"In Truth, Not Everyone Gets It"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - July 13, 2008
Romans 8:1-8; Matthew 13: 1-13
John said, “I was
standing in front of the class and was watching my students. Two of them
had a microscope out of the cabinet and were taking it apart. Another
student had his hand in the aquarium chasing the fish. I developed a
knot in my stomach and asked myself, ‘What am I doing here? No matter
what I do, these kids are not getting what I so badly want to teach
them.’” John was an excellent teacher but he grew discouraged when he
perceived that he was in a room filled with students that were immature
and bored with a subject they were required to take for graduation.
In our lesson today Jesus told the parable of the sower to illustrate to his listeners the reasons why people would not understand his message about the Kingdom of God. A most intriguing aspect of this parable is that Jesus’ disciples did not understand its meaning. Later in the chapter, they came to Jesus and asked him to explain it.
Go back in time for a moment and pretend that you are part of the crowd listening to Jesus teaching from a boat. Jesus is explaining that there is a level of awareness everyone can achieve that will change everything about them, e.g., their perception, values, motivation and character development. In fact, this awareness is the most important piece of information anyone can learn.
While Jesus was explaining this new orientation toward processing and interpreting life’s events, he illustrated his point by telling about a person sowing seed. Some seed was sown on a path where the birds ate it. Some fell on rocky soil. It sprouted but died during the heat of the day because the roots were too shallow. Other seed fell among thorn bushes and when the seeds sprouted, the tender plants were choked. Other seed fell on good soil and they grew and produced countless bushels.
In those days, would you have any idea what Jesus was talking about? Obviously the disciples had difficulty trying to absorb such an abstract concept. They asked Jesus, “Why do you tell such stories?” Jesus responded, “The reason I use parables in my teaching is that people look but do not see, and they listen but do not hear or understand.” A remarkable characteristic about Jesus was that he knew that few people would understand his message but he went on teaching anyway. He understood that humanity would respond only to the world they knew since birth.
Our family was vacationing in the northeast part of our country. I misread a sign and got off the interstate at an incorrect exit. We needed fuel so I kept driving until I found an independent station that always has gasoline priced a little lower than Shell, Texaco or Exxon. Even in those days we shopped for the cheapest gasoline we could find. We entered a community that greeted us with a sign, “Welcome to Cementon. We make 3/4ths of the world’s concrete.”
While I was filling my tank, I asked one of the station attendants, “How many of the young people living in Cementon leave their roots to seek their fortunes elsewhere?” He said, “I really can’t say but I don’t know anyone who has. Most of the kids grow up here and follow their parents into the industry that put Cementon on the map. They marry and settle down right here. They have no idea what lies beyond the boundaries of our community and I dare say that most of them don’t care to know. We have everything we need right here.”
The entire planet may be like Cementon for many people. The physical world is all they know. They date, become engaged and marry. They get jobs, set up housekeeping, have their 2.6 children, go through all the trials and tribulations of rearing a family, try to save money for retirement, retire and grow older. Many people face their sunset years having never asked themselves, “Why did my life unfold as it did? What was the purpose of it? What was I suppose to do with my life? What could I have done differently if I knew in the beginning what I know now?”
Today, with the help of so many other disciplines, many of us have learned that there is another world that we cannot see that will change us completely once we understand it. In Jesus day, there was no psychology, no study of spiritual principles, no understanding of how attitudes and thoughts can influence our health. Today, we know what Jesus was illustrating with his stories, lessons and knowledge of the Kingdom of God.
Everyone of us has experienced moments when we made poor choices, when we over-reacted, when our attitudes wanted justice in the form of revenge or when we allowed one monumental disappointment to bind our identities to some event in our past. What liberates us is that today we know we do not have to remain a prisoner of such things. We can shatter those cocoons.
God creates an infinite number of opportunities designed to inspire us to make that journey inward, to stretch beyond where we are and to create more wholesome thought patterns as we respond to life’s circumstances. Today we are aware of the larger world that so many others cannot see. That is what has made the difference for us. In Jesus day he was the only Jew who understood the bigger picture.
One time I received a letter from a mother describing grave concern for her son, a young man who had been in my youth group some years before. Her son was planning to drop out of Alleghany College and she was asking me to encourage him to reconsider. Her son and I had several letter exchanges. Nothing I wrote, however, made any difference. He dropped out of college. He confided that he was bored beyond comprehension and was restless to get started with his life. His parents were devastated. They thought, “What will happen to him without a college education? What could we have done differently?”
Glenn did not have a plan when he quit college. He became a salesman for a company called, Hunsa Products, a large supplier of auto parts for foreign cars. He became the lead sales representative for the company. As Glenn’s paychecks grew larger and larger, the owner of the company took more of a percentage from them.
Glenn responded by doing the unthinkable. Instead of becoming angry, Glenn contacted an attorney who drew up the necessary documents, he secured a loan and he bought the company. Today Glenn owns Olympic Auto Parts, a company that currently has four locations in Greenbelt, Crofton, Germantown and Baltimore. I know Glenn very well and he has a remarkably developed inner world. He learned to access his gifts and discovered that he could grow a company without being afraid of failure.
There is little difference between the inner world of Glenn and that of a composer of magnificent music, a poet who finds inspiration in the rainbow that followed a violent storm, an inventor that is currently working on improving battery technology so cars will no longer depend on gasoline, or an author who creates words that enable others to navigate the maze of life with confidence that God has given us everything we need to stretch to and express our potential. It does not matter what form that potential assumes. The expression of loving energy has many forms. What is important is the developed spirit from which we create.
