Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 14, 2002
Sermon by the Rev. Dr. William H. Morley
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - July 14, 2002
I don’t know if you have noticed the number of places you are being confronted to about buying American products and services. I’m not just talking about on radio, television or in magazines. How about when pumping your gas, viewmasters on grocery carts, or messages on ATM’s. Even movies are incorporating the “corporate promotion” game. I recently saw the film, Men in Black. Over and over again you see advertising for Nokia, Mercedes Benz, Oakley sunglasses, American Express, and a host of others. It doesn’t take very long to realize that American corporations are spending billions of dollars every year producing media commercials with the hope that people will watch, listen, and be persuaded to buy their products. It’s engrained in our minds: Let’s try a few on to make my point:
“Aren’t you glad you used….Dial?”
“Don’t leave home without it.” AMEX
“You deserve a break today.” McDonald’s
“Oh what a feeling--to drive a….Toyota!”
“We run the tightest ship in the shipping business.”.... UPS
The business world knows that most people don’t just automatically actively listen. Most of us mistakenly assume that listening is easy, but evidence proves otherwise. Just think about the differing perceptions people have who attend your business meetings, club events, or how about talking with customer service reps over the phone. Each person will remember it differently. This can be true even in family discussions between kids. After a lengthy discussion about sharing toys, the little sister might say to the older brother, “but Mom said...” to which the brother responds, “She didn’t say that.”
If active listening is an important skill that can have great value in our human relationships, and just imagine what it can do with our relationship with God.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus makes it clear that we need to be active listeners to God’s Word. As part of God’s divine creation, you and I are created with the capacity to listen to God. But, how well do we listen?
Today’s Gospel paints for us a mental picture: Jesus is seen pressed by the crowds as He stood beside the Sea of Galilee preparing to teach. He was forced to use a small fishing boat as His pulpit. From his vantage point He could not only see the crowd, but he also saw a farmer sowing seed on some nearby hills.
As he looked upon the faces along the shore, he told them a story about planting seeds in the soil. The seed was all the same, but the ground into which those seeds fell were not all the same. Jesus wanted his disciples, and all who heard his message, to understand why some people receive the Word of God and others did not.
The four kinds of soil refer to four kinds of hearts--four different ways of hearing and responding to the God who speaks. All the soil is essentially the same earth. It’s what has happened to the soil or what has been added to the soil that can distort its purpose. And, so it is with our hearts. What kind of soil is our heart? How do we cultivate our hearts for the spiritual harvest?
Jesus begins by telling us that some of the seed fell on the trodden path. The soil was hard and impenetrable. The seeds danced on the surface allowing birds to descend and plucked up a ready meal.
Seeds and the soil needed each other, but there was no productive contact. This soil represents the hard-hearted listener---the person who has closed his or her mind, refusing to discern or hear the will of God, and failing to realize how important the Word of God is to life. They just feel that they can get along without the Word of God.
So, Christ says that “the evil one” comes and snatches away whatever Word is sown. People whose hearts are not open and soft are easy prey for the devil. The Word always stays on the surface of their hearts... exposing them to whatever the devil wants to grab and ultimately, the devil wants to grab them body and soul.
Jesus continues his story by talking about the second kind of heart: seeds falling on rocky soil. Let’s be clear: this doesn’t mean that the soil happens to have a few rocks in it. Rather, it refers to bedrock that is covered over with a thin layer of soil. Seeds lodged in this soil take root, but soon the roots reach the rock and can’t go any further. The plant dies not because of the trial of the scorching sun, but because it doesn’t have deep enough roots to deal with the trial. The same trial that destroys one plant will prove the quality of another plant. Everything depends on the roots. If the roots are shallow the plant will be scorched and die. However, if the roots are deep, the plant will survive and its very survival proves that it is a strong, healthy plant. The sun is absolutely necessary for a plant to grow. Without the sunlight the process of photosynthesis cannot take place and the plant will die. What proves to be a devastating trial to the plant with shallow roots also proves to be a life-giving source to the plant with deep roots. We all need to put down deep spiritual roots so that we can persevere in the face of difficulties.
Let me use this story to illustrate: there was a ten-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a horrible car accident. The boy began lessons with an old Japanese judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move.
“Sensei,” the boy finally said, “Shouldn’t I be learning more moves?” “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the Sensei replied. Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training.
Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened. “No,” the sensei insisted, “Let him continue.”
Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake; he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament. He was the champion.
