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Sermon - February 21, 2016

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                             Sermon # 1244

February 14, 2016                                                                                           Luke 8:1-15

Dr. Ed Pettus

 

“Jesus the Storyteller”

 

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

How many of you have family stories that are shared at holidays or reunions?  We all do.  We all have stories and we all have a story, a personal story to tell.  I see those advertisements once in a while that ask if you have a novel in you and they will help you write it for a price.  Yes, we all have a story and we all have a good news story to tell that has become our primary story.  My uncle is a storyteller.  He is the one who shares his own stories that none of us have heard before and he shares family stories as well.  Wherever we gather, the TV is off and everyone is nearly passed out from too much food and the stories begin. 

Some people think that storytelling is a lost art, but I don’t think so.  We still tell stories.  They might be rare as we live in a technological world of storytelling through TV and other media.  Stories still need to be told, even the old fashioned way of sitting around the kitchen table or at the family reunion. 

We know that the Bible is filled with stories.  One form of story that Jesus used was parable.  Parable is a story that tells us more that what we hear on the surface.  Literally parable means “to throw or lay alongside”.   When Jesus told a parable, he was giving a simple story that sought to expose a deeper truth.  We probably do that most often with the children’s sermon, seeking to tell a simple story to proclaim a larger and more complex truth.  Parable is story that has a plain meaning but also has more layers.  Jesus told parables and some who heard them heard more than the plain meaning.  Others did not hear anything deeper than a good story. 

Today’s lesson reminds us that Jesus was a storyteller, even from verse one as he went through the area proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.  We certainly know from Matthew’s gospel that Jesus used parables to talk about the kingdom of God. 

 

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  Matt. 13:44

This is a short story! 

 

The story Luke 8 tells begins with Jesus traveling around the country telling stories, particularly stories about the kingdom of God.  He preached and taught and opened the truth for those who had ears to hear.  With Jesus were the twelve disciples and several women who were part of the overall entourage.  If you ever wondered how Jesus and the disciples made it for three years without “real jobs”, this story tells of the women supporting them out of their own resources.  These were women of some means and they were more than happy to use all they had to be with Jesus and support his ministry. 

            Jesus drew people into his presence and graciously received their resources for the glory of God.  At the beginning of this chapter we only know that Jesus went from place to place telling of the kingdom.  Imagine how many stories those with him heard over the years. 

 

 

  • The Storyteller

 

Jesus is a great storyteller.  Even in a very short story like Matthew 13:44 we have a treasure hidden in a field, it is discovered and covered up right away.  Then the man sells everything to buy that field.  There are many images that come to our minds in just two sentences.  Treasure evokes for us wealth and value and intrigue.  Aren’t we fascinated by those people who find sunken treasures?  I know I am, so when Jesus tells of a treasure, most people are immediately drawn into the story. 

Good rabbis are good storytellers.  They teach primarily through stories.  When they are asked about one story they will often answer with another story.  Jesus does that as well in places like Matthew 13 where it says, “and he told them another parable.”  It looks like he told parable after parable after parable in the hope that one of them would strike a chord in the hearer.

 

 

 

  • The Story - Parable

And when a great crowd was gathering 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 along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 

Our story for the day is of the sower who went out to sow his seed.  Already we are drawn in to a picture of a man with a bag of seed and he grabs a handful at a time and scatters it all over the ground.  He does not seem to be very concerned if some of the seed gets on the path or among thorns, or if some does not get buried deep enough to take root. 

Jesus tells the story that way noting the various places where the seed falls.  Some on the path, gets stepped on, and the birds end up eating it.  I’ve had years in the garden when the birds seemed to know exactly where I had buried my seed and they would leave a circle pattern where they burrowed into the ground to eat the corn seed.  Makes me angry just thinking about it! 

Some of the sowers seed fell on the rock.  It soon withered for lack of water.

Some of the seed fell among thorns.  Weeding a garden is one of my least favorite activities, but it must be done or the thorns and weeds will choke off the good plants. 

Finally Jesus gets to the good soil where the seed is planted deep enough and it grows a healthy vibrant plant yielding its harvest.  Tomatoes, squash, corn, peppers, melons, beans.  We like to see a good harvest for our labors. 

