Faithlife Sermons


Summer 20 (COVID-19)  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Matthew 13:1–9 NIV
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Matthew 13:18–23 NIV
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus described the Kingdom through stories

These stories picked up on the rhythms of everyday life but they weren’t usually historical accounts. They were stories that rang true to how things went but were free to bend in fresh ways to teach a lesson or give the hearer a transforming experience. Stories like the good samaritan shock us and show us that our favorites don’t always act right and our enemies sometimes outshine us. Stories like the prodigal son shock us with the great love and grace of God. Stories like this one demonstrate God’s ideal for his people. It also leaves clues for us in what we should be doing differently. Once we see what the story sees, then we take the next step. But the stories and parables of Jesus are always challenging us and always expecting us to take the next steps. They weren’t meant as entertainment for the true followers. They were sometimes refreshing, sometimes disturbing, always requiring a response to grace...

The early church needed to stay faithful in witness

In Jesus’ story a farmer goes out to sow seed. There’s no shortcut to this step. In the right season, on the right day, the farmer goes out to sow. If we aren’t farmers or gardeners we may just pick up this image of a man with an open sack of seed tossing it willy, nilly and thinking it just happens to fall. But most of Jesus’ listeners were more familiar with farming. Even Matthew’s readers would know something about it, but they clearly needed a full explanation of what it means so they could get started on how they would apply it.
But be sure they came to these stories not to resolve their inner feelings, they came to these stories to be changed and to get their marching orders for the day. Remember they lived under oppressive and repressive task masters. They knew living and dying could be at risk in following any messiah other than Caesar of Rome. He presented himself as the Son of God with divine authority who demanded loyalty and even eventually worship.
So when they heard about a farmer going out to sow, they most likely realized all the effort that went in to preparing for that moment. And they realized like most farmers that it’s hard work. And it is at once one of most exciting moments of farming but at the same time one that can freeze you up. It’s so easy to overthink when to plant. So many things can go wrong. It’s a risk. These are the only seeds you have. Likely you can’t afford more. You can think: well maybe I should hold on to these and plant another time. Or next year. But then there will be no harvest. So this is it: cue the Kenny Loggins song… This is the moment. A sower went out to sow and the game is on!
But oh, not all the seed is a dead hit.
Matthew 13:4–7 NIV
4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.
Oh, see! It’s just not worth it! So much seed wasted! All that money down the drain! So many ways to miss on sowing that seed. Ugh. No wonder people were already starting to migrate toward cities. The world was changing. But Jesus was using this down home story. Many may have been scratching their heads....
Those a generation later hearing this story of Jesus in the early church were maybe feeling a tug. All these events had come and gone and Jesus had left his indelible mark on the world. He had changed their lives for the better and they were now living in his grace. It wasn’t getting any easier to live this life. Between Roman oppression, civil unrest at times, and there were still so many illnesses to die of that the fortunes of any family could change in a single day. So maybe it’s just easier to be thankful for what Jesus had done and try to pass in on to their kids and get through the day. Is that enough?
Then here comes Jesus and his pesky little farmer going out to so seed. What were they doing to extend the message of Jesus into people’s lives? What were they doing to avoid petty arguments with the Pharisees and simply go about the mission of the church? Were they evangelizing at all? Stories were being shared of Early Christians taking in orphaned children and changing their futures. Some were taking up offerings to share with those in need. By the time the church was reading this in the form we have it Paul had already had his missionary journeys and taken up his offerings for those starving back home. Paul was this kind of farmer. What were they doing?
And what are we doing? What commitments are we making to rearrange our lives? What is our seed? How much of it do we have stored up? When are we sowing it? And what did the early church realize that we must realize?

God empowered the early church to fulfill their mission

They could not control the response of others. They could be faithful with God’s help. And I have to admit. Many of the classes I took on the gospels only helped me see about half of the message here. If you approach this text as a student you can get bogged down on here’s what Jesus meant: soils are certain kinds of Christians, so be the good kind. Don’t be the rocky or thorny or pathy kind of Christian! Sorry, professors. I’m glad I kept reading the Bible across the years and kept living with church people on a journey together. I’m glad I came from farming country, even though I was as city as you could get in the Iowa City area. A town of 50,000 at the time that was run more like Chicago than Logansport. We even had urban renewal that kept the downtown torn up more than ten years until I was in High School. But I knew farmers and I knew that planting involved a lot of hard work to get the ground ready.
And this is what God empowered the early church to do so well. You see the soil wasn’t mainly about who THEY were. It’s mainly about the responsibility list in the church. Remember those? It’s the most important list we will ever have. Try not to let folks be forgotten. If you haven’t seen someone in a while, don’t take a short cut. Make contact and find out for yourself. If you can’t find your church directory Look for it like the lost coin or the the lost sheep or the prodigal son. The farmer prepares the soil. The soil doesn’t prepare itself. And I know what you’re thinking: Oh yes well we pay the pastor to do that. No, we don’t get off that easy. WE all are the farmer. The farmer is the church.
The seed falling on all these various places does refer to lives at various stages of readiness for the gospel. But it’s the church that does the tilling before they do the sowing. If you haven’t done any tilling, then all the seed in the world will only go so far. But where we have tilled and tilled and prepared and then tried our best to aim the seed: BOOM, something amazing happens...
Matthew 13:8 NIV
8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
Ding ding ding ding ding! Lives changed. The family of God blessed. Prodigals coming home. Seekers getting found. Wanderers finding a place to belong.
Those early hearers of Jesus got their marching orders. Therefore there was an early church to read Matthew’s account. And sluggish though they might have felt they found inspiration in this story to keep doing it again and again and again, until someone got to know you and loved you and prepared something and invited you somehow to be a part. And now this story falls to you...

God empowers us to fulfill our mission

We are living in strange and perplexing times. But this story brings us right back into focus. We are fishers of people. We are farmers of the soil of their lives. And we’ve got to keep tilling the soil in those lives and being tilled by others.
The only way to do it takes energy. It takes love. You have to care. That’s the thing. But God provides what you can’t. He can even fill your heart with the hope.
Yeah, some days we may literally be worried about whether we will survive these times. And we should wear masks we should be careful. But we still are to be those farmers. It’s the call of Jesus, not a guilt trip. It’s the mission of God, not a just a church program. It’s the grace of God flowing into our lives and empowering us to do more than we think we can. It’s an easy burden because Jesus promised it would be. But one thing it’s not, is an option. You have a super power. You know Jesus and you know people. Because he died on the cross and rose from the grave we can do it. Faithful imperfect people like Paul and Peter and Philip and John show us that we can.
During this pandemic we have discovered how technology can help us stay connected. It has it’s benefits and its dangers and it certainly has it’s costs, but it’s worth it. It’s one way we can sow seed. Some of us should give a bit extra to help it happen going forward. But cutting a check won’t absolve us of the call to be the farmers who till that soil. So we make the calls, we don’t forget people we haven’t seen in a while. We don’t always rely on the facebook prayer group to know what’s going on in each others’ lives.
God has been so faithful to us. He is taking care of us all. We can trust God. It’s not survival of the fittest or most selfish. It’s quite literally the survival of the most loved. So let everyone we know have more support than they need to make it! You can do it by the grace of God. God can and will do it through every fully surrendered life. Look what can happen…
Matthew 13:8–9 NIV
8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Do you have ears this morning? Do you have seeds? Do you have your own responsibility list? Do you have some names? Like an old preacher I like Fred Craddock said once: do you have some names? Can you give me their names today? God has placed you in the lives of others for holy reasons. He’s calling you today. He’s empowering you. Have ears. Let yourself hear. Amen?
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