7/14/02, P8A

“Great Crowds Gathered Around Jesus”
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

n our text Jesus illustrates four responses to the Gospel. The Good News always demands a response; even a non-response is a response. For two thousand years folks have either embraced this remolding power to change, or they have chosen to go their own way to no-way. Just as the Sun rises every morning and we choose to get up and embrace the day, we also make decisions that determine our destiny. Our choices are the main determinate in life building.

This is not a completely new idea. Since the dawn of creation humans have been faced with choices. Eve and Adam made negative choices that brought sin into the world. Noah made a positive choice to serve God. The Old Testament Covenant required individuals to choose to cooperate with God's plan for our lives. One passage many of us have underlined in our Bibles that illustrates this eternal truth is from Deuteronomy 30: 19: "... I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life..."Jesus' used common, everyday, familiar metaphors to illustrate human responses to the options they faced. Everybody in Jesus' day, had some familiarity with planting seeds: You and I have either planted seeds, or have read about it. So, when Jesus got into that boat, tied to the shoreline, and addressed a large crowd of followers, he did so in everyday language. There were no confusing words; just a simple story. H.L. Minken described high theology as, "...the effort to explain the unknowable in terms of the not worth knowing." Yet, from Jesus we hear the truth in common words and illustrations that paint a clear picture for us. Through him we are confronted with a choice that is clear.

The first seeds pictured "fell by the wayside..." (v.4, KJV). This is the saddest group because they, "Did not understand..." as Jesus went on to explain in verse 19. Still today, our greatest responsibility as communicators is to try as hard as we can to preach the Good News as simply as we can so that folks can grasp it. We fail in our task if we do not get the story across.

I receive it as a compliment when persons describe my humble efforts at preaching as being "folksy," or, "down to earth." I am not aiming the gospel gun at theologians or Bible scholars, but to ordinary people who need to hear the Good News in understandable terms. I am willing to do anything to get The Word into hearts. I constantly remind myself that the many who will experience this sermon through cable television need to always hear God's plan for pumping new hopes and dreams into sometimes empty hearts. We are on T.V. at prime time, but we also reach folks who can't sleep in the wee hours. Only eternity will be able to evaluate how successful we have been in touching the lives of these souls by having given them the choice that determines destiny. Its and awesome opportunity that we share. Ultimately however, it is the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of hearers that presents the choice. God takes our words and allows persons to understand in a spiritual manner.

The second hand full of seed thrown out on the ground, "fell upon stony places..." (v.5). These seeds represent hearers who believed the word initially; but, because they were living a hard life, their tribulation, persecution, temptations, sickness, and problems kept the seed from forming roots and their faith failed fast. (v. 21) The truth represented in Jesus' analogy is that problems are inevitable in our lives. Yet, if we can become grounded in God's truth, we can develop deep roots that will enable us to survive times in the dry spiritual deserts. Life is full of adversity but through it all God is able to deliver those who have set down roots. These roots provide nourishment that builds us up into persons who can withstand the inevitable storms of life.

Many of us can identify with this third group of seeds who are like the "seed that fell among the thorns." (7, 22). The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the lure of worldly attainment, can soon choke out that Word once experienced and believed for awhile. Maybe you know deep in your heart that the good feelings and deep assurance that you once had are no longer vital. Maybe you have gradually slipped away from those days when the implanted seed was growing and producing fruit. Worship that once seemed spiritually nourishing has now become boring. You no longer hear the voice of God as you attempt to study your Bible. Your interests, and focus for living, has turned to totally worldly goals. The Good News for the person who feels their spiritual life failing is that our spiritual seeds, our trust in God, can be replanted and that there is hope of rejuvenation. We can begin again with Him!

A friend of mine had gotten old and about the only thing he could still do, was tend a little vegetable garden. He had a son-in-law who loved him, but who sometimes liked to play pranks. The younger man brought the old gardener some "new and improved okra seeds," as it was promised on the little brown paper sack. My old friend proudly planted his seeds with care, one at a time, not random broadcast sowing upon unplowed ground, as in Jesus' parable. He caringly watered his special little row of seeds every day, and was thrilled when the little green plants broke through the earth reaching for the sunshine. But, as the plants grew larger he finally had to admit that they were not okra plants at all, but were cotton stalks. He accepted the joke played on him and laughed at himself; but did another thing that pictures the story of New Life in Christ--- He replanted using real okra seeds that he purchased himself in a sealed package at the garden shop. God can do that for us! Our God is the God of the second chance!

We are grateful for this fourth illustration that Jesus shared in his parable: "the seed that fell into good ground, is he that heard the word, and understood it, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty." (v.23). It seems clear to me that our job as the Church is to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to hear the Gospel, and to have it clearly explained to them in a clear and simple way that they might become spiritually grounded, and grow in knowledge and grace of God in Christ.

However, the deeper point of Jesus' explanation of his parable is also is that those that choose to follow the word might eventually bear fruit. Or, that the tiny seed that was sowed might grow into a productive contributor to the effort of winning more and more to faith in Christ. It is only when a planted seed later produces fruit, or okra, beans or tomatoes, whichever its case may be, that it fulfills its potential role in life. Likewise, our decision to begin to follow Christ is a first baby step. Yet, the longer range goal is that the baby might grow into maturity. Baby's first steps are always a thrill. Every parent cherishes those memories. However, we want our children to one day learn to run and jump.

This seems to be Christ's goal for our spiritual lives. The question that still confronts us is: Are we bearing fruit, or has our beginning faith been lost? Do our gardens need replanting? Jesus plan was not to just gather great crowds around him to listen, but to implant eternal seeds in their souls that would one day produce results that could help build his great Church.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

7/14/02, P8A