The last two readings - our reading from Romans and our reading from Matthew, show us a picture of the gift of good ... no, of GREAT NEWS that we have been given to share with the world around us.
I want to preach on both passages this morning so let me dive right into the deep end.
Turn to Romans 8 with me in your bible please. If you don't have a bible with you I brought some in the back on the library shelf there.
Romans 8 has been called the pinnacle -- the MOUNT EVEREST of the Himalayan (ROMANS) Range! Paul is preaching his gospel to the Gentiles throughout this book, and the great crescendo is this last verses of the chapter. Before this he is climbing the mountain, from the depths of human sinfulness in 1-3, through God's righteous provision in Christ through faith, 4-6, and through the steep slope of the battle with our flesh in chapter 7, to the climax at the summit in chapter 8.
We've heard these verses the past three Sundays as our lectionary broke up this 8th chapter into three section; likewise, the 13th chapter of Matthew, the parables of the Kingdom, for the past three Sundays. Why do you think that is? Why run these stories, side by side? It feels like a newspaper with two headline stories, run side by side on the front page!
Let's spend a few minutes exploring the lessons we've heard:
These verses in Romans this morning are the GREAT NEWS of the KINGDOM. This message IS THE SEED that the sower is sowing in Matt 13 - is IS the MUSTARD SEED! It IS the TREASURE HIDDEN and the PEARL OF GREAT PRICE!!!
Friends, THIS IS IT! If you want to talk to someone about all that God has done for, in, among or to US in sending His Son, Jesus Christ, these verses capture the GREAT NEWS even in the midst of the hardships of life.
You've heard me say it many, many, many times. There are two things we all do: We ALL suffer and we ALL try to get out of it! So how do we share GREAT NEWS in the middle of life's ... Ssssstuff?
You at Romans 8 yet?
1 - IN CHRIST - There is NO GUILTY VERDICT!
The word picture in the word condemnation is of that moment when the chairman of the jury stands to read at the end of the trial - "What is your verdict, Mr. Chairman?" We find the defendant NOT GUILTY, BY REASON OF JESUS!
2 - IN CHRIST - You are FREE to Walk According to the Spirit of Jesus, who is in you. The chains are broken and you are no longer tied face to face with the dead body of your sin!
3 - IN CHRIST - You have the daily choice to LIVE LIFE
"according to the flesh" OR "according to the Spirit."
Since the chains are gone, we have no obligation, no slavery to the flesh. Our MINDSET is to be on JESUS!
4 - IN CHRIST - You have the SPIRIT OF JESUS inside you, helping you at every turn - at every moment of decision! And every decision you make FOR CHRIST strengthens the HOLD of His Nature and weakens the hold of the OLD nature.
5 - IN CHRIST - You have received the Spirit of Jesus as an ADOPTED CHILD - You are no longer an ORPHAN! You are accepted in the family and given all the rights and privileges of a member of the FAMILY OF GOD!!
6 - IN CHRIST - HE HIMSELF, THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST is your helper, your strength, your power beyond all power!
As a Result:
7 - IN CHRIST - We have HOPE that NEVER FADES AWAY! NEVER!!! EVER !!!
Because ... NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS; NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCES WE FIND OURSELVES IN ...
8 - IN CHRIST - The Spirit of Jesus is AT WORK doing INSIDE US, that which is the pinnacle of the entire work of creation and redemption: CREATING A JESUS LOOK-ALIKE ... IN YOU.
And not just in you... but in you ... and you ... and you... and you... and you... and ... get it?
JESUS wants, by the unlimited power of the Spirit,
to redeem and RE-CREATE HIS VERY SELF in you!
So that HE - JESUS is the "firstborn among many brothers and sister."
Here is the picture of the KINGDOM OF GOD COME -- ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN! What we pray for every week - every time we say the Lord's prayer. Wonder why He taught us to pray that way?
HERE IT IS.
HERE IS THE KINGDOM! Let's glance for a moment at Matthew 13:
THE KINGDOM IS LIKE:
A. SEED scattered wildly about in the world
B. A FIELD where both good and bad seed fell in the
good soil and grew up together. We need to
let the harvest sort itself out. Weeds and
chaff will be blown away or burnt up.
C. The SMALLEST SEED (Mustard Seed) that grows
into a large tree, providing home and shelter
to many kinds of birds.
