“Listen and Learn”
July 23rd, 2017
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Listen now to the words of Jesus as recorded in the gospel according to Mathew, Chapter 13, verses one through nine, then continuing-on with verses eighteen through twenty-three.”
Matthew 13:1-9, 18 -23
13 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!”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
“May God open not only our ears, but our very hearts as we seek out the gem of understanding which Jesus has endeavored to put before us!”
“Listen and Learn”
If I have not preached this sermon to you before, I suspect you have heard one like it! The topic of listening and learning are not new. Some of us do listen to learn while some of us need to learn how to listen before we can learn anything! And most surely, most of us have heard this teaching by Jesus many times. If you have not, you are in for a treat! As this is a fascinating and deeply motivating piece of scripture!
To get started, we need to discuss the ‘in’ and the ‘out’ of listening!
There are many ways to listen and there is so much to learn. If you come to class with this as your central focus, you will leave the classroom filled with the gems your ‘attendance’ and ‘attention’ has offered to you! The fact is: there is an art to listening. Most of us learn how when we are quite young. As we get older a lot of folks learn how to listen with a critical ear. Others just believe everything they hear. That’s a shame too, cause not everyone is worth listening to! Most of you are educated enough or savvy enough to know what I just said is true. Consequently, to truly learn by listening we must first learn how to be a good listener! Are you “in” and want to be a good listener, or are you “out” and are not a listener at all?
Here’s your chance! Listen to this short story. It is a true one, by the way! John had just gotten home from the hospital, and I stopped in to see him and his wife Sarah. When I arrived, John was sitting in an easy chair in the living room. As I was saying hello, Sarah started raising her voice to John, as he was hard of hearing… everyone knew that. He seemed not to hear her and she raised her voice even louder. After a bit, she threw up her arms saying he was just deaf and he was hard to live with, and she stormed off into the kitchen. After she had left I turned to John and in a rather quite voice said to him: “So, John how are you doing? Must be good to be out of the hospital.” He looked me square in the eye and said: “Thank you pastor, and it is good to see you. Thanks for visiting me in the hospital. Although, it was quieter there, I did appreciate your prayers and concern.” Soon after Sarah came back into the room and in very loud voice bellowed to John: “Aren’t you even going to speak to the pastor?” John never even looked up.
True story. So, what do you think? Is John hard of hearing? I sure left their home that day with my doubts. There are several possibilities. Did he just decide to converse with me after his wife left the room? Or, did he choose not to hear her as she constantly nagged at him? What did you hear? Each of us has the ability to hear a conversation with our own understanding of what has been said. I talked with several of my deacons of the church, I was serving, about their encounters with this particular couple. Some said he was deaf and she had to holler at him or he would not hear. We all agreed his wife was very talkative and we sometimes found it hard to get a word in edgewise. Personally, I think John had perfect hearing and chose to block her out from time to time to get some rest!
No matter how you interpreted what you just heard, the key is to realize that listening is an art form. One of my friends, has a hearing aid, he has been partially deaf all his life. But thanks to modern technology he can hear pretty-well. Not in every setting, things like noisy restaurants are hard. But, one-on-one we can usually have a good conversation. My grandfather wore one of those hearing aids that hung around his neck, the size of a pack of cigarettes. My friends hearing aids are quite small and most folks don’t notice them when they first meet him. My grandfather would turn off his hearing aids when he wanted a nap. He could sleep in the middle of a crowd when he shut it off. Neat trick!
In the parable that we heard from our scripture lesson, we heard a story that involved a simple subject: how to plant a garden and do it right. Within the context of the parable we learn there are a number of variables to get a good crop from each planting of seeds. These concepts are easily understood by most whom have the privilege of hearing this simple parable. In review, we learn that hard soil, rocky soil and weeds, are not conducive to growing and thus when seedlings are planned in these areas the harvest is minimal. Through the use of this simple illustration, Jesus has hidden and concealed, within the parable, the parallel meaning of the disciple’s work, which lays ahead of them. Through this method of teaching Jesus is putting across a concept which shall be priceless to these early disciples. A retired Lutheran pastor sums this up nicely. “In this first parable of Jesus, he chose the most common of experiences from the everyday lives of people: seeds, sowers, hard paths, rocky soil, thorny soil, good soil. These were as common as scenes as possible, but in the commonness, Jesus saw illustrations about God and his kingdom. /Reverend Edward F. Markquart/
The critical element in understanding one of Jesus’ parables is to hear the hidden message. Because, the simple instructions regarding planting seeds, is only meant for the easy telling of a message with a deeper and hidden, meaning. Also, this is a simple story to remember. Some seeds are stolen and never get a chance. Rocky ground produces shallow roots and consequently the sun burns up the roots; whereas in thorny areas, the pointy spears and spikes tear away at the plants, as they grow. Only the seed which is planted in good fertile soil… will produce fruit in abundance. A successful gardener will learn the lessons of this account ‘if’ they are to succeed! Now we must transfer this lesson and hear with our inner ear, the message which Jesus is giving.
