sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 09/17/2010
After my request for a sword to borrow for today, a friend texted me, "Are the kids going to be safe at church this Sunday?" I replied, "I hope none of us are ever safe at church on Sunday...but the kids should have nothing to fear from the sword. It's the seeds that we need to watch out for..."
He was intrigued. I pray you are as well.
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”
Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? The farmer sows the word. Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
This parable forms the basis for our series called Seeds & Soil: Spiritual Growth for Carbon Based Life Forms (inspired by & adapted from sermon series my dad did at the Ann Arbor Vineyard Church). We're doing that series in concert with the series on evangelism that we started last week called Nudge. Each series will take 4 weeks, so a total of 8 in all. We're doing them together for a reason. The process by which the good news finds a home in our hearts is the same process by which the good news produces spiritual growth in our lives. And so what we learn about nudge evangelism - bringing good news - will teach us a lot about spiritual growth. And what we learn about spiritual growth will teach us a lot about nudging. Each message should stand on its own - no other message is a pre-requisite for the other, but I do hope that all of them taken together would provide a set of meaningful nudges that help us both to awaken each other to the God who is already there and to welcome and cooperate with the work of his kingdom in our lives as we come awake to God's presence.
Over the four weeks of this series, we're going to concentrate on 4 ideas from this parable. One, the kingdom is a growing thing. That's today. Two, growth starts when seeds disrupt the soil. Three, spiritual growth and mixed results go hand in hand, even when Jesus is the farmer. And finally, growth is contested at every turn.
So let's talk about this parable, and about spiritual growth.
Almost all parables are designed to nudge us out of one way of thinking and into another. They are gentle in that we get drawn into the story, the word pictures, the scene, but then we discover that they tell us something different about the world than we thought was the case. Parables get into our hearts like seeds get into the soil, and then they start to come alive in there and mess everything up around them as they take root and push out shoots.
This parable was like that for the first people who heard it. They were people who were getting excited about Jesus because they thought maybe God's kingdom was about to bust into the world, and God was going to take over. That the Romans were going to be defeated in a military battle, that Israel was going to get its land back to itself, that a messiah like Jesus was going to be the new king in Jerusalem, and that prosperity and peace were on their way in short order.
But Jesus' parable of the seeds and the soil tells a different story about God's kingdom. It is in fact here, and it's coming, and everything is changing. But it doesn't happen like a big battle, like a lightning bolt out of the blue. It happens like a famer sowing seeds. Seeds that get scattered everywhere. And some of them take, and some of them don't. And some of the ones that take don't last very long. It's not instant, or even pretty fast. It's like growth that you can hardly perceive even if you're watching intently. It's a process, a process that takes time. Much of it is hidden, mysterious, and frustrating before it's glorious.
This isn't what people wanted to hear.
It's not necessarily what we want to hear, either, is it?
It sounds at first like bad news about the good news, doesn't it?
Don't we sometimes want God's kingdom to come in our lives like a big event that changes everything from one day to another, where we just aren't the same anymore? Don't we sometimes think there's just one big battle we've got to win, and once we win it, we will have arrived? Don't we sometimes think that's how it's supposed to happen, and when it doesn't happen for us, we feel left out in the cold, like God doesn't love us or have a plan for us, like he's given up on us or just wants us to suffer, or like we just don't cut it, don't have what it takes for this life with God?
We're expecting swords, but God comes with seeds.
How do kingdoms rise in our world? By the sword.
How does the Kingdom of God rise? By the seeds planted in soil.
There are no swords in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, Swords are beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks. Ploughshares are used to aid in the sowing of seeds, aren't they?
But what about the sword of the spirit you say? Ephesians 6:17: "...and the sword of the spirit, which is the
[...wait for it...]
the word of God."
and what is the word in this parable? It's the seed.
The primary "weapon" that Jesus the sower wields is a seed, not a sword.
So why exactly is this good news? Wouldn't it be better if we could have it all, and have it now? Surely God could do that if he wanted to, could he not?
Sure he could. And maybe he would, if we were robots and not carbon based life forms. If we were robots, he could shut us down, and replace the broken parts and flash our firmware and install new software and reboot everything once and for all.
But we are not robots.
In the world God has made - the world he made out of his creative, generous, self-giving love, a world that is awash with life and breath -
Swords destroy and bring death.
