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21st October 2001

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Sermon

"HEARING, UNDERSTANDING, PRODUCING"

Scripture Reference

MATTHEW 13:3-9,18-23


Rev Veneeta Singh-Lucas, Chaplain to H.C. Foreman Lodge Nursing Home writes in this month's staff report about her ministry with frail aged and dying patients. She writes: "At Foreman Lodge, some of the residents' only entertainment is their transistor radio. They listen to the only church service that is broadcast when they are in bed - the service from Wesley Theatre. They listen to every word Dr Moyes preaches and cross check the Bible references. Bible study and discussion then takes place with the Chaplain. It is like radio is the last means of communication and the only companion left to keep company with them before their last breath. A lot of souls are being saved through the radio ministry and relationships with God are being restored. Faith has reached a level when God and a resident encounter each other face to face. It is here in the nursing home beds, through the radio ministry, that real ministry happens."

We greet now every listener to the Word of life! For you to hear, understand and respond is the reason we broadcast these Sunday evening sermons by television and radio. Each week I invite people in this Theatre and those listening or viewing to respond. As I give an invitation to respond counsellors wait at the 'phones for people to ring in with a desire to commit their lives to Christ. This brings great excitement as the counsellor speaks with a listener and guides him or her through the Scripture to finding Christ as Saviour. When the counselor completes the task there is great rejoicing. I have sown the seed, this congregation by their interest, support and prayers has watered the seed, and the counselors have reaped the harvest. God has given an increase!

We have a responsibility to sow, water and harvest, but the response from people is neither our responsibility nor reward. The response lies entirely in the minds of our listeners and in the prompting of God. I have often said, "I am responsible for the sowing of the seed, and my task is to do that faithfully and to the best of my ability. But the people listening are responsible for their own response to the promptings of God." I neither take the credit nor accept the blame.

This is the true understanding of one of the top ten parables of Jesus. Of the twenty seven parables this one is usually called "The Sower" but in reality it should be called "The Parable of the Soils". What is central is not the sower who broadcasts the seed, or even the seed that is described as the Word of God. What is central is the receptivity of the soil. Matt 13:3-9 "Then Jesus told them many things in parables, saying: "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. But 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. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." The focus of the parable is not the sower but the soils. The farmer scatters the seed v3 which falls in various places. Paths around the unfenced fields are too hard to receive the seed, which is eaten by birds. v4 "Rocky places" v5 are those in which the limestone bedrock lies close to the surface: there is little depth of soil.

As the rainy season ends and the sun's heat increases, the shallow soil heats up quickly v6 and the seeds sprout with promise. But the unrelenting summer heat demands deep roots reaching water, and the bedrock prevents this. Like grass on rooftops, the young plants wither before they can grow. Ps 129:6 Other seed falls into hedges of thorns that deprive the plants of sun and nourishment. v7 But some seed falls on good soil and produces crops of various yields. v8

1. THE TRADITIONAL INTREPRETATION: 
Jesus sows the Word of God. People respond in various ways. Jesus was teaching a large crowd of people on the foreshore of Lake Galilee. As in any crowd some people were listening intently, some had their eyes shut thinking of others things, and some were looking at other people moving around. A farmer on a nearby hillside was sowing seed on his rocky ground and Jesus used that scene to explain to them a great truth. Agriculture was a primary occupation of people in the Bible. The sower held a vessel filled with seed in the left hand and scattered the seed with a practiced motion with the right hand. The seed was usually scattered on untilled ground. Then with a plow the ground would be turned to cover the seed. On the plains, little or no preparation for plowing is needed, but on the hills, the larger stones are thrown onto the paths, which thus become elevated above the fields. Corners of the field where the plow cannot reach are hoed by hand and left for the poor. In April, after the winter rains, the grain begins to ripen. In June, reaping begins. Whole families come out from their village to help. If there is a big harvest the whole community rejoices.

