Monday, January 25, 2016

Listen... A word from the parable of the sower in Luke's Gospel (Luke 8:4-21)

The image on the screen for this morning and the news sheet is the Brooklyn Garage Rooftop Farm. It is one of the most famous examples of urban farming in the word: Growing fresh local produce where there is a premium on land usage...  For me it envisions the reality that Jesus parable, which while it reflects the agricultural world of the hills of first century Galilee, is as meaningful and relevant for us today in our twenty first century urban setting.

Viv Coleman spoke last week about finding one word as a focus and way forward for the year. When I got back in the office this week I was excited to discover  the passage we were going to start or rather restart our journey through Luke’s gospel with was the one we had read out to us today... the parable of the Sower, or as its also known the parable of the soils. I thought yeah... that’s the one word we really need for this year as a church... Sow . Evangelism Going and scattering seeds, in the case of Jesus parable the word of God and seeing it become fruitful. It got even better when I saw that Luke connects it with another well known of Jesus  parables of the light on the lamp stand giving light to the whole house...  I thought shine might be just as good a word. The focus for the year needed to be getting out there with the word of God and SOW, SOW in our new urban environment, SOW in our little suburban patch ... and sow on...

But as I looked deeper into the passage I was surprised because another word came to mind. I guess we are more used to hearing Jesus parables from Matthew’s Gospel or reading them separately but as I read the whole passage another word really became prominent as the central point of this passage of what Jesus was saying. I believe it was the Holy Spirit speaking. You see the word that comes through from this passage is the word listen...

All the way through the focus for Jesus is listen. The context of the passage is Jesus time after time drawing a big crowd who come to hear him, but do they really listen.  When you see a large crowd in Luke’s Gospel Jesus begins to talk about what it really means to be a follower of his. He isn’t looking for the crowd numbers, the popularity and the fame rather he is looking for people who are changed by encountering the word of God made flesh. And in this passage the answer to what it means to e a follower of Jesus is that they are the ones who listen properly. He tells the parable of the sower and he finishes it by crying out in a loud voice ‘he who has ears to hear, let them hear’... listen.
 As he explains this parable we see that each of the soil types he has talked about have to do with how people hear the word of God. They hear it but it doesn’t sink in it falls onto hard ground, They hear it and receive it with joy but it does not take root. They hear it and it takes root but it is choked out as by competing concerns.  The good soil is those who hear it and retain it and nurture it and persevere till it produces a crop. Listen

 The punch line of Jesus parable of the lamp on the lamps stand... and you could put it in modern terms and say... no one puts a hundred what bulb in a closet and then closes the door and leaves the rest of the house in darkness is a warning about being careful how we listen..  Listen

Finally that strange encounter with Jesus mother and brothers, rounds off this section of Luke, with Jesus saying those who are really his kin rally his family are those who hear his word and put it into action... Listen.

I began to wonder how those soil types expressed themselves in our lives and in our times, in my life and my time.

Some falls on the road. In Jesus time and place and even in gardens today. Around the edge of fields prepared for growing crops there are well worn paths so people can get to where they need to go. They are compacted and seeds can’t easily fall into the soil to germinate.  Maybe you’ve seen it on road verges where on a street corner there is a well word dirt path across the lawn where people cut the corner and no grass will grow there.  It’s interesting that in gospel’s it is the Pharisees and the religious people who were most reluctant to hear Jesus teaching. I wonder if it isn’t the same today that for many of us who have been involved in church for so long we have well word paths that we trod and it is hard for the word of God to take root in those places if it just doesn’t fit with the path we trod.  Maybe we think we’ve heard it before, we’ve heard it all. Evangelists say the two hardest people groups to work with and share the gospel with are those who have never heard it before, as they have no frame work in which to understand it and the post Christian... or over-churched... because they have heard it so much that they are over it now... the thing about listening and following Jesus is that it takes us through the narrow gate and off the well beaten path...

