Sermon from Sunday 16th July from Phil Horscroft

Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23. Parable of the soils.

Merciful God, we thank you for your many blessings and this opportunity to meet together for worship, study and praise.  May my words be acceptable in your sight and fruitful for those who have ears to hear. Amen.

The Gospel reading today is the parable of the soils.  Not the parable of the sower; not the parable of the seeds. The parable of the soils.  We hear how when the sower broadcasts the seeds some will fall on the pathway and be eaten by the birds.  Some will fall on the stony soils and sprout quickly with shallow roots and wither away just as quickly.  Some will fall on thorny, weed strewn, soil and be choked by the weeds and thorns and die away. Some will fall on the fertile, ploughed soil and produce thirty, sixty a hundred-fold crops.   

Now the apostles considered this parable so important that they included it in all three of the synoptic Gospels.  But important to who?  I firmly believe it is vitally important not to those we proclaim the Gospel to, but to those who proclaim the Gospel.  Our Lord Jesus gave this parable not to those who listen to the sermons but to those who preach the sermons.  This parable is for us as the church,  the sowers of the seed, which is the Gospel, the word of God. 

The evangelists, the preachers, the believers are the sowers and the seed is the Word of God, which most of us at least try to preach and live. In this parable our Lord Jesus is telling us it is not going to be easy.  It is going to be a hard, long slog; and it is going to be dispiriting and  discouraging at times.  Even our Lord Jesus who preached to thousands and performed miracle after miracle after miracle in front of everybody only saw a very few real converts.  Why should we expect to do any better?  Only a very few will even stop to listen.  Even fewer will come back to listen again.  Even fewer will still be there years later.  Or at least that is how it can seem to those of us who have accepted our Lord Jesus into their hearts and lives and strive to follow the last great commission of our Lord Jesus to preach the gospel to the nations. 

Now we all want to be good at the tasks we choose to do and the biggest mistake we can make when we preach the Gospel is to forget God the Holy Spirit is also at work in the process.  In fact the process won’t work at all without God.  We sow the seed but God prepares the soil. Our lord Jesus has told us in John 6:65 “No-one can come to me unless the father has enabled them.”  Without the soil what can we do with the seed except consume it? 

Once you allow yourself to become dispirited with your results you can, and often we do, start to look around for some device that will improve our yield.  Because the greatest peril preachers face is the trap of believing that it is all down to them.  It is all dependent upon what we say and how we say it; what we wear; how good a show we can put on.  If we are not disciplined if we are not careful we can fall into the trap of asking ourselves questions like “maybe we need to change our approach, or maybe we need to change the way we tell the story or just stick to the touchy feely make you happy interpretations of the Gospel.”  Consumer Christianity.  This is why we see so many so-called churches today going down the showbusiness route, with the emotional sermons and the mood music cleverly timed for impact.  The attitude that ‘we’ve got to hook them in’.  If we can get them hooked then we can keep our numbers up.  because it’s all about numbers; right?  Because if we don’t have the numbers we don’t have the collections and if we don’t have the collections then we can’t buy that lear jet.  A short journey from there to we can’t make our parish share? Hopefully never for us.  The Lord our God does not count heads.  The Lord our God reads hearts.

But our Lord Jesus is also telling us that the seed that falls on the fertile soils will produce thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold increase.  Because those who do endure, endure because the Holy Spirit is within them.  They live the Gospel.  And people see them live the Gospel; and for every hundred people who see them live the Gospel one or two will maybe take that first terrifying step back towards The Lord our God.  Their family will live a better life because they’ve seen that example and like what they see.  Their friends will maybe tone down the swearing because you are living the Gospel in front of them every day; or at least in my case trying to, not very successfully.  Let those who have ears to listen, hear; and those who have eyes to watch, see.