D. The hidden LEAVEN in the loaf - a little bit of this
goes a very long way! Here its good leaven
but there is also bad leaven !!
E. The hidden TREASURE in the field - worth the
sacrifice of all else to buy it!
F. The PEARL OF GREAT PRICE - likewise worthy
of selling all to obtain it alone!
G. The Kingdom if like a great DRAGNET - that catches every sort of fish - the word here is the word we get SEIVE from. It is the sort of net that captures everything in its path!
My brother and I had two similar experiences fishing out on Bonny Reservoir when we were kids. He caught a beautiful 5 1/2 pound Walleye Pike - it was wonder at the table - like a white fish steak! 25 inches long and it took him a long fight to land that fish.
Similarly, I caught what I thought was a great fish, put up an unbelievable fight - at first I thought I snagged a rock, then it started moving around the boat - I had visions of a bigger fish than my brothers!!
When we finally got it up to the boat, we found that I had snagged a BUFFALO - A CARP! Just behind the dorsel fin, so that he could use all his swimming power to swim away, and I had no ability to pull him from the front toward the boat! It was a worthless fight, a disappointing catch!
The DRAGNET of the KINGDOM of God in the world catches all sorts of men and women, who will be sorted out at the end. And we, friends, are NOT the sorters of the catch. We are the pullers of the net.
As I told one friend a week or so ago, "God cleans His fish AFTER He catches them!" Our job is not to make sure that everyone is good, so that they can come to Jesus - but that everyone hears that they can come to Jesus just the way they are, and He will do the work that is needed in their lives. This is the good news.
So NOW WHAT?
Jesus' final parable here, speaks directly to us - the parable of the Householder: Let me quote Matthew Henry, a 17th century commentator as we end today:
"the parable of the good householder, ... is intended to rivet all the rest. the parable itself was to give his approbation and commendation of their proficiency. Note, Christ is ready to encourage willing learners in his school, though they are but weak; and to say, Well done, well said.
(1.) He commends them as scribes instructed unto the kingdom of heaven. They were now learning that they might teach, and the teachers among the Jews were the scribes. Ezra, who prepared his heart to teach in Israel, is called a ready scribe,Ezra 7:6, 10. Now a skilful, faithful minister of the gospel is a scribe too; but for distinction, he is called a scribe instructedunto the kingdom of heaven, well versed in the things of the gospel, and well able to teach those things.
(2.) He compares them to a good householder, who brings forth out of his treasure things newand old; fruits of last year's growth and this year's gathering, abundance and variety, for the entertainment of his friends
Imagine yourself entering a Minister's Study: Henry continues...
See here, [1.] What should be [included in] a minister's furniture, atreasure of things new and old. Those who have so many and various occasions, have need to stock themselves well in their gathering days with truths new and old, out of the Old Testament and out of the new; with ancient and modern improvements, that the man of God may bethoroughly furnished,2 Tim. 3:16, 17. Old experiences, and new observations, all have their use; and we must not content ourselves with old discoveries, but must be adding new. Live and learn.
[2.] What use he should make of this furniture; he should bring forth: laying up is in order to [be] laying out, for the benefit of others. Sic vox non vobis-You are to lay up, but not foryourselves. Many are full, but they have no vent (Job 32:19);[many] have a talent, but they bury it; such are unprofitable servants; Christ himself received that he might give; so must we, and we shall have more. In bringing forth, things new and old do best together; old truths, but new methods and expressions, especially new affections."
Our job friends, is to bring out the truths of the Kingdom of God for SHOW AND TELL!
And here is the best news of all! Life itself conspires to help us witness of God's grace and His unfailing love - of His amazing power and unending faithfulness - of His abundant provision and mighty protection.
Paul ends this chapter with a sprint to the finish, ending breathless on the other side of the line:
GOD is working all these things - the good, the bad and the ugly - the blood, the sweat and the tears - into something created for HIS GLORY AND PRAISE!
SO WHAT IS LEFT TO SAY!
IF GOD IS FOR US - WHO CAN BE AGAINST US!
IF GOD JUSTIFIES US, WHO IS LEFT TO CONDEMN?
How can we think that God who gave supremely by giving us His very own Son, Jesus Christ, won't, along with Jesus, give us ALL THINGS THAT PERTAIN TO LIFE AND TO GODLINESS (Words of St. Peter!)
In all the circumstance of our life, God is there. No matter what you are going through, Today, This week, This month, This year, next year. God has it covered.
