Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seedtime and Harvest

Lent V
March 17, 2013
Philip D. Eberhart

 
Seedtime & Harvest

Coming from the farm country, I’ve always had a love for the soil and for the culture that is on display in the Holy Scriptures.  Seed plays a prominent place in the life of the People of God and in the lore and the teachings of the Bible, as well as in the teachings of Jesus himself. 

We are familiar with many of the passages throughout the Bible – just the simple word “seed” is found about 100 times throughout the scriptures, most prominently in the teachings of Jesus in the Parable of the sower and the soils.

Seed is symbolic in significant ways throughout the scriptures:

It is seen as PROMISE, or POTENTIAL

It was seed that God created in the beginning and fruit-bearing plants that each cast seeds into the ground.  The laws of God take this into consideration, and in planting a vineyard or a fruit grove, Israel was forbidden from eating its fruit for 3 years, then the 4th year was given away as a gift to the Lord.   Only in the fifth year could the owner of the vineyard begin to enjoy its fruit!

Seed is connected to planting and harvest.  The agrarian peoples knew the cycles of the seasons and the dry and the wet seasons each year for their land.  There was a connection to the land for them in very real ways. 

This morning I want to remind us of the purpose of seed and how it is defined for us today, in our concrete jungle.  We have separated ourselves from the practices and only know the fruits of the harvest.  We go to the grocery store and have come disconnected from the land and its part in this process.

This morning I want to look at what ‘seed’ stands for and at the law of sowing and reaping that we see in nature and in scripture.

Seed is used in Scripture in two basic ways – 

In the Old Testament, we see the progeny of the patriarchs, especially Abraham, referred to as “seed.”  The promise of God to Abraham was that his ‘seed’ would outnumber the grains of sand on the shore, or the stars of heaven.  That is, of course, all that would come from his joining with his wife, Sarah. 

The OT is also clear that ‘seed’ is God’s provision for His people.  From the first creation of seed-bearing plants to the provision of manna, which is described as being like “coriander seed,” God was using seed to teach His people about provision from Him.

Seedtime and Harvest were the bookends of life in the Middle East, as they are in much of the world, even today.  Those times were the benchmarks of God’s blessing or God’s judgment on His People through the provision of rain and growing weather and a good harvest.

But for God, the question of faithfulness was not on his part but on the part of the People of God.  It’s always been that way.  God has set the seasons and the times – the seedtime and the harvest time – the growing season, and it is God who sends or withholds the rains, both early and late.  Perhaps there is something for us to take note of, even in the simple acknowledgement of God as the giver of the blessing of seed.

Of course the other image that we have of seed is in the Seed of the Word.  The Parable of the Sower shows us a picture of a farmer out broadcasting his seed – and as a farmer myself, I would say that the sower is sowing foolishly.  He is sowing not on prepared ground, but mostly on soil that is unprepared, hard, rocky, or thorny with weeds all around the seed. 

That’s why I feel that it is almost as much a parable of the soils and a parable about the sower, but I want to look for a minute at the later.

The Sower here is the Lord, God or Jesus himself as he passes through the world casting out the seed of truth to all kinds and conditions of men.  The sower, in this instance, is not concerned with the where as much as he is concerned with the what.  The parable itself challenges us to examine the “soil” of our own hearts and consider the kind of soil that we are personally:  

Hard pack soil – No seed can penetrate – it is taken away by birds and eaten immediately.

Thorny soil -  that which is taken up by the cares of life, worried about this and that; unable to give the seed any attention (water) in his/her life.  Thus the seed is choked out.

Rocky soil -  shallow soil that hasn’t been plowed or made ready in any way for the seed. Had it been “examined” in the least the rocks and lack of depth would have been discovered.

Or Good soil – the kind of soil that has been examined and broken – plowed up – in order to make it ready for the seed – optimized for the seed is a way that we might talk about that soil today!

Of course its clear from experience this past year that soil and planting are not all there is to it.  Weeding and watering come along the way as we move toward the harvest.  Nothing is more irritating to me than driving along the highway and seeing a wheat field that has green weeds sticking up through the ripening wheat.  Jesus used such a parable as well for the presence of the world in the midst of the church – the parable of the wheat and the tares (weeds).  We will have to save that for another day. 

