NUMC Nameoki United Methodist Church 1900 Pontoon Rd.
Granite City IL 62040-2339

Sermon: Listen, then, if You Have Ears!

Date: Aug 10, 2014

Preacher: Rev'd Mike Rayson, OSL

Church: Nameoki United Methodist

Again Jesus began to teach beside Lake Galilee. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it. The boat was out in the water, and the crowd stood on the shore at the water's edge. He used parables to teach them many things, saying to them:

“Listen! Once there was a man who went out to sow grain. As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn't deep. Then, when the sun came up, it burned the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants, and they didn't bear grain. But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants sprouted, grew, and bore grain: some had thirty grains, others sixty, and others one hundred.”

And Jesus concluded, “Listen, then, if you have ears!”  Mark 4:1-9 (GNT)

Well I hope you missed me!!!  It’s good to be back.

As some of you saw online, our trip to the UK was anything but a vacation break.  In fact, I can’t remember a busier time in the last couple of years than this trip.  

But the reason for our trip – the wedding of our friends Joanne and Jayson – went really well, even if we were at the church from 9 in the morning through to 9 in the evening.  And – joy of all joys… the top hats got cancelled!!!

After the wedding and the reception was finally finished last Saturday, we still had a 3 hour drive ahead of us to Stoke on Trent in the middle of England where I preached last Sunday morning at Swanbank Methodist Church.  Swanbank is the largest and fastest growing Methodist church in the UK – and the pastor of the church, Reverend Ashley Cooper, will be returning the favor and preaching here at Nameoki in February next year.

Some of you I know heard about the great train disaster… but my head is still attached.  For those that don’t know, the day before the wedding my head got stuck in the doors of a train and it knocked me completely unconscious.  However, the worst thing about this particular head damaging experience was that the closing doors pushed me into the carriage, and left Amy and the kids standing on the platform watching me disappear to the floor through the windows of the train, and then the train pulling out of the station.

So… if you don’t like the sermon this morning, feel free to blame the head injury.

This morning we are beginning a new sermon series that will take us all the way through to mid-November.  “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus”.

Jesus was a master storyteller.  In fact, most of Jesus’ teaching – at least in front of the crowds that followed him about – was story all based.  And often times, he didn’t explain exactly what he meant as he told those stories – he just left people to think through and discover the meaning of the parable on their own.  And often times, the stories were so deep and complex that there are multiple different meanings and applications from each single story.  And there are around 46 parables in all spread across mainly Matthew, Mark and Luke – with a small handful of abbreviated Jesus’ stories in the gospel of John.

John was the last of the 4 gospels to have been written, and was written many years after the provenance of Mark, the first gospel written in around 70 CE.  Mark was followed by Matthew and Luke in around 80 and 90CE.   John’s gospel, which was very likely not written by the disciple John, followed in the second century.  One possible reason that John doesn’t contain the longer style parables that Matthew, Mark and Luke have could be because of its much later writing and publication… Jesus would have been several generations in the past when John’s gospel was written.

I like stories… which is one of the reasons I like Jesus’ way of teaching and preaching so much.  During this next season we’re going to look at popular Jesus stories like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, but also some of the Jesus stories we don’t hear about in church as often.

Today… we’ll begin with the well known parable of Jesus we heard Dave read earlier… the Sower and the Seed.

VIDEO CLIP: “How to Stage an Adult Baptism”

(** please note, this video is no longer available online).

As one commentator said about this video, “nothing honors the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan like a "stylish" baptism in a swimming pool in a Texan Mansion”.  And of course, those people called blessed – the poor, the meek, the weak – they can just go get baptized in some dirty swimming hole.

Sometimes, people just don’t get it!

The presenter of this segment seems to suggest she is the Godmother of the newly baptized… well, one can only hope and pray that the one being baptized has better spiritual leadership than that currently offered by her new Godmother.

When I first encountered this video a while back, I thought for sure that this was some kind of joke.  Sadly – it isn’t.  It is actually a real TV program produced in Texas helping extremely rich people – well, helping may be the wrong word to use – to plan events and carry off parties in style.

But this one in particular – “How to Stage an Adult Baptism” – well, it just takes the cake.  

"It really is appropriate to have an adult baptism anywhere. You can have it in a beautiful lake, you can actually have it in a church, I mean, sometimes that is more traditional, but I prefer a beautiful swimming pool, it's a little bit more controlled ... and it's cleaner."

And it proves that sometimes, people just don’t get it!

I came across just this week, and some of you would have as well, an opinion piece by a sadly popular political commentator about the American doctor Kent Brantly who was life-flighted from Liberia in Africa to Atlanta in Georgia after contracting the Ebola virus while on a mission trip serving the people who were sick.