Being disciples of Jesus Christ, we have a need to associate spiritual growth with Christianity, church attendance, knowledge of the Scriptures and the presence of trained clergy. In reality, we have no idea what God has in mind with people who have discovered their spiritual identity. They can be found all over the planet in every culture and in every religion. We think too small when we confine God’s activity to what we consider critical sacred formulas that must be observed and applied to our lives.
If we still cannot grasp the significance of what Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God, what are we to do? I honestly believe that the disciples did not fully understand Jesus message until he was crucified and they experienced his resurrection. At that moment, they had an experience that no one could take away from them. That moment made quality soil out of their lives and their seeds sprouted and bore fruit. They got it! They now understood. All the pieces from Jesus’ teaching suddenly fit together for them. They understood that they were eternal beings who would go on once they leave their solid forms.
We have all had moments when consistently living our faith was a challenge because our hormones were out of balance, we experienced six or seven reversals that hurled themselves at us in rapid succession or we faced enormous disappointments. We could not measure up to displaying the patient responses of which we knew we were capable. Where do we fit into this parable of Jesus? Are we really condemned to remaining in one type of soil for the rest of our lives?
The answer that Jesus provided came when he supplied the interpretation of his parable to his disciples. This was his answer, “The seeds sown in the good soil describe those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as one hundred bushels, others sixty and others thirty.” (13:23)
Notice that the various qualities of soil were descriptions of what happens to people when life’s challenges came in their direction. The key to anyone’s spiritual growth, their escape from the confining cocoons of their learned responses was not only hearing the message but they got it, i.e., they understood the significance of it.
Once we have one of those “aha!” defining moments, it is like a fog lifts, or we wake up, or we understand why it was not life that was frustrating us, it was our responses to our experiences that sent us out of control.
A friend of mine had one of those “aha” moments. Each time he grew angry with someone, he finally understood what was happening to him. He was quite literally handing the control of his life to someone else each time his wrath was evoked. He said, “Dick, I can now drive my car in total peace even though there are more aggressive drivers on the road than at any other time in my life. They no longer get to me. If they want to drive 90 miles an hour while recklessly weaving in and out of traffic, they can do so. I have let go of my outrage.” What a victory! How liberating for him!
A woman who was experiencing a stale marriage was given insight by a counselor to forget looking at her husband or her marriage as the source of what was stale. The counselor said, “Go to the gym, enroll in a ceramics class, join the Knit Wits or accept additional responsibilities in your church that force you to use your talents. The problem is not your husband! Stop giving him the unfair assignment of making you happy. Find something that you enjoy doing and your marriage will be fine because of what you will bring to it.” In other words, she had to become the soil that could grow the crop she wanted.
According to Jesus, we do not have to be super humans. All we have to achieve is the understanding that there is more here than just our physical world. Some of us will achieve a crop of 100 bushels. Others of us will struggle a little bit more and only produce 60 bushes. Still others who get it will only be able to produce 30 bushels.
Jesus was not talking about being saved or being lost when he was encouraging his listeners from a boat. He knew that people backslide just as he did from time to time. The biggest lesson in life was learning that God has a bigger plan for all people than what most people would be able to grasp.
The hope for our success comes at the point when we achieve understanding. When we grow our spirits from this orientation toward life, we do not have to achieve sainthood. Jesus said, “Some will produce 100 bushes, some 60 and some 30.” I dare say that some could yield 10 bushels.
What matters is that what we create makes the lives of others a little easier to live because we are on the planet right now. Jesus was teaching what very few people in his day could understand. We are glad that he kept on teaching in spite of addressing audiences who could not see or hear.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Merciful God, we thank you for your presence in our world, even when
our senses are focused elsewhere. Your love inspires our thoughtfulness
toward others in need. Your love instills confidence while we stand in
the midst of challenges. Your love enables us to recognize the angel in
friends who may not appear as such to others. Your love frees our
spirits from attitudes that would dull what you created us to be. Your
love invites us to live in eternity now. Your love motivates us to sow
seeds of encouragement, compassion and support in the gardens of
other people’s lives. Enable us to brighten the world where we are by
what we do, instead of placing the responsibility for changes on you.
We thank you that we have the opportunity to be participants in the
unfolding of your will in our world. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Merciful and always loving God, we thank you for the abundance of your presence each time we gather as a community of faith. There are times when life overwhelms us. There are moments when our spiritual cups need filling. Yet, there are other times when our lives are filled with gratitude for our families, our relationships, the abundance of our personal freedoms and the smiles of children. We are grateful for our ability to make choices that allow forgiveness to flow freely. We are grateful for our ability to be of service to others. There is nothing more fulfilling than when we perform deeds in secret that make the experiences of others a little brighter. You have blessed us with planet Earth that has everything we need to build beautiful lives. Sometimes we miss thanking you for what we have.
Open our eyes to how truth was slowly dawning in human history through a baby born in a stable and by verbal seeds sown by the carpenter that baby grew up to be. Even though many of his listeners were mystified by what they saw and heard, they knew enough to pass on the stories of the Master until the moment they reached our ears and help to shape our lives. We may never see your creative brush stokes as they are taking place. We can only view them through hindsight with the eyes of faith. Help us understand, O God, that we only keep what we give away. Help us step out during the darkest periods of our lives knowing that you created us to be the light that illuminates the path for others.
Thank you for guiding us to be at St. Matthew’s during this time of our lives. Together and individually, enable our fellowship to become like a magnet that attracts others who want more out of life than what they now understand. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . . .