Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture – Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:1-8, 9-13; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Have you ever thought of yourself as a seed? Seeds are buried. Seeds receive the rain that trickles through the soil. Seeds are warmed by the sun as the warmth moves its way through the soil to the seeds. Seeds start to shed their coating. The vital part of the seeds start to expand and uncurl as something draws them to the top of the soil where they appear. First, if anyone is watching, he or she notices this tiny green growth. Each day this green growth gets a bit taller until it is quite obvious. Then this “plant” develops flowers of some sort – maybe very tiny flowers. After the flowers are gone, the vegetable or fruit appears where the flowers had been.
When plant looks around (pretending that it had eyes), plant realizes that it is one of many, many plants just like itself – whether it is a string bean plant or a lima bean plant or a pea plant or a strawberry plant or a petunia plant. Each kind of plant has its own offering to make to the world.
Pretend with me that a plant grows words instead of vegetables or fruit. Words! Who wants a plant that only offers words; nothing good to eat, we think. We walk away disappointed. We almost pull that plant as if it were a weed because we think it is worthless. But then some words come from somewhere, “O, taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” Aha! These words from Psalm 34:8 but it seems as though this “word” plant is speaking to save its life. Wonderful words of life! Yes, a word plant!
Is that the kind of seed and plant we should be if we claim to be Christian? There is this song, “You are the Seed.” Some of the words are:
“You are the seed that will grow a new sprout. You are the flame that will lighten the dark so resplendent with hope, faith and love. You are the life that will nurture the plant. You are the friends that I chose for myself, You are the word that I want to proclaim. Go my friends, go to the world, proclaim the great love of God; messengers to tell the way of life, peace and pardon for all. Be, my friends, a loyal witness, from the dead Christ arose; Lo, I’ll be with you forevermore, till the end of the world.” (words and music by Cesareo Gabarain)
The words in Psalm 65 remind me of rural America.
“You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it very plenteous; the river of God is full of water. You prepare the grain, for so you provide for the earth. You crown the year with your goodness, and your paths overflow with plenty. May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, and the hills be clothed with joy. May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; let them shout for joy and sing. Your paths overflow with plenty, O God, your paths overflow with plenty.”
Wonderful words indeed! However, “rural America” is not an accurate statement. Remember the states with drought. Remember the states who are still struggling with hurricane damage. Remember the states with mud slides. Yet some of us live in states which have been unscathed in the last decade. Are the states with severe weather problems ineligible to sing the words; to be word plants?
The words of Jesus in Matthew 13 describe the conditions into which some seeds were scattered. First, some seeds were eaten by birds. Then, some seeds fell on rocky soil. They sprang through the shallow soil easily but had nothing to sustain them – roots could not make their way quickly enough through the rocks to moist, life-sustaining soil. The sun scorched these plants. Some seeds fell among thorns and were choked in their attempt to thrive. But, listen to this: Some seeds fell on good soil and flourished and produced what they were meant to produce. (from Matthew 13)
If we are seeds, on or in which soil are we? Are we producing the words we are meant to produce? Are we good healthy plants because we happened to be planted in good soil? You know – loving families, enough healthy food to eat, good education, good faith development. Some of us were blessed with this kind of up-bringing. But the word “blessed” demands my attention. Are the states with drought not blessed? Does God not care for them? Are the states with hurricanes and floods and mud-slides not blessed? This does not compute! I believe and hope that you have found it to be true that God loves everyone and, if he loves everyone, God cares for everyone and would want the best for them.
So I hesitate to use the word “blessed” when it refers to myself or my family. What will qualify me to be “blessed” is my helping the people who have been injured and damaged by nature. What will qualify my being able to claim the title “blessed” is if I regularly contribute to the world’s people. What will really allow me to claim the title “blessed” in full measure is to “GO.” Yes, GO! You know – “Go my friends, go to the world, proclaim the great love of God; messengers to tell the way of life, peace and pardon for all. Be, my friends, a loyal witness, from the dead Christ arose; Lo, I’ll be with you forevermore, till the end of the world.” Yes, that GO!
We even have the word “go” in the scripture from Isaiah 55 today. “For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)
Before we can go into the world we need to hear the words from God. Isaiah has those words. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)
“But it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” How nice it would be if our own words hit their target and produced the results as God’s words did? But then we are not God. We can only do our best. When we fall quite far from the intended results, God forgives and lifts us to start again or to start from where we failed. Listen to these words from Paul when he wrote to the Romans in chapter 8, verses 1-11.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. … For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. … But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
So we are seeds needing to find a good place to put down roots. Our purpose is to produce words. That is the kind of plant we shall be. Words! Are we good with words? Do we hesitate to talk even though our minds have well-developed thoughts moving through like a continuous playing record or tape or CD. Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome apply to us as well. We need to check that our words – either spoken or written or simply flowing through our brains – are of the Spirit and not of the flesh.
It is so easy to be swayed to the flesh view of life. All around us are the enticements, the temptations. We think it is alright to wear skimpy clothing. We think it is alright to have just one drink. We think it is alright to buy just one lottery card or ticket each week. We think it is alright to watch movies in which the word God is only used as a swear word and in other very disrespectful ways. We think it is a natural right to have sex instead of a casual kiss outside of a serious, committed arrangement. These are all ways of the flesh.
So what is this life of the Spirit? How can we get it? If we do ever get it, how do we keep it? What makes the life of the Spirit worth changing from a life of flesh? First, how do we get it? Romans 8:11 offers this: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
We still don’t know how to get it. We get it by asking for it. We get it by trying ways of the Spirit instead of ways of the flesh. Try it. Ask for it. Before we know it, we feel closer to God, we feel the Spirit of God moving around in our thinking and in our hearts – intelligence and emotions. We need to fall on our knees – either literally or figuratively. We need to throw away the pride, the control genes, the fussiness, the fear, the scanty clothing, the cigarettes, the liquor. Lest we think our self-control will not support these drastic measures, forget self-control. Instead, focus on this person of God called Spirit. If we focus on Spirit, we are not limited to Spirit. There is Jesus, the Son. There is the Father. Focus.
Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word. By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy, live according to it, and grow in faith, hope and love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Help us to be the seed of your word. Help us to GO and TELL. Amen