Sermon Transcript - Sunday, August 9, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Matthew 13:1-9; 13-18 ~ Sun, Aug 9, 2020
“He who has ears, let him hear,” Jesus bluntly says in today’s Gospel. What’s he saying? “If you have ears,” Jesus urges: “use them!” Why does Jesus feel the need to say that? Everybody has ears. And apart from damage or defect, you don’t have to think about activating your ears. Whether you’re consciously thinking about it or not, your ears hear, because that’s what ears do.
As true as that is, this is also true: Actually listening, not just hearing sounds, but giving those sounds full attention and taking messages to heart isn’t something the human race has been all that great at actually doing. We teach people how to speak. We teach them how to read. We teach them how to write. When is the last time you took a class on listening? Have you ever? Why might that be? When it comes to communicating we tend to view the speaker as the one who needs the training not the listener, presumably, because all the listener does is just sit there. But good communication is more than getting a message out. It is getting a message across. For that to happen it’s not just important for the speaker to speak, but also for the listener to listen.
Think about this: our high-tech, high-speed world gives us multiple avenues of getting our ideas out to the world. But that same high tech and high speed also deprives us of the two things we really need to listen: time and attention! We are challenged even more these days when it comes to listening as our devices buzz, and ding and ring, calling our attention away and pressing us to give our time to the newest message to come our way! Even more significantly, if ever someone should command our undivided attention, it ought to be the God of the Universe, the Maker of Heaven and Earth! Yet even here, in the house of God, and even more so for those worshiping virtually, there is a real struggle to silence all of our devices and use our ears to take to heart God’s Word for this hour each week! The world isn’t going to make this any easier on us, which is why our Savior, bluntly but lovingly says: “He who has ears, let him hear!”
His plea comes on the heels of a story about a farmer and his field, a story designed as a down-to-earth lesson on listening. Listen up as Jesus has some important things to teach you about how to use the ears he gave you!
You don’t have to be a farmer or gardener to understand the different types of soil of which Jesus speaks. But it is important you make this connection: Each type of ground is a vivid look at a different type of listening. While it might be tempting to try to figure out which type of listener you are … I think it is far more productive for each of us to ask ourselves, “Where in my life am I listening to the Lord and his Word like this?”
Start with the hard-packed path. Well-worn ground is about as good for growing as packing ear wax in your auditory canals is for hearing. In making this comparison, Jesus is calling me to examine my own life, to identify when and where my listening is falling on hardpacked ears. Sometimes that happens because we feel like we’ve heard it before so there’s nothing new for us here, no new insight, no new growth to be had. There is an old saying: None is so blind as those who refuse to see … or in the imagery of this parable: None is so deaf as those who willfully resist hearing! Have you ever tried to offer sage wisdom to a teenager who already thinks he knows it all? (Or believes he knows better than you?) Are there areas of your life where you’re listening like that to the Lord?
Or how about the rocky soil? The shallow dirt warmed quickly, which resulted in quick sprouting seeds but with no depth of roots. This is what shallow listening is like too. It is responding with great joy to the Word initially, but when the way of discipleship gets difficult, there just aren’t deep roots to sustain that faith under the intense heat. When fear, envy, anger, or frustration crop up, the lack of faith’s depth starts to show. Relationships shrivel because the depth of faith and love just aren’t there to sustain through the hard growth
that comes through repentance and restoration. Are there places in your life where you have rocks in your ears that are holding you back from going deeper with the Lord?
Or maybe its the thorns of guilt, shame, or regret that are choking out your ability to hear and believe God’s promises to raise up something new? Weeds and thorns typically grow quicker than good plants and crowd out the space and time for the good seed to grow. Are your opportunities to listen to the Lord being crowded out by boats or baseball, dance or Disney, the sand or a sea full of fish?
And then there are those times when and topics where our ears are wide open, our hearts ready to be planted, our lives ripe for flowering, flourishing, fruitful living.