The final things I want to consider this morning is the law of God behind all this imagery that Jesus uses and behind the ways that God seems to see our giving as seed.

As I was in university and seminary, Oral Roberts was constantly teaching a doctrine called “seed faith.”  I have come to be suspicious of that, because I saw how it was used to manipulate people to give, and for many years I rejected it outright, but I cannot dismiss the clear implications of the statements of Paul and of Jesus that equate seed with our giving and our faith. 

Jesus uses these two in a comparative form – equating the faith needed to move a mountain with the size of a mustard seed.  So he didn’t say that faith itself is a seed, but that it is like a seed in its size.  There is a comparison in the area of size.  In other words, it only takes the smallest amount of faith to do great things, friends.  That is the point of the parable and the comparison. 

Paul, as he talks about seed in 2 Cor 9, is clearly, by the context, equating seed with the gift that the church in Corinth had promised to Paul for the Jerusalem church and their Jewish brothers and sisters.  Paul had apparently been telling others about the gift being gathered in Corinth and was now reminding them to “make good” on their promise.

What Paul makes reference to here is what I call the Law of Sowing and Reaping: 

2 Cor 9:6
            Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

To which any 10 year old will say, “Well, duh!”  How can it be any other way?  We know that there is a direct correlation between what is put in the ground and what comes up!  This is not rocket science!

But Paul here is talking not about the planting of seed in the ground, but about the sowing of a gift – a bountiful gift – with those in need around you.

V. 7 puts it squarely in each of our own consciences – “as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  I looked up the Greek word for cheerful and it’s the root word for our word “hilarious!”

And God is that kind of Giver, because the next verse seems to indicate that He will be the supply for that kind of giving!

V. 8:  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;

It is God’s intention that we partake in this Law of sowing and reaping that He has set into the universe.  Why?  For HIS GLORY. 

Look further along at vvs 9-11 & 15

“…as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER."

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

Friends, God wants us to be givers.  It is good for us and it is good for Him!  It gives us freedom and it gives Him glory.

We must take note of the law of sowing and reaping.  That God’s word is seed for us and even that it is seed IN us.  We must prepare a place – a heart of good soil – in which that eternal, imperishable seed may fall and grow up to eternal life.

We also need to take note that God sees our giving and money as seed for good works, and he is willing to increase the store of our seed, not for our comfort and expenditure, but for the glory of His work in the world.

I think it’s dangerous to use the money we give as a kind of ‘bribe’ to get something from God, and sometimes that the way that the “seed faith” teaching is used or at least, the way it comes across.  But the fact remains, clear from scripture, that God equates our money with seed that can be planted and harvested.  And where there is no planting, there is no harvest.  It’s that simple.  Those are the rules.

That being said, there is one final word:  This area of giving is the only one where we are invited by God to “test him.”  Jesus, when he was being tempted by the devil in the wilderness, as we heard in the beginning lessons of Lent, was taken to the pinnacle of the temple and told to jump, because “God will send his angels to bear you up, lest you bruise you foot against a stone.”  Jesus quickly responds that we are not to “test the Lord our God.”  And David prays that he will be kept from “presumptuous sin.”

This one area God invites us to test him in:   Can I out-give God? 

Malachi 3 is clear that God throws down the gauntlet for us.  Not as a seed of faith but as an act of love and obedience – giving hilariously out of extravagant love for Jesus, we place ourselves in the target sights for God’s challenge.  See if I will not pour out on you a blessing you cannot contain!

The answer is NO!    NO, you cannot out give God!      Let us pray.

Eternal God you are the giver of every perfect gift that comes down from heaven.  You are the supplier of seed for the sower and bread for the eater. You are our eternal supply and we ask you to make us into that kind of church – one that sees and knows you to be its Lord and its provider, Jehovah Jireh!  Make each of us a giver like you, Lord, laying our lives down for each other, and awaiting the provision of God and His promise.  Thank you Lord Jesus, for Your indescribable gift of yourself to us – make us like you.

In Your name and for the sake of Your Kingdom we pray,

Amen.

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