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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1276

October 23, 2016 Matthew 13:1-23

Dr. Ed Pettus

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

 

"Sowing Seeds of Life"

 

  • Seeing Isn’t Believing

 

We have all heard the saying that “seeing is believing”. We've all probably used it from time to time when we hear that something is going to happen and we think or say, “seeing is believing”. There are certainly some problems with that philosophy because we, as people of faith, know that seeing is not the criteria for believing. The Bible teaches us that we walk by faith and not by sight. We don't see God, we don't see the Holy Spirit, and we don't see Jesus Christ, but we still believe. In fact Jesus gave a blessing to people who have not seen him and yet believe (John 20:29). We also know that there are many people in this world who have heard the gospel and seen amazing things and yet they do not believe. This is nothing new for the Bible has known this a long time. People can hear and see the gospel message and yet not get it. The prophet Isaiah was given an alarming word to speak: “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (9-10). The hearer become deaf, the seer – blind, and the thinker – dumb. But there is an odd twist at the end…that they can turn and be healed. Perhaps the word is an indictment of our reliance upon our senses and on other words rather than on God and God’s word. We look and listen but see and hear the wrong messages. Seeing isn't always believing, for to see we must look to God.

 

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Jesus quotes these same words from Isaiah. These prophetic words are offered between the parable of the sower and the explanation of that parable. “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed...” (Matthew 13:14-15).

 

Jesus says to the disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see and your ears, for they hear.” We need that prayer for today, “Lord, may we hear. Lord, may we see. Give us ears and eyes that we may hear and see the word of the kingdom.” The prophetic word of Isaiah and the teaching of Jesus remind us that our ears and eyes may grown dull when it comes to God’s word. It is the work of the world to distract our eyes and ears. We get caught up in worldly pursuits and interests at the expense of following God's word. When we get caught up in that we tend to sow seeds of the world rather than seeds of God's kingdom word. Thanks to God's grace, where we once were blind, now we see.

 

 

  • Spiritually Empowered - Now I See

 

We see! We do look around with our eyes, but we do not perceive. We listen! We do have ears to hear, but we do not comprehend. I think that what Isaiah and Jesus both understood is that we are in a battle over words and speech and hearing and seeing. So God tells Isaiah that we are in a battle: “Go and tell them this…” Tell them these words because the words they have been trying to live by will not lead to life. Jesus tells us to receive the word like good soil receives the seed from the sower.

The words offer us a perspective: on the world, on God, on ourselves, on everything and we struggle to perception. The apostle Paul called it a battle against the rulers and authorities and I believe that struggle is between perspectives of the world – and of life and that the words from different sources will determine how our perspectives are shaped. Who will convince us that this truth is better than that truth?

We see this battle of words every day and especially in the realm of politics. Much of politics is a battle of words. Politicians seek to use words to form our opinions and ideas and thoughts about how we are to live. The media uses words and images to do the same thing. That is another reason why God's word is so crucial to the world for it has the power to enable sight and knowledge that the world cannot give.

For all who see, we are the ones who are called to spread the seeds of God's word.

 

 

  • Good Soil – Bad Soil

 

In the parable, Jesus offers a variety of places where the seeds will fall. We are not responsible for the soil of others, only to cast the seed, that is, to proclaim the word. There is good soil and bad soil. Some of the seed tossed out onto the ground is quickly snatched away. Other seed is burned up by the sun because it has no root to speak of. Other seed is choked by the weeds and thorns; but the last of the seed falls upon good soil and bears fruit. We cast the seed and pray that God will make the soil of the hearers good soil.

The parable emphasizes that the soil needs to be good, the sower needs to be sowing, but what I want us to notice is the WORD sown. In his explanation of the parable, Jesus says, “When anyone hears THE WORD OF THE KINGDOM and does not understand it, the evil one comes, like a bird, and snatches it away.”

“when trouble and persecution arises on account of THE WORD, another person immediately falls away,”

“another hears THE WORD, but the cares and lures of the world choke THE WORD”

“what is sown on good soil, this is the one who hears THE WORD and understands it”.

 

The word falls upon bad soil and good soil. We have no way of knowing where it will fall, only that we are to cast it.

 

  • Prepping Your Soil

 

I do believe that we have a responsibility to prep our soil for continued planting! We can prep our own soil through prayer, study, service, worship, humility… The first step in knowing the quality of the soil is in hearing the Word. Other words will never produce the good fruit in the good soil. I consider those of us in the church as having pretty good soil, or at least having the means to improve our soil for hearing and understanding. If we are only allowing words from other places, or other sources, or disproportionately listening to the word from the world, our good soil will yield some odd looking fruit. The words from Isaiah and Jesus are right on the mark because the church falls for other words and we listen but do not understand, we look but do not perceive, for our hearts have grown dull and ears deaf and eyes blinded by the false words of things like television commercials that promise you a wonderful life if you purchase this product and that program. Lately we have all the words of politics, some of which can be poison to our soils and our souls.

Some might call these words mere rhetoric, but Jesus gives us more than that – powerful words,

words that mean something for 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.

 

This is why we cannot give up our gardening, sowing the seeds of God's word, sowing seeds of faith and hope for a world awash in the words of death and sin.

 

  • The Word of the Kingdom

 

Our seed to sow and the seed sown in us is the Bible itself, God's living word! We are sometimes drawn away from this word to the words of the world. We sometimes fall short of God's word by trusting in other words that promise to fix every problem, satisfy our every desire, and relieve all our stress with a thirty minute TV show or a 6 step program that will only cost us 3 easy payments of $49.95 plus shipping and handling. Life gets wrapped up in a neat little package that is also entertaining and we expect instant gratification from the words thinking we know all we need to know once we have reached our particular comfort zone.

The words of God are those words that re-describe the world, re-describe our perceptions, re-work our understandings, and open our ears and eyes to the Truth. These words challenge the world's words and as we continue to sow the seed, there are those who refute our words, deny our words, and ridicule our words. But they will fall in the end. This too is a promise we trust from God.

I want to include a word about the seed that I think is important for us to understand. The seed is indeed expressed by Jesus as the word of the kingdom, but I would also suggest that the word of God is expressed through other means that words spoken or read. The seeds we sow can express the love of God's word through our actions. Seeds of listening, seeds of lifestyle, seeds of service, seeds of gifts both physical and spiritual.

 

 

  • The Fruit of the Kingdom

 

Jesus concludes with a word about bearing fruit. This fruit could possibly mean the fruit of repentance for those who hear the word and receive it in good soil leading to conversion. It could also refer to the fruit of the spirit we know from Galatians 5, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” It could mean both, the word of the kingdom leads us to Christ and then deeper in Christ through grace and faith as we grow in Him. One thing is for sure, God's word will bear fruit in good soil. Let us cast the seed of God's word for all to hear and plant that seed in our hearts that the fruit might bear one hundred, sixty, or thirty fold. No matter the numbers, God's purpose is done though sowing the seeds of life.