“The Coolest Book in the World” – that was our Vacation Bible School theme, with that Book being the Bible, and what makes it such a “cool” Book is its stories, with two scheduled to be read on this summer Sunday.
One, about two brothers: Esau who gave up his inheritance for a bowl of soup, and Jacob who tricked him into doing it, and lived with his guilt for the rest of his life.
The second, about a Sower, seeds, and soil.
Both make for VBS dramas, handcrafts, and songs.
Since this is the day we subtitle: Vacation Bible School Sunday, let’s use today’s Gospel for a story time-sermon.
Quite often the word in the story that takes over our thinking, and makes for wonderful Vacation Bible School songs and craft time is: SOIL…the dry, the rocky, the trampled, and the deep rich soil.
Perhaps many sermons preached today will dig into that part of the story which one sermon resource relates to the harsh realities of:
a world in which terrorists’ bombs kill and maim people, a world that echoes with the cries of the injured and mourning for the dead.. a world in which the rich often exploit the poor, and in which some have more than enough while others go hungry…(the “soil”) in the real world, (where) some people are discriminated against because of their race or religion or sexual orientation or where they’re from.” (Quoted and adapted from proclaimsermons.com for July 16, 2017)
All update the world’s conditions which describe the depravity of our soil-like human life;
giving us compelling evidence to focus on the word SOIL.
But when getting ready to do that, I remembered.
In our first year in seminary we were required to preach to our classmates who proved to be harsher critics of one another than our professor, Rev. Dr. Alfred N. Sayres, was of each of us; except for one morning when our classmate had our full attention and our profuse praise for her sermon on the Pharisee and the tax collector at prayer in the temple. We were impressed with her thoughtful and plausible defense of the virtues of the Pharisee who she convincingly described as having legitimate reasons to celebrate. And so, we were taken back by the professor’s reaction.
Dr. Sayres countered our praise with his criticism, “You ignored the point of the story. You dismissed the One to Whom both were praying. The focus in every one of Jesus’ stories is God.”
His reaction echoed back to me as I was preparing to focus on our soil-life that is often stony, trampled,
weed-filled ground, too hard, too dry, too barren to bear what the Apostle Paul named the fruits of the Spirit:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness (Gal. 5:22-23),
As Dr. Sayres’ critique came back to haunt me, I found myself reading the Gospel story’s opening lines –
as though for the first time:
And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow…
Let anyone with ears listen!”
Listen and hear - the word SOWER who went out to sow in the Biblical practice of throwing with a broad sweep of the raised arm and open hand, casting the seed into the air, into the wind, to fall everywhere and anywhere.
Listen and hear – the word SEED which Luke’s Gospel has Jesus, in His follow-up explanation of the story, saying. “The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11)
Listen and hear – with our focus fixed on the One Jesus makes the centering point in every one of His stories:
The SOWER Who is God, casting with joyful abandonment, no calculated count of seeds, no ordered movement along accurately strung-out rows in cultivated ground.
No! God, the Sower, casts – you might say “recklessly,” or the better, more accurate word “Extravagantly!”
intentionally letting the SEED,
the creative Word of God named in Genesis as the animating breath of God;
in Psalm 8 celebrated as the Voice carried in all of nature;
and in John’s Gospel visualized as the Word, the Voice, that “became flesh in Jesus Christ.”
Listen and hear, and be lifted up and away from focusing on our human soil-like life, too hard, too dry, too barren to be a seedbed for God’s fruits of the Spirit. Listen and hear and focus on the extravagance of God casting abroad the Seed made visible in Jesus Christ and packaged in the life-giving words in the Bible.
Then look and see where “the word of God” is growing; search out and celebrate when spotting
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.”
Celebrate sightings of the “good soil,” where the cast abroad Seed of the Word, made visible in Christ and packaged in the Bible is growing in the human soul.
Witness some of Germany’s Muslim refugees asking for Bibles, for they see how its words have planted seeds of compassion in the lives of Christians who are helping them.
Remember the name “Brother Lawrence, the Dutchman who in 1955 risk his life to smuggle Bibles into Communist eastern Europe; now that ministry of “Open Doors” is in 60 counties and is overwhelmed with Syria’s and Lebanon’s Muslims appealing for Bibles. www.opendoorsusa.org/
William Barclay, known for his Bible commentaries, told of Thomas, an elderly man who had outlived all his friends, and so Dr. Barclay decided to go to his graveside service on a miserably rainy day knowing only he and the pastor would be there. But a third person, a stranger in a trench coat, appeared to stand with them.
Afterward, as they walked away, the wind blew open the unknown man’s raincoat to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier general. He explained he had to come for a last salute to Thomas, who when he was an unruly boy, was his Sunday School teacher. He said, “I own him everything.”
Through Thomas, God sowed the Seed of Christ’s life, packaged in the Bible, in the soil of the soul of a once seemingly uncontrollable boy. (Adapted David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com)
“Listen! A sower went out to sow… Listen as Gospel Gardeners who focus on God, the SOWER, casting the SEED that is “the Word of God,”
and rejoice when spotting that fruit, beginning with an inward look at the evidence growing in the soil of our own souls!