Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:10-13
Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

He that hath ears, let him hear.

It finally rained at our house during the last week. It has been months since we had any significant rainfall. The ground was dry and hard, the grass was dying. So, the rain has been a welcome change to our weather. The problem with the rain is that some of the storms have poured so heavily on the parched and solid ground that the water just rolls right off into the streets and gullies. Though the first rains watered the surface, we needed a deep soaking rain to see a real difference in our drought situation. We have now had several days of rain and our world is looking like a much fresher and lovelier place.

Some of the storms have dropped a great deal of water. These pounding storms cause dangerous flash floods as the water just runs across the surface of the earth. As I was driving home during one of these storms on garbage day, I noticed a bunch of trash bins floating down the street. Unfortunately, one of them was mine, so when I parked the car I had to wade through the river and catch my can to bring it home.

When it rains like this, the water rushes into drainage ditches that take the water to larger drainage ditches that leads eventually to the river. With our grass so dry and our plants in such desperate need of water, it is sad to see so much water running off to the ditches and river. Yet, that water also has a purpose. Along the way some does soak into the ground. Some will soak down far enough to fill the aquifer that supplies our water. Some will make the river flow better, supporting the habitats of the fish and birds as well as supplying other cities with their water. Even though the rain was running past my house, it wonít have fallen in vain. God uses it to water the whole world. Eventually it will evaporate and fall down again on another house in another place. Perhaps it might even fall again for us.

How often do we speak the Word of God into the world thinking that it will just run off like a summer shower on a parched earth? We think that our words are unheard or that they do not reach beyond the surface. We often think our witness is in vain because it doesnít seem to make a difference in the world. We might see a bit of hope, but it soon dries up and disappears. We might think there is a glimmer of faith, but it quickly disappears as those to whom we have spoken face hard times or doubt. Sometimes change comes very slowly. Sometimes the change comes so slowly that we never see it happen. But we can rest in the knowledge that Godís Word does not go back to Him void. God says that His Word will not be in vain. We can live in joy knowing that our witness is planting the seeds or watering the fruit of what God is doing in the world.

We are very careful with our witness, however. We are too afraid that we might insult or offend someone. We are too afraid that weíll be rejected. We are too afraid that the people will not receive the words we say or that we arenít the right people to give it to them. We are imperfect, so we wonder how God could possibly use us to share His Word with the world. We donít have enough knowledge of the Bible or of the message. We are afraid to waste a good word because we think it might fall on the path, the rocks or in the thorns to be devoured, whither or choked. We are too shy to scatter the seed, so we keep it to ourselves. We try planting one seed at a time, carefully placing the Good News only in the Ďheartsí of those we know will take it.

How many pastors give a sermon and walk out of the church Sunday afternoon thinking that he didn't reach even one heart? And yet, what he does not see is that the message of God is planted in the hearts of his flock. They may not say anything after the service, but later in the week they share something they learned with their friends at lunch. The seed of grace is then passed on to all those with whom it was shared. One seed might bear fruit in hundreds of lives. Some of the seeds might land on the path, the rocks and in the weeds. But God can multiply even one seed a hundred fold.

It can be frustrating to share the word of God over and over again and never see the fruits of our labors, but perhaps that's why we don't often see it. When we have successes in our work, we tend to take credit for the work that has been done. All too many people keep track of the number of people they have led to Christ. All too many people boast about the seeds they have planted for God. Yet, they forget that the growth is due not to their own abilities or their work, but rather it is thanks to God's hand. He gives the seed, causes the sower to plant, and brings the water, the nourishment and the light. We might plant the seed, but someone else will water and someone else will harvest. All we can really do is go forth in faith, abiding in God's mercy and His grace and sharing the love of Christ with all we see. In this way God will be manifest in the midst of the death and chaos that seems to rule the world. We can trust in His faithfulness.

Jesus tells us to scatter the seed, because enough will fall on good soil. It is a matter of trust, trusting that God will make sure that there is good soil, water and sunshine to make it grow. We just have to hear.

In todayís Gospel passage, Jesus said, ďHe that hath ears, let him hear.Ē Any parent knows the frustration of dealing with a child who has hurt themselves. They react with intense emotions when they are hurt, and it is impossible to understand what is wrong. They scream so loud and so long that they canít say anything and they donít hear the calming assurances of those who want to help. A hurt child has ears, but they donít have ears that hear. They only know that they are hurt and they canít hear anything that might help make them feel better.

The people to whom Jesus was speaking may not have been screaming children, but they were often as deaf as a hurting child. They heard the words that Jesus spoke in His stories and sermons, but they did not really hear what He was saying. Jesus was sometimes very obvious in the message He was trying to share, giving the people very pointed and blunt information about His mission and ministry in the world. They heard those words from their own understanding and experience. When Jesus talked of the Kingdom of God, they thought He was talking about the restoration of a Jewish independence when He was talking about a different kind of Kingdom.

Thatís why Jesus used so many parables to teach the people about how to live as the people of God. Parables help us listen more deeply. We have to look at the story from a different perspective. We might know and understand the earth-bound concepts, like in this one about planting seed, but we have to think more deeply about what it means in our daily lives. What is the seed? What is growing? What are the path, the rocks and the thorns? Certainly Jesus was not giving the people farming advice. He wasnít a farmer and most of His listeners werenít farmers. He was giving them a parable to help them see Godís Kingdom in terms that they would understand. But to understand, they really had to listen to what He was saying, not just the words He said.