The disciples wanted to know the deeper meaning behind that simple story. Jesus explains: Matt 13:18-23 "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means:" The different soils illustrate four different hearers:

  1. There is the hard mind, closed to God. The narrow paths had been compressed by passing feet. We know how hard some people can be to the things of God. They are intellectually arrogant, believing their non-belief is superior. They close their ears to anything that is of God. "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart." It was sown and the seed was good, but the reception was abysmal.
  2. There is the shallow ground. The seed takes root and sprouts. But Jesus says: "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away." It is not easy to stay a Christian but it is easy to start. As soon as non-Christians comment, some new Christians fall away. They start well, but do not finish.
  3. There is the thorny ground. Jesus says: "The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful." Consider how worry, anxiety, the cares of this life choke your spiritual life. Hand them over to God. Desire for wealth blinds you. A gold two dollar coin held up to the eye can blot out the sun. So the deceitfulness of riches can blind you to God.
  4. There is the good ground, receptive to the seed and nourishing it to harvest. "But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." In these days people doubt the abundance of the Harvest. So many in churches are pessimistic and see little result for their labours. So pessimistic are some ministers they continue the outward form of ministry but stop sowing the seed and wonder why there is no harvest. Their problem is the lack of response. So they cease sowing. Nothing discourages more than lack of harvest, and nothing guarantees lack of harvest like not sowing.

2. A NEWER INSIGHT.
The traditional approach is called called "broadcasting" the seed. Jean Francois Millet's 1850 painting "The Sower" shows the dramatic action of sowing the bread of next harvest. The seed is scattered widely and some lands in unexpected places and much of it is wasted. Still the harvest of responsive soils makes the effort worthwhile. When I preach in public, in the open air, at the Opera House, in Hyde Park, on radio and television, I am broadcasting. Much of my effort is wasted. There are so many hard hearts, shallow minds and thorny responses that it seems our effort is wasted.

Two people encourage me with their broadcasting the good seed. They attend my Thursday Chapel in the City. Mrs Alison Alderton and Mr Paul Winterton practise the traditional sowing method. We purchase copies of Mark's Gospel featuring the testimony of Olympic Gold Medalist Betty Cuthbert.

Betty responded to the Gospel when I was once in Lismore sowing the seed. Paul Winterton asks commuters at Town Hall Railway Station if they know of Betty Cuthbert. Most know of her and are interested to take the New Testament. We purchase Christian tracts 10,000 at a time and Alison Alderton purchases more from her own savings, and she distributes them every day at Central Railway Station holding conversations with many who stop. The result? There are several men and a couple of women in our Thursday Church Service and Bible studies because of their faithful sowing of the Word.

These days, we also practise narrow-casting. In advertising and media work, "narrow-casting" is preparing material and presenting in the most appropriate place for the selected target audience. In spite of it being called a radio "broadcast", all major radio stations are narrow-casters to their own selected audience. All of their programs are designed for that audience alone. By listening to no more than a few seconds you should be able to identify the station. That is narrow casting. It is the same for television, magazines, posters and so on. It is the same in farming. Seed is only sown in responsive soil. Farmers sow seed in the most responsive soil. Farmers are not stupid. They do not waste the seed by sowing it into hard paths, rocky areas, shallow areas. They drill it into receptive, well prepared and responsive soil. In the same way we prepare the soil. We help people rid the weeds from their lives and plow deep so the seed will be deep rooted. We fertilize the soil. Then we drill in the seed. Not just scatter it, but drill it in. We pray for good rains and carefully and quickly harvest at the right time. Then we thank God for the increase!

"He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." We seek responsive soil: people who will respond to the Word of God: people in transition, people who need to recover from hurts, people who are attracted to our programs. That is narrow-casting in responsive soil. The results? This approach produces a harvest that is 30, 60, 100 fold.

How do we know? Last Saturday week, at our 190th Annual Meeting my staff and I reported to the church, our members, donors and stakeholders the harvest. Asian people were particularly responsive. That was why I announced on my very first Sunday here in January 1979 I would start an Asian and a Chinese ministry. Since starting we have seen a harvest a thousand fold. Last year, the number of hurt, abused and neglected children we cared for rose from 3279 to 5858, a 191% increase. The families who came to us in crisis increased from 1777 to 3297 an 85% increase. The numbers of homeless people we helped every day increased from 298 to 398. Wesley Home Care clients increased from 469 to 787. The numbers of people trained to detect and save potential suicides increased from 129 to 6,247. The 26,000 unemployed people we helped represented a 540% increase! The number of people coming to church services every week increased. The money we raised increased. The number of staff we employ increased. The number of centres we work in increased.

God is the God of the good harvest. He gives the increase because we sowed the seed! It is essential that if the seed has lodged in your heart, it finds good, responsive soil. Respond to God now!

W.S. Kissinger The Parables of Jesus: A History of Interpretation Scarecrow, 1979.
J.D. Crossan In Parables Harper and Row, 1973.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

 



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