Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seeds of Faith

“Seeds of Faith”

Pastor Tom Millner

Mark 4:1-20

February 6, 2011


Last spring at our farm in NC we planted a row of fast growing trees along the edge of a field on the side of the road. Our desire in planting the trees was to enhance our view from our yard and to reduce the noise from a metal recycling plant about a mile away on the next hill over. Some of the trees seemed to take root quickly where others began to turn brown during the steaming hot summer. We replanted about one third of the trees, anticipating a strong root system to take hold in the more moderate temperatures of the fall. It appears now that we will have to plant about one quarter of them again this spring. There’s nothing wrong with the trees. They arrived from the nursery healthy and green. The soil is the issue! Much of the farm is red clay that could easily be used for bricks if exposed to the heat of a kiln. Even so, that soil seems to host healthy trees and grasses. The problem with the soil where we planted the trees is that it is void of nutrients, steeped in mica and dries out too rapidly in the sun. Plants have always been challenged along that section of the field, as I have recalled. New plantings will have to be made, but this time we have to prepare the soil in a different way than before. We will need to mix a generous helping of rich and fertile soil to the area being planted. Jesus was familiar with the planting of seeds and the readiness of soil to nurture the seeds to germinate and grow. The seeds are from the same plant – the Spirit of God, but the soils into which they are planted vary greatly. That seed that is so graciously planted is the seed of relationship with God that is intended to multiply in relationship with others.

We are no longer an agricultural society. Let’s look at this parable from the perspective of today’s experience and see if we can gain any insight into the living WORD of God.

Several years ago we were meeting as a men’s Bible Study in an old garage room off the former GLCC. Someone who was preparing for the study arrived without the key and went to the office to see if someone would let them in. The otherwise cordial fellow with the key blurted out as he was opening the door: “don’t know why you’re bothering with a Bible study; we’re all going to hell anyway!” Here’s a fellow who had obviously heard the message of God’s love before, but because of all the condemnation and damnation he had heard from our potentially well-meaning but not so well informed so called Christian neighbors, the seed of a grace filled relationship was snatched from his grasp. You see, God calls us into relationship with Him that is made possible by His grace and mercy. When we are told that His grace and mercy extends only to those who experience the world differently than we, Satan scores big in his super bowl! Spreading the lies of conditional grace produces no grace at all. I’m amazed at the level of rhetoric and time invested by so many self-professed Christian in seeing that those who have been created differently believe they, by virtue of their creation, are inherently unacceptable to the grace of God, just as they are. There are many more examples we could use of this hideous practice that produces a whole constellation of grace snatching that renders people seemingly without hope. Just think of the thousands of people who believe that just because of who they are, they are fundamentally not a candidate for relationship with Jesus Christ! And, who can blame them? Who would want a relationship with someone who fundamentally hates you for the very nature you possess and who you believe will only accept you on condition that you change everything about you? Folks that is not the Jesus of grace, of redemption, of justification, of mercy – that is the work of Satan!

Then there’s the message of God’s grace that falls on eager ears, but is packaged in a shell of health, wealth, and prosperity. Who doesn’t want to have good health, be endowed with at least adequate wealth, and enjoy prosperity in all our endeavors? Such ideas are enticing and there is some truth to the message. You’ve heard the statement: “a half truth is still a lie”? When Jesus said  in John 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” He wasn’t addressing the sure fire return on the 401K, the assurance of an ever growing economy or the promise of a love life that never ceases to thrill. He was talking about a life of relationship with Him that sustains and fulfills through the good times and the not so good times. The kind of relationship that was described in the garden of Gethsemane the night Jesus was betrayed – that anything was possible and could the cup of suffering He was about to endure be taken away. “yet not my will but yours be done.” We see in this scripture a glimpse of the intimacy of trust and relationship between the Father and the Son. Jesus didn’t surrender to the cross to ensure our good mood. He surrendered to the cross for sake of our relationship with the Father that is as intimate and precious as the one He has. This scenario is similar to the rocky soil. So many of us come to Christ and receive the seed of faith at a time when God is speaking to our hearts in a moving fashion. We welcome Him in by the message of grace and love that so deeply touches the core of our being. Then the circumstances and pains and challenges of life come our way. We cry out “Lord, why me?” We build up anger and hostility toward God for not making us feel good about life right now. We question even the goodness of God in the presence such evil and harshness to one another that exists in today’s world. Because things are not going our contrived way, we throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, declaring God to be the great disappointment, rather than the great healer. Upon examination we discover that the god we’ve come to worship is not the God the creator, but the counterfeit of our own creation. How can the seeds of faith grow in a place where there isn’t room?

The third scenario is also a common one. The seeds of faith are planted, received and nurtured. Strong spiritual growth seems evident. Eager to serve, this person takes on more and more “responsibilities” that help promote the faith through the message of grace and mercy. Challenges arise through demanding schedules, difficult people, disappointing relationships and the joy of service becomes the burden of service. Overwhelmed by what was previously a joy and an honor, the thorns of expectation and “duty” overtake the fundamental of relationship and choke out much of what was so vibrantly growing. What was previously felt as spiritual gain is reduced to the level of physical and emotional drain. Joy turns to resentment, resentment ignites withdrawal, and relationships wane or disintegrate. God’s call is first to relationship with Him. Without that fundamental, all else is futile. He wants even or experiences with the thistles and thorns, the demands of life and the false hopes and expectations of others to meet our ideals to be laid down before Him with the supplication “not my will, but yours be done.” He’s eager to hear your expectations of where others ought to be if they are good Christians. He’s even more eager to hear your version of what you ought to look like as a good Christian. In the intimacy of relationship with Him, He’s eager to help you dismantle both of these false expectations as you learn what He really has in mind for you!

Now, let’s look at some fertile soil. From the agricultural perspective, this is a soil that has a good mixture of sand, decaying or decayed organic matter, and a touch of fertilizer, preferably from an animal source (recycled organic waste, bovine fecal matter). This, folks, is the soil in which seeds can take hold and thrive. Imagine that; a picture not of perfectly pristine proportions, but a picture of death, decay and manure. God calls us to relationship with Himself. He calls us as we are, for who we are, where we are – not for as we’d like to think we need to be, or who we believe we need to be, or even where we think we need to be. He wants the real, rotten, rubbish that He can turn into a rich field of faith where the harvest can be greater than all our expectations. The folks of the beatitudes are blessed not for their lack of position, but for their mind set to a willingness of relationship without pretense or pre-condition. We revel in the good news that God gives us grace and mercy by meeting as where we are, as we are, for who we are and then break off the relationship when He’s not meeting our “humble” expectations. God has called us each here because a seed has been planted or because He desires to plant that seed of faith in you today. His call to relationship is just as you are. He can’t have that relationship with you if you’re ranting about the stink from the presence of others or the demands of perfection you’ve idolatrously placed on yourself and your church. He calls us to ask not why this, that, or the other, but rather “how” can I grow deeper in relationship with You, God, through all of my life’s trials, joys, and challenges? The call to Christ is the call to fall into His grace. To leap from the mountain of should ah, would ah, could ah, into the rich soil that is the mess of all we’ve digested and produced so that He can begin to grow in us as we were designed from the beginning of the universe.   







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