Rev. Dr. Scott Herr
Please Read: II Corinthians 3:1-6; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
When Jesus says, “Let anyone with ears listen!” he is alerting us to the fact that what he is saying is not easy to understand and will require some careful attention and reflection. I suspect most of us here today do indeed have ears. The question is, are we listening?
Matthew notes that Jesus told many things in parables. The word parable literally means, “thrown side by side.” It is the same Greek root from which our word parabola comes, which makes us think of a dish. It gathers information in order to intensify it toward a focal point.
One of the places we like to visit when we’re on vacation is Gateway Park Fun Center in Boulder, Colorado. Last year we went and enjoyed the adult maze. Have you ever been in a maze? We’ve been to the maze out at Chateau Chenonceau in the Loire Valley. Perhaps the most famous maze in the world is the one over at Hampton Court Palace in England. The object of a maze is to find designated points in the maze, or in the case of the Chenonceau maze, to find the center. Then, of course, you have to make your way back out again. It’s harder than it looks.
Jesus’ parable of the Sower is like a maze. We’re meant to explore the maze a bit ourselves, and try and find the hidden places of meaning and eventually the central point. But then, Jesus produces a map, if you will, of the maze. He tells us the meaning of the parable. He reveals the central point of the message.
The first thing that strikes me about this parable is something so basic, I almost missed it myself. We often use the phrase the Word of God, or the Word of the Lord. Most people equate such phrases with the scriptures. Most sermons I’ve either given or heard preached on this text give reflection on God’s Word and the different soils in which the word falls. But did you notice that Jesus does not say “the Word of the Lord.” He did not use the language of “the Word of God.” Rather, he talks about the Word of the Kingdom. This points to Jesus statement in verse 11 that to his followers will be revealed the “secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” Already, we have moved from Jesus on God to Jesus on the ethics and sociology of God’s Kingdom. What is the difference between the message about God and the message about the Kingdom of God? It seems that Jesus is inviting us to consider how the vision of the kingdom of God gets lived out, gets embodied in Christian community and the larger society. This is the first important point.
The second point is that Jesus says that the Word of the Kingdom has power to grow and produce a great harvest. But there are different places of receptivity to the Word of the Kingdom, and of course if it’s just off the way, it will be eaten up by the crows. If it is thrown about in rocky soil, of course it won’t put down roots and so it will eventually wither and die when it gets hot. And then if there are other stronger plants around, like thorns, it will be suffocated by the thorn bushes and won’t produce anything either. And then there is the good soil, and this soil is where the word is understood and bears fruit and yields geometric increase in harvest.
When I first started preaching I thought of the different soils as different kinds of people. There are some people who seem like nothing goes into them. They are superficial and the Word ricochets off of them and never grows at all. And then other people are so hard. Their hearts have been broken over the years by any number of hurts and pains, and instead of softening, their life suffering hardens their hearts so that the Word never takes root in them. And then there are others who seem to ignore the importance of community, and surround themselves with people who will crowd out God’s word in their lives. This may be other family members, even a spouse, or children, or work, etc. One might think of the different soils as different people...
But over the years, I’ve come to realize that the different soils here could just as easily be the different states of my own heart, at different times or season of my life. I must confess that there are moments, there are times when my heart is absolutely impenetrable and the seed of the Word of the Kingdom does not take root or produce any fruit.
So what I want to invite you to explore with me today is how the Word of the Kingdom grows in us, and through us produce a harvest that is bountiful, fruitful, and abundant?
Jesus gives us a clue that it has to do with our ability to hear and listen… In the text between the passages I read is a quote from Isaiah where the prophet reports God’s frustration with people, who will listen, but do not understand, who see, but do not perceive… Jesus tells them, “Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and hear what you hear, but did not hear it… He’s talking about himself, isn’t he?? He’s saying that all the prophets and righteous people who were longing for the kingdom of God. Jesus is himself the answer to their longing and waiting…
This parable is about receiving the word of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ. He is the first fruit, and as we allow him to grow in us and in our life together, we will see the Kingdom grow. We don’t just hear and believe, we don’t just pray for the Kingdom of God. We receive that Kingdom and allow that Kingdom word to be planted in our hearts and grow so that in us there will be a wonderful harvest of righteousness and goodness, of grace and truth.
We’re really continuing a theme I touched on last week. Learning to say yes to the important things in life and learning to say no to the unimportant things in life. It’s what Jim Collins wrote about in his book Good to Great. Perhaps the most stunning insight I gained from Collin’s book is that “Good is the Enemy of Great.” There are a lot of good things in life that ironically keep us from experiencing that which is truly great! Remember C.S. Lewis’ famous illustration about how we’re like children playing in a puddle making mud pies, refusing to take a trip to the beach because we’ve never been there before.
