9 Pentecost, Proper A10
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 Sermon
July 13, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
187 "Open Now Thy Gates Of Beauty"
254 "Thy Word, O God, Like Gentle Dew"
196 "Almighty God, Thy Word Is Cast"
193 "On What Has Now Been Sown"
SEED SCATTERED EVERYWHERE
TEXT (vs. 3-9) "Then [Jesus] told them many things in parables, saying: ĎA farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.'"
As a lead-in to this morning's sermon, I decided to illustrate it by telling you about a hobby of mine. Some of you might even be aware that I have this hobby, although you might not be completely aware of all the particulars.
I track money, paper currency to be exact. The whole idea is to see where it goes and how long it takes to get there. The more hands it goes through, and the more places it goes, the more interesting it gets.
I'd like you to take a look at the dollar bill that I'm holding. What I have done is entered the bill on a website called "wheresgeorge.com." After I log on to my own account, I enter three things: the denomination of the bill (a one in this case), the year or series of the bill (this one is a 2006), and the serial number. After I've done that, then I mark the bill with several rubber stamps. There's a red circular one that goes around the seal of the bill which says, "Track this bill, www.wheresgeorge.com." Then there's a one-line stamp in the margin of the bill that says, "Enter series and serial number at www.wheresgeorge.com." And then on the back of the bill, there's a stamp that says: "See where I've been, track where I go next, enter series and serial number at www.wheresgeorge.com." Then I spend the bill as I normally would. Different people involved with this hobby mark their bills in different methods; this is just the method I chose so it would be noticeable.
Some people think this is a strange hobby, but I don't think it's any more odd or out-of-the ordinary than collecting stamps, or coins, or matchbooks, or beer cans. And the best part is that it takes very little time, it's completely legal, it's money that you'd spend anyway, and it costs nothing, except the small initial investment of a few rubber stamps. Some people don't even invest that much, and write the website on the bill by hand.
The fun part of it is to see where my bills wind up going. Every day in my Email I get anywhere from one to three reports on my bills that people have come across and entered into the system. The wheresgeorge website is completely confidential, so nobody knows who I am, and I don't get bombarded with junk mail and spam.
So allow me to share some figures with you. I got started with this in the year 2000, so I've been at it for eight years. During this time, I've entered a total of 27,716 Bills worth $205,329 into the system. Of the bills I've either entered myself, or bills from others that I've entered and passed along, I have had 7,124 hits or responses. My ranking, which is based on number of bills entered, number of bills hit, and days of activity on the website, I am 305th nationally out of 53,317 registered georgers; and in the state of Nebraska I am number 10 out of 1,422.
I have had hits from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico, Germany, England, Turkey, Russia, France, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, Australia, the Bahamas, Mexico, Spain, India, and Panama. I've had bills hit within hours of me entering them, and I've had some lay dormant for over six years. The most hits I've had on any individual bill is six.
The main concept behind georging, is to get marked bills into wide circulation, and people have their own individual ways of doing this. One gentleman I know who lives in Gretna always buys his gasoline at the truck stop on the interstate, and he pays with one dollar bills. Other people say that buying things at various airports is a good way to get bills circulated.
As for myself, I got started with this hobby when I discovered marked bills when I worked part-time at a convenience store. I used to take marked bills with me to work and trade them for unmarked ones in the cash register. I do the same thing at the hotel where I work. When we had "Lunch for a buck" here at the church on the 4th of July, the change I gave to people was all marked. I also take small marked bills with me when I go on vacation. And of course the money in my wallet right now is all marked.
You can see how this can become an addictive hobby, and virtually anybody with a computer can do it. Kids do it with their allowances; retired folks seem to enjoy it, along with all ages in between.
I thought this would be an interesting story to share with you because of our Gospel reading for today, which is the parable of the sower. This is one of Jesus' more famous parables, you know, one of those "earthly stories with a heavenly meaning" they told us about in Sunday School. Jesus is comparing the Word of God with the sowing of seed, and what happens after that seed is sown.
Jesus presents four different situations. He talks about the seed being sown on the footpath where it got trampled, amongst the rocks where it couldn't take root, amongst the weeds where it got choked out, and finally in the good soil where it sprouted, took root, and grew.
Even though all this makes perfect sense to us, yet there is one area in particular that doesn't quite make sense. For example, if you were going to plant some grass seed in your front yard, I think you'd be careful about how you did it. You'd till and work the soil and get it smooth, and then you'd sow the seed, and maybe cover the yard with a layer of straw to protect the young sprouts and help hold the moisture. You wouldn't go and throw grass seed on the driveway, or on the footpath, or on the white rock around your shrubs. You also wouldn't sow nice grass seed in an area full of crabgrass and thistles and bindweed. It would be rather idiotic to do so, because you know that you'd be wasting the seed. You couldn't expect grass to grow in the middle of the driveway; and even if it did, you wouldn't want it there.
But this is the one area where God seems to act out of the ordinary. He scatters the seed of his Word indiscriminately. He literally throws the seed everywhere, from the rocks to the footpath, amongst the weeds, and in the good soil. The seed of his Word is spread everywhere.
