- The Rev. Frank St. Amour, III
Sermon - 6 Pentecost
In the Name…
The farmer's son was on his way back from the market with the crate of chickens his father had entrusted to him, when the crate fell and broke open. Chickens scurried off in all directions, but the determined boy ran all over the place scooping up as many as he could. When he got home, the boy confessed sadly, “Pa, the chickens got loose, and I only managed to find twelve of them." "Well, you did real good, son," the farmer beamed, "because you only left with seven."
The story that Jesus tells about the sower and the seed is one of the best-known parables of the New Testament. And, through this story Jesus tells us of the importance not only of preaching the Word of God but also of hearing it. In fact, so important is this message of the parable that it is one of the few where Jesus himself provides the meaning. So, that marks this one out as being a bit special.
In this parable, the seed is the Word of God and the different kinds of ground or soil that it falls on are different ways people receive it when they hear it preached, read or when they study it for themselves. The farmer did his best. The seed was good seed. But, the results varied.
Some landed on hard ground and was immediately snatched away. Some withered and died because it could not take root. Some was choked by thorns. And, some fell in good soil and produced a rich harvest.
And, it really all depended, not upon the sower or the seed, but on the reception the seed got. So, the speaking of God's Word, and the hearing of it are, in fact, one activity.
You see, effective preaching is not a one-sided affair. I can only do so much to prepare and present a sermon. But, effective preaching also involves effective hearing. And, that's where you come in. A preacher can preach until he is blue in the face, but if no one is tuned in then the impact will be minimal. The Holy Spirit can even speak to us in the Scriptures as they are being read to us from the lectern or as we read them ourselves in our devotional time, but if we are not tuned in, then not even the Holy Spirit will have much impact, either. So, what can we do to be good listeners?
In the first place, a good listener arrives expecting to hear something. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, I go to a seminar or a conference and I expect to hear something on a particular topic and take away something useful. I arrive expecting to learn. So, how many of us got up today and thought: What will God want me to get out of today’s Scripture lessons? Or, what will God say to me today through the sermon?
Of course, we come to church with all sorts of things on our minds. One Sunday, a minister began to preach a sermon on which he had worked very hard all week to prepare. As soon as he read the opening Scripture, he noticed a woman in the second row started to weep. The more he got into the sermon, the woman's weeping increased, so, after his dramatic and stirring conclusion, he asked her to come forward for what he was sure would be a powerful testimony. "Sister" he said, "what was it in the message that so moved your heart today?” The woman hesitated, but the minister insisted, so, she reluctantly said, “Well, Pastor, that Scripture you read was my late mother's favourite and all I could think of was how much I miss her. I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I didn't pay attention to anything you said."
But, for all that, the Bible readings and the sermon are God's Word for you this day. It may be dressed in human presentation, human examples, and even human error. I mean I might……I might get the pages out of order, but nevertheless, there is something in what I’ve written for you. And, what that is will be different for every person. So, you never know what you might miss. Because good listening means allowing you to say to yourself as you hear it. "God is speaking to me." And, that’s quite a thought.
Of course, sometimes if we hear something we’re not sure we want to hear we can switch off or start to apply the message to someone else whom we hope is really paying attention to what’s being said.
But, if we do, then the Word isn't able to establish any roots in us. To go back to the parable, what God has to say bounces off the hard soil of our routines and preconceptions or goes in one ear and out the other or sounds really good and worthwhile if we can only find the time among all the other things going on in our lives.
But, to listen to God's Word and absorb it only as an interesting piece of information doesn’t acknowledge the power of that Word to change lives. Because when God speaks, things change. When we hear a message from God to us we cannot but be affected and respond in ways that will bring glory to God.
Now, this kind of listening is not an easy thing. Paul knew this when he wrote to the Romans about the need to “set the mind on the Spirit”, as he put it. And, it takes practice. Continually, daily, there is never an end to listening to God's Word and reapplying it to our lives. It doesn't matter what age we are, or how often we may have heard something. It’s happened to me. I’ve thought I knew what some passage of Scripture meant and then discovered it meant that, yes, but it also meant something more, as well. So, listening and applying is an ongoing vital part of our Christian life.
The Word of God really is like a seed. It has miraculous power within it. The power of the Spirit of God, and given the right soil it will bear fruit.
There’s always more in it and we always end up with more than we started.
In the Name…