I’m reading Don Collins latest book, A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. After his first best-selling book Blue Like Jazz, some film producers wanted to make a movie about his life. And he started realizing that honestly, his life wasn’t that interesting. He didn’t have serious goals or heroic causes in his life. He made me laugh when he confessed how he wanted a nice car to drive… He observes that many people spend years working so that they can drive a nice car. It’s not a bad goal or anything. But then he said this, “Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.”
That line made me laugh. But then I started thinking about what my end game is all about… What does the Kingdom harvest look like in my life? Am I looking to bear fruit hundredfold, or twofold? Jesus, unfortunately, doesn’t define what a hundredfold harvest looks like, but I guess it has something to do with loving my wife well for the rest of her life. Or loving my children so that deep down they know that I care about them more than anything in the world and want them to live life deeply, fully, submitting themselves not to me, but to Him who is the real Authority of Heaven and Earth! I want my work to impact other peoples’ lives. I want the word of the kingdom to be continually at work in me, like the fusion that powers the sun, so that like the flywheel effect that Collins talks about in Good to Great, the truth and goodness of Jesus continues to brighten and energize my life…
So, here’s a question for you to consider: what would a movie about your life look like if the Word of the Kingdom really took root in your heart and soul? How would your relationships change? How would your ethics and sense of social responsibility be transformed? So that you would take every thought captive to Christ? So that your work took on a kingdom dimension? I don’t care if you’re making widgets. How do you make widgets to give glory to God?
I love the story of J.K Rowling, the now wildly famous and extremely rich author of the Harry Potter series. Yes, I will be watching the Harry Potter final movie coming out later this month. Did you know Joanne Kathleen Rowling earned a French and classics degree? Did you know she even spent a year here in Paris as a student? She taught French in England. She went through some pretty hard times, and was married and had a child but then was thrown out of her house after a fierce argument. She finished the first Harry Potter book as a single mom, while working full time. It is reported that she often would write in restaurants, where she and her daughter could stay warm. She was solidly poor as she finished the first book, Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, and now of course she is living in a castle… The point is not that we should all write children’s stories and get rich, but rather remember that we were made for something much more than what most people see, and sometimes what we can even imagine! Probably more of us who are like Betty Ford. We have to start with those areas of brokenness in our lives, but if we are honest and give them to God, great things will happen!
I loved the fact that my brother had on his dresser mirror a sticker that said: “Today is not a dress rehearsal.” There will not be another day like today. Ever. In all of eternity. This day matters. And it is not about a movie, this is real time. Are you allowing the word of the Kingdom to be rooted in your heart? So that your life is more of a Kingdom adventure than about getting a Volvo, or a nice place to live or beautiful clothes or whatever that mundane stuff is that seems to get in the way of making us fantastic followers of Jesus, dynamite disciples of the Risen Lord?
According to Jesus, the Word of the Kingdom changes everything. He is the Word, and as he collides with your lesser idols and life goals and achievements (hopefully more than a Volvo!), he will make a kingdom impact in and through you. This is the point: It’s all about the Kingdom of God, the God reality that is even now breaking forth into your life. You were meant for so much more. And you are called, you are beckoned, you are invited to step out of the dead-end streets of the maze of this world, and begin to consider the Kingdom of God. What does it look like for you to live into God’s Kingdom life here and now?
The most amazing thing about this parable is how it starts. “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” Deceptively simple, but absolutely profound. What happened if you listened to who God is calling you to be, and not try and be somebody else? Not try to keep up with the Joneses? If you are a teacher, go out and teach! If you are an engineer, then engineer! If you are a cook, then cook. If you’re a student, then study! The point is, the King doesn’t need you to be somebody else, but to really be the person that God created and is calling you to be.
Like a seed, the word of the kingdom starts with something very small, and then grows. It might start with repentance. It might start with rest. It might start with the truth. It might start with forgiveness. It might start with love. It only takes a little bit, but once you start hearing and receiving, it can’t help but grow if you are open and receptive.
One way you might practice listening for the word of the kingdom is just to take more time for silence in your life. Ask God to speak to you. It’s amazing how the Holy Spirit actually will speak to you in a very personal way.
Another way is called lectio divina… Divine reading. The best way to do Lectio divina is to read a bit of Scripture out loud, or have someone read the text for you. You hear it four times. The first time, you just get the story line, the basic idea of the text. The second time, you listen for a word or phrase that seems to jump out at you, or what I like to call shimmer! The third time you hear the text, ask yourself, What is God saying to me in that word or phrase that shimmers? And then finally, as you hear the text for the last time, ask, So, God, how then shall I live? What shall I do about it?
Finally, some of you know I love the etymology of the word obedience: It comes from the Latin root, audire, which means to hear. But it’s most interesting when considered with its antonym. The Latin word surdus means deaf, and is the root for our English word, absurd. We all have ears, Jesus is saying, but you have to listen. Because when you go deaf to the Word of the Kingdom, life becomes absurd…
May the seed of the Word of the Kingdom take root, and grow, and become exponentially fruitful in you so that you will bless many others.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.