Why would God do this? Why would he waste the precious seed of his Word by sowing it in areas where anybody with any sense at all would know it wouldn't grow?
To answer this, let's look at two separate passages of Scripture. First, let's examine a section from our Old Testament Lesson this morning. In Isaiah chapter 55 verses 10-11 we find God saying: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
Secondly, in Paul's Epistle to Timothy, we read exactly what the will of God is. I Timothy chapter 2 verse 4 says that God: "...wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth."
Through the inspired pen of the Prophet Isaiah, God assures us that his Word is never wasted, regardless of how it is sown. So often, we think of things according to our own logic and try to convince ourselves that a particular person has no hope, so why should we bother? Isn't that like "casting pearls before swine" like the Bible says?
But Jesus says in John chapter 3 verse 8: "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
We don't know how the Word of God will affect someone. It is not up to us to figure out how the Holy Spirit operates. We can't pre-qualify someone as being worthy of receiving the Word of God. We don't have the ability to judge hearts.
But we do know that God's will is that everyone be saved. It's with this in mind then, that we can see why the Word of God needs to be sown liberally and indiscriminately. It is done for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through whom all people can be saved. Jesus died to save the entire world from sin, and not just a select few. Jesus paid for everybody's sin on the cross, from the fall into sin until the end of the world. The price for all the sins of the world has been paid in full, without exception.
It's here where we need to understand the power of the Word of God. It has the power to change and convert. It has the power to change the footpath, and the rocky soil, and the weed infested soil into good, fertile ground. The seemingly hopeless ground can indeed be changed.
But we still need to look deeper. When we read the parable of the sower, we immediately come to the conclusion that Jesus is talking about other people. We think he's talking about Sam up the street who won't bother to learn about his Saviour. Or we think about Sally next door who was all gung-ho about church, but soon lost interest. We think maybe he's talking about Charlie who had every good intention about being an active church member, but who became too involved with other things and God got pushed by the wayside. And then we think he's talking about us when he's referring to the good soil where the seed is planted and grows a healthy crop.
But the truth of the matter is that he is talking about us, about you and me when he makes all of those references. We have been the ones who find that we can't be bothered with God and his will. We have been the ones who have lost interest. We have been the ones who have let other things stand in the way and otherwise crowd God right out of our lives. We need to point the finger at ourselves, and not others when it comes to this parable.
But remember he finishes his parable with the seed planted in good soil, and that describes us too. We have received God's Word. In spite of all the things that would cause that seed to die out, God has taken our rocky, trampled, weed-infested lives and has worked a miracle. He has taken us and turned us into the good soil which gladly receives the Gospel.
Jesus wants us to come to him in faith, with the knowledge that our lives of sin have been changed into lives of holiness and righteousness. We acknowledge our sinfulness and come to Jesus looking for forgiveness. God promises to receive us just as we are, and change us into people whose lives reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ that lives within us. We know that through faith alone, Jesus our Saviour becomes a welcome guest and Lord of our life.
This brings up another important fact as well. A seed can be planted in the best soil around; but if it's neglected, it will die out. A seed needs sun and rain and nutrients to grow. And that's the same with us.
To keep the seed alive, we need to feed on God continually. We keep in his Word, whether it is here in worship, or privately in our homes, or when we are just living our lives out in the world. We keep that Word strong and active in us when we come here to the Lord's Table and receive his true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins and for the strengthening of our faith. When we are active in our Lord's work and seek him where he may be found, we know that we are feeding our faith and keeping the word of life flowing within us.
I opened my sermon this morning by telling you about my where's George hobby, and how I track money. I did this for a couple of reasons. First of all, you have to realize that it didn't happen overnight. I remember marking and spending a few dollar bills and then being disappointed when I didn't get a response after several days. It took a long time and quite a few bills before I got my first hit. I had to keep marking and circulating bills, while being patient and waiting.
In comparison, don't we find ourselves getting impatient when it seems like the Word of God isn't working as fast as we'd like? Don't we find ourselves getting frustrated when we faithfully preach and teach God's Word and people aren't breaking down the doors to come and partake of it with us? We have to learn patience when it comes to how God's Word works in the lives of people.
Secondly, out of the almost 28,000 bills I've entered into wheresgeorge.com over eight years, my hit rate is still only about twenty-five percent. But amongst those twenty-five percent, I've had a lot of fascinating responses too; and they've come from virtually every continent in the world.
The success of the Gospel of Jesus Christ isn't measured by numbers or percentages, but upon individual souls. We don't burden ourselves with the numbers of how many haven't responded, but we rejoice with those that have.
We are indeed a blest people. The Gospel we have is the one that we share. God wants us to be faithful sowers of his Word. We are to scatter that seed everywhere, with the knowledge that God can transform whatever kind of soil upon which the seed happens to fall into fertile ground.
Therefore, let us pray with the hymn writer: "On what has now been sown, thy blessing Lord bestow; the power is thine alone to make it spring and grow; do thou the gracious harvest raise, and thou alone shalt have the praise."