Kingdom Seeds: The Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Why do some followers of Christ seem deep, able to bear much fruit in their lives, while others seem to struggle in the shallows of faith, dissipated and distracted by many things? How is it that enemies of the gospel can live so closely alongside Christ’s committed followers, and it is nearly impossible to tell them apart? What is the explanation for those tiny, almost-insignificant steps of faith that lead to might ministries over time?

In a short series titled “Kingdom Seeds” we will look at three important parables from the 13th chapter of Matthew, along with the interpretations that Jesus gave to his followers.  Taken together, these parables reveal how consistently God’s grace is poured out upon us—regardless of our circumstances or resources.  From small beginnings come great faith. Even when surrounded by enemies we can still bear fruit that the harvester will recognize.  Though all manner of circumstances and “soil” exist, the heart of God sow’s liberally and consistently, until the seeds find space to grow.

Our lives may be challenging and demanding at times, but God continues to sow the seeds of Christ’s kingdom in our midst…even today!

Foundations for Discipleship: Disciplined

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

When Christians become complacent in their discipleship—whether as individuals or as whole congregations—there typically follows a persistent season of dryness, emptiness, and declining interest in the things of God. The phrase “thanks be to God” is replaced by a anxious “we’re dying here”; zeal cools, faith weakens, the temporal affairs of the world soon overtake the believer’s interest, and the Holy Spirit is crowded out .

Jesus told his disciples that life would sometimes be tough for them, that this was to be expected because “no student is greater than the teacher.” And Jesus backed up his teaching ministry with a ministry of action, demonstrating to the world that grace freely offered is nonetheless costly; his followers are to be bold in imitating the one who is paying the price. In this brief sermon series we’ll explore some characteristic “foundational” traits revealed in effective discipleship…the marks of those who’ve heard a clear call from God and are doing all they can to say “yes.”

The famous theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote “discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship). Indeed, discipleship, the invitation to follow Christ, is an offer made to us by God.  Accepting this offer of grace may prove costly as we move through this world, but it is the only path to peace with God. It is an offer of good news.

A Ministry of Reminding...

John 7:36-39

Water is essential to life, yet so often taken for granted when it is in plentiful supply. Lush gardens, long baths, and abundant crops become the expectation for those who’ve never lacked for clean, abundant supplies of water. On the other hand, those who’ve endured protracted seasons of drought know that water is a precious, valuable resource not to be wasted.

Jesus once went to the Jerusalem Temple to participate in the Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles. It was harvest time, and always a joyous festival, and water played a very special role in the proceedings. Water was carried throughout the city and poured upon the altar, while psalms and prayers were made for abundant rains and good crops in the new year. People even came to associate the coming of promised Messiah with the Festival of Tabernacles.

During the culminating moments on the final day of the Festival, Jesus stood and announced that he was now the one to whom the thirsty should come, and that rivers of life would flow into and out of all those who believe in Him. Jesus spoke of a powerful, spiritual connection to himself that would give life and healing and forgiveness to all. From that time until now, Christians have associated the giving of the Holy Spirit with the waters of our baptism. The Spirit is given in abundance to whomever will receive it with joy.

Suffering Love

1 Peter 3:8-22

Suffering is a universal—and very important—part of the human experience. Unpleasant experiences, pain, and discomfort are useful instructors as we grow from helpless children into healthy and functional adults. Thirst and hunger remind us to drink and eat. The discomfort of a burn teaches us to handle fire with caution or not to touch a hot iron. The scorn and ridicule of some, coupled with the praise and acceptance of others, help us to form our circles of friends and learn to socialize. Although we experience it in differing levels and measures, suffering is an experience that every human being will undergo during various seasons of life.

The great question of faith for Christians is “where is God in the midst of my suffering?” The author of 1 Peter was writing to a group of churches for whom suffering had a become a regular, perhaps daily experience…often in the form of persecution and brought about by the very fact that they had chosen to follow the way of Christ. 1 Peter’s “advice” is to embrace suffering rather than flee it; to identify with Christ’s suffering in the midst of our own suffering and thereby become a part of God’s great story of redemption in the world.

It’s a challenging word which at the same time points the way to our freedom, for the way out of our suffering, loss and hurt is to go in and through. No one can take away suffering without entering into it.

