will fall or how they will be received or what will happen.
Don’t give up on anyone. I used to be a cow path! You could throw seeds at me all day long and nothing would grow. I could not hear the gospel. Maybe some of you were like that—or you were shallow, rocky ground and had a false start of faith. Or the thorns of life choked out the possibility of a life with God. Somehow the seeds finally took hold and sprang into life. Don’t give up. Someone kept sowing the seeds of grace in our lives and here we are today because of their persistence.
Fortunately, soil can be amended, gardening term. I have an earth machine from public works that is making good compost. We not only sow seeds, but we amend the soil with things like forgiveness and grace and prayer. Our job as a community of faith is to create an environment that is rich enough for something transformative to happen in people’s lives.
The Parable is not all bad news—this amended soil brought forth grain—some a hundred fold—some sixty—some thirty (depending on who was counting—the pastor or the ushers).
Every now and then we hear of someone we never dreamed would change, turning their life around. Stony hearts have been transformed. Cold hearts that now serve the poor or get fired up on issues of justice. Cow paths turned into fruitful fields. Thorn-choked lives finding hope and joy in God. Because the sowers went out to sow and did not get discouraged and give up!
The first gift my wife ever gave me was a plaque “Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” It’s from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. She was a student and did not have a lot of money and the gift meant so much to me. I hear that phrase in my mind a lot.
And the farmer goes out to scatter seeds, and God has promised a harvest--a gracious, abundant, and surprising harvest.
Pastoral prayer by Gwen Purushotham:
You scatter your Word like seeds--
intentionally and recklessly,
it lands on all kinds of soil--
On paths where it has no chance to grow;
On rocky ground where it cannot take root;
Among thorns where it is short-lived;
And sometimes, only sometimes . . .
On good soil where
your Word of love and truth, the Kingdom
takes hold and produces
We confess that this challenges our notions of success and failure.
We prayer for persons everywhere who are foolish and wise enough to . . .
Scatter seeds of Love in the most desperate of places and under the most impossible conditions . . .
Among Israeli and Palestinian communities
In the Ukraine and Russia
In a planet faced with the crisis of climate change
In a world where loneliness, poverty, hatred, and the fear of death threaten
to undo us.
O God, in these times
when the measurements for the health and vitality of the church
are based on productivity and consumerism,
transform us into reckless, risk-taking sowers of your Word,
and make us signs of your presence in the world you so love.
In the name of Jesus, the Christ, who taught his disciples to pray . . .
Sermon transcript for July 6, 2014
Year A 4th Sunday After Pentecost
July 6, 2014 - Chris Allen, preaching
"Thanks Be To God"
Wow. At first glance, the biggest hurdle to understanding Paul’s words to the Romans is the tongue twister that it is.
If you read earlier in Romans, you will recall that in the previous chapter, Paul’s straight talk to the church in Rome could be summed up as, “Come one now, you’re baptized. You are raised with Christ in conquering sin and death. Now start acting like it.” Now in chapter seven it seems that Paul is in need of his own advice. Its as if Paul is now floundering in excuses. "It is not me, it is sin's fault!"
Let’s take a moment and retrace Paul’s argument from chapter six. First, Jesus is victorious over sin and death. Paul makes this point clear. Second, at our baptism we are given the power to experience freedom from sin and death because of the work of Christ. This should sound familiar to our baptismal covenant when the candidate or sponsor is asked, “Do you accept the freedom and power God has given you to reject evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?” Paul will go on in chapter eight to call this acceptance of freedom and exercising your power in Christ over sin and death, “life in the Spirit.” Life in the Spirit is where we welcome, experience, and delight in God’s law in our innermost being.
Paul says, “I don’t do what I want to do. Instead I do the thing I hate.” The struggle that Paul describes is the reality of our actual experience. The persons we have been and the habits we have kept keep us from knowing, much less delighting in the law of God. We’ve been patterned by sin to respond in certain ways without even knowing. The pervasive power of sin in our lives forms us to seek revenge when we want reconciliation. The conditioning of sin deafens our ears to the cries of those who are in need. We’ve got a lot of unlearning to do.
