HOLD IT FAST
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“Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” Listen. This is often how we start off important conversations. Difficult conversations even. Listen. There’s something I need to tell you. Let anyone with ears to hear listen. This parable is often called the Parable of the Sower, though it’s only called the parable of the sower in Matthew. All three synoptic Gospels contain the parable. When we examine the parable in each setting, we find that in Matthew and Mark, the main thrust is around the Kingdom of God. For Matthew, the importance is who is part of the kingdom, and how this might surprise. For Mark, emphasis is placed on the steady growth of the Kingdom, despite obstacles.
For Luke, the emphasis is a lot about how we listen. Earlier in the book, Jesus talks about the one who hears his words and acts on them. How this person is like a man who builds a house and digs deeply and lays the foundation on rock. The one who hears and does not act is like a man who builds his house without a foundation. We used to sing this and sing “So build your life on the Lord Jesus Christ” – though we might have sung more accurately “So listen to Jesus’ words and act on them.” Listen. Later on, Jesus is in a Pharisee's house and a woman described as a sinner is bathing Jesus’ feet in ointment. We read that Jesus spoke up and said: “Simon I have something to say to you.” The reply comes, “Teacher, speak.” I’m listening.
Again we have Jesus speaking to a large crowd when we come to our story. We’ve talked about Jesus addressing the problem of lack of response to his message. We’ve also talked about Jesus addressing the large response to his message. It’s almost as if we are being reminded not to get too disappointed at a small number and not to get too excited about a large number. Jesus has been going throughout Galilee proclaiming and demonstrating the Kingdom of God. As Jesus himself puts it “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”
The deaf hear. A great crowd gathers and we’re told that people from town after town have come to him. He speaks in a parable. Here it is – “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” That’s the story. It’s a situation from everyday life that would have been well familiar to Jesus’ hearers. Galilee was (and still is) pretty rural. A man went out to sow seed. Yes. They didn’t plough before planting as we would by the way. This is what happens to seed every planting season.
If our emphasis here is on listening, we see that the parable itself is illustrated in the scene in which Jesus is speaking. If you were merely passing by, or merely attending this great event out of idle curiosity - or fear of missing out or wanting to be part of the crowd or whatever other reason you may want to attend such an event – you might take Jesus’ words strictly at face value and think that he’s talking about a man who is sowing seed. Kind of obvious but hey I guess if that’s his thing that’s his thing!
Then we come to the crux of the matter. Jesus’ invitation. Let anyone with ears to hear listen! Let anyone with ears to hear listen. May this be so. There must be something behind this story. I don’t think he’s just talking about farming at this point.
The disciples come through here. I love it when the disciples come through. It gives me hope for myself, for all of us. They ask the question. The all-important question. What does this parable mean? What does it mean? In other words, they respond. Tell us what this means.
This should be our prayer all the time. Tell me what this means. Help me to know something more of you in this. I said earlier this summer that it’s my prayer for myself and this entire community of faith that we may be coming to church with a deep desire to know God more and for this knowing to be borne out in our lives. To hear and to do. To be changed by what we’re hearing and the Holy Spirit working in us.
In other words to respond. A call without a response, after all, is just a call. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t make the call or spread the call widely. The sower is extravagant in sowing, regardless of where the seed ends up. We should be extravagant in our making God’s invitation known too, in our words, in our deeds, regardless of where the seed ends up. God’s call, like his grace, is lavish. Abundant.
To understand God’s word, we need to respond. Real understanding occurs when we respond to the call – in this case, the call is “Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” This is how we come to a deeper understanding of the mysteries of God and the mysteries of humanity. We’re familiar with the concept of call and response in church of course. Some traditions use antiphons in their liturgy. Some traditions do call in response like this “God is good” “All the time.” “And all the time.” “Good is good.” We don’t do a great deal of that kind of thing here, being Canadian and very reserved and everything. We do “And all God’s people said” “Amen.” The call. The response. The understanding is deepened.
