Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
(shared with the people of Friendship Church, July 10, 2005)
[Before the message today, I explained that the scholarship on this passage shows that there are two "windows" through which we can view it. Through one window, we see it as a story about the different ways in which we can receive the word about Jesus. Through a second window, the one through which we'll be looking at the parable here, it's a story of how, empowered by Jesus, we scatter this word.]
This past week, I read the true story of Mike Herman, a Saint Louis Cardinals baseball fan who says that from the time he was a little boy, he went to ball games hoping that he could catch a souvenir baseball. Grown to adulthood, he’d go to batting practices before games just to have a shot at getting a big-league ball.
Back in the mid-90s, during one batting practice, Herman got to know a five year old boy named James. James was on the same quest for a souvenir and after a time, Herman found himself telling James “he could have my ball if I caught one.”
The promise may have been hollow in light of the fact that Mike Herman had been unsuccessful at retrieving a big league baseball for twenty-eight years!
But, five minutes later, Herman explains, “I caught a ball, and yes, I gave it to James.” “I wonder,” Mike Herman asks, “how often God waits to give us something until we are willing to give it away?”
Today, Jesus tells one of His most famous stories. It’s called the Parable of the Sower. You know it well. A farmer, representing Christ or you and me, with Christ working in us, sows or scatters seeds. Farmers planted seeds back in Jesus’ day by simply tossing them everywhere. This method of farming wasn’t so efficient, as you can imagine. Even top-notch seeds flung in the wrong places aren't likely to grow.
Some of the seeds, Jesus says, fell along a path and birds quickly ate them up.
Other seeds fell onto rocky ground and warmed by the stones, sprouted quickly and died just as quickly for lack of soil depth and the sun being able to fry them, roots and all.
Another bunch of the seeds fell among weeds and thorns. As the thorns grew, they choked the life out of the good seeds.
Finally, one last batch of seeds fell into good soil and Jesus says that they gave yields of thirty, sixty, and a hundred times.
To show you how impressive that is, I read this past week that current evidence indicates that in first century Judea where Jesus lived, harvests of four- to tenfold were the norm. Harvests yielding fifteen times the seeds sown were considered really great. So, the seeds that landed in good soil in Jesus’ story gave a bumper crop!
Later, Jesus explained His story. The seeds are the message about Him, the good news that we can have right relationships with God and live with Him forever when we turn from trying to live life our ways, turn from sin and death, and instead, trustingly turn to Christ for forgiveness and new life.
As I mentioned earlier, the sower in the story is Christ, Who poured out His life on a cross for us and it’s also those of us who follow Him and are called to share His message with others.
One commentator tells us that the different spots the seeds in Jesus’ story lands represents different sorts of reactions we may receive when we share the Good News of Jesus. We may encounter people who simply refuse to listen; those who respond in a superficial way, who will be enthusiastic about Christ at first and then leave Him behind; those who allow themselves to get preoccupied with other things like money or family worries; and finally, those who receive the Good News of Jesus down in their marrow and live for Him from that moment forward.
Jesus is telling us that the Word about Him is always a good seed, whether people let it take root in their lives or not! Like Jesus, we’re to keep spreading the word about Jesus all around us, no matter what reaction we may get.
Some of you have heard me tell the story before of an evening back when I was in seminary when Ann and I had dinner with two other couples, people with whom we’d gone to high school. We were being silly when the conversation turned serious. “What do you think needs to happen for a person to go to heaven?” one person asked me.
I have to tell you that I was afraid. I wanted these people to accept me and I was fearful of being written off as some religious fanatic. What would they think of me if I said that getting to heaven involved simply entrusting your life to Jesus Christ and letting Him be their Lord and King?
So, instead of telling them this truth, I made a joke. About a year-and-a-half later, the man who asked that question of me left his marriage.
I have often wondered what might have happened had I planted the seed of Jesus’ message in his life that night. Maybe nothing. Maybe his heart and will would have proved to be bad soil. But I’ll never know this side of heaven because I chickened out and failed to scatter the good seed all around!
