Listen! 7-10-11

Listen! 7-10-11

Listen! says Jesus. “He who has ears, let him hear.” So listen, as he says.

We’re covering today what’s for most of us fairly familiar territory, because this is one of the most oft-told of all Jesus’ parables. We’ve heard it all before. All the more reason for you then to listen. For maybe today you can hear it like its new.

The story’s simple enough. “A sower went out to sow” some seeds. “Some seeds feel on the path.” Think of it as a sidewalk. The birds came and gobbled up those seeds. Then there were seeds that fell on rocky ground. They sprouted, sure enough, but withered away in the heat of the sun because there was no depth of soil. Some of the seeds fell amongst thorns, which choked the life out of their sprouts. So far no points for the sower; three points for adverse growing conditions. But then some of the seeds fell on good soil, and they produced a bumper crop.

So the seed that’s sown is the Word, the Word of God. That’s what Jesus says. And the question is: what kind of soil are you? Answer one: who am I to judge? Answer two: sometimes good soil, sometimes not so good soil. Doesn’t that ring true? But where do we go with that? Rocky ground can’t turn itself into good soil, can it? Looked at just from this point of view, the parable sort of leaves us stuck.

Listen Again!

So … “he who has ears, let him hear,” and listen up again. Because maybe there’s something else we can hear in this parable, a different perspective.

Jesus’ parables – most of them any way – are like little jokes. And the way to get the joke is to look for what’s surprising in the parable, what you wouldn’t expect. The surprise in this parable isn’t that the birds gobbled up the seeds that fell on the pathway. That’s what birds do. The surprise is that the sower sowed his seeds on the pathway in the first place. What a stupid farmer! You hear the story, and you think to yourself (if you’re paying attention), “what a dimwit! He throws his seeds all over the place – in the weeds, in rock piles, right down the middle of Highway 5 out there!” It’s laughable. It’s got to be a joke. The farmer’s crazy – as crazy as the Christian Church sowing the seeds of the Gospel.

We Christians may not toss God’s Word into thorn bushes, but we’ve certainly preached the Good News in a lot of pretty strange places. From Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strand, down the centuries Christians have been busy sowing the seed of God’s Word anywhere they can. We can’t decide ahead of time whether the Gospel seed we plant is going to grow or not. Our job is just to preach the Word in season and out of season. And if there’s anything crazier than sowing seeds in a rock pile, that would be the Christian Church spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ anywhere and everywhere.

But listen. If anyone in the parable’s a fool, it’s God. Isn’t God the one who commands us to go anywhere and everywhere with the Good News? The Lord Jesus himself is the inspiration behind our madness.

Go!

“Go,” Jesus says. “Make disciples of all nations,” Jesus says. He doesn’t say, “First study the demographics. Then compile a list of hot prospects, who are most likely to listen to what you have to say.” He doesn’t say, “Target your audience. Here’s a great place to start up a church for boomers or maybe one for yuppies.” No. Jesus says, “Go. Just go. Anywhere and everywhere.”

The command is unconditional. When Moses complained that God should send somebody else because he wasn’t much good at public speaking, the Lord said, “Speak anyway.” When God told Ezekiel the prophet to preach to a bunch of dry bones, Ezekiel could have argued that dry bones weren’t likely to be very responsive. He preached anyway. So we don’t look first to see whether the soil is rocky or good. We just go and share the Gospel.

But let’s be honest. The results aren’t always that impressive. A lot of people won’t listen. We’ve been preaching the Gospel for about twenty centuries now, and there are still billions who don’t believe. There’s plenty of rocky soil, thorn bushes, and pavement out there – places where the Gospel hasn’t grown – at least not yet. At least Jesus’ parable understands the odds and anticipates the failures. Not everybody who hears the Gospel is going to believe it.

Which one of us hasn’t prayed and prayed that some particular person we care about will see the light, tune in to Christ? We try and we try to share the faith with that person – with little or no results. Sometimes it seems like nobody wants to hear the Gospel.

So we get discouraged. We lose heart. Even worse, we shut up. Why bother talking if nobody’s listening?

The Phenomenal Harvest

But listen. Take a look at the end of the parable. The dimwit farmer ends up with a phenomenal harvest. Thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. His farming methods, as inefficient as they were, were not in vain.

And the day is coming when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father. You may speak to someone about Jesus and get no positive results. But – hey – the seed’s been sown. And as surely as Jesus, once dead and planted in the ground, is risen from the dead, just as surely there will be a fantastic harvest for the Lord, our King. It will be. It’s the Word of the Lord. So don’t forget the end of the parable. Thirty, sixty, a hundred times over, there’s going to be a harvest.

After all, we know what kind of God we have. He does not parcel out his grace and goodness reluctantly, as if he were a miser. Our God is a God who risks the most precious seeds, including above all else his very own Son. Why – he even planted him in the ground, in the cold, hard tomb, for the sake of hard and thorny soil like us. And that’s the most amazing thing of all. For, at the last, the parable really is a story about us. About God and us and our hard and stony hearts. And about those miraculous times when, against all odds, the seed of God’s Word takes root, and something beautiful grows. If it can happen to us, well then, by the power of the Spirit it can happen to anyone.

So what do we do? Share the Good News about Jesus. And trust God. Trust God. And share the Gospel. What else, after all, is the Church for? The Church is the sower who went out to sow. He may have been a dimwit farmer. But the harvest was great indeed.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Rev. John E. Priest
Delhi, NY

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