Sunday, February 23, 2014
Sermon: Luke 8: 1-21 Sowing Seeds
Imagine that you're driving along. Suddenly there's the sound of a siren behind you. What do you do? Hopefully, if it's safe, you pull over and let the ambulance or the police car past. Hearing the sound leads you to action. Or what about the ringtone of your phone? It makes a noise to call you to action: you need to respond by answering the phone.
Now it's one thing if it's a noise or a bell or a siren. But what about someone's voice? What are the voices you hear and heed during a day or a week? In school, the teacher's voice needs to be listened to, especially if you want to know what your homework is. Or maybe you're following instructions from a cookery programme to try a new recipe. Or you listen to the voice of the weather presenter - and then take your raincoat and umbrella anyway. We hear all sorts of voices, but which will we listen to? And when we listen, will we do what they tell us?
When we come to the parable of the sower, you're probably thinking, "Oh, here we go again. We've heard this all before. We know what this is about. You might even remember that we looked at this parable before, about a year and a half ago. But don't tune out. You see, when we heard it the last time, we were in the middle of Matthew's gospel, just taking one chapter of parables that time. This time, we come to it having already worked our way through the first seven chapters of Luke's gospel. We see how Luke shares it: where it comes in the big story, what happens around it.
Away back at the start of his gospel, Luke tells us that he has carefully researched everything so that he can write 'an orderly account.' (Luke 1:1-4). Luke hasn't just sat down to string together random things he can remember from the eyewitness account. He's tying things together to show us what he means. On first reading, it might seem a bit strange, but Luke is pointing us to what it means to be the good soil, to hear and hold and do God's word.
It's obvious in the parable of the sower. You know the story so well. The sower sows the seed - not carefully, but seemingly randomly. He has a bag of seed at his waist and he scatters the seed as he walks along. The seed goes everywhere, landing on the path, the rock, among thorns and in good soil. Depending on the type of soil, the seed either withers or flourishes.
Jesus helps us to get what it's all about. There's no guessing game needed - in verses 11-15 he explains the parable and gives the meaning. The seed is the word of God. The seed is the same seed in all the different soils. The word goes out as Jesus teaches. Going on all around him - and indeed, going on this morning and every time God's word is proclaimed - are the different reactions. In some, the word is quickly forgotten, stolen away. In others, the word is received joyfully, but the joy soon fades as they fall away. For others, the cares of life choke out the word.
But it's the good soil that is in focus as Luke orders his material. Look at verse 15. Jesus says that 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.' Or in other words, those who hear and do God's word.
Just in case we can't grasp that, Luke puts together three other bits together to show us what that means. Straight after the parable of the sower, Jesus gives us another parable. After recent power cuts, it might even have more significance for us. When you light a lamp (or a candle), where do you put it? You're not going to hide it away under a jar or put it under the bed. You want to put it up on a lampstand, or the table, so that the light shines out.
So when the light of God's word comes to you, what will you do with it? Do you hide it away, try to cover it up? Or do you let it shine in you and through you? Do you let the light shine into the dark corners of your life, or are there areas where you don't let the light shine? Places of darkness, where secrets hide for now, but not forever (17)
Instead, Jesus wants us to let his light shine in every corner of our heart. Because it's an indication of how we are listening. Look at verse 18. 'Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.'
It almost sounds unfair, doesn't it? Those who have, receive more; those who don't have will definitely have nothing. But it's saying that how we listen matters. If it's just a formality, if we're not really listening, then eventually we will stop listening and not be able to hear God's voice. But for those who listen carefully, shaping your life based on what you're hearing, then God will continue to speak, continue to lead you on, continue to shine his light in your life.
This explains the seemingly random opening verses of the chapter. Why does Luke bother telling us that Jesus is going around proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom; and who is with him? The roll call is a living example of those who have heard God's word and are doing it. There are the twelve (as you would expect), but more unusual are the other names in the list. These are 'some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities' - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many others. They have heard God's word, and they are holding to it and doing it as they support the work of Jesus out of their resources.
This might be one of those areas where God's word needs to shine and search - our finances. It's always a risky subject to talk about money, but our passage points to it as one of the ways we respond to God's word. It can be an indicator to us of how God's word is affecting us - are we supporting the work of the gospel, or holding on tightly to our money? These ladies had been healed, they had experienced the blessing of hearing God's word, and now want to make sure that others share in the same blessings.
But it’s more than just sharing blessings. To hear God's word and respond is to be welcomed into God's family. In those closing verses, we're told that Mary his mother and his brothers come wanting to see Jesus. There's a big crowd and they can't get near him. The word gets through, though. Your mum and brothers are wanting to see you. They think they have a claim on him. They want to get near to him.
They might be Jesus' earthly family, but from now on Jesus is focusing on his heavenly family - his brothers and sisters. And Jesus' reply is almost surprising, maybe even shocking. 'My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.' This is the mark of being in the family - hearing God's word and doing it.
Sometimes when we consider a Bible passage together, the meaning can be hard to discover. There can be weeks where I struggle to find what it is that the Bible is saying. But this week it's fairly obvious, isn't it? Are you in the family of God? Can you call Jesus your brother? It all comes when we hear God's word and do what it says. To hold to it no matter what pressures come. To produce fruit with patient endurance. And that's not just for this week (and then move on to something else to work on next week). It's a lifetime of turning and obeying as the word brings particular things to light. So which type of soil are you? How are you listening? Will you do what he says as you hold on to his word and bear fruit for his glory?
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 23rd February 2014.