Lectionary Year A
July 14, 2002
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Contemporary Address


(JFC) A. DESCRIPTION OF AUDIENCE

I preach for a vacationing pastor. She's been there for nearly 2 years. She preaches excellent sermons, so much so, that I happily drive the 18 miles to this small town many Sundays for worship. She has been preaching this summer through the Matthian lections. The congregation is very healthy, rather strong and quite enlightened. Several farmers and several Garden Clubbers are among the older members. Professionals among the younger members. They have a rather new Director of Christian Education, so, we expect some emphasis on youth work and children's ministries, as well as Adult Education.

(JFC) B. INTENDED GOALS FOR THE AUDIENCE

I hope to inspire these people by giving them additional insight into Jesus' realistic teachings that are full of hope. The thesis might read, "Evil happens, yet we can live through it with God's help and, could you believe, we can eradicate some of its effects on future generations when, not if, when we get on with recognizing and participating in what God does to make life fulfilled.

(JFC) C. ADDRESS

"Environmental Evangelism"

Introduction

Jesus tells a parable and He also interprets it. He enables listeners to hear, really hear what He says and, what's more, what He means. He speaks the native language of His constituents. He talks about seeds sown and ground onto and into which they fall. Galileans back then clearly understood His story. He speaks our language, too. Remember when we were in elementary school and planted a seed in a paper cup of topsoil?

I. God's Roles Identified in this Parable

Today's text reveals God as good in that from Divine favors we get opportunities to grow and in an ordered environment and we get the Kingdom of God, too! God generates us so we can grow. We all too often take this gift for granted. Recall an even in your earliest childhood. Now, sometimes, we wish we could return to such stages of life and maybe even want to remain there or some such period for extended times or even forever.

The orderliness of the universe began in Genesis 1's saga. Recall it. Recount the orderliness of creation. Illustrate it.

God's Kingdom, as Matthew perceives it, is a great gift from God. Psalm 45:6ff tells of God's Sovereign Kingdom. Jesus and John the Baptist both believed it to be imminent. See Rev. 1:6. Its few attributes include its unshakeableness (Heb. 12:28), its eternal character (II Peter 1:11) and its heavenliness (II Timothy 4:18). The Kingdom is already and not yet.

II. Creation's Hardships

The created order in which we live, has, though, some bearers, some evil, some difficulties. W. Somerset Maugham contends, "There is no explanation for evil. It must be looked upon as a necessary part of the order of the universe. To ignore it is childish, to bewail it is senseless." Evil happens. Adversity is a given in finite lives. Athletes, most recently, Mia Hamm, Team USA Soccer, and Shaun Casey of the streaking Cincinnati Reds baseball team, have advised, "Deal with it." We, as responsible Christians have to acknowledge these barriers first. They include difficulties through which God enables us to grow, such as, hardness (pathways on which seeds fall), heat we get ourselves into at work, etc. (the sun's heat), rocky roads (rocky terrain into which some seeds fall), shallowness (too little soil to produce healthy seeds), and thorniness (the stickers and briars into which some seeds fall and get choked). We think of some hard heads, some hard hearts we have known. We think of some heated arguments in which we have engaged. We think of some rough ways we have had to traverse through life. We think of some shallowness we have both noticed in others and demonstrated by ourselves as well. We think of some sticky wickets we have encountered. Now we can "deal with them."

The environment might not be the protagonist we meet in life. It might be something real God lets us encounter to make better.

III. Cultivating Creation - Our Response

We think of some good soil. Jesus puts the good soil as the climax of this parable. It takes precedence. It produces fruitful harvests. It needs tending, watering, weeding, raking, hoeing, etc. God has, according to some Psalms and Isaiah and Jeremiah, to list only a few, smoothed out the rough places and leveled the uneven topography. Now, it is up to us to carry on such eventualities.

Conclusion

A Spanish essayist and philosopher, Jose' Ortega y Gasset, believed, "I am I plus my surroundings and if I fail to preserve the later, I fail to preserve myself." If we fail to improve our environment with the Good News, we miss our callings.