The writer – who I will not name as it just gives them further press that I don’t think they deserve – wrote the following whilst also claiming that they are a follower of Jesus…

“Why did Dr. Brantly have to go to Africa? The very first "risk factor" listed by the Mayo Clinic for Ebola -- an incurable disease with a 90 percent fatality rate -- is: "Travel to Africa."  Can't anyone serve Christ in America anymore?  Your country is like your family. We're supposed to take care of our own first.

The same Bible that commands us to "go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel" also says: "For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'"

Today's Christians are aces at sacrifice, amazing at serving others, but strangely timid for people who have been given eternal life. They need to buck up, serve their own country, and remind themselves every day of Christ's words: "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you."

There may be no reason for panic about the Ebola doctor, but there is reason for annoyance at Christian narcissism”.  (edited for brevity).

Wow.  People who serve others are Christian narcissists.  Well sign me up and send me my narcissist card.  Yes – there are people in need in the United States, but it’s not an either/or debate – it’s an ‘and/and’ imperitive to serve the poor and needy here AND overseas.

People just don’t get it.  It’s amazing how some take a sacrament like baptism or gospel stories and twist them, pervert them, and reinterpret them

So – let’s look talk about how some folks just don’t get it in the parable of the sower and seed.  

This parable is one of Jesus’ most well-known stories.  It’s also one of the few parables that contains after it an explanation of the story by Jesus.  

Jesus is in friendly company telling this story.  Sometimes, Jesus tells his stories to Pharisees and tax collectors, but on this particular day for this particular story, he’s teaching people who actually want to hear what he has to say.  And so large is the crowd, that Jesus pushes off from the shore in a boat and preaches from the boat.  

Listen! Once there was a man who went out to sow grain. As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn't deep. Then, when the sun came up, it burned the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants, and they didn't bear grain. But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants sprouted, grew, and bore grain: some had thirty grains, others sixty, and others one hundred

Often times when we approach this parable, we think that people must be exclusively one kind of soil or another.  Some people we think are exclusively like the hard soil – the footpath – and Jesus says that such folks hear the word, but pretty soon Satan comes and robs them of it.  Some people are only like the rocky soil, where the word is heard and received with joy, but quickly withers at the first sign of problems in their lives because the roots don’t penetrate deep enough into the soil.  

Some people are just like wheat in the thorny ground – but the cares of life and the lure of wealth and the desire for nice things crowd out the message of Jesus, and thus no crop is produced… and dare I say it, Big Rich Texas may just fall directly into this category!!  And finally some people are exclusively fertile soil… a place for the word to grow and mature and bring in a huge yield.

Growing up on a farm gave me a little insight into this parable.  You see, when you live on 5000 or so acres, the soil changes from field to field sometimes.  I remember my dad plowing new ground full of rocks, and being sent as a kid out into the field to do a little rock picking to prepare the soil for planting.  First we’d send a big rock crusher through the field before a group of us would go and pick rocks for the day – sometimes a great big truck-full of rock at that.  

Then there was soil that seemed to need spraying with pesticide to get rid of the weeds that would come up with each years crop.  

Paddy Melons were the worst – they grow a bit like watermelon does, with large round green melons attached to the vine.  Split them apart, and it smelled like a bad skunk.  Horrible things – but great to throw at your sister!

One farm – many kinds of soil.

What if we were to say one Christian – many kinds of soil?

Sometimes, we have the propensity to completely miss the point in one area, and completely get the point in others.  When we read the bible, we all bring our preconceived ideas and baggage into it.  Sometimes, that baggage makes us blind, deaf and dumb to the word.  

So much so that parts of each of us are just like footpaths… dry, hard compacted soil.  

And when the farmer scatters the seed onto those places, we might hear the words clearly and yet never comprehend the message.  And the birds swoop in – or as Jesus says in his explanation of the parable, satan drops by and takes the seed away.  

In the western world for instance, our hearts in many ways have been hardened to the cry of the poor and the needy – just like the political commentator we heard about earlier commenting on the Ebola virus and how Americans should just stay home and care for their own.  

We say things like – “well I had to go out and get a job so why can’t you”, or “no-one gave me a helping hand, so why should I give you one”.  Or we look at pictures of poor children through ministries such as Compassion or World Vision and think – well it can’t be that bad… can it.  And even though for a moment we feel moved by the need to help, our hardened heart soon hardens right back up again when we consider that our cable bill needs to be paid so we can have 500 channels of nothing on next month.  

Now don’t hear me wrong – having means and for some of us being wealthy is not sinful in the least.  But in the words of Jesus in another parable, to whom much is given, much is required.

