4 Pentecost Proper A10
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23 Sermon
July 10, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
19 "Sing Praise To God Who Reigns Above" (now playing, alt. melody)
286 "How Shall The Young Secure Their Hearts"
49 "Almighty God, Thy Word Is Cast"
THE POWER OF THE SEED
TEXT (vs. 1-3; 9) "1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. 9 He who has ears, let him hear."
Over in Germany, in the lower part of Saxony, lies the beautiful city of Hannover. Amongst the more notable things there, is the university of Hannover, which is one of the most prestigious schools in Europe. Another notable place is a big beautiful cemetery, known as the Engesohde Cemetery. This place contains some absolutely fabulous examples of statuary, as well as the meticulously maintained gardens. It is a very beautiful place.
In this cemetery, there is one grave that is very noteworthy. It is the grave of Gerta Maria Schmidt, who died sometime back around the sixteenth century. And there is quite a story connected with this grave.
Gerta was an atheist; in fact she was very militant about her unbelief. She had learned about Christ's resurrection from the dead, and his promise that all of the dead would be raised on the Last Day. In her way of thinking, this was an absolutely preposterous idea. She was of the opinion that when somebody died, they stayed dead, and their body would simply decompose and become part of the earth. She refused to believe that Jesus had the power to raise the dead and make good on his promise of everlasting life.
So in her will, Gerta had a rather strange request. She wanted to be buried 15 feet deep. Her casket was to be completely encased in a stone vault, which was to be tightly sealed. And then around it, there were to be slabs of granite, locked into place by steel bands and latches. And on her gravestone, the following words were inscribed: "dieses grab muss nie ge÷ffnet werden," which translated means, "this grave must never be opened."
This was her act of defiance against God. If there were even any hints of a resurrection, she wanted no part of it. She felt that she had secured herself to the point where even God couldn't get to her.
Things were carried out exactly as she had stated in her will. However something happened that nobody really thought much about. As they were placing Gerta's wooden casket into the vault, an acorn from a nearby oak tree dropped inside the vault.
As Gerta's body began to decompose, it provided enough moisture and nourishment for the acorn to sprout and grow. The growing plant was able to make its way through a small crack in the lid, and it began its journey to the surface. And as time progressed and the tree grew, it began to push away the stones and break the steel bonds.
Gerta's grave exists today; and right in the middle of it stands this enormous oak tree. God didn't care about Gerta's instructions. He defied her in probably the simplest way possible. He did it with an acorn, with one single seed. In Galatians chapter 6 verse 7 the Apostle Paul writes, "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap."
Seeds are incredible things, aren't they? Granted, the acorn in Gerta's grave had some divine intervention going on. But still, what happened was nothing really out of the ordinary. That acorn did what all acorns are designed to do. It sprouted, took root, and became a tree.
I think that seeds have to be one of the greatest miracles of nature that exist. Science can tell us how seeds work. In primary school science, I would imagine you did something similar to what we did. We sprouted seeds on a piece of wet paper towel. We could see what happened. So based upon just a small bit of information, we can all see how seeds work. The thing we can't describe is why they work the way they do. What actually makes that seed do its thing? Why will a seed that is placed in dirt and watered grow into a plant of some description?
Seeds also have another purpose. They're good for food. When we eat beans, or corn, or peas, or any sort of nut, we are eating seeds. They're good for you. We eat seeds as snack food too. If you go right across the street to the convenience store, you can get a bag of sunflower seeds, or pumpkin seeds. And the next time you go to a salad bar, you'll probably find alfalfa sprouts or bean sprouts that you can put on your salad--these are sprouted seeds.
Seeds were just as important in Jesus' day as they are today. People used them in the same way. So when Jesus spoke to the people using the parable of the sower, everybody knew exactly what he was talking about. That was an illustration they had no trouble understanding.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Matthew records that there were "great crowds" of people who had gathered; so many that he had to go out in a boat while they stood on the shore. Considering the number of people and their varied backgrounds, Jesus needed a good simple illustration.
Jesus gives four different examples. There were the seeds that were sown on the footpath, where the ground was hard and nothing could take root. Then there were the seeds sown amongst the rocks, where there wasn't a whole lot of soil. Then there were the seeds sown amongst the briars and weeds. And finally there were the seeds that were sown in good soil.
The thing we need to remember at the outset here, is that it is all the same seed. There is no difference in what was being planted. It wasn't a case of "good seed" and "bad seed," like in Jesus' parable of the tares and the wheat. This seed was all good. The difference was in where it was being planted.
So here we are. We're good Christian people. We're sitting here in church, listening to the Scripture lessons and the sermon. We look at ourselves and think, "Yeah, I'm an example of the good soil. God's Word has this great place in my heart. Everything is going as it is supposed to." That's a nice thought perhaps, but that certainly isn't always the case. In fact, the good soil is the ideal situation. Where we need to look is to the other three examples and see how we measure up to what Jesus is talking about.