(DH) C. ADDRESS

A SERVICE FOR THE WORSHIP OF GOD
July 11, 1999

CALL TO WORSHIP:

Pastor: Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
People: Your decrees are our heritage forever, they are the joy of our hearts.
Pastor: Let us worship God!

* HYMN 345       There Is Sunshine In My Soul

UNISON PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Have mercy on us, O God, for we often live according to what our hearts desire and not according to what you desire. We set our minds on things when you want us to set our minds on you. We prefer our own misery over the abundant life that you offer us in Christ through your Spirit. Forgive us, Gracious God, and enlighten us through your Spirit that dwells in us. Let us taste the joy once again that only comes from you and through you, that comes from our assurance that you do not condemn those who are in Christ Jesus, who is our Lord. Through Him and for His sake we pray. Amen.

OLD TESTAMENT LESSON
      Psalm 119:105-112

NEW TESTAMENT LESSON
      Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

SERMON       "Hole in the Soul"

* HYMN 58       Fairest Lord Jesus

UNISON PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Loving God, you have given us our daily nourishment and now we pray again that you would nourish all your people everywhere with your daily bread. May these gifts and offerings we present to you today become your feet, and your hands, and touch many lives in your name, so that the seed you have sown may increase abundantly. We pray this in Christ's name and for his sake. Amen.

* HYMN 325       He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

A Sermon Outline
"HOLE IN THE SOUL"
I. The Struggle of Human Beings

"There's a hole in my soul that's been killing me forever
It's a place where a garden never grows
There's a hole in my soul, I should have known better,
cause your love 's like a thorn without a rose"


I first heard that song 2 years ago -- driving back and forth a lot between a friend's ranch and downtown Austin -- come home late at night -- try to stay awake in the car with music blasting -- seemed like every time I got in the car and turned on the radio this particular song was played -- at first I thought it was pretty silly -- "hole in my soul" -- the more I heard it, the more I began listening, the more I listened the more I began to wonder -- hole in my soul ... what is a hole in the soul?
The parables of the NT are very much like hearing a song, on the one hand, and really listening to it, on the other- first they may seem a little strange, or more than a little strange, but the more we hear them read, in church or at home, the more we read them ourselves, the more we begin to wonder -- what these parables all about? -- I suppose one could say in a colloquial way, that the parables grow on you with and over time -- and every time we hear these parables, these strange stories about God and God's Kingdom, we might learn a little more, understand a little more, grow a little more.

Now, at first glance the parable that we just heard from Matthew's gospel appears to be talking about the human struggle for life and for living ... simply for making it
- God has sown us on this earth and into this life which is full of almost insurmountable obstacles at every turn we take
- there always seems to be someone or something to come along and make our lives miserable
- either we struggle to get on our feet and someone, something knocks us down
- or we enjoy the fruits of our hard work and labor, that we accomplished something, but almost immediately the joy is spoiled by nagging doubts ... did we do our job well enough, could we have done it better, what will others think, are we good enough ... ?
- or our efforts are often spoiled by our own concerns and worries, by the pressures of the day to make a living, to make ends meet, to fit in with the crowd, to hang out with the popular folks, to meet that deadline or else ...

And the harder we struggle and relate our own lives to the parable in Matthew's gospel, the more we discover that the lyrics of this silly rock 'n roll song take on a familiar ring of truth with respect to our own lives: There's a hole in my soul, it's been killing me forever, regardless whether I am aware of it or not, it's a place where a garden never grows.

We work hard, we plant seeds in our lives, in our children's and grandchildren's lives, but how often do we see the garden grow the way we want it to grow, how often do we see it grow at all? ... and more often than not our lives are like the song suggests: thorns without a rose.

II. The Struggle of God

On the other hand, perhaps we are merely being presumptuous when we assume that this parable is all about our lives' struggle, about us, about how hard we work without adequate compensation (be it that we complain about not earning enough money or about not receiving any gratitude from others) ... Perhaps this parable of the sower is not so much concerned with the holes in our souls at all ...

