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Faithlife Corporation

Absurd Love

Notes & Transcripts

Heavenly Father, we ask that this time be a time of hearing, of learning, and of growing in the love of your good news that you desire for all your children. Amen

Parables – what are they? ...

We begin today with a several week journey through the Gospel of Matthew in which the parables of Jesus figure predominately

And Parables of Jesus are something that is quite a unique literary device

They are style of story telling and teaching that really do not have a match any where else

You might be thinking, there are modern day parables all around

However the ‘Parables of Jesus’ carry with them characteristics not fully found elsewhere

Being that this is the first of several weeks of parables… Let me explain by first defining the term

The word "parable" comes from the Greek meaning "comparison, illustration, analogy",

It generally means a fictitious narrative, usually referring to something that might naturally occur, by which spiritual and moral matters might be conveyed.

A parable is a short tale that illustrates universal truth

It often involves a character facing a moral dilemma, or making a questionable decision and then suffering the consequences.

They are not about 'giants of the faith' who have religious visions."[1]

Parables frequently use metaphorical language which allows people to more easily discuss difficult or complex ideas.

Christian parables are unique in that they can be understood on multiple layers and despite being told at a specific period in time, they carry with them timeless truths

In a single telling of a Christian parable, each person might identify with a different aspect and different ‘universal’ truth

Christian parables also possess a unique quality, in that they are stories about ordinary men and women who are found in the midst of their everyday lives and yet surprising things happening

It is this multiple layers of ‘universal’ truths and surprising outcomes that make Christ’s parables a unique teaching technique

As one New Testament scholar, which I found in my studies this week, said: Parables are “stupid”[2]…

            I would rather use the term – Absurd or challenging

                        Because I find them deep with meaning and the farthest thing from Stupid

But what, he was getting at is that Jesus tells stories to lead people in a certain direction that is completely against the grain - Completely against common worldly wisdom

So by the world’s understanding of wisdom – Parables are Stupid

 Think for a minute of some of the most famous parables

The Good Samaritan – the safest thing in the world to do, would be to walk on past

It might be a trick and there is a potential for danger on so many fronts

– It certainly is a hassle

It is completely against the worldly notion of taking care of yourself first and foremost

Or consider the Prodigal Son – Why would anyone in their right mind throw a party for someone that wasted so much of the family’s wealth

            Throwing good money after bad – is certainly the worldly lesson of something ‘not to do’

And consider how in each of these famous parables – we might associate with a variety of characters

            Are we younger or older brother or are we meant to be like the ever watchful father

It is for these reasons that my seminary preaching professor said “never claim The Answer for any parable – treat them with respect and more like a many layered onion than a nut to be cracked open”[3]

So that brings us to the parable that we have today – The Parable of the Sower

Jesus teaches from a boat at sea, but his teaching is earthy, using images of seeds and soil.

It is another well known story – one which the Canadian Bible Society has chosen to use as their logo

As we consider this parable, I would like to look at it from three key ingredients of the story

            The Seed, The Soil and the Sower

                        There is little doubt in most people’s minds as to what ‘the seed’ is

                                    It is the Word of God about the Kingdom of God – it is the Gospel message

The second ingredient is the one that most of us seem to dwell in for this parable

The Soil … And there is good reason for that, as today’s parable also carries with it an

        unusual detail

We have, in the second half, Jesus' own clear explanation of what each element of soil in the parable represents

This would seem to leave little work for the preacher

But the interpretation also raises some challenging questions. For instance, who qualifies as "good soil"?

                                               

This can be a deeply personal question, and I believe that most of us hearing this parable is gripped by wondering what type of soil am I?

Jesus tells us that there are four types of soil

One can find examples of each kind of response to the Word of God in Matthew's Gospel

There are many in Matthew's story who "hear the word of the kingdom and do not understand" (Matthew 13:19)

We might look to the Jewish religious leaders or Pontus Pilot or many of the people in the crowds when the multitudes gathered

Then “one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away" (Matthew 13:20b-21)

We can think of how many gathered to cheer Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday, only to a few days later call for His crucifixion

We might even think of the disciples that ran in the garden when the Roman soldiers came to take Jesus away

It can be said that Matthew's gospel has given us little reason to have confidence in any of the disciples. Most of what we know of their lasting work is outside the gospel itself

Little reason, that is, except for Jesus' promises.

