You might have noticed we are reading from Romans and Matthew each week. I have decided to focus on these two books as we share in our Bible Gatherings. Romans is Paul’s strongest and most developed theological letter and at times can be difficult to understand. Matthew is the gospel written for the Jewish community and often quotes from the Old Testament supporting Jesus as the Messiah. The passage just read, follows Paul’s struggle with doing the things he hates, instead of doing what he wants. Last week we looked at this through the lens of addiction, when we do not do what we want, but the very thing we hate. Then we get this resolution to that problem and the answer is the Spirit of Jesus Christ in you. Listen again to the first few verses set in contemporary language from the Message.
“With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new Power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.”
(The Message, Eugene Peterson) The black cloud of sin and death has been lifted, the Spirit of Christ is moving in you.
Turning now to the gospel lesson, the familiar story of the sower. I want to remind you that God is the sower, the good news, God’s grace, is the seed and we are the possible locations for the seed to root.
I have a window box outside my kitchen. I plant flowers there all year round. Impatiens and Cyclamen have thrived here. But I have had several wilting and even dead plants. Right now I have some nonflowering plants that love it there interspersed with flowers, but the flowers aren’t doing too well, even with all new potting soil. The colorful foliage is sprouting up, implying its roots are liking the setting and soil. One lone impatiens shriveled up, leaves limp and the flowers dead. When I pulled it out, the roots were barely there. We all know I need some gardening lessons, from our garden committee. But the point is a plant needs a strong root system to survive and thrive.
Jesus knows this too. He takes the familiar and life-giving task of growing plants from seeds and creates an analogy for how we are as Christians. How well the Word of God is rooted in us, rooted in our hearts, that is what Jesus is talking about. Before we go there, I need to pause for a moment on the Sower. At first it seemed a little odd that since God is the sower, why were so many seeds going to places not fit for growing: hard path, weeds, rocky soil. It didn’t make sense. I believe nothing is wasted in God’s kingdom, so I did not understand this. Until one commentator reminded me, now us, that our God is an extravagant God. Our God abundantly shares the good news, the love of Christ for all people, with those who are hard hearted and those who are fertile and ready for the Word. God sees the value of every person, casts the seeds as if all were potentially good soil. God is so generous and loving that the seed of good news is offered to the outcast, people of other faiths, even those who have heard the good news, those planted in the cultivated garden of church. God keeps planting seeds in your heart.
Jesus is speaking to us, about our hearts and how well rooted the Spirit is within us. Are we rooted in God’s word? Does God’s Word give stability and endurance to our lives even in times of trouble? Our hearts are the soil and in this parable there are four types of hearts: The Stoney Heart, the Shallow Heart, the Strangled Heart and the Surrendered Heart.
Stoney Heart– With a Stoney heart we are closed off to all that is from God. The Spirit might whisper in our ear seeking to plant a seed, but we discount that. Our hearts have been hardened by any number of things, a broken relationship, old wounds, unanswered prayers. We have decided God and the Holy are not for us. Our walls are up and our hearts are hard. In a Stoney heart, the seed of God’s love gets gobbled up before it even has a chance to settle in.
Shallow Heart– A shallow heart is one that is always distracted by things, consumed by busyness, but has no root in God. This is the heart which has enthusiasm without commitment. The story is told of a man who loved revivals, even though his faith was not very deep. So when it was time for a revival meeting in his town he was the first one there. During the alter call he would come forward and say the same prayer, “Fill me up Lord, fill me up.” This had happened so many times, but his life never seemed to change. Every revival, he would follow this same ritual. He would be the first one to the altar and he would pray, “Fill me up, Lord Jesus, fill me up.” Finally, one of the women who knew this character quite well, couldn’t stand it any longer. The next time he knelt praying that same empty prayer, “Fill me up, Lord Jesus, fill me up,” she stood up and prayed loudly, “Don’t do it, Lord. He leaks!”
That’s what Jesus meant by The Shallow Heart. It’s the soil of the soul and of the heart that is so shallow the seed really doesn’t take root but is scorched in the light of everyday living and the regular trials and tribulations of faith. It’s scorched and withers and dies quickly (Billy Strayhorn).
Strangled Heart– Then there is the Strangled heart- Now this heart may have grown roots, settled in with a developing faith, but then the cares of the world start to choke out God’s word. The heart is overwhelmed by the weeds of worry and pursuit of material gains. Faith can be overcome by the keeping up with the Jones, or longing for the next big thing. The strangled heart is lost in all the weeds of distraction and wealth growing up around it. So much so, the strangled yields nothing.
Surrendered Heart -Finally there is the Surrendered Heart. Joy and courage abide in this heart. The seeds of faith are thriving in the good soil of listening and hope. In this heart God comes first, the Spirit naturally soars, because life in Christ has found its place in your heart. The seeds in a surrendered heart bear fruit, and rejoice in the new life we have in Christ. The dark clouds of sin and death are no longer a tyrant because God’s seeds have taken root. Jesus lives in you and abides in your heart. You are in the Spirit, because the Spirit of God dwells in you. It taken root in your heart.
Dr. Keith Wagner, of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Sidney, Ohio tells the story of a small boy in Florida some years ago. It seems he heard that the Russians were our enemies. He began to wonder about the Russian children, finding it hard to believe that they were his enemies. He wrote a short note: “Dear comrade in Russia. I am seven years old and I believe that we can live in peace. I want to be your friend, not your enemy. Will you become my friend and write to me?”
He closed the letter, “Love and Peace” and signed his name. He then neatly folded the note, put it into an empty bottle, and threw it into an inland lake near his home. Several days later, the bottle and note were retrieved on a nearby beach. A story about the note appeared in a local newspaper and the media picked it up nationwide. A group of people from New Hampshire who were taking children to the Soviet Union as ambassadors of peace, read the article, contacted the boy and his family. They invited them to accompany the group to Russia. So, the little boy and his father traveled to Russia as peacemakers (God’s Little Lessons on Life for Mom, Honor Books).
That little boy made a difference, and his actions bore fruit.
Seeds can grow into very big things especially if they find their way to surrendered soil, a heart ready for God’s word to take root. But remember, our extravagant God will always share the seed of Good News with you. If your heart has been less than surrendered, know in this moment you can ask God to come into your life anew, and to take root in your heart. Then you will know the freedom of life and the joy of faith as you walk with Jesus each and every day. Amen.