The more we read the text, the more we might realize that it is not we who work hard, who plant, who sow the seeds in other people's lives and in our own ... the more we listen, the more we are faced with the sower who is the Divine Gardener of our human souls, God Almighty.

And look at the struggle of God who desires to plant a divine seed into us human beings ... what a struggle ...
- God has sown us on this earth and into this life and God appears to encounter almost insurmountable obstacles in us at every turn our lives take
- we always seem to be susceptible to someone or something that comes along and makes our lives miserable rather than being susceptible to God's word
- we struggle on our own to get on our feet or let something knock us down rather than holding fast to the outstretched arm God offers us in Jesus Christ
- we let nagging doubts destroy the fruits of our labor rather than remembering that God proclaimed that everything God made is good and worthy of praise ... including our work, indeed including our very lives and our very selves. God made us, and God made us good!
- but we let our own concerns and worries bog us down when God's Holy Spirit wants to lift us up over and over again.

God works hard to plant seeds in our lives, in our children's and grandchildren's lives, and often we see the garden grow by the power of the Divine Gardener's hand. Under the shelter of God's all-encompassing love we discover that a seed is sown into the heart of every single human being ... every human being regardless of age, gender, color of skin, social status or religion.

And the harder we see God struggle for us and on our behalf, the more we discover that parable, like the lyrics of this silly rock 'n roll song take on a familiar ring of truth with respect to our own lives, but all of a sudden with a new tune:

There's a hole in my soul, it's been killing me forever,
but now I am aware of it,
it's a place where a garden can grow in spite of our resistance,
by the grace and mercy of God, the Divine Gardener of our souls


Looking at the parable of the sower in this way, we might say that our lives are like roses, perfect, but roses without thorns.

III. The Struggle of God and of Human Beings

On the other hand, perhaps we still have not really listened to the words of the parable ... perhaps we might consider a third way of how to read it ... perhaps the parable of the sower does not speak merely about our human struggle, nor exclusively about the struggle of God on our behalf ... perhaps the writer of Matthew's gospel knew something that we are in the process of discovering ... that the struggle that concerns our lives this very day, today, now in this moment, and the struggle that pertains to life eternal cannot be separated ... they belong to each other, just as God and human beings belong to each other.

What the writer of this gospel knew was that God does not wish to do all the work but that God wants us, you and me, to participate in the activity of sowing, planting and growing together ... side by side as partners.

The more we read the text, the more we really listen, the more we might realize that the Divine Gardener of our human souls is able and willing, always, all the time, to fill the holes in our souls if and whenever we open our hearts to God and offer our lives as fruitful fields to be planted with the good things of God.

God is able and willing to fill the void in our hearts, if and whenever we let it happen ... and if this sounds strange, if this is hard to understand, then we got it right ... then we begin to understand that this parable will keep working in us and tug on our hearts and minds until we are ready again to hear it and listen to it once again ... like a song that grows on you with and over time, a song that you just cannot get out of your head.

And the harder we see God struggle for us and on our behalf, and the more we are willing to open our very lives to be plowed and cultivated through God's Holy Spirit, the more we discover that the lyrics of this silly rock 'n roll song take on a familiar ring of truth with respect to our own lives, but all of a sudden with a new tune that is down-right outrageous, a tune that has never been heard of before:

There was a hole in my soul, it seems like it had been killing me forever,
but now the killing has stopped.
All of a sudden this hole has been changed
into a marvelous place of awe and wonder
where a garden can grow by the grace and mercy of God,
and where I am the one who assists the Divine Gardener
in the struggle to keep this garden up.


Looking at the parable of the sower in this way, we might say that our lives are not like thorns without a rose, and not like roses, perfect, but without thorns, but like roses with thorns.
Have you looked at a rose with thorns lately, I mean really looked at it? Maybe you want to go buy one on the way home, put it on your living room table and look at it for a while. A rose with thorns ... what a wonderful, what a beautiful living thing.

AMEN.

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