“Let us Hear!”
Matthew 13:1-9, July 12th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith
“Hear now these ancient and holy words, attributed to the teachings of Jesus, as recorded in the gospel according to Matthew , chapter thirteen, verse one thru nine.”
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
“Having listened with our ears, let us now open our hearts as we seek to put the context of this lesson into the fulness of our life here in the Twenty-First Century.”
“Let us Hear!”
There are so many ways to interpret and speak of this parable. Yet, its key is in the hearing… through our listening. It is our ears that are the mechanism, miraculous as it is, to perceive sounds. However, it is our brains that take those sounds and connect them to a process by which we can perceive what the sounds meaning is all about. For the ancient ones who heard the words of Jesus – they had to rely on their intellect to convert the Aramaic words of Jesus, which he sometimes spoke – into their native tongues, their native language. Thankfully, Jesus spoke in a more common version of Hebrew much of the time. Either way, hearing and interpreting the words spoken is only the beginning of understanding what our speaker, Jesus, was seeking to communicate. Our scripture reading continues into a dialogue of Jesus’ telling the disciples more of what his intended meaning was regarding this parable. When you get home today read the next fourteen verses. It will broaden our discussion and prayerfully your understanding of it.
Before you, me, or anyone can explore more deeply the meaning of what is being said we must open-up the true channels of the area of listening. For if you only hear with your ears, much of the meaning will drop from your sight and thus you will miss a great deal of any conversation. Many years ago, I was working for a large high-tech firm. I was hired as a professional salesperson. Thirty of us were hired. We were to be trained in the art of selling via telephone to large corporations. We were selling one of the best personal computers available at the time; technically speaking. In the process we learned many things about the art of listening.
We did not have Zoom technology or anything close to it. When we were on the telephone, we could not see the person we were speaking to. The first thing we learned is that when one only has the ability to hear and not see, touch or even smell the surroundings nor the individual we were speaking to, at least seventy to seventy-five percent of the conversation was lost. This put a great deal of stress on truly listening to the words, the sounds coming out of the phone and especially the tones being used and such which we heard and we ourselves spoke! The folks who listened to Jesus firsthand, did not have this handicap, unless they were blind. And yes, there were blind folks that did hear Jesus’ words. They, like ourselves, needed to rely on other sensory clues to gain as much as they and we can from ‘just’ the words that are spoken. Yet, even the blind that heard Jesus’ words were able to get more than we can by just having someone ‘read’ the words of Jesus to us.
When we listen to someone speak, in person, we can see their facial expressions and their body language. Much can be gained through simple observation. The scripture tells us that “Jesus went out and sat by the Sea.” /Matthew 13:1/ Already we get a sense of the setting. Just like when you or I go sit by the waterways or the ocean near our homes, it sets a tone which alters the setting, the feelings that come up for us. We then learn that a large crowd had gathered, presumably to hear him speak or perhaps, they pray, he would perform yet another miracle in their sight! Thus, Jesus steps into a boat just offshore and sits there. /Matthew13:2/ It is only then that Jesus begins to speak. Try to envision yourself in the crowd as you twist and turn, straining to hear every word he says. Perhaps you notice how peaceful he is sitting there just off the shoreline of the sea. Can you feel and see the intoxicating charismatic rhythm of his words, as he speaks using his whole body, his gestures, and the articulation of his words to put across his message, through a simple parable?
With these thoughts in mind, let us consider the words that have survived several centuries of oral tradition, and the process of translation, and all the shortcomings that come with poor technologies, and over worked scribes whom had to keep rewriting, over and over again, the oral traditions of the words spoken by Jesus. You see, much is missing as we listen to these words in our native language of English, as we now seek to ‘truly’ hear what it was which Jesus was speaking so long, long ago. Can you hear Jesus beginning the story? Did he raise up his hands and say: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” /Matthew 13:3b/ Back then, perhaps not now, everyone knew what was meant by a sower. It was someone who was going to scatter seed on the ground. A farmer of sorts to be sure.
