Revd Alex Pease gave the following sermon:
The parable of the sower and the seed
Now some of you will find this difficult to understand, but I just don’t get football….
I think my mother in law used to find this quite surprising, but, from my point of view, why would you support a club from Manchester when you have spent your life in Surrey?
I know I just don’t understand…
But, equally, I find it so difficult when my friends and relations just don’t get Christianity.
Why is it those that we love just don’t understand, even when we think we are being so clear in our explanation about Jesus; when we know that turning to Christ would transform that huge problem which they carry; when we know that He loves them even more than we do; when we know that Jesus is knocking at their door…why do they just not open?
This was the (unstated) question that I believe Jesus was responding to in the passage we have just read. He answers it by telling the parable of the sower and the seed and then explaining what it means to the disciples.
We have heard this morning (and last week in James’s Family Service talk) how in Jesus’ parable the sower – God the Father – sows the seed and some falls on the path; some falls on rocky ground; some falls amongst thorns; but some falls on good ground.
Jesus then explains to the disciples that the different types of ground are the different ways in which people hear and respond to the Word.
The sower pours the seed abundantly onto these different types of ground, because he is God, the extravagant creator, spilling the bounty of his generosity way beyond what is necessary….
But some of those hearing the word just cannot understand it and the enemy takes the word away, like the seed which has fallen on the hard path is taken away by birds. Some are shallow rooted, and as soon as any trouble comes they give up…that’s like the seed on rocky ground. Still others are blighted by wealth and worries and so are unfruitful, that’s the seed sown amongst thorns.
But then there are those which fall on good soil which produces the most amazing harvest!
But the thing which has troubled me always about this parable is this: If these four examples are really the different ways in which we respond to the word of God, the seed which God sows, does the parable mean that there are some people who will just get it, understand the gospel and be wonderfully fruitful, transforming the world, people who are perhaps born to this? And other people who just won’t….Are we creatures who are either going to get it…..or not?
Between the telling of the parable and the explanation given to the disciples, Jesus quotes from a passage from Isaiah which sheds some light on the problem.
Jesus, in speaking about the people those who may be his fans, but are not his followers, Jesus says ‘In them is fulfilled the prophesy of Isaiah “You will be ever hearing, but never understanding, you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving. For this people’s hearts have become calloused, or (in the NRSV), have become dull, they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes’.
I believe that this is the central issue of this parable are our friends and relations hearts calloused to the gospel?
And, I even dare ask, are our hearts calloused to the gospel?
And what can they do, what can we do, if they are?
‘Calloused’ ‘Dull’ what does this word mean? In the Greek that the New Testament was written ‘pachayo’ means fattened. The word in the Old Testament Hebrew is ‘hazmen’ which means thickened or fattened, rendering insensitive, like our feet would be if we always walked bare foot. That’s why the translation into English ‘calloused’ is such a good one. It means a thickening of the skin. But it’s their hearts which are calloused, not their feet.
It’s as if there is a barrier between their heart and the gospel, their sensitivity to the truth is dulled.
How? And what can we, what can they do about it?
Firstly, what does the word ‘heart’ mean?
In the Bible, the heart is the centre of the affections, the emotions, as in modern speech, but also is the seat of the intellect and of the will. So these three: emotions, intellect, will, are, from the perspective of the Bible, inseparable. They are linked and have a direct effect on each other.
So when Jesus (quoting Isaiah) says that the people’s hearts have becoming dull or calloused, he means that not only the emotions but also the cascade effect that has on both intellect the ability to understand and the will, the actual willingness to act in response. All are affected by a calloused heart, a dull heart. This is why, however compelling a logical case we may make for Christ, we so often fail to persuade someone we are talking to. No, it’s not through logic but through our emotions that Christ will become known; that a relationship will be established with him. But we can put up barriers to the citadel of our emotions and not even realise that we are doing so.
At Sandhurst, we were encouraged to rub our feet with a cloth soaked in surgical spirit so that they became tough and did not get blisters; so they became insensitive to pain.
In the same way, a calloused heart (a Dull heart) is one which is insensitive to God’s Word. A protective barrier has been built up between our emotions and the word of God.
But we are not born like this…..As children, we are very open to the concept of God and are able to receive him willingly. It’s for this reason in Matthew 19:14 that Jesus said ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’.
So what is the surgical spirit that we pour on our hearts which makes them callous, which makes them dull, which prevent us from receiving the gospel?
I believe that the problem is one of misplaced love, misplaced love.
It works like this:
Jesus gives us (in Matthew 22:37) The first and greatest commandment that we love God ‘with our whole heart, with all our soul and all our mind’. But, actually, we often don’t do this. We love other people and other created things more….God comes a poor second or third, if he gets a look in at all.
Firstly, some of us love ourselves first, we can be turned completely in on ourselves. We can be preoccupied with….Me…what I want, how I look, how I am perceived
Now this can be either a preoccupation about how good we look or are, or how bad we look, or how useless we are seeing everything in terms of….me
So, firstly, some of us love ourselves first
Secondly, some of us allow an idol to take first place in our hearts
We are designed by God to worship Him in Creation. Its the one exclusively human characteristic and so worship comes naturally to us.