 

A great picture of God’s abundance is expressed in Psalm 104:

            You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate,

            that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man,

            oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart.

            The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.  In them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees.

            The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers (Psalm 104:14-18 ESV).

 

God takes care of everything and there is plenty.  The seed that falls on the good soil will yield a hundredfold!

 

What might have been the reaction of those hearing Jesus tell this story of the sower?  I think some people, if not all, had knowledge of what it took to grow food.  In this time, people grew their food.  Everyone who would hear Jesus speak would know that everything he said was true about sowing seed in the field. 

 

 

  • The Meaning of the Parable

 

And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, 10 he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones along 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.13 And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. 14 And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those 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. 15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

 

We don’t always take people at their word.  Sometimes we hear something said and we ask, “What do you mean by that?”  Apparently the disciples did not understand anything beyond the simple story of the sower of seed, so Jesus needs to explain the meaning of the story.  He says, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand’” (Luke 8:10 ESV).  The seeing and hearing part is a quote from Isaiah 6:9 where the prophet Isaiah is commanded to dull the senses of hearing and seeing because the people were being judged.  By the time Jesus uses that same quote, many of the Jews demonstrated the result of that judgment from long before they were even born.  When Jesus spoke their eyes were blinded and their ears were hard of hearing in the sense of understanding.  And yet, to the disciples, Jesus gave understanding by explaining the meaning of the parable. 

            The characteristics of the parable are altered.  The seed is God’s word.  The seed also becomes the single focus, the sower is not mentioned in the purpose of the parable.  Is Jesus the sower?  Perhaps the parable speaks to the results of Jesus going about to preach the word of God in the opening of chapter 8.  But we are left with an open interpretation as to the sower.  The sower can be Jesus and the sower could be any of us who share the gospel.  The focus is upon the result of the word being spread, not so much on the sower.  What happens to the word?  Because of that focus, we learn that the hearers are the examples.  Some hear the word but those devilish birds come along and eat it up.  Some hear but have no root and without root, no growth.  Others hear and then go the way of the cares and riches and pleasures of life and the word fades away.  But the soil, that is, the heart that is ready to hold on to the word, that is where great yield is found – a hundredfold! 

 

             

  • Telling Stories that Matter

 

The center of the story is really the heart and how receptive we are to receive the word.  The parable emphasizes that the soil needs to be good, the same is true of the heart, as Jesus says, honest and good.  Lots of Proverbs speak of the heart.

 

            …making your ear attentive to wisdom

                        and inclining your heart to understanding (Proverbs 2:2 ESV).

 

            Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;

                        bind them around your neck;

                        write them on the tablet of your heart (Proverbs 3:3 ESV).

 

Jesus tells of the heart in relation to what we treasure:

 

            For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21 ESV).

 

We treasure the words because Jesus gives us the word of life:

words that mean something for our life,

            words that tell us what is possible when nothing seems possible,

            words that speak of eternal life

            words spoken by God, by Jesus, by Isaiah, by Luke, by you, by me.

 

            God gives us the Word that became flesh,

            The word sown by the sower,

            The word spoken that created all there is,

            The word that revives the soul,

            The word that opens our eyes, that softens our hearts, and clears the ears.

 

            Paul Ricoeur speaks of “the Word that re-describes the world.”  The words of God are those words that re-describe the world, re-describe our perceptions, re-work our understandings, open our ears and eyes to the Truth, and shape the heart. 

 

            Jesus was and is a great story teller.  His stories pierce the heart, nurture the heart, and give the heart understanding.  Jesus has told us this story again today.  We have heard it much like those who heard it for the first time.  It is to us another reminder of the great life-giving importance of receiving God’s word into the heart.  In the Old Testament Psalm we read:

 

            With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!

            I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:10-11 ESV).

 

The way of God that keeps sin from ruling over our life is to treasure the word in our hearts.  And today, by God’s grace, Jesus has given us to know the secrets of the kingdom.  Let us hold fast to his word in an honest and good heart.  Amen.