Wednesday, July 09, 2014

According To Luke: What Are You Sowing?

Luke 8:4-18  (NRSV)
When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that
‘looking they may not perceive,
    and listening they may not understand.’

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

Once again we have a familiar parable from the Gospels, but when we look at it closely, we see that Luke's version has some subtle differences.

One of the greatest gifts that God has given to us is the ability to listen.

Listening is not only the key to surviving relationships; learning to listen well is the key to success and happiness.

I have no doubt, but that every year marriages fail because two people --- even though they are lovers --- do not know how to communicate with each other.

According to a survey a couple of years ago excluding time asleep, the average couple now spends just three hours and 45 minutes together in the week, of which 51 minutes is spent in silence in front of the TV and 37 minutes carrying out chores.

Another study said that over an hour long dinner, most couples only actually talk about 3 minutes.

A University of Nebraska research project suggests that the loneliest group of people in our society are not the unmarried, or the recently bereaved --- but teenagers.

Jesus says: LISTEN --- "A sower went out to sow".  We know we are not very good at listening to each other, but do we hear Jesus?

Learning to listen to our friends, families and partners is essential to a good relationship --- but so too is listening to God.

Our scripture this morning ends with a simple admonition --- (Luke 8:18)
"pay attention to how you listen"

or as the NIV has it:
" consider carefully how you listen"

I can easily "see" in my mind's eye the Sower out in the field.
 “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up (v. 5).

Notice that the Sower is just tossing seed, not digging holes and then covering the seeds with dirt. When some seeds hit the path and are gobbled up by birds, he just keeps sowing.

"Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture." (v. 6).

The Sower does not seem to care where the seed goes, throwing it on completely inhospitable rocky ground.

Not surprisingly, these seeds scorch and die.

But the Sower keeps moving along, and Jesus says that
"Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it.  Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!" (vv. 7-8).

Finally, a few of the seeds hit good soil and voila -- they bring forth grain in enormous quantities!

What strikes you immediately about the Sower?

He seems a bit careless, doesn't he?

The late Donald Juel, former professor of New Testament at Princeton wrote:
"The farmer in our story is not overly cautious, He throws seed everywhere, apparently confident there will be a harvest in spite of the losses."

The Sower simply keeps sowing his seed, trusting that growth will come.

Too me, it sounds a lot like Jesus.

Jesus "is not cautious about where he preaches and on whom he invests his time," insists Juel.

Jesus simply keeps sowing the word of the kingdom of God, even though it lands on religious people who wonder if he is possessed, on disciples who struggle to understand him and on at least one young rich man who cannot part with his possessions in order to follow Jesus.

The Sower keeps sowing and Jesus keeps spreading the word.

Unlike the farmer in this story:

A farmer, ragged and barefooted, was standing on the steps of his raggedy shack. A stranger stopped for a drink of water and he asked: "How is your cotton coming along?"

Farmer: "Ain't got any."

Stranger: "Did you plant any?"

Farmer: "Nope, afraid of boll weevils."

Stranger: "Well, how is your corn?"

Farmer: "Didn't plant any, afraid there would be no rain."

Stranger: "Well, how are your potatoes?"

Farmer: "Ain't got any, scared of the potato bugs."

Stranger: "Really, what did you plant?"

Farmer: "Nothing, I just played it safe."

Jesus seems more like Atticus Finch --- you remember him don't you.  The Hero of Harper Lee's must read novel To Kill A Mockingbird.

In the opening pages of the book, Scout, Atticus' daughter offers this assessment of Atticus.  her dad by her and her brother Jem.  She says that she and her brother Jem "found our father satisfactory."

Atticus was so much more than satisfactory.

When I think of him a number of words come to mind: wise, patient, forgiving and brave.

Last year Time Magazine did a piece of the most influential fictional characters and this is what they wrote:
Atticus "is the man who will do what's right when the world is saying he's wrong."

In case you don't know the story.  Atticus is a white lawyer who defends a black man in a racist Southern town.

As a character in the novel says to Scout and Jem,
"There are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father's one of them."

Atticus stands up for justice when it would be much easier to let the standards of the community prevail, and yet somehow he isn't alienated from his neighbors.

Time wrote that Atticus: "loves his backward, racist, fearful community even as his heart breaks over its shortcomings."

Wise, patient, forgiving and brave.

A man born to do our unpleasant jobs for us, and who loves us completely -- even as his heart breaks over our shortcomings.

That sounds to me like Jesus!

The Parable of the Sower teaches us that Jesus throws good seed everywhere, knowing that most of it is going to be destroyed.

And as followers of Jesus, we should be doing ministry and mission in the very same way.

Perhaps "the same careless abandon should characterize the church's ministry," suggests Donald Juel; "speaking gracious words without carefully calculating the potential for success."

This means welcoming others as Jesus has welcomed us, and preaching a message of unconditional love and unlimited grace. After all, Jesus calls us to be faithful to him and to the kingdom of God, not to be successful in a worldly sense.

But there's more to this parable.

Jesus then goes on to explain the meaning of the story to his disciples, and the focus suddenly shifts from the Sower to the Soil.

When we focus on this part of the parable it is clear that the message is that we should all be good soil -- people who hear the word of the kingdom of God and understand it.

Don't be like the path which is susceptible to the evil one who "comes and takes away the word from their hearts" (v. 12).

Don't be the rocky ground in which a plant "has no root, but endures only for a while" (v. 13).

And don't be like the thorny soil, in which "the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature." (v. 14).

There is a problem here.
Soil is completely passive,

It just sits and waits to receive the seed.

Soil does not choose to be good or even choose to be bad --- it just is what it is.

So what does Jesus tell us to do about this?

Listen to the story of the Sower, and learn that Jesus is incredibly generous in the way that he shares the word of the kingdom with all the people of the world.

Listen and learn that God's Word is incredibly fruitful, and that a great harvest is guaranteed.

Listen and learn that the coming of the kingdom of God isn't something that we can control.
Instead, says, Donald Juel, "everything depends on what God will do."

The Sower reminds us once again that Jesus is in charge, spreading the word of God's kingdom.

Our job is to trust what Jesus is doing, and share his message with joy and generosity.

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