The idol that we worship could be: our careers, our reputation, our intellect, our wealth, our house, our class, our hobby, our sports, our football team or our children or grandchildren. As, I have said many times before, a good test of the idols in our lives is when we become irrationally angry when the idol is slighted or threatened.
Placing our first love, placing our worship, on something or someone other than God, can have any number of different bad effects, from despair, when we lose them, and a feeling of pointlessness of our lives, to the ruining of relationships with others when we put these idols first ahead of every thing else but, importantly, for today’s discussion worshipping idols can deaden us, make us blind and deaf to the gospel, because the place which should be occupied by God in our hearts is already taken…..
So lets see how this might work in practice:
For example, the man who thinks too much of himself cannot accept the gospel because he says (to himself) his intellect is far too superior to accept the evidence for the Resurrection that millions have accepted over millennia before him; or
The woman who thinks too little of herself, cannot accept the gospel because she thinks that she is unloveable and so God the Father could not possibly love her.
By the same token the man who has put his daughter first in his loves, who has made an idol of her, cannot accept the gospel because her wishes are far more important to him than what Jesus teaches about how we should live, so he never rebukes her, thus failing in his Christian duty as a father; or
The woman who has put her career at the top of the tree (has made an idol of it) is willing to sacrifice all her relationships to stay at the peak of her profession and thus cannot accept the gospel which teaches us to love our families self sacrificially.
We can easily see how, for such people, the call of Jesus to live differently from the rest of society will fall on deaf ears: they have calloused hearts, by years spent loving the wrong gods.
So we can see how tracking this across to the parable: emotions are stunted, like the hard path; the rocky soil of other priorities ruin growth; the thorn-like conflicting worries and demands of those who are too invested in the world, strangle the gospel at birth.
So, you may think, how does anyone ever become a follower of Christ and not just a fan?
The answer lies in how the good soil gets to be good…
What is the difference between good soil and the rest?
It has been broken….it has been tilled, broken down by the plough, so the roots of the plant (as James explained last week) are able to grow unimpeded.
Brokenness is the good soil into which the gospel can put forth its roots
Brokenness is the good soil into which the gospel can put forth its roots
I am sorry to say this, but its possible that without brokenness, without suffering, some of us may never really understand the gospel at all, because it is only in the context of suffering that we can see how inadequate are the things that we have put first in our lives; the false gods that we have worshipped and which have calloused our hearts.
And we all do suffer, or have suffered, it doesn’t matter whether we regard our suffering in comparison with others as greater or lesser…everyone has their story.
I don’t believe that God sends it, but everyone experiences it, suffering in the past, suffering in the present, or worries about the future……you, me…everyone….
And we may have some tough times ahead.
When our suffering comes, when the suffering of our friends and relations comes, we need to allow God, we need to encourage our friends and relations, to allow God to strip off the calloused skin around our hearts, call out to him in our pain and use our suffering to put God first in our lives.
If we do so, the incredible balm of his healing love will pour over our damaged hearts. And our lives will be transformed
13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
10 Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ 14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:
‘You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 13:1–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
John Bouldin’s prayers were as follows:
In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.
We pray for Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury and Tim, Bishop of Winchester.
In our parish we pray for Alex and all those who are helping us to worship today and who are gradually opening up our village churches.
We give thanks for the Anglican bonds which bind us together as a church which can still worship you and declare your good news in a changing electronic world.
Lord in Your mercy …… hear our prayer.
We pray for the Queen and the Royal family and for our political leaders. Please guide all those who are making key decisions about our health and our economy. Direct our nation and all nations in the ways of justice and of peace; that men may honour one another and seek the common good.
Lord in Your mercy …… hear our prayer.
We pray for all those who have been affected by the pandemic. For those who have lost family and friends. For the young whose activities have been restricted and for the old who are fearful about going out. For those whose lives have been changed. In the words of one of the prayers in our parish newsletter we pray:
God of compassion, be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.
In their loneliness, be their consolation; in their anxiety, be their hope;
in their darkness, be their light; through him who suffered alone on the
cross, but reigns with you in glory, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord, please look after those who are furloughed and face redundancy. And care for small business owners who have to let their staff go and see their cherished businesses wither. Please help all those facing economic problems.
This virus has exposed the inequalities across the world. We know that the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised are faring the worst. We pray Lord for those who are far away in countries more crowded and less wealthy than our own and whose peoples lives have been hugely disrupted
Lord in Your mercy …… hear our prayer.
As many of us plan to take part in our Walk of Hope we thank you for the joy which comes from walking through our local fields and beside our river.
Praise to you Lord for the inspiration of our beautiful surroundings.
Finally, Lord we remember the hungry the homeless and the sick across the world and all those we know who are not well especially those who are having to wait for treatment in our stretched health services.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ . Amen