In the hills of Galilee it is hard to tell what us good soil and what is not. The ground is rocky and while on top it might look like good it can just be a shallow cover over hard limestone rock, where seeds are unable to take root and when the sun comes out they cannot survive. It’s like a great looking wood veneer over chipboard...When we left Luke’s gospel before Christmas we finished with the story of Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee and the women who cleaned Jesus feet with her tears. It seemed Simon was willing to have Jesus to his house as an honored guest, to listen and to debate with him over a meal, but when Jesus words came to close to his prejudices we are left with the impression that despite Jesus offering him a chance to listen and change that that was where the seed stopped growing. It hit a barrier to bearing fruit. In 1994 one of the worst genocides occurred in Rwanda, racial tension exploded in an orgy of bloodletting and close to a million people died.  What really shocked those who say it was that Rwanda was possible he most Christianised country in all of Africa... 95% would have said they were Christians. But it hadn’t really sunk deep into the country. Some commentators talked of a veneer of Christianity a mile wide but only millimeters deep... I wonder if that isn’t challenging for us as well... Is our faith simply a veneer over the prevailing worldviews, a veneer over our various cultural identities, over our prejudices, over western consumerism, over western materialism and the we haven’t let the word sink deep and put out roots in that.

We’ve just had a concrete right of way put down the side of our house... On either side of it the plans were to have a strip of dirt left... Neither strip is designed to be a mowing strip. I guess we are waiting for our landlord to finish the landscaping off... But it is a constant battle because I’m amazed how quickly weeds have colonized those strips of good loose soil...and it’s constant battle to get rid of them... we pull them, we spray them, we  weed-wack them and they come back. In first century Galilee the seeds that feel on good soil often had to compete for nutrients and space with weeds that grow up and choke them before they can produce a crop. In Luke Jesus likens these weeds to life’s concerns, wealth and prosperity and pleasures which stop the word growing to maturity. And we live in a time and place where those equally challenge us, we live in a time when the word of god competes with so many other messages. Where it is harder and harder to make ends meet and we are encouraged to think in terms of a higher and higher and unrealistic standard of living. Where there are whole industries designed to distract us and amuse us. We have the challenge of not letting that choke out what God wants to say... we need to listen through the noise.

Then of course there was the good soil where the seed could take root and it was nurtured and retained and allowed to grow to maturity and produce the fruit it was designed to do. Often people of this parable in terms of salvation, to look at questions like can when is someone a Christian? when they respond at an altar call or make a profession of faith? Here the answer seems to be when the word of God produces the fruit of obedience. In our reformed tradition we would say that the sign of true repentance and salvation was perseverance. In the gospel of course we are constantly surprised by the people who show themselves to be good soil for the word of God: A roman centurion, people on the edge and ostracized, tax collectors and those considered beyond God’s reach... They are the ones who seem to listen appropriately.

I did wonder how this word listen applied to me. What is the soil in my life like? How can I allow the seed of God’s word to get in remain and mature and as I looked at this passage I found some answers.

The first was sow seed, yup we are back to the sow word... the need to let the sower scatter seed into our lives...We need to read and hear the word of God.

Secondly, We need to study and understand it.  We are let into the meaning of Jesus parable when the disciples ask Jesus what it means. In fact Jesus says that he speaks in parables so that people will hear and not understand, because for that seed to germinate and grow and bear fruit we need to comprehend it. When scripture talks of the mysteries of God it’s not that what God says is esoteric and hard o understand but that we need to look to God to clarify it for us. To read and to understand...Just like with Jesus and his disciples this is a group activity, we need others on this journey, which is what Paul says that the Holy Spirit has given gifts of apostles and prophets, evangelists and teachers and pastors to enable us to grow into maturity lacking nothing. We need brothers and sisters to explore and reflect on it with us... which is why small groups are the most effective way for Christians to grow and to listen together. And of course as Christians we have the greatest asset for that in the presence of the Holy Spirit within us to lead us into all truth.

Just like the light on the lamps stand we need to let the light of that word shine in all our lives, we can’t just put it in the religion basket or the Sunday basket. Daryll Bock says we need to respond to the word of God consistently to let it light up all our lives. To understand the message and see how it speaks to our whole life to bring fruit in us that may mean we let it breaking up some hard ground, do some weeding along the way, and some winning against conflicting concerns.

Finally, we need to respond to it in a concrete way. To listen understand and hen apply it how we live. To let it bear fruit. The mark of being in Jesus family is hearing what Jesus says and putting it into practise. To listen as Jesus calls us to listen is to hear and obey.

Now those sound very much like the three steps of what is called inductive bible study... a way f listening appropriately to God’s word... to exegete  or understand... to interpret... what is the whole for the word saying to the whole of me... and application... How do I know live in light of the word of God. That is how we should listen to God’s word’s listen ... I feel is the one word for us this year... listen... listen to what the word is saying to the church... listen to the word God has for you... 

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