Loving Through Serving

1 Peter 2:16-25

Christians are servants. When we are baptized into Christ, we are meant to take Christ Jesus as our shepherd and guide in all circumstances.  But we are also meant to take Jesus as our example, to follow him and become like him. Because he lived as a servant to all, so we must become servants. Because he was obedient in all things to his Abba, so we must also be obedient in all things to him. Because he did not repay abuse with abuse, so we are called to repay threat and abuse with love and service.

It is one thing to practice servanthood and kindness with fellow Christians, and to forgive those who forgive us in the name of Jesus. Sooner or later, however, we will come in contact with people who are not Christians. People who will take advantage, who will threaten, who will sin against us.  How are we to treat such people? The author of 1 Peter says we are to respond as servants.  It is the great paradox of our faith that our freedom in Christ is best expressed by serving Christ…and we are called to serve him in all circumstances. In the end, it is when we serve Christ by loving others that the church has the greatest opportunity to evangelize. When encountering those outside the faith—even the most troublesome souls—our deeds will usually speak far more loudly than our words.

Growing in Love

1 Peter 2:2-10

A mother cradles her newborn, taking in its scent, and lovingly closes her eyes. She is searching her heart, straining inward to find the vision of everything this child will become when it grows up. A man sits proudly behind a desk at his new job, enjoying the moment. Right now, this moment, there are no responsibilities, no deadlines, no urgencies; just for today everything is potential. A farmer stands, sweaty and dusty, bathed in the golden light of a setting sun.  He face is lined with age, yet is a picture of contentment. The crops are in the soil, the days work is complete, and in time God will bring the increase to his fields.

In today’s lesson from 1 Peter, everything points forward.  For we are baptized in Christ, but our baptism is only the beginning. The house must still be built, the babe who needs milk must learn to taste the deeper truths of God. The congregation of redeemed sinners must grow into a royalty…a priesthood of believers. The church of God is a living thing, whose foundation is love and whose cornerstone is its faith in Jesus Christ. Like all living things, the healthy church is one that is growing and maturing. We are called to grow together in love.

Love Deeply, From the Heart

1 Peter 1:17-23

Love is the foundation stone of all that is good and right in the world. It is the mine from which all of the wealth of God's great treasure-house is brought forth, the standard against which all that would call itself pure and holy is measured. It is love that redeems, love that sustains, love that endures, love that transforms, love that forgives. It is the very love of God that became flesh and walked among us in human form. Love alone remains—in spirit and song and sacred memory—after all else has faded and turned to ash and dust. Only love.

In Jesus we have already experienced God's love...a love like no other! But in coming to Christ we are only making a beginning. The author of 1 Peter reminds us that, as we are purified by God's holy love through obedience to the truth, we are now to complete God's love in us by sharing it in "mutual affection" toward one another. The love we share with one another must take on a more and more holy nature, until it perfectly embodies God's love toward us. The foundation-stone of God's church is the love, shared deeply, consistently, and from the heart.

A Living Hope

1 Peter 1:3-9

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I took the youth group from FUMCO on a Spring Break whitewater rapids river rafting trip. It was a much anticipated, adrenalin-pumping Level III, IV and V thrilling experience—that is, until we got the briefing from the guide: “This is one of the first trips of the season with the new snow melt; it will be very cold. When I say paddle, you paddle until I say stop—otherwise the boat can overturn. If you fall out, float on your back with your feet forward, or your head will crash into a rock. When we can, we’ll try to fish you out so try to get to the shore.”

Once we were on the water, there was no turning back. You can’t ignore the rapids. Isn’t that a lot like our lives today, especially as Followers of Jesus? Wouldn’t it be ideal if we could avoid all the “rapids of life?” Of course, we can’t because we live in a very complex and compelling, unbelieving time of struggles, challenges, and temptations. Someone once put it this way: we are a G-Rated community living in a R-Rated world! But, thanks be to God that as we continue to live into the Celebration of Easter, we are surrounded with a living hope in Jesus Christ who rose from the deadness of this world!

The Apostle Peter (not Paul!) wrote these words of encouragement to those going through tough times like ours: In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

This is so much more than just a pep talk or some political spin on an issue for us to just “hang in there.” Rather, Peter is reminding us of what is true in the promises of Scripture—that there is a wonderful joy ahead, even though we may have to endure many trials for a season. But just like Good Friday, a lot did happen in three days that brought us a new life that comes with a new perspective! This amazing and persistent confidence we now have in Jesus and in being among the people of God will let us face “the rapids”—so keep paddling in praise and glory of Jesus!