Our Lord Jesus gave us this lesson, this parable, because He is warning us to never, never, never forget; it’s not about the sower.  The sower is mentioned just once in this parable.  It is and always will be about the seed and the soil.  And the seed is given freely and the soil is prepared and ploughed  by the Lord our God. 

We can tie you down in a pew and preach like Billy Graham at you all day.  If you are not called by the Lord our God through our Lord Jesus then you won’t, you can’t listen.  You cannot listen because you are not called.  Not yet.  Maybe not ever.  If you have hardened your heart or if the Lord our God has hardened your heart as He did the Pharoah’s heart then you may never be anything but stony ground.

We can change the seed and even maybe have a bumper crop.  But it won’t be the bread of life which is our Lord Jesus living in our heart.  It will almost certainly be a bread that leads to something like gluten intolerance or living in love and faith but not in Christ, never in Christ if we change the seed, if we change the message; if we stop proclaiming the true Gospel and switch to proclaiming what we think people want to hear instead.

Any church which fails to understand this parable is doomed to destruction in the eyes of The Lord; to slowly crumble away or fall disastrously in one terrible cataclysm.  Any church which fails to remember the lesson in this parable may well be tempted to put themselves before the Lord our God and substitute policy for prayer;  key performance indicators for the Holy Spirit; relevance within the world for acceptance in the eyes of the Lord our God. 

Our task, our single solitary task, is to preach the Gospel of our lord Jesus.  We must do it to the best of our ability and trust in the Lord our God for the results.  No-one comes to our Lord Jesus unless The Father has enabled them.  The Father.  Not us.  Our job is not to be relevant to the world today.  To go down that path is to abandon our responsibilities given us by The Lord our God through His one and only Son our Lord Jesus and eventually we become nothing more than social workers, despised by the world and quite rightly.  Remember the questions at your baptism.

Do you turn to Christ?
Do you repent of your sins?
Do you renounce evil?

When you turn to Christ you turn away from the world, you turn your back on the world, because you cannot serve two masters as our Lord Jesus has warned us in Matthew 6:24. 

It’s all about the seed and the soil and that is the responsibility and the task of the Lord our God through our Lord Jesus.  We have the seed, the Gospel, as the gift of life from the Lord our God through our Lord Jesus and we all have the task of sowing the seed each to the best of our own individual abilities and energies.  But the abundance of the crop from the seed sewn is the Lord our God’s work.  He prepares the soil.  The pathway,  the stony soil, the thorny soil, these are those not called by the Lord our God.  The fertile soil is those called by the Lord our God because it is their time.  Without the soil we have nothing; we can do nothing.  I don’t believe that The Lord our God counts heads.  I believe he reads hearts.  I believe that when we start to count heads and worry about the money it can be a short step to putting the Lord our God into second place behind the worries of the day.  Remember the words of our Lord Jesus in Luke 12.  Do not worry, have faith.  Faith in the Lord our God.  Not faith in mission statements or 5-year plans or what liturgy shall we use.  Faith in the Lord our God.  We just need to sew the seed the Lord our God has freely given us onto the pathway, onto the stony ground, onto the thorny ground and onto the fertile soil; never really knowing which is which; knowing that we will almost certainly never get to count the crop; because most of it grows where we cannot see.  We just need to have faith that it will, and be content that we did our part to the best of our ability and energy.

Someone should perhaps remind the house of bishops of this. Before they lead the church completely into apostasy. But remember this, it is our church, not theirs.  Sooner or later there may come a time when you are forced to consider your options, leave the church or fight for it.   Choose wisely. I cannot guarantee they will listen, because the cares and worries and ambitions of the world must be overwhelming when they get between the bishop and the Lord our God.  They must be overwhelming for anyone who lets them get between us and the Lord our God.  So don’t let them.  Remember the parable of the soil.  Preach the Gospel, listen to the Gospel, study the Gospel, live the Gospel and the Lord our God will do the rest.  Without faith If you dare.  Without daring if you have faith.  Amen.

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