It’s how we learn. Some of you know I’ve been taking tap dance lessons for some months now. One of the interesting things about tap as a form of dance is the musicality involved. You’re basically playing percussion with your feet. Often at the start of class, we’ll do a bit of improv where the teacher taps out a rhythm and the class follows. We respond. We learn. We affirm the call in our very act of responding. We don’t just leave it hanging out there.
Like seeds on a path. We’re talking about what it means to be good soil. This is what Jesus has been talking about the whole time. He goes on to explain it. We’re invited as always to see ourselves in every part of this parable. The reactions that Jesus outlines are not necessarily what we’re destined (or pre-destined!) for. I don’t believe they are. All of these reactions are operative within us on different levels and at any given time. There’s ambiguity in this parable about the seed itself. Jesus describes it as the word of God and then as the ones who hear the word. One commentator says it almost makes one wish an explanation had not been asked for! Perhaps it’s a reminder for us never to think that we’ve come to the end of understanding Jesus’ words. That we must keep on asking “Tell us what this means?”
And to see ourselves in the different parts of the story. “The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes (like birds) and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” We’re talking about things that keep the Word of God from taking root and bearing fruit in our lives. The path. Paths that would have been packed down earth that ran through fields that enabled farmers to move. Places in which we are on the move, like streets. Things that are not bad in and of themselves necessarily, but they remind us that constant movement, constant being on-the-go-ness, constant busyness (or business) is something that can lead to hearts that are packed down. Hearts that are covered with asphalt. HT puts it like this – “A person who is only a path through which the daily traffic passes, who is no more than a busy street where people go rushing by hour after hour and where there is never a moment of rest, will hardly provide the soil in which the eternal seed can grow. People who are always on the go are the most in danger.” How well do these words speak to us? They speak to me loudly. We talked about this last week. The importance of rest. The importance of unitasking when it comes to God. I often think of a prayer retreat that we had where we took an hour to go pray individually. When we came back, some spoke about how long it took them to get into a prayerful mode; to put things out of their minds. We said, “If it takes 10 or 15 minutes to get into the mode, we may want to consider spending more than 10 or 15 minutes on how we’re connecting with God as individuals daily.” Providing soil in which the seed can take root and flourish. Listen to the words of Jesus friends. What are they saying to you?
“The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away.” No roots. No depth. Nothing that will help when trouble comes (and there will be trouble). Perhaps the whole Christ thing is more about emotion. More about feeling good or how Christ meets our needs. Perhaps it doesn’t get deeper than that. Perhaps we never hear about Christ’s call to die to ourselves – to die to our own biases, wants, preconceptions, prejudices, issues – whatever it is we need to die to in order that we may find life in him. Life that is truly life. Life that will see us through the vicissitudes of life hanging on to the one who has taken hold of us in his life death and resurrection and given us life of the ages.
“As for what fell among the thorns, the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” This is why I constantly say we need to keep this in front of us all the time. We need to be reminded of this all the time because the messages that we get in our day-to-day lives make it very easy to forget and to be choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. Life is all about having our felt needs met, right? We have a lot to be concerned about, a lot to be anxious about. We need to keep the promises in front of us. Come to me and find rest for your souls. I am the good shepherd. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Be reminded of these promises often and meaningfully. Remind one another of them often and meaningfully. Why? So we might identify with this:
“But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”
And so we say to God “Speak.” We pray that God would give us wills to spend time with him. To listen. To remember the promises. To be reminded of them. That God would help us to hold his word fast in honest and good hearts, and bear fruit patiently and enduringly.
The call is to be light, after all. No one lights a lamp to put it under a jar or under a bed. There’s a missional purpose to all this. Nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed. God wants to disclose his wonderful truth to us, and the really exciting thing is that there’s never an end to this in our lives. It’s something God continues to do when we’re open to it, isn’t it? Pay attention to how you listen, for to those who have, more will be given, from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away. We have a choice to make here. God’s not going to coerce us into hearing and acting. You’ve heard Jesus’ words this morning. God’s will for us is that we know him more, and in knowing him, share him with others as we go through our days. God grant that he would make us a people with ears to hear, people who hold his word fast in good and honest hearts and who bear fruit with patient endurance. God grant that this will be true of each of us.