We know a bit about farming do we not? My maternal grandfather was a farmer. I remember seeing corn being planted. The seeds were prepared for planting. The ground was cultivated and fertilized. The fertile soil was made ready to help the new seeds as the process began. Of course, a crucial step was in how the seed were prepared and then actually placed in a small mound – three in each spot. Very intense meticulous work. The sower in our parable today, seemed much more cavalier about how the seed was scattered. (I cannot imagine my grandfather asking someone to ‘scatter’ seed in the corn field! What a mess that would have been! How would you be able to systematically get between the rows of corn to keep the weeds down, to care for the growing corn in every way! Then of course the harvesting, by hand, of each ear of corn.) Surely, Jesus and others knew there is a right way and a wrong way to plant seeds!
If we could only have been there to observe Jesus as he spoke! Surely, his body language, his gestures or the lack there of would add to the message he was delivering. Thus, we can take many different approaches to his words, as we are missing so very much of his intended conversation. If we sow seeds in a careless or inconsiderate way, there are certainly going to be problems with the ensuing crop. Which seems to be what Jesus is describing. Some here and there, on the hard dry dirt, others in the thorns and weeds and still others were eaten by the birds; leaving only a fraction of the intended crop, to be planted in fertile soil, where they were able to take root and grow. Producing a fine crop! What kind of sower or farmer do you want to be?
Jesus ultimately had a parallel meaning to his lesson thus these stories were called parables! He knew folks would get the meaning of the story. That if you are not meticulous about how you cultivate a growth opportunity, there shall not be a prosperous harvest at the end of the season. In the follow-up verses, which I referenced earlier, Jesus speaks of the need to use the teachings, the word of ‘God’ to grow our faith. There are so many ways we need to be diligent about how to cultivate our faith. Together, we have and we shall continue to discuss good and solid ways to ensure we are on fertile soil – as we seek to expand our relationship with God and ultimately follow in the footprints of Christ. Bearing much fruit as we continue to endeavor to grow our outreach ministry to others. These are the fundamentals of Christianity. Yet, there is still more we can learn from our parable.
Expanding the possibilities regarding how we sow our words, deeds, and actions with others; let us talk about how we interact with those we are in contact with. Can we strive to be more considerate in how we work, connect, and relate with one another? Sure – we can! There is always room for improvement. The clearer we are with each other, when trying to communicate, the more likely we will interact smoother and with increased clarity about what we are striving to say. Learning to take advantage of that ‘other seventy to seventy-five percent’ of the conversations we engage in – is key to enhancing these interactions. Having been quarantined for a period we probably now have better telephone and Zoom skills that we are practicing on a virtual and daily basis. Consequently, as we begin to slowly interact with others more personally, even with proper social distancing, we will need to retrain ourselves to watch for the other pieces of the conversations that are lost in these other ‘virtual’ realities!
Consider how important it is for us to listen with all our senses, especially when we try to discuss politics or current events with family and friends. I would urge all of us to practice at home. It is amazing the things you can learn when you try to listen for “all” of the conversation. If your spouse, sister, or perhaps you daughter or son, is raising his or her voice as the discussion continues ‘or’ they are getting red in the face; you may want to back off a bit on the point or the stance you are taking. Try listening to their point of view. It is astonishing to experience what can be learned when this technique is used. It is easy to see where we are different in our conversations. The trick is to see where there is common ground, upon which we can begin to build a platform or bridge, to discuss the other points which are so critical as we seek to connect more ‘completely’ with others!
Consider also, the analogy of the farmer. Every farmer knows that at the start of every season we get a chance to ‘start over’ and replant new seeds. With this in mind: every time we seek to sow our message, spread our truth to another person, whether our seeds take root or not, we will always have the opportunity to reconnect, or replant what may not have germinated and taken hold – during a preceding opportunity. Each time a farmer seeds his or her field for this year’s crop, they are practicing their skill, striving to improve upon what was previously done. We too can redo, as we retry to communicate with others, and every time we do, we shall be learning new ways to better communicate. Think of all the miscommunications that are currently taking place in our society. Consider the vast opportunities available for so many of us – to reconnect, and perhaps correct the mistakes of our last efforts and begin again as we seek to effectively communicate with one another.
What works in our relationship with God, will also work in our efforts to connect with others. The ‘word’ of God as we interpret it from these ancient scriptures is not always accepted by those that hear it. However, those that are seeking to hear and listen to what is spoken through the scriptures, they shall grow in faith and bear fruit! Likewise, as we seek solutions to real issues in our communities and society, it is crucial that we make authentic efforts to hear each other. In so doing, let us seek to be willing listens, striving to grow in our understandings of what others are trying to say.