Of course Jesus wants us to long for more of that kind of “good soil” listening in our lives. But we also need to be careful to fully understand why Jesus tells us all that he does about listening. Jesus’ description of the four grounds is not designed to shame us from a lesser type into a better type of listening or pigeon-hole as one particular type of listener. Jesus’ purpose is to awaken us and increase our awareness of the various ways we tend to listen. His story is a diagnostic tool. All four types of ground need attention and care whether it be plowing to a new depth, clearing the land, weeding, watering, or fertilizing. Maybe you need special attention when it comes to a particular area of your listening skills, but odds are you need some kind of work in each of those areas, just as I do.
But be sure to hear this, really listen and take this to heart: the condition of the soil does not stop the sower. He does not seed only the good soil. He does not withhold seed from the thorny or rocky ground. Even the walked upon path is seeded. And, humanly speaking, that makes no sense. Which is precisely why Jesus tells us this parable and calls us to listen to it! You see, parables offer a different perspective, a new worldview. They give us a glimpse into God’s world and what God is like. They heal our ears and our eyes so that we might hear and understand, see and perceive.
Here is the perspective Jesus wants you to hear and take to heart in today’s parable: As different as the four soils are they all hold two things in common. Seeds and the sower. The sower sows the same seeds in all four soils with equal effort, equal hope, and equal generosity. The sower does so without evaluation of the soil’s quality or potential. There is no soil left unsown. No ground is declared undeserving of the sower’s seeds. This is not about the quality of dirt. It’s about the quality of God, the divine sower. We want to judge what kind of dirt we are. God wants to sow his life in ours. The Lord doesn’t wait for your ears to become good soil before he’s willing to sow his lifegiving seed into you.
That reveals something significant about this farmer! He gladly scatters three quarters of his seed in places where it had no hope of reaching a full crop. Seeds here. Seeds there. Seeds everywhere. Anyone who knows anything about gardening knows that seed is precious and is not to be wasted. Given today’s economy that’s just irresponsible. By today’s farming practices it is inefficient. With the cost of seeds and the time spent sowing it may not even be profitable. But maybe, just maybe, that’s the point. Maybe the beauty of our God the Sower is this: He’s not fixated on cost-conscious and cost-cutting measures because the price he paid for this Gospel seed is inestimable. And perhaps he’s not worried about where he scatters the seeds because he’s not concerned he’ll run out since the supply of his Gospel love is inexhaustible. And perhaps the reason he doesn’t wait for us to prep the soil of our ears for his saving seed is because the seeds he sows are so powerful they can do the work for which he sends them even in soil that is less than perfect!
In another parable, Jesus describes things like this: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” The gracious work of Jesus, the Lord’s saving rule in the hearts of fallen humanity, is planted like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds. Seems strange doesn’t it? Something so important, so heart-transforming, life- and eternity-
changing as God’s saving work, how can something that big be compared to something as little as a seed, not even a big seed at that, but the smallest of seeds? Listen deeply now: isn’t new life and growth at the heart of God’s will? And, really, what changes more than a seed becoming a tree? Like a seed that dies and breaks open to form new life in the ground, Jesus died for us and was planted in the ground. Three days later he sprung back to life. That life, his new life, he now seeds in our hearts through the hearing of the Gospel message! If you really stop to think about it: what can shatter more earth — shatter more concrete and pavement for that matter — than a growing stem? Yes the Gospel’s message accomplishes even more powerful groundbreaking, rock-shattering, thorn-overcoming work in us. Some of it might not take and produce a harvest as rich as the good soil, but the life growing seed of the gospel good news is being heaved in our direction no matter what.
Given the right conditions, orange seeds produce orange trees, and apple seeds produce apple trees. The seeds our Savior sows bring forth a harvest of his Spirit’s fruit in the hearts and lives! Sometimes that fruit may seem hardly noticeable, but sometimes it results in a harvest 30 – 60 – 100 times what was sown. To put that in perspective, a first-century harvest would have been seven-fold to ten-fold. Thirty-fold would have been very extraordinary. A hundred-fold, unbelievable! Which is to say that when the gospel seed falls in just the right place, amazing things can and do happen. In the sower’s world wastefulness gives way to hope, inefficiency to love, and profitability to generosity. Every part of your life is being sown with the seeds of God’s Spirit and you know what happens to seeds. God graciously produce among us and through us an unbelievable harvest of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. God grant it as we practice what Jesus preaches: “He who has ears, let him hear!” Amen