(they puncture lungs and leak hate into hands that hold them)
Seeds disrupt and bring life.
(they fill the air with oxygen and love leaks out of the hands that hold them)
Swords stain the soil with blood, making it fit only for factories and junkyards.
Seeds transform soil into a home for flora and fauna.
What do I mean?
If the kingdom of God came in the manner we want sometimes, we might not survive it's arrival.
Because we are carbon based life forms.
In order to keep living, all of our life giving systems are essential for our ongoing survival and growth. Any individual part within us can only withstand so much change in a short period of time, without the whole system being thrown out of whack. Even those parts that aren't healthy have to be nudged towards health, so that they keep functioning even in a limited capacity while they grow healthy.
[Israel and sacrifices, women as property, kingship...]
If God came with a sword and eliminated from our lives everything that wasn't in keeping with his rule and reign, the only way we'd survive would be on life-support equipment.
God's goal isn't for us to be on life-support, brain dead, blood and oxygen pumping through our veins by machine. His goal for us is to be partners with him in the business of love and life and imaging him to one another and his creation.
And for that to happen, seeds are required, not swords. Seeds that come into our soil, become part of us, grow roots down deep and eventually break above the surface, soaking up water and nutrients and sunlight, bearing fruit and grain, releasing pure oxygen and bursting forth with beauty.
[headache experience. Andy Stanley experience.]
Spiritual growth is less about being concerned with taking more ground, and more about being concerned with what God's planting in the ground we already have.
Powerful, transformative experiences with God are real, but they do not override the nature of the kingdom as a growing concern. In fact, they primarily serve to aid the growth process - to make room for some seed we've been resisting, or get some water to a seed that's been dormant, or to prune a plant that had some dead branches keeping it from growing.
So what are some of the implications of this for us?
Because growth is a process, it's less important where you're at than where you're headed. So we can stop focusing our energies on whether where we are at is a good place or not, and start putting our energies into where Jesus is leading us. [centered set discipleship vs. bounded set discipleship...]
Because the kingdom of God is a growing thing, if the growing has stopped, maybe the kingdom has left the soil. The soil might be different as a result of the seeds that grew in it before, but the life is gone from it if the growing has stopped.
Because the kingdom of God is a growing thing, it is advancing towards its fulfillment, not guarding the fulfillment of yesteryear. Jesus to his disciples: "There is truth you're not ready for. But you are ready for the Spirit whom I will send and he will guide you into all truth." [John 16] Jesus, the living Lord, gave the church a living faith - that's why it wasn't handed down on stone tablets.
[we're not to be a new testament church, we're to be a future coming kingdom church...!]
Finally, because the kingdom of God is a growing thing, a thing that grows like carbon based life-forms, it requires a slower time frame than the one we are used to. [note the pace at which babies and plants grow...] We live in a time frame focused on seconds, minutes, and hours, which is all the fault of trains [railroads required accurate timekeeping...]. You don't need a clock to farm. You need a calendar.
1. Invite God to terra-form your carefully manicured lawn.
Have you been satisfied with where you're at spiritually? To the point where you'd be happy to coast from here on out? Invite God to disrupt your soil and put some seeds of his kingdom in there that might change the landscape of your life. If for no other reason than you don't want to start dying already. [any carbon based life form that stops growing has started dying...]
2. Stop looking for the sword and start looking for seeds.
Are you frustrated that no big changes are happening in your life, in your walk with God? Repent and let go of that frustration in prayer: "God, I'm sorry I want it all right now - I trust that you're a good farmer, and I'm willing to be patient with you since you're obviously willing to be patient with men." And then ask the Holy Spirit to show you any seeds the sower might be trying to plant in you.
"You can trust me." "I'm bigger than what you face." "You don't need that in your life - I have something better for you." "Come spend some time with me." "You don't have to settle for that. I have more for you."
When you notice a seed trying to work its way into your soil, tend to it. Accept it. Pay attention to it. Keep the birds away from it. Give it the best energy you have available, unconcerned with how long it might take to sprout.
3. Grow a seed to maturity if you've never done it before.
Everytime you see it or do something to care for it, say this simple prayer: "Lord, may your kingdom grow in me."
Communion: Signs of your kingdom before us—your presence with us—conveyed through grapes grown on a vine, planted, tended, brought to maturity, and wheat sown and grown in a field.