You see, I was waiting for a "better time." I was hoping that maybe later, I would have a little more courage and "success." But Jesus tells us that we should keep scattering His Word, whether it’s convenient or even if we see little prospect of our message being welcomed. By the grace of God, I hope never to repeat that mistake again.
If we pass up chances to scatter the Word about Jesus, we’re in good company, by the way. In a recent TV interview, I heard Billy Graham tell a story from his life that I’d almost forgotten. He was at the dais next to President Kennedy at the annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast in 1963. Some time before, they’d shot a round of golf together and Kennedy had had a raft of questions about God, Christ, salvation, and the Bible. Kennedy was trying to understand how a person gets to heaven. Graham explained that it was purely a gift by God to those with faith in Christ. Kennedy wanted to know more. But their round of golf ended and their schedules demanded that they go elsewhere.
At the prayer breakfast, the President turned to Graham and asked if after it was over, the evangelist would accompany him back to the White House. Mr. President, Graham explained, I have a cold and a fever. I really don’t feel up to it. Could we do it another time? Kennedy agreed. Not long thereafter, Kennedy traveled to Dallas, where he was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald.
Graham has often regretted that he didn’t go with the President that day and has always wondered what the President wanted to discuss. It might have been one more opportunity to share the seed--the Word about Jesus--with John Kennedy.
But this morning, my purpose is to encourage you to live so that you never have the regrets that both Billy Graham and I have over failing to scatter the message about Jesus! One of my favorite passages of Scripture is First Peter 3:15, where we're told, "Be prepared always to give an account for the hope that is in you, but do it with gentleness and reverence." In other words, 'Don't people over the head with your message; but never be afraid to share it! Just as it gives hope to you, it can give hope to others!'
You see, people have a hunger to be reconciled with God, to have Him in their lives, whether they know it or not. In several interviews I heard from survivors of the terrorist bombings in London this past week, people said that many passengers, fearing that their lives would end, cried out to God for help. When we share the Word about Jesus, we’re telling them that in every time of need and through every day of their lives, they can call to the God of love and goodness we know through Jesus and do it with confidence and hope, knowing that He is with them and able to take the world's worst circumstances and turn them into heaven's best.
Keep scattering the seed of the message about Jesus, whether it seems to make a difference or not. Just as you can’t see the ways in which seeds are taking root beneath the soil, we sometimes can’t see the ways in which the Word about Jesus is taking hold and transforming people’s lives.
Mike Foss, a Lutheran pastor, tells the story of a friend of his. “She had been struggling in her work for a number of years. Then a dream began to emerge. At first it was just a day dream for when work was really boring or difficult. Then, it became an interest and she looked into the possibilities of this great change. But she just didn't think she could do it. It seemed too great a leap from what she was doing to what she really wanted to do.
“Then, she came to church one Sunday. Somehow in the message that morning, God spoke to her. The Spirit of God provoked her to dare the dream. On Monday morning, she made a phone call, then another, then another. We met at a coffee shop by chance. She shared with me what she had heard in the sermon I'd given weeks ago. I couldn't even remember saying what she heard! But it was the Holy Spirit speaking and her dream became a reality. She had changed jobs. Her sense of God's leading in her life would never be the same again. The joy she told me she knew was incredible.”
The miracle in that woman’s life is duplicated countless times each day because believers in Jesus dare to care for others in Christ’s Name and dare to share the word about Christ with them.
Are you looking for blessings in your life? Then resolve to be a blessing to others; bless them with the word about Christ! Let the seed of God's Word grow strong within you by giving it away.
You just don’t know what blessings God is willing to give you when you are willing to give them away. Resolve to do it this week: To spread the message of Jesus and then trust God to do good things with the seeds you scatter!
[Mike Foss tells the true story of his friend at changingchurch.org; Mike Herman's true story is contained in the book, Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion; and Billy Graham tells his true story of President Kennedy in his autobiography]