And especially significant is Jesus' promise at the very end of the Gospel: "And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20)

Consider the soil of "one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing" (Matthew 13:22)

The story of the rich young man, unable to part with his wealth is an obvious example of this

Finally the good soil "ones who hear the word and understand it, who indeed bear fruit" (Matthew 13:23)

This last group could also be anyone of the disciples, who later shared the gospel and saw the transformation of the souls – the gospel writers are obvious choices

And think of Peter, who by the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost there were over 3000 converts baptized in a single day

This is a parable where I believe we might be attracted to everyday life examples of people who present the different soils of the parable

            We might think of Billy Graham and the exponential harvest that his ministry has had

Or on the other side, we can come up with examples of people that seem to have had great worldly success, yet they have turned their backs on their Christian upbringing       

This parable carries for me very personal implications

            I have a brother and a sister… and we were all raised in the same Christian household

Where both my parents are very active in their faith and living out their faith at home and in the world

I heard the message and it took root in me, and I believe that by the role that God has called me to; it has done and will continue to bear fruit

My older sister claims a faith, yet also a flexible tolerance for many other spiritualities and her faith appears to me, to be a mile wide and yet only an inch deep

            And my younger brother claims to be an atheist

I find it deeply troubling that within my own family, we appear to be of different soils – at least at the present

I imagine that when you consider this yourself – you might wrestle with similar uncomfortable situations

You might be thinking negatively about your own walk in faith and worried about what soil you are

This notion of good soil – soil that will bear much fruit – is the main driving force behind our pastoral search committee’s vision for the new coordinator of youth and families ministries

It is not easy to deliberate about a person’s potential as ‘good soil’ for the youth and families of this church and those yet to become part of this church

            But it is good soil that we are trying to find

                        Judging people and their potential is very uncomfortable and hard work

In this parable Jesus also gives us a reality check

A different message, which we may need to also hear – a message for all the plans that we set in place for work for the Kingdom of God

He knows that some of the efforts we do in the name of the Kingdom will fall on unproductive ground – but we are also told there will be good soil

And I think that we are given a window into purposely not knowing which ground will be the good soil

Notice Jesus doesn’t say look at the ground that you are sowing, if there is rocks the results will be poor, don’t waste your time there – look for the good soil only…

Instead we are told that the sower sows – on all grounds – all soils

The illustration that I think of in this case is the story of Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was raised in a Christian home but his early years of fame as a country and western singer was a story of near complete void of Christian living

            If ever there was rocky soil – Johnny Cash could be described as the very model of it

And yet he fell in love with June Carter, a country gospel singer with the Carter family

June certainly sang the gospel and I imagine that most of the people that came out to hear them sing were ‘the already faithful’ – but I would think that her most significant sowing was to the man that would later become her husband

And it is the reckless past of Johnny Cash that lead him to be an extremely powerful testimony for countless others

It was his very difficult life lessons that made for Johnny Cash to be very good soil that beared fruit hundreds of time over

It is to this that we come to the final ingredient of the story – the sower

            I think that all would agree that God is the sower

And by extension, when we do the ministry of Kingdom of God, we can strive to be the sower

It is also important to note that the Sower is the main character in the parable

The sower scatters his seed carelessly, recklessly, seemingly wasting much of the seed on ground that holds little promise for a fruitful harvest.

            And yet the sower sows on all ground – not carefully – not miserly – but abundantly…

                        Sowing everywhere, spreading to reach all types in all situations…

Maybe it is not so much about what soil we are… but what kind of God we have…

            Why would someone throw good seed on bad ground? – but God does

Maybe this could be a lesson for how we should follow in our Lord’s ways…

Where could we spread God’s Word – How do we spread God’s Love

                        Is there anybody that God doesn’t want us to try to reach

                                    This now not of scarcity but of the Extravagance of God’s sowing ways

                       

We need to look no further then our Old Testament story to see graphically God’s ways in action

            In Genesis 25 we are told of some of the story of Jacob

                        And when you really do a character study of Jacob, it’s not a good one

Jacob is not a role model

                                                His very name means – Heel grabber or supplanter

                                                            Basically – “swindler”

                                                                        When you consider most of the stories of Jacob

                                                                                    Jacob is a ‘creep’

And yet it is to Jacob and through Jacob that God chooses failings and builds salvation from here

            Drama that we hear today is building up – and the outcome is profound

God chooses in the most unlikely places

                                    God’s promise are beyond the liar, that is Jacob

And THE covenant made with Abraham

            In which all the nations of the world will be blessed

                        It is through Jacob’s line that we have the Christ – the Messiah

                                    It is through the unlikely – that God saves the world

Our parable today reveals to us that Jesus' approach to mission is quite at odds with our play-it-safe instincts.

He gives us freedom to take risks for the sake of the gospel.

He endorses extravagant generosity in sowing the word, even in perilous places.

Though we may wonder about the wisdom or efficiency of his methods,

            Though we might see it as ‘Absurd Love’

Jesus promises that the end result will be a bumper crop.[4]

Gracious Lord, let our hearts be good soil so that Your Word takes root and grows in us, crowding out all the false and destructive promises of this world. During these summer months when worship often takes a back seat to other activities, draw us to you to hear Your Word so that it will bear fruit in our lives. Amen.


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[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable

[2] Matt Skinner – Sermon Brainwave

[3] Rev. Dr. Glen Taylor

[4] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=7/10/2011&tab=4

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