In todayís lesson, Jesus used the example of planting grain. Grain is not carefully placed in rows or planted with precision. To plant grain, a farmer scatters the seed. In this type of planting you canít control where every seed lands. Most of the seed falls on the good soil, but even the most careful farmer will lose a small percentage to the path, the rocks and the thorns. This is what Jesus was talking about in the parable. It would be impossible for a farmer to plant every grain of seed individually, much too time consuming and impractical. Unfortunately, it means some of the seed will be lost. Jesus compared the work of a farmer to the work of those sharing the Good News in the world. The seed is the Word of God. The soil is in the hearts of men.

There are those who are gifted and ordained by God's grace to be evangelists and preachers. They are trained and sent into the world to specifically share the Gospel in a manner that will bring many people to Christ. However, that is rarely the first exposure people have to Christ. It is the kindness of neighbors, in the help of the strangers that Christ is manifested to the world. Every time something is done in the name of Jesus, a seed is planted. It is often not visible to the planter or to the world that something has happened. Seeds, but their very nature, are small, dead and useless. Unless, of course, they are put into the earth, watered and given light.

As we look at the world in which we live, we often find it difficult to believe that God has His hand in the day to day events that affect us all. After all, much of what is happening seems to be chaotic and out of control. We see war, natural disaster, failing relationships and every sort of sin perpetrated. How could this be in the design of the Master?

Isn't that the way it is with the world? That which God created is good, but over the many generations of human existence foreign matterósinóhas become part of life. Sin brings death and chaos. It seems as though the world is out of control. Yet, we can't help but see God's hand in the world, as love, grace and mercy manifest in the daily experiences of those same humans. Somehow, underneath all the confusion there is a plan, designed by the great Architect Himself. We don't always understand or recognize the direction which He is sending us, or what He will do with us when we arrive. However, we go forth in faith in the hope that He will bring goodness out of our failing.

Seeds are basically dead, but they have within them the possibility of life. The seed can not do it alone. Seeds need to be planted, watered and given sunshine. They need the nourishment of the elements and the tender loving care of the gardener. If the seed stays in a packet, it will not grow. It needs to be buried and transformed before it can produce fruit.

The same is true of us. We are sinners, dead in our flesh and unable to do anything on our own. However, God plants us into Himself and transforms us into something newósomething living. By grace we are made into a new creation that will bear fruit. In Romans, Paul's words are rather harsh to our old man. We think we can live on our own and do good works. But we can't do anything; we can't share the kingdom of God or the Gospel message without His Spirit. "For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God."

But now that we have received the seed, planted in the good soil of our hearts that God has prepared, we are made new and different. "But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you." We have life because His Spirit dwells within, guiding us forward toward the promise, creating and recreating the world in which we live by His Word.

We witness the incredible power of God in the lives of people and His hand moving the whole of creation day by day. It should be impossible for us to not see Godís sovereignty as we look at this world. When flowers grow, it is because God sent the sun and the rain. When kittens are born, it is because God has knitted them in the wombs of their mothers. When the sky is filled with color at the close of the day, it is because God keeps the heavens moving according to their purpose as they count the days and the seasons as He designed them to do. Unfortunately, it is easy to miss seeing God in the world. Many people do. Some outright reject the idea that God even exists. Creation can take care of itself; we do not need something or someone greater than ourselves to explain the way the world works. Others believe that God created everything and stepped back leaving us to go it on our own. After all, doesnít the suffering of this world prove that God either has no power or has refused to take responsibility? However, it is even in the midst of the pain and turmoil of this world that we can see God is still active, loving and powerful.

We live in an incredible world. Man has created some things of great beauty, power and majesty. I am amazed at the way the cities have developed these drainage systems to take the water run-off during a storm. With each new development, more roads are safer and more people are protected in the storms.

How much more, then, should we notice the magnificent things God has done in this world? He created all things, and His hand still moves the waters of the rivers and brings life to the fields. He saves us from ourselves, forgives our sins and shows us the ways of righteousness and truth. How can we go through any day, looking at the amazing things that God has done and not praise Him for His mercy and grace? Yes, Iíve seen some incredible things in my life, but God has His hand in it all. He is there in the good times and the bad. He is visible in the beauty and in the pain. God deserves our thanks and praise for all He has done.

Isaiah's message to the Israelites included a promise. "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing; and all the trees of the fields shall clap their hands." The exiles were preparing to go home, but the world which they remembered was chaotic, having been destroyed by war and occupation. However, God promised that He would transform the darkness into light. The thorn and brier would be replaced with the fir and myrtle. The same is true for us. As we journey in this world, scattering what seeds we are able to toss into the wind, God goes forth ahead of us, preparing the land on which they will land. He will provide the water and the sun and then send the harvester.

We simply follow along, planting the seeds and singing His praise, trusting that His Word is true. "Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it, Thou greatly enrichest it; The river of God is full of water: Thou providest them grain, when thou hast so prepared the earth. Thou waterest its furrows abundantly; Thou settlest the ridges thereof: Thou makest it soft with showers; Thou blessest the springing thereof." He will bring life out of death because He has promised it would be so. We need not worry about the seed that falls on the path, in the rocks or in the weeds. We need only scatter the seed He Has given us. He will take care of the rest as He goes ahead of us preparing the fields.

Are we listening? Do we hear? He that hath ears, let him hear.

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