On the way home, the boy and the sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind: “Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move?” “You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”
The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength because his roots went down deep as he mastered that one technique. The reason that so many Christians wilt when they face the scorching heat of trials and tribulations is that they have shallow root systems. They have failed to “go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). Scripture teaches us that it is very important that we “keep hold of the deep truths of the faith” (1 Timothy 3:9). That is why Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be “rooted and established in love” (3:17). A shallow Christianity simply cannot survive times of trouble. But those who are not content with a shallow religion and so go deeper in the faith will discover that “the chains that seem to bind them…drop powerless behind them...”
The third heart: ”Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew and choked them.” Many voices clamor for our attention and compete for our loyalty. Specifically, Jesus mentions worry, riches, and pleasures. We may get so busy with so many things that we can’t hear the voice of God speaking to us. We often hear what we want to hear. The Gospel of Jesus Christ can be choked out. The good seed of the Kingdom requires that our absolute loyalty and our first priority be given to God. The good seed does not prosper if the thorns of our own agendas and prior commitments crowd it out.
In a recent article entitled “How much is enough in the pursuit of money?”, Michelle Singletary wrote about Karen Hughes, who resigned recently as counselor to President Bush so she could return home to Texas and spend more time with her husband and teenage son. Turning down the pursuit of fame and fortune for family is a radical concept these days. Ms. Singletary quotes workplace consultant Pamela York Klainer from her book “How Much Is Enough? Harness the Power of Your Money Story -- And Change Your Life” in which, she writes: “In our American culture money has moved to the center stage.” “Money has gone well beyond its literal function as a way to provide for our essential needs and has become, in itself, an essential need. We’re working harder and earning more, yet we continue to be driven, restless, unsatisfied.’” Klainer goes on to warn “that for too many men and women vigorously pursuing money and success, work has become the center of their lives around which most other things -- friendship, volunteer service, spirituality and family needs -- revolve.”
As I’ve studied Holy Scripture, I’ve realized that a life structured in this way is actually inside out. Our Christian faith should be the center of our lives around which friendship, ministry, family needs, and work revolve. If “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” are choking out spiritual development, restructuring our lives is essential. We must consider what is more important: pursuing worldly wealth as one’s highest objective or is the pursuit of spiritual riches our grandest goal. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus who said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’... But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31,33).
“And other seeds fell on good, fertile soil and brought forth grain some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
What makes for fertile soil? When it comes to the environment needed to produce a healthy and well-adjusted human being, there are many necessary ingredients, but none is more important than love. The connection between love and growth can be seen in the Helen Keller story.
You may recall when Ann Sullivan came to live with the Keller family--as her live-in teacher--Helen was out of control. Being deaf, dumb and blind, she was locked in a solitary prison. Love freed her, fertilized her and caused her to grow. Helen once said: “The most important day of my life was when my teacher, Ann Sullivan, came to see me. On the afternoon of that fateful day I stood on the porch, dumb and expectant. I guessed vaguely from all the goings on in the house that something unusual was about to happen. I felt approaching footsteps, I held out my hand. Someone took it and I was caught and held close in the arms of her who was to reveal all things to me, and above all things, to love me.”
Fertile soil represents the heart that listens and responds.
It is a sincere heart.
It bears the fruit of the Spirit.
It is open and receptive to the things of God.
It is willing to be stirred to the depths.
It is willing to give the first priority to God.
One of the joys of this parable is that even if a lot of seed is wasted, some seed falls on good soil and a great harvest is a sure thing! And this should be an encouragement to us who are sowing seeds of a deeper spirituality and nothing seems to be happening!
As a young man, John Harvard emigrated from England to America. Everyone predicted that he would have a bright future as a brilliant scholar. After he got to America...he died after only one year. When he died he left a little over 700 pounds and a collection of more than 200 books to a new university in America--a university that became Harvard University! The death of John Harvard looked like a waste, but it produced an abundant harvest.
So, in our lives, results, though delayed, will come. The harvest is sure!
There is some type of soil in all of us--at different times and under different circumstances. Our hearts are responsive when we take the leap of faith from actively listening to God and putting our faith into action!
What is needed is a mind-set, a lifestyle, which actively listens to what God is saying and does what He says. This kind of listening allows God to plow, and blast through the bedrock, and weed out the thorns surrounding our hearts.
God has made us to be good soil. God loves us and wants to bring joy into our lives! God has a purpose for our lives. If we are faithful to God, by actively listening and choosing to respond out of love, our lives will be abundantly blessed.