People Who Influence Our Lives – Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

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TIME magazine did a survey asking who was the most significant person ever.  The top results were not terribly surprising: 1. Jesus, 2. Napoleon, 3. Mohammed, 4. William Shakespeare and 5. Abraham Lincoln.  Presbyterians will note that John Calvin was listed as 99 out of 100!  All of these folks were real people.  Another list was compiled of the most influential people who never lived:  Sherlock Holmes, Wonder Woman, Ebenezer Scrooge, Betty Crocker, Rosie the Riveter, Mary Poppins, Indiana Jones and Romeo and Juliet.  These folks got a fictional life because someone created them.  Without fictitious people we could not speak of a man having an Oedipus Complex or a woman acting like Cinderella, or battle with Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster.  Our lives are richer because of the people who never lived.

The Bible speaks of a Prodigal Son, a fictional character created by Jesus to make a point.  The Sower is another fictional character created y Jesus.  Unlike a cultural character like the Marlboro Man, the Sower has spiritual depth.  No one comes close except perhaps the Good Samaritan.

Jesus has such a huge following on land beside the Sea of Galilee that he retreats to a boat and teaches from there as people stand on the shore.  Jesus teaches in parables, stories that do more than communicate information; they engage people, sometimes delighting them and at other times, forcing them to dig beneath the surface to understand what is being said.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says, “A sower went out to sow.”  In our minds we can picture the Sower in the field with a bag slung over his/her shoulder, scattering seed amongst the furrows.  While walking along some of the seeds fell on the path and the birds came and ate them.  The story never tells us about digging holes or making furrows or covering the seeds with soil.  The Sower just keeps tossing seeds–some on rocky ground and when they sprouted, they were scorched by the sun.  As the Sower continues his work, some seeds land in the thorns and they are choked when they begin to grow.  Some seeds fall on good, fertile soil and bring forth grain, a harvest beyond his wildest dreams:  30, 60, 100 fold.  At first, the farmer seemed a bit careless, tossing seed randomly and assuming that there would be a harvest in spite of the losses.  He believed growth would come.  Jesus tells the account in an effort to keep sowing the word of the Kingdom of God, even though the words land on religious people, some who think he is possessed, on disciples who struggle to understand his teaching, and on one occasion to a rich young man who is unwilling to part with his possessions in order to follow Jesus.  The Sower keeps sowing and Jesus keeps spreading the word.

The Parable of the Sower teaches us that Jesus throws good seed everywhere, knowing that most of it will be destroyed.  As followers of Jesus, we should do ministry and mission in the same way.  We need to welcome others as Jesus has welcomed us, and preach a message of unconditional love and unlimited grace.  Jesus calls us to be faithful to him and to the Kingdom of God, not to be successful in a worldly sense.  It is peculiar, but as Jesus explains this parable to the disciples, the focus shifts from the Sower to the Soil.  When the message emphasizes the Soil, it reminds us that we should all be good soil–people who hear the word of the Kingdom of God and understand it.  Jesus promises that the person who does so bears fruit and yields in multiples.

When you hear about the kingdom, do not be like the path which is susceptible to the evil one who comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart.  Do not be the rocky ground in which a plant has no deep roots and endures for only awhile.  Do not be thorny soil in which the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.  Do not be like Don Draper, a Mad Men protagonist, who never lived but vividly portrayed the dark side of worldly success.  The problem with the soil is that it merely sits and receives the seed.  It cannot choose to be good or bad.  If you saw a farmer yelling at his soil, ordering it to be good, you might wonder if he was what my husband used to say, “His elevator does not go to the top floor” or “He is one brick short of a full load.”

And then, we read that Jesus commands us to “listen!”  Listen to the story of the Sower and learn that Jesus is generous in sharing the word of the Kingdom with all the people of the world.  God’s Word is fruitful and a great harvest is guaranteed.  The Kingdom will come when God decides it will come.

The Sower reveals to us that Jesus is in charge, spreading the Word about the Kingdom of God.  Our job is to trust what he is doing, and to share this message with joy and generosity.  If we do, we will feel the influence of a person who never lived and we will be following a Savior who really lived and died, and rose to be with us forever.

I like to recall stories told by well known radio broadcaster, Paul Harvey.  In 1978, at a Future Farmers of America convention, he gave a speech that was an extension of the Genesis narrative referring to God’s action on the eight day of creation.  Harvey described the characteristics of a farmer in each phrase, ending with the statement, “So God Made a Farmer.”

The speech was used by Dodge Ram in a commercial during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLVII (February 3, 2013).  The ad featured photos of a portion of Harvey’s speech.  In collaboration with the Future Farmers of America, Dodge agreed to donate $100,000 for every one million U-Tube video hits the ad received–up to one million dollars!  The goal was reached in less than five days.

Harvey’s speech in reference to God’s creation work on the eighth day went:

  • God needed a caretaker for the land he created.  So God Made a Farmer.
  • God needed somebody with arms strong enough to wrestle a calf and gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild.  So God Made a Farmer.
  • God needed someone  to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to await lunch until his wife was done feeding visiting ladies, and then tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon, and mean it.
  • So God Made a Farmer.

Paul Harvey is a real man with faith in a genuine Savior, Jesus, who listened and understood the parable and related it in a way we can use to visualize the Kingdom of God.  And NOW we know the rest of the story.

Amen.

Categories: Weekly Sermon

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