Most Biblical scholars would agree: “Christ shows in putting forth this parable of the sower, that the seed of life which is sown in the world does not do as well in one as in another, and the reason for this is that men (and women) for the most part, either do not receive it, or do not permit it to ripen.” /Geneva Notes/ The disciples were being ‘charged’ by Jesus to carry the “word,” (meaning the teachings of Jesus) and all they would come to know about the ‘life’ and ‘death’ of Jesus the Christ, ‘out’ into the surrounding territories, around where they were. Jesus wanted to prepare them for what problems they might, or would indeed incur. They would learn, all too quickly how this teaching was so true and important for them to understand!
Once the disciples began their work, just as once we began our work as modern Christians, they and we also would encounter certain realities along the way. The first being that not everyone would be able to appreciate and understand the welcoming and open-ended ministry which Jesus was offering. Seriously, back then, as-well-as in the modern age, not all people ‘believed’ that God’s invitation ‘was’ or ‘is’ extended to all people. For you and me, it seems self-evident that this is what is intended, yet, many do not agree with this understanding; humankind is not all of like-mind on this subject.
In a similar manner, it is only in naiveté that budding disciples believe that everyone will be able to stay focused on the ministry to which Christ is about. Sure, many will immediately receive what Christianity offers and they shall receive it with joy. Have you ever wondered what happens to the tens of thousands of Christians, whom accepted the call to follow Christ at one of countless crusades which evangelicals such as: Billy Gram attracted? Possibly, a great many were ultimately enticed away by the lure of the materialistic world. “This materialistic and commercialistic age in which we live chokes life out of us much too much for God’s Word to bear much fruit through us these days. This parable can give us a more realistic vision of the contexts in which we attempt to live our lives in faith.” /Prof. John E. Alsup/ Many of our own, have fallen to the wayside due to this entrapment. The ultimate goal of all good farmers, ancient and moderns alike is to produce an abundant crop!
The same is true for all who reach out to the ‘would-be Christian’, the potential ‘good member’ for the local church, desiring of course, to bring forth a good harvest of ‘willing’ disciples of Christ… to help ‘build’ the Church of Jesus Christ! There is not a single Christian pastor in Brevard county that does not aspire to a goal such as this! Surely, Jesus was trying to cultivate a ‘crop’ of good disciples to lead others to multiply, divide and exponentially expand the new understanding of God through his teachings and through the example of his life, death and resurrection! Only those whom have truly and willingly listened to the teachings of Jesus – will fully understand! Subsequently, those whom understand this hidden meaning of Jesus, will bear good fruit!
Most of us here today are diligently seeking to understand the ways of God and how to live in the light of God, through Christ. In our struggle to grasp this ‘first’ of the many parables which Jesus offers in his teachings, we are challenged to fully hear his message. In order to do so we have found it ‘necessary’ to develop a more ‘critical’ listening habit. We cannot always accept the written text at is face value. Sometimes, we must go digging for its deeper, or its parallel meaning. This is exactly what the parables force us to do! If we do not do so – we shall leave the classroom having reaped neither a ‘gem of learning’ or a ‘speck of understanding’!
It is my prayer, that we each shall become good listeners. Not only to the words of scripture but in our attempts to hear one-another! Let us not be like the wife in the illustration I shared with you earlier. If she had stopped talking for a bit, she may have learned what her husband was perhaps trying to communicate to her. Likewise, we need to hear the love and concern coming from the heart of this women in that encountered which I witnessed, so many years ago! Both, the husband and the wife were responsible for listening to each other… no matter how hard the task! It is not always easy to understand another person’s perception or grasp of any given subject. Especially, if we do not take ‘the time’ necessary to reflect on their life situation and their life‘s desires and wishes. When we do not open-up to the other person’s inner lives, then we shall not truly hear what they are saying to us, as individuals nor to us as the church!
If we, truly want to be good disciples of Christ, we must first learn to listen and then listen to learn!