PLANTING GOSPEL SEEDS
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23
My premise today is that most of us, at one time or another, have had gospel seeds planted in our souls. I know of several people who still come up to me quoting a sermon I offered years ago, and that changed their life. Gospel seeds were planted. In my case, the pastor who baptized me also presided at my Ordination and at our wedding. He planted Gospel seeds with his good counsel. Can you think of a preacher who planted Gospel seeds in you, whether a TV preacher or one in your church pulpit week after week? Others like youth pastors and leaders plant gospels seeds too. If you heard the testimonies of our missionaries who came back from Ashville, North Carolina in June, you heard Gospel testimonies being preached. Our daughter Jenny heard Gospel seeds all her life, but she said youth retreats and summer camps gave her some of the most transformational times that she both received and shared with youth. Can you think back to a summer camp where leaders, or singers with a guitar, or other campers not only changed your life for the better, but changed the trajectory of your life? We have camp scholarships to help young people take advantage of such summer experiences. Starting in a week, we will hold Vacation Bible School again. We put money, sweat, and time, into one week a year because we hope to plant some Gospel seeds in the souls of our children and the children who come from all over. Next week we’ll have children from as far away as Deland, and even Douglasville Georgia who will be hearing the gospel stories, seeing them acted out, and learning faith songs. Who knows where those seeds will spread if participants go home and tell others what they have learned? And you might have noticed I sing in our choir. I joined my church choir when I was in second grade. Gospel seeds from the hearts of hymn and anthem writers largely have shaped my theology. Choir has given me a sense of belonging through all my years, and a sense of contributing my gifts.
If you are not a Christian, you may not have had Gospel seeds planted in you yet; or perhaps they are there and just need to be watered! Today we hope to tend the soil of your soul with the message, music, hospitality, and good examples of disciples. If you are a Christian, I hope you are thinking back to the time, or times, when something, or someone, introduced you to Jesus; or people who encouraged you to take the next steps, like taking Disciple classes of helping in missions. Some have big changes in their lives when they learn about Jesus, like those who’ve attended a Billy Graham Crusade. But others, like Cara, grew up knowing Jesus since both of her parents are pastors. She went to seminary thinking that she would go on to get a PhD for teaching and studying comparative religions. But on her way to her goal, her presbytery required her to have field education experiences in churches. It was in her field ed. experiences, that she thought were just requirement hoops to jump through, that she was led to see pastoral ministry as her calling. Likewise with our daughter Jenny who planned to be a youth leader, she was required by our presbytery to do one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. She chose a hospital setting. And her Gospel seeds grew so that she is now Chaplain and Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor at Tampa General Hospital. God is always planting seeds. We are asked to be the sower of seeds. Why don’t they all grow?
That’s where Jesus’ story comes into play. It is not just a story about farming. Jesus, as a storyteller, used what was around him. I imagine that before he started giving this visual lesson, he saw a farmer planting seeds, and he used that illustration to teach his lesson. Unless farmers plant seeds one by one, they cast their seeds called sowing. It is too time consuming to get on one’s knees to plant every seed in the perfect soil. So some seeds fall on the path, the place where the farmer or others walk. It is packed-down earth, and seeds can’t take root there. But birds find them and have a feast. Those seeds produce no good fruit. Other seeds actually fall on rocky places. Again, they cannot take root. Can you imagine the sun baking seeds that have fallen on a driveway or a parking lot, in Florida, or on a stone a stone path in Israel? Israel is about on the same latitude as Florida and it gets hot! Seeds would not stand a chance of surviving. And yes, some flowers I’ve planted around my house have had weeds grow around them. Have you experienced that? Weeds just keep coming back! The man who maintains our church lawn says the unwanted things that grow are often called invasive; they just keep growing back and choking the plants we want to grow! They are persistent and he says some are nearly impossible to kill. Kind of like the devil. The devil wants to get around the tender Gospel seeds God plants in your soul and he wants to choke them; or he wants to take over your soul and make those seeds die. Don’t let that happen! Water any Gospel seeds, whether they were planted by sermons, or music, or mission trips or youth groups, or Sunday School teachers or by unexpected tasks you are asked to do. Being here today will strengthen and nurture the Gospel seeds in you. Helping feed hungry people at Halifax Urban Ministries can do it. Planting new seeds in children at VBS can do it. Or going into the world always thinking “What would Jesus Do?” and then trying to model good behavior can do it. The devil can kill Gospel seeds by making you apathetic, or complacent, or by neglectful. Gardens can die from the same lack of care. Tend your Gospel gardens! Marriages die with being tended; bodies deteriorate without proper exercise and diet. Minds turn to mush without stimulation. Be sure you are not turning your soul over to the devil to tend your Gospel garden, or that garden will surely wither and die. Evil, like a cancer, thrives on death. Cancer cries “victory” when life is extinguished! Do not let your soul get into that precarious position! Pray! Live with purpose! And join me in always spreading Gospel seeds.
So we get to the crux of Jesus’ message: “Some seeds fell on good soil, and brought forth grain, some a hundred fold, some sixty, and some thirty.” That’s why we do what we do! That why we can never stop being those good farmers for Christ who are sowing seeds with actions and words! Who knows who sowed the seed of the gospel that grew in the souls of Mother Theresa, or Martin Luther, or Teresa of Avila, or Francis of Assisi? What we do know is that Jesus has left this work up to his disciples: I am one of them; are you? If we don’t keep spreading the gospel seeds, who will carry the torch into the future? On the walls of our fellowship hall are the faces of 129 young people who, over the years, accepted Jesus as their Savior in one of our Confirmation Classes. With many of them, the seeds of the Gospel are growing wherever their high school, college, single, or married life has taken them. Imagine where the Gospel is going! How important this work is!
One final note: as we traveled through Ireland last month, and as I’ve traveled through Europe, I was dismayed to see many beautiful church buildings turned into tourist attractions rather than housing large, active congregations training new disciples! We let secularism, apathy, or complacency kill the Gospel seeds in our souls to our own peril! Jesus taught it! It is still being taught! And Christian farmers—called disciples—are still needed in the fields of the world. Keep spreading the Gospel. And remember: many people have preached the gospel better with their life than with their lips! Both are effective. Let us go into the fields, plant seeds, and bring in the sheaves.
Jeffrey A. Sumner July 16, 2017