The whole list is covered:
hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Paul says in conclusion
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And note where we are at the end of the chapter ... again...
IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD!
Do we have good news or what?
Let us pray:
O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
You know -- for years I've had this biased attitude about this parable! Can I say that here?
I grew up on a farm. Almost everyone here knows that, but it has to be said. It was the source of my bias.
I thought, because of my bias, that this parable was really about the soils and the need for preparation, or about what happens to the seed, when it is cast on the wrong kind of soil or on unprepared soil.
Because of my farming background I completely missed the point of Jesus parable here.
Have you ever done that with the Bible? Let your attitude or life experience color the way you read a passage?
That's another sermon for another day, but it is something to take into consideration when we are reading the scriptures: What am I bringing to this reading that may change the way it speaks to me? ... the way it changes me?
The way I ask questions of it or it asks questions of me?
Let me illustrate with my own bias on this passage:
As a farmer from eastern Colorado, I had a particular experience of sowing. You planted grains seed in a very meticulous and deliberate manner. Ground is prepared for months; it is plowed deeply, turned over sometimes to a 12 inch depth - then that ground is re compacted using a disk, another implement that cuts and moves the top 3-5 inches of soil - then a smaller, "spring tooth" is used to further break the larger clods and get the ground ready for the 4th and final working, which is the planting. The planting is done with a planter - an implement that drops the seed in specific rows at specific distances from the previous seed. depths and distances are carefully calculated for the crop and the needs of the plants for room to grow and for air, water and light.
Once the seed is planted, then the rest of the work happens: throughout the early growth season, the field is worked to remove weeds, - unwanted plants that draw needed water from the crop, the crop is watered in eastern Colorado because as we know, plants cannot live on the amount of water that comes naturally. So irrigation is the way of life for farmers who want a higher yield on their crop.
And finally, after months and months of work - 51 weeks worth to be precise - comes the week it is all for - The Harvest.
Drive north or East from here in the next week someday - and you will see the harvest in progress. July is the season of wheat harvest in Colorado - usually within a week or 10 days of the 4th, depending on the rains. And there is urgency - taking into consideration the threat of some of the storms we have seen on the eastern plains.
OK. let me get back to the parable. I wanted to give you a picture of why I was biased.
My bias was against the willy-nilly scattering of seed so that the seed fell on the road, in the ditch, in the unprepared rocky ground, and finally in the good soil. Seed is precious, I thought, and its in limited supply, so it needs to be maximized, by my deciding where it is going to be planted.
Are you beginning to see the insidious effect of the bias?
Because of my reading of this parable, I was the judge of the soils. I became the judge of men's hearts! Of what kind of soil they were?
So what changed for me? An encounter with a sower! And an organization that is his legacy and that carries that same "sowers" passion!
I believed some lies - or misunderstood the force of the truth, at the very least, in my reading of this parable for the last decade or more! I've even preached on the "parable of the soils". When Jesus himself tells us that this is about the sower, not about the soils.
Here is the priority in the parable itself:
1 - The Sower
2 - The Seed
3 - The Soils
Let's ask some questions:
A. THE SOWER
Why is the priority here on the sower?
Because without the sower the seed remains in the bin, or in the bag - or in the Bible!
In the parable, Jesus, the Son of Man is the sower - and he is commenting on his mission on the earth - on God's mission on the earth, for Him! To be the sower and to go about it with a certain intentionality - a certain urgency.
So in the parable the first words are BEHOLD - or LISTEN TO ME. A SOWER WENT OUT TO SOW.
Do you and I see ourselves as sowers? Is Jesus the only one who carries seed? I think not.
When you get up in the morning, do you think about going out and sowing seed? Not so often, huh?
We just live our life and do our thing, and if sowing happens, so be it.
Do you have a bag of seed that you carry along with you? Have you ever carried an extra bible to give away?
or a bible portion, like the gospel of John, to give away?
What would happen if we started living like the sower? With the intentionality and purpose of the sower?
Do you think that opportunity would present itself to sow a seed in someone's life?
And to my earlier point ... what if the opportunity didn't open up to my satisfaction? What if I just couldn't find someone who was "good soil?" Do you see where we are again.
The parable says that the sower went out to sow. So SOW!!! Cast the seed?
Paul told Timothy, his protege, to "be ready, instant in season and out of season!" Do the work of an evangelist and finish that task.
Peter tells us to always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us!
Are you ready? Do you have the seed bag with you? Do you spend time thinking and preparing an answer to commonly asked questions? Do you even allow yourself to get into spiritual conversations at all?
Are you a sower?
You see how we need to let the parable as us some questions too?
B) THE SEED
So now let's turn to the seed. What are we planting here?
In the second half or our reading, later in the chapter, Jesus explains the parable:
He says at the very beginning: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom
The "word of the Kingdom" is "The Seed"
So what is the "Word of the Kingdom"? How can we define that? Is it the "Romans Road"?
Anyone here know the Romans Road? Scriptures through Romans that tell the story of salvation? Anyone?
Get out your pencil ... This is not a drill!
Romans 3:10 - There is none righteous, NOT ONE.
Romans 3: 23 - All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory.
Romans 5:12 - Death has come to all men because of sin.
Romans 6:23 - The wages of sin is death, BUT the gift of God is eternal life!
Romans 5:8-9 - While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 10:9-10 - Confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, believe in your heart God raised him, you will be saved.
Romans 10:13 - Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved.
Yes, the Romans Road is seed! It is Gospel - Good News.
Do you know those verses by heart? Remember our hand illustration:
Hear, Read, Mark, Learn and Inwardly Digest!
Is the Romans Road, all there is to the "Word of the Kingdom?" I'd have to say NO.
Jesus came preaching the Gospel - the Good News - of the Kingdom. It is more than a set of propositions that we give assent to with our mind - it is a Lordship and then a Lifestyle of Love - but the kind of love that lets people know that there is a new way to live.
People need Good News today, friends! As much as any time in history, people are desperate for Good News.
And what is the Good News of the Kingdom.
Jesus came to tell people that God loved them, that God was their Father, that there is a better way to live, and move and have our being! Jesus came to tell everyone - WHOSOEVER. I love that word!
Whosoever WILL may come! Friends it is not for us to decide for the whosoever. It is for us to cast the seed! To put it out there: compellingly, winsomely, with sincerity and truth, in love for people, wherever they are and whosoever they are.
C: THE SOILS
It was always a problem to me, that the sower didn't pay attention to the condition of the soils.
But unlike the modern farmer, the Sower of Jesus day, had one purpose in the field: To get the seed out.
That was his focus. Jesus later explains what happens because of the different "heart conditions" of those who receive the Word of the Kingdom. Perhaps as seed receivers, this is what we need to pay attention to?
Hard ground - no openness. No reception of the message. the seed just lays there and is stolen by birds.
Rocky ground - some interest, but hardness is under the surface. Initial interest, but no lasting fruit comes up.
because fruits require roots!
Thorny ground - genuine interest and need is present, perhaps even brokenness, but the weeds present - the thorns that already have root, choke out the Word. Keep the plant of the Kingdom small and unfruitful.
Good soil - deeply broken and open. ready for the seed to fall into the ground, to root and to bring forth fruit.
fruit bearing is inevitable! some 100 times, some 60 times, some 30 times.
Friends, good soil is the soil that we need to be. Broken and Open - ready to receive God's Word - to let it germinate and grow in us, to let it bear fruit and then, we take the seed that's been sown in us and we sow it in other lives, some 100 others, some 60 others and some 30 others.
Are you Good Soil. Yes soil matters, but the only soil you have any say about is your own!
We are not to judge the soil of another heart or life - we are to plant the seed.
How many, hearing this, would commit to being a sower this week? To speaking a word of encouragement, to telling another of God's love for them, to giving a cold cup of water in Jesus Name? All of these things are seeds of the Kingdom. It's not just the Romans Road, its everything that you are and all that you do.
Truth is ... You ARE a sower!
Question is WHAT are you sowing?
Lord Jesus Christ, You stretched forth your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross
that everyone might come within the reach of Your saving embrace;
So clothe us in your Spirit, that we, reaching forth our hands in love,
may bring those who do not know you, to the knowledge and love of you,
for the honor of Your Name. Amen.
Lord you were the sower in the parable, but today we are your hands and feet in the world.
Give us the bag of seed for sowing and the heart for others that you have, the compassion
that drove you to cast the seed on every kind of soil. Help us, Holy Spirit, to be obedient
to the call to go, to the call to tell, and to the call to make disciples. It is only by your power
that we can do this, Lord.
In the Name of Jesus and for the sake of His Kingdom we pray.