This isn’t just a you problem or problem for me. This is an all of us problem. These words from Paul in Romans chapter three can be unsettling but they are true. All have sinned and fall short of God’s God (Romans 3:23). These words can be a tough pill to shallow but they’re true. It’s true about your life. It’s true about my life.
But, are you going on to perfection? This is a question that is asked of all the candidates at ordination as part of what is known as “the Historic Questions." Ken, Linda, Pam, Susan and many others in this room have all been asked this question. Heather, Adam, and I look forward to the day when the Bishop asked this question. It is a question that goes all the way back to John Wesley. This question was not reserved to candidates for ordination as it is reserved today. (REPEAT). Wesley asked this question to all the women and men who served as leaders in the Methodist societies. These were the lay people, no just clergy, who lead Bible studies, prayer meetings, watched over the finances, visited those in prison, fed the hungry, and clothed the naked.
So are you going on to perfection? Notice that the question is not “Are you perfect?” it asks, “Are you going on to perfection?” If you are not going on to perfect, then where are you headed? The destination of the life of Christian discipleship is marked by loving God with all of heart, with all of your being, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength. Loving other people with the same love that God has shown to you marks the life of discipleship. The life of Christian discipleship is moving toward the love of God within each one of us becoming a visible reality of God in the world we live. It is unlearning the habits of sin and being formed by the Holy Spirit with the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If this is perfection, who doesn’t want to move towards that? What might the world look like if all of us are fully committed to going on to perfection?
There is a fancy Methodist word used to describe this movement towards perfection and it is called sanctification. It is word you probably don't use much in conversation. Sanctification is the ongoing process by which we are drawn into the likeness of Christ, into that full relationship with Jesus. The sanctification of our lives is truly by the grace of God, that sweet amazing grace that finds us when we are lost, guides us through the many dangers, toils, and snares, and never gives up to lead us home.
Sanctification is beautiful part of our tradition, the Wesleyan tradition. In the final verse of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” Charles Wesley wrote these words.
Finish, then, Thy new creation; Pure and spotless let us be. Let us see Thy great salvation Perfectly restored in Thee.
Charles is talking about sanctification. Sanctification is not some otherworldly process. It is has happening right here and right now. And I’ve seen it…
I’ve witnessed it in the lives of Kim Hawkins, Lori Pearce, and bunch of young women. Kim and Lori co-led the middle school girls small group for the past two years. The on-going process of sanctification, of growing into the likeness of Christ, is at work in this group as they’ve studied scripture together, prayed for each other, and served alongside one another. I know God’s sanctifying grace is at work in this group of women because Kim and Lori have both come to me after youth group on Sunday night and said, “I just don’t know the answers anymore to the questions they are asking now asking me. I need to go home, read more scripture this week, and do some research.” You see, the grace of God loves us so enough us to meet us where we are. The good news is that God’s amazing grace doesn’t leave us there. God’s grace loves us so much as to transform our way of being into the likeness of Christ.
Are you earnestly striving after it? So you say you are going on to perfection and you believe it can happen here and now, so what are you doing about it? Grace invites us to respond. This is where the rubber meets the road. Its one thing to look up on Google Maps how many miles Dallas is from Nashville but it’s quite a different thing to jump in your car actually make the drive to Dallas. So what are you doing to move in the direction of Christian perfection?
The are a number of opportunities to help you move in that direction, no matter if you are still exploring the faith, just getting started, or seeking to take the next step to deepen your faith. Throughout the history of the church there have been certain practices that lead us towards perfect love such as studying scripture, prayer, community, service, and worship. If you are just starting out maybe its just join us again next week for worship or becoming a part of one of our affinity groups. If you are seeking to take a deeper step, I invite you to be apart of one of the upcoming Covenant bible studies groups or be a mentor to the young people of our congregation through our youth and children ministries. As we gather around this table today, may the spirit work within all of us, no matter where we are on the journey, knowing that God’s grace leads us home.
1 Unlearning the pattern of sin is a term borrowed from L. Gregory Jones in Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis.
2 Book of Discipline 2012, ¶336.
3 Steve Manskar, “What’s Christian Perfection got to do with Leadership?” http://wesleyanleadership.com/2010/03/15/whats-christian-perfection-got-to-do-with-leadership/