“Why Doesn’t Everyone Believe?”

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

Dr. Robert J. Anderson

July 13, 2014

 

 

The parable of the Sower comes sandwiched in between instances of opposition to Christ and the Gospel.  Perhaps that is why Jesus told this Parable of the Sower--kind of an explanation.  Chapters 11-12 are about multiple stories of opposition and misunderstanding of Jesus’ ministry.  Chapter 13 concludes with Jesus’ hometown rejecting him.  The parable responds to the question as to why the gospel finds acceptance in some groups and not others.

 

Every experience in our lives is an opportunity to exhibit and experience faith.  This can be a gratifying success or personal achievement.  It might be a crisis that tests us.  It could be a community challenge.  Each is a chance to grow strong and deep, or respond in fear and anxiety.  When financial downturns threaten the world economy, often there is a strong ripple effect: People lose employment; investments shrink in value; already strained resources are stretched to the breaking point.

 

When tragedy strikes a family--particularly a tragic death--we lash out at God!  Why did God let this happen?  Why didn’t God hear my prayers for my loved one to get better?  Doesn’t God care about me?  Each of us knows of people who either emerge from tragedies and challenges with a stronger, more intact faith; or others facing similar situations walk away from their faith.

 

The sower liberally distributes the seed, caring little about where it lands! This might seem like carelessness, but if the seed stands for the announcement of the reign of God’s love and justice, we know that message is offered to all, and not broadcast selectively: God’s goodness is offered to all.  Though offered to all, each one responds according to his or her own disposition.  Some don’t try to understand God’s offer of goodness and can easily have the message obscured in their thinking.  Others won’t let the word take root deep in their hearts and minds, and when persecution or suffering hits, faith is lost.  Still others receive the word gladly, but the troubles of this world overwhelm them and choke out and smother faith, like brambles.  Then there are those that hear the word gladly, provide fertile soil, and the word takes root and grows with deep faith, is watered with prayer and practice, and produces great amounts of fruit, liberally, lavishly and in some cases, astoundingly, all to the glory of God.

 

I think there is a sense that we hear what we want to hear.  And, it’s true that two people hearing the same thing come away with two different understandings.  In the gripping film, 12 Years a Slave (2013 Best Picture Oscar™), Soloman Northup's true account of his kidnapping and slavery in the antebellum south, specifically in Louisiana, the treatment of slaves is brutally depicted, so this is not a film for the squeamish.  And, I can attest to that.  But the story is powerful and should not be forgotten.

The brutal slave owners teach the slaves stories and teaching in the Bible that seem to legitimate slavery, believing that threatening them with Scripture will pacify their natural yearning for freedom.  But the slaves were drawn to the stories of the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, and to the teaching of God as merciful and compassionate, so the tactic largely backfired.  One slave, Patsey (played by Lupita Nyong'o), subjected to systematic abuse and degradation by the most brutal slave owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), and the object of his wife's jealousy and hatred, begs Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to help her end her life.  "Don't worry, God is merciful. He will forgive you."  The slave owners and the slaves hear the same stories in Scripture, but the owners are blind to their ethical teachings, and the slaves receive faith and hope from a merciful God.

 

So, one major teaching of this parable is the universal good news.  It’s given to everyone.  God isn’t a good businessman or farmer!  Even you and I know you don’t do things like the sower in the parable did.  You don’t sow seed on bad or questionable soil. Do you want to plant a new church?--what neighborhood is likely to grow?  Want to start a new outreach opportunity?--what ones look good and promising?  Want to increase you membership?--what demographics do you want to reach?  Do you want to open a gas station, hamburger place, or grocery store?--where is it that you will get the greatest result?  In short, you don’t waste your precious seed on soil that is not good or, at best, questionable.

 

But, God is all about reaching the most people possible; leaving no stone unturned and lavishly throws his seed all over the place so as to get the most exposure as possible.  Another illustration is casting a net far and wide to catch as many fish as possible.  God is all about redemptive activity here, there, and everywhere.  And the reality is that some will respond and grow in faith and bear much fruit and others will turn and walk away.  The choosing is in the hands of the listener!  So, given the fact that God is a God of incredible and boundless mercy, it is a mystery why everyone doesn’t believe.

 

Just like in farming, the seed must fall on good soil.  But, even in good soil, there are others factors that contribute to the crop’s yield such as sun, moisture, nutrients, tillage, and fertilizer.  Is this also true for God’s word; the good soil is a start but are there other things?  What things in the spiritual life are comparable to these other factors in farming?

 

Theologians call these “other things” the means of grace.  Here “means” means ways in which the Holy Spirit creates faith and cause spiritual growth.  There are a number of “means of grace,” but let’s just talk about a few.  Worship and preaching--here God’s people gather to offer praise and thanksgiving and be refreshed by the present Spirit of God; here in the music and liturgy and the words of God through the sermon we are nurtured and nourished in our faith.

 

Prayer.  Prayer is the doorway through which we walk into God’s presence.  Prayer takes on many forms--not just spoken petitions--a song or hymn, meditation of a passage of scripture, a word said over and over again, visualization (i.e. seeing Jesus at the bedside of a loved one).  Prayer can also be silence as we simply reside in the presence of God--ministered to by him in ways we may not fully understand or feel.

 

The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Baptism – the engrafting into the church, the body of Christ.  Buried and raised with Christ.  The Lord’s Supper where Christ is revealed as in no other way, and we are nourished in the deeps cracks and crevices of our spirits.

 

Bible Study.  Here we find answers to “What would Jesus Do?” as we learn about what Jesus did and said.  Here we receive guidance as the Spirit works in our hearts as we read the bible in the company of others.

 

There’s one more thing.  Good soil, in which plants can flourish, put down roots and reach to the sky, is "friable," crumbly and full of little spaces, not dense like clay, or hard like rock, or choked with weeds.  The little spaces let down water and nutrients to feed the roots.  You take the root bound plants from their pots and loosen the soil, creating spaces where growth can take place.  If you want to bear fruit, you can't be hard or rigid or dense. You have to let your imagination create spaces where love and wisdom and prayer and new ideas can feed your soul, so that your life can bear fruit to the glory of God's wonderful intention.  The church’s ministry is to bring together the things that go with the good soil to promote growth and an abundant crop--the means of grace.

 

People aren’t inanimate seed that fall, we are thrown.  We can move.  When we understand God’s love, we can move to the place where the means of grace will enable us to grow and flourish and produce fruit.  We can move into worship.  We can go to a Bible Study.  We can be baptized.  We can partake of Communion and let God’s Spirit nourish our faith way deep down.  We can pray all day long in all kinds of situations, all kinds of prayers.  We can practice our faith at home, work, and play.  We can serve in the church and have our ministries outside of church (Halifax Urban Ministries, The Presbyterian Counseling Center, hospital, etc.)

 

God’s love is incredible!  Why wouldn’t we want to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into as though we are falling backwards, unreservedly into a swimming pool or lake?  Some will and some will not!  God’s promise is to love us forever, forgive and renew our spirit, and take our gifts of time, talent, and financial resources and produce an abundant crop!

 

God is not a good businessman--but, I guess God is just God!