And what about rocky soil.  Well, I certainly see a lot of people with some of their plants growing in such soil.  The plant grows quickly, and well… but there’s no place to put your roots.  There’s no depth.  I may be stepping on toes here, and I don’t mean to be – but if I am to tell the truth, I must say that just watching Joel Osteen or any number of televangelists on the box is the sum total of “church” for you or for anyone you know, I would suspect that whilst the life-plant may grow initially, in the long term without fellowship and togetherness and community, the roots run shallow.  And when life hits, and Mr Osteen or whomever you watch doesn’t climb out of the television and help you out, the plant just withers up and dies.  

And then the thorny soil.  Where the seed starts well, but gets choked by the weeds that grow up around it – and suddenly we can’t see the forest for the trees.  Well, we all have thorny soil.  As much as we cringe at the ‘how to throw a great baptism’ piece, in some way we’re all kind of guilty of the same thing.  The initial intention… baptism… is a great thing.  The following guidelines for how to throw a baptism is the evidence of weeds growing up around us.

Even the apostle Peter had a plant or three in the thorny soil.  If you remember the story of the transfiguration, when Jesus and Moses and Elijah got together for a chat on top of Mt Tabor, what did Peter want to do… he wanted to build them all a shelter, make them comfortable – perhaps fire up the barbeque and cook them dinner.

You know funnily enough, when I was up on Mt Tabor in Israel a couple of years ago, Amy made an astute observation.  

Even though – as Luke records – Peter was making a total nitwit of himself by suggesting the tent idea, the Catholic Church came along centuries later and built an enormous ‘shelter’ – a church – on the crest of the Mt Tabor to commemorate the site of the transfiguration.  Thorny ground… sometimes we just don’t get it!!

It’s so easy to get sidetracked by our own prejudices and baggage, the weeds, and completely miss the point.  Just as Peter did… just like baptism lady did… just like we often do.  

Thorny ground encompasses statements like… but we’ve always done it this way.  Or ‘my way or the highway’.  And even, ‘I don’t like having drums in church’ or ‘the organ should have been retired years ago’ – among a myriad of other prejudices and feelings that tend to rule and govern our thoughts and actions instead of the word – Jesus – the true Word of God.

But despite our hard headedness, our rocks and our thorns, there’s always – sometimes though extremely well hidden – a patch of fertile ground… a chink in the armor… a secret passageway… a place where the word can fall and grow and produce a mighty harvest.  We are made – all of us – in the very image of God.  We are created as beings full of ‘fertile ground’.  We sure like to mess the ground up from time to time, and we even make some of it so hard that seed simply cannot penetrate, but we all have the potential to be the fertile ground we were made to be.

It only takes a shovel and a pick to break up hardened ground… a days rock picking out in the field to start clearing away the rocks… or a good fire or dose of pesticide to take care of thorns.  

Is it wasteful for the farmer to scatter seed on soil that doesn’t seem profitable… I would say absolutely not.  You never know if the hardened soil has been shifted… maybe by a major life event or tragedy.  

The farmer, remember, is throwing exactly the same seed on different soil types.  But here’s the deal… the rocks can be broken by a rock breaker… the thorns can be dealt with by a good dose of roundup… the compacted ground needs a plow.  Even the wrong kind of soil can be made the right kind of soil.  

A while back, someone confessed to me that they hadn’t been to church for years, but then sadly their mother died and they woke up the next Sunday morning and just knew that God was calling them back to church.  The hardened soil suddenly shifted, and the grain got in.

So spread the Jesus’ seed… don’t worry if it falls in the wrong place.  Not every seed will germinate and grow into a bumper harvest.  But like the story of the one who found thousands of starfish washed up on the shore, and started – one by one – throwing them back in the water… and then was confronted by someone who queried whether the futile action of trying to make things right was even worth it… the rescuer responded by saying… it’s worth it for this one… splash.  And this one.  Splash.

But as you spread the seed, know that as others spread the Jesus’ seed on your ground, not all of it is going to get up and grow.  Be mindful of your own hardness of heart, your own rocks and thorns… they are surely there, in each one of us.  But remember, there’s always fertile soil hidden away in each of us, ready to yield a bumper harvest – thirty, sixty or even a hundred times as much as had been planted..

One person, many soils, one Jesus.  Get planting.  Go to Liberia and serve those suffering from Ebola.  Join the breakfast ministry and feed the hungry in our own community.  Just don’t sit there and let the birds gobble up the seed.  Do something… be someone… listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you to serve God and serve the world in the name of Jesus.  Make it your business that ALL soil should be fertile soil… your own soil and the soil of others.

Or… leave it hard, rocky, thorny, and miss out on the glorious joy of serving God, and the injection of life and grace that fills you up to overflowing.  Your choice…