Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, August 09, 2020
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The Growth of the Kingdom

Romans 8:1-11 and Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23

I think the genius of Jesus as a teacher is he spoke messages that were both simple and profound. This is no exception. It’s relatable to everyone. I’m not a farmer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have no trouble “getting it.” And it was right up the alley of the average person in Jesus’ audience. Most people in the first century Roman Empire were poor peasant farmers. They were often ignored by the educated elite, but not by Jesus.

In all likelihood, Jesus spoke this message in the spring, as the sowing was being done. It’s entirely possible that a farmer was sowing his seeds within sight of the crowd as Jesus spoke.

Sowing went like this in Jesus’ day: First, the farmer would burn off the field to eliminate the weeds. Then he would sow the seeds. Normally this was done by broadcasting them by hand. Then he would plow them under the ground.

Not all of them would fall on good soil. Some would fall on the path that had been hardened by foot traffic. Paths become hardened by foot traffic over time. I used to do more backpacking than I do now. About 12 years ago I was on a trail up in Potter and Lycoming Counties in north-central PA called the Black Forest Trail. The map told me that the trail had been rerouted at a certain point, and I needed to turn left. But I missed it. I just kept going straight, where the old trail had been. It had been out of use for several years, but you had no trouble following it because nothing was growing on the footpath. It wasn’t until I came to a big tree across it that I started to wonder if I’d gone the wrong way.

Some seed fell on shallow soil, soil with bedrock just below the surface. In the spring, which is the end of the rainy season in the land of Israel, it wouldn’t be obvious, but as summer went on, this thin soil wouldn’t hold enough moisture to sustain the crops. We used to have a spot like that in the front yard of the house that I grew up in. By the beginning of August, it was dead and brown almost every year.

Some seed fell among the weeds. The farmer may have burned off the weeds, but the roots were still there. And they would grow back and choke out the crops. I do have a small garden and I know how hard it is to get rid of weeds. That much I do know.

But of course, most of the seed would fall on the good soil, where the farmer wanted it, and it would grow and produce a crop.

Jesus explains the seed is the message of the gospel. And it will produce a crop. It will not return empty. The growth of the Kingdom of God is certain. But the growth

of the Kingdom of God in any one person’s life, in your life, in my life, is not certain. We must have a heart able to receive it. It’s the same message, but not all can receive it. The reception can be helped by a good presentation, but at the end of the day, it is the condition of the heart that determines whether or not it is heard.

Have you ever met a humorless person? I have. In fact, I’ve met way too many of them. And it doesn’t matter how well the joke is told, they won’t laugh. Likewise, not all people are able to hear the gospel.

Some are like hard ground. They are closed-minded. Or they have a prejudice against those who follow Christ. Or they may be too proud to hear to hear it, unwilling to receive a new thought. Hardship often comes about because of experiencing tragedy or feelings of betrayal. Whatever the reason, there are none so blind as those who choose not to see.

Some are like shallow ground. Some people are quick to latch onto new ideas but not so good at following through. We can’t expect our faith to endure without developing deep roots. Difficult times will come, and not all are ready for them.

Some people are like thorny ground. Maybe this is the greatest danger for us. The world has become so terribly busy, so terribly fast, and so terribly crowded. There are always a million things screaming for our attention.

And there’s no lack of good things. There are many good things: Family and friends are good. Work and productivity are good. Hobbies and interests are good. Education is good. Travel and new experiences are good. There’s even some good entertainment out there. Not much, mind you, but a little. We have so many more options in life than most people had a century ago. We have more options than everyone had two centuries ago. And many of them are good. But there’s an old saying about good: “Good is the worst enemy of best.” I think God is the best thing. I hope you agree with that. But God can get crowded out by good things. And then we miss out on the best thing.

And of course, some people are like good soil. They are humble, open-minded, teachable. They are willing to act on the truth and not just hear it. And in their lives, the Kingdom of God will grow.

The question is, “Which soil are you?” Well the good soil, obviously! That’s what I am. Or am I?

You know, I can be closed-minded and proud. Sometimes I’m unwilling to accept ideas that aren’t mine.

I can be shallow in my faith, too. I don’t read the Bible every day. I try to, but sometimes I don’t. And I definitely don’t pray as much as I should. And sometimes I do read the Bible and pray, but not because I really want to grow in my faith; more because I know I should. I’m the pastor, after all. And I don’t take advantage of opportunities to grow in my faith as much as I should.

Is my life crowded with the cares of this world and the lure of wealth? Yes. More so than I’d like to admit.

Do I receive God’s word and act on it as much as I should? No, honestly, I don’t.

I guess I shouldn’t assume my heart is the good soil. And none of us should. It would be an act of pride for us to assume we are the good soil, and pride is being full of self rather than full of God. The best definition I’ve heard of sin is that sin is putting ourselves in the center of the universe instead of God.

Romans 8 says that to live by self is to be hostile to God, unable to submit to God, and unable to please God.

There’s a preacher’s tool called the lectionary. For every Sunday in the Christian year, it assigns at least four texts, usually Old Testament, Psalm, Gospel, and New Testament readings. And usually there are common threads across those four texts. The Old Testament text for today is from Genesis 25. We didn’t read it, but I think you know the story. It’s the story of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of soup.

Esau comes home from a hunting trip empty-handed. No idea what that’s like. You see, pride again. He is famished, and he finds his brother Jacob cooking up a pot of stew. Jacob tells him that the price of a bowl of soup will be Esau’s birthright, as the first-born. By rights, Esau should have inherited God’s promises. But he thought so little of them that he sells them just because he was hungry. He despised an eternal blessing for the urgency of the moment. Sounds like thorny ground to me.

Of every warning in this parable, this is the one that worries me the most. We live in a nation of great abundance and the lure of wealth is all around us. And we always have a million things crying out for our attention. The world just keeps getting faster, busier, louder, and more urgent. In the midst of the urgency of the moment, do we have ears to hear the still, small voice of Jesus saying, “Come, follow me.” Or will we be overwhelmed by the tyranny of many things?

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