The first example is the seed that is sown on the footpath. Jesus says this is the person who hears the Word and doesn't understand it. Actually, this is probably better stated as somebody who hears the Word and doesn't WANT to understand it. So as a result, everything gets lost.
I can remember talking with a person once about God's moral law. That person immediately came back with, "Yeah, and it says in the Bible that the priests had to have bells on the bottom of their robes too. Do they still have to do that?" Of course this person had no interest at all about learning the difference between Old Testament ceremonial and civil laws, and God's moral law. Their mind was made up, and they didn't want to be confused with the facts.
The second instance Jesus gives is a bit more involved. This is where the seed is sown in amongst the rocks, where there really wasn't any depth of soil. The seed came up quickly, but it also died out quickly.
I've known people who have gotten all caught up in some sort of overly emotional religious group, where they're all "gung ho" about the whole experience. But then something happens in their life that isn't so pleasant. They go looking for answers, and all they get is "Oh, don't worry, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." And somehow, that just doesn't cut it. A superficial, "feel good" religion is great for a while, but the depth isn't there. The faith isn't really grounded in anything.
Where I find this particularly disturbing is some examples I've seen with people studying for the ministry. The Holy Spirit has worked faith in their hearts. They come to know Jesus their Saviour and have a personal relationship with him. They're on fire for the Lord! And now they want to consider the Lord's work as their life's work.
The problem is, that they don't see things realistically. They have an idealistic perception that Christians are somehow sinless. And when they see real world problems affecting God's people, then they can't handle it.
This one gentleman I know and his wife went to a Christian college to start his pre-seminary training. They became the dorm parents for a men's dormitory. But when they started having to deal with drinking, and drugs, and sexual sins, and stealing, and lying, they were flabbergasted. They never expected things like this to exist in a Christian college situation! And this was after I warned them ahead of time that things like this could happen.
And then there's the "know it all" attitude of arrogance as well that exists. That's what happens in shallow ground.
The Apostle Paul knew about this too. That's why he explains to Timothy in 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 6 that a student of the ministry "...must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."
The third situation Jesus describes is rather easy for us to comprehend. That's the seed that was sown amongst the thorns and gets choked out.
This describes people who have this huge list of priorities in their lives that don't include God at all. And if they do include him, he's way at the bottom of the list. That's like inviting Jesus to dinner, and then giving him whatever scraps are left over after everybody has gorged themselves. After the dog and cat have eaten, then we'll see if there's anything left to give Jesus.
When I think of seeds getting choked out, I think of the kudzu plant that grows in Georgia. Kudzu is this thick vine that grows so prolifically, that it chokes out almost everything else. It covers entire fields, and it isn't even good for livestock to eat. It's almost impossible to get rid of, even if you try to burn it out. It's a continual problem for people trying to grow a crop. And the sad part of it all, is that it was imported from the Middle East to stop soil erosion.
So we have three examples where good seed is sown in adverse conditions. And I know that if we're all honest with ourselves, we can apply these three situations to our own lives.
There are times when we don't want God in our life at all. We don't want him to interfere, or to show us our sin. We don't want him to change our minds or our sinful lives.
Then there are times when we get all involved with church work, and church groups, and we're really intent on bringing the Gospel to the world. But something happens to discourage us, so we sit at home and pout and complain to God about how he's treating us. Pity poor me.
And I don't think that it will take too much for us to recognize what other cares and concerns can do to us. We can get so wrapped up in our own little world, that it's like we've planted a whole field of kudzu. We've completely crowded God out of our lives.
But remember, the seed never changes in any of these instances. The seed is the Word of God, and the message of the Gospel. That little seed is full of God's love, and forgiveness, and understanding. That one little seed, when it is planted in us, is something that can be cultivated into a thriving and living and active faith.
In John chapter 12 verse 24, Jesus uses a grain of wheat, which is a seed in the following illustration: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." The word "die" in this instance means that the seed ceases to be a seed after it is planted.
The seed of faith has to be planted in us in order to take root. If it isn't planted, then it is of no use at all. It will never grow if it is just sitting there idle.
The seed that God the Holy Spirit plants in us is the faith that brings us to know our Saviour Jesus Christ. When we come to him, then we know that he will not only forgive our sins, but he will change us too. Through faith, God can take our stubborn, hard, rocky, and weed-infested lives and turn them into a life dedicated to him. The good soil isn't something that we create ourselves, but something God creates within us.
Seeds are indeed powerful things. When Gerta Maria Schmidt was trying to shut God out of her life, God used a seed to make an example of his awesome power. One little acorn broke her grave wide open.
God has used one little seed in our lives too, that seed of faith. Through that seed, our graves will be broken wide open as well. And when that happens, we will have nothing to fear, because through that seed of faith that brought us to our Saviour's loving arms, we will reap the blessed reward he has promised for us in eternity.