July 12, 2020

Message for July 12, 2020- “Tending the Garden”

(From Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23)

     One of the most common methods Jesus used when he taught his Disciples and followers was telling them stories.  His stories were parables, stories about events common to everyday life with a twist—the characters and events within his stories held a deeper meaning.  They represented God and the spiritually significant truths about God’s Kingdom.  Today’s parable is the “Parable of the Sower.”  It is one of my favorites, because it tells a very practical truth about God and how God’s kingdom works.  Let’s explore this parable in greater detail together.

     As the parable was narrated by Jesus, a sower went out to sow seeds in his field, his garden.  As he was sowing, some of the seeds fell along the path and were immediately eaten by some birds who were watching him sow, and they were waiting to see if any seeds would be dropped.  Some seeds fell among rocks with little soil, and they sprang up quickly, but were scorched as soon as the heat of the sun hit them. Some seeds fell among thorny weeds, and these overgrew the good seeds, choking off their growth.  But, some of the seeds fell into fertile soil where they grew strong and yielded good fruit—some one hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, and some thirty-fold.

     Upon hearing this story, the Disciples asked Jesus to explain in detail its meaning.  The sower, Jesus shared, is God, and the seed is God’s message about God’s kingdom.   Some of the sower’s seeds were eaten by birds; these represent Satan, who immediately steals away the good message from those who hear it but who do not retain it.  The seed upon the rocks represents those who hear the message with some immediate joy, but it does not sink in deep and take root.  The good message cannot withstand adversities when they strike (represented by the sun), and they scorch and burn it so that it does not grow.  The seed that fell upon thorny weeds represents people who also receive the message of God’s kingdom with initial joy, but over time, their worldly concerns overtake the good message, choking it off before it can bear fruit.   The seed sown in good soil represents those who hear the message of God’s kingdom and receive it with open hearts that are prepared to retain it and utilize it to bear good fruit for the kingdom—some one hundred-fold, some sixty and some thirty-fold as God gives the ability.  These folk’s hearts have the added “Miracle Grow” fertilizer of such lifestyle practices as regular prayer and the study of scriptures to keep the soil a fertile ground in which the seeds of God’s kingdom will flourish to bear good fruit. They cultivate their garden by engaging in an ongoing, personal, and growing relationship with God, as they discover new truths about God’s kingdom.

     It may surprise you to learn that John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist Denomination, did not begin his active ministry with an ongoing and growing deeply personal relationship with God.  Wesley’s was more of a relationship of the head and understanding, gained through knowledge and the study of scripture, than a personal and growing relationship of the heart.  For the first 10 years of his ordained ministry, Wesley’s faith journey consisted largely of a continual striving to live a life of personal holiness and good works.  His assurance, a tenuous one, was based upon the sincerity of his pursuit of holy living, and Wesley often questioned its success.  Reading every scholarly work he could find, Wesley continually sought the blessed assurance of his salvation, never quite achieving it.

     John Wesley accepted an opportunity to go to America as a priest to the Georgia colony.  On his voyage there, he met some Moravians.  They were a religious sect of Germanic origin, and deeply rooted in a faith journey based upon the foundation of a deep and heartfelt relationship with God in Christ.  As the boat in which they travelled began to quake with the roar of the ocean waves, John Wesley was terrified, cowering for his very life.  The Moravians on-board, however, spent this same time calmly singing Hymns of praise. Wesley wanted the inner peace they had, and so began an ongoing relationship with the Moravians, one that lasted through his time in America and into his priestly duties and life when he returned to England.  The Moravian religion of the heart made sense to Wesley, and he began to seek his own personal and heartfelt assurance of salvation.  It was on May 24, 1738, at a society meeting at Aldersgate Street that John Wesley’s intellectual religion of the head became a deeply personal religion of the heart.  He felt his heart “strangely warmed” and received the inner calm of blessed assurance of his salvation.  The good seed had finally been sown in fertile and receptive soil within John Wesley, and the rest of the story traces our Methodist heritage.

     Especially in the uncertain and difficult times in which we are living, the story of the Sower and the Good Seed is both appropriate and meaningful.  Bearing good fruit for the kingdom requires us to plant our good seed of God’s message of salvation and God’s kingdom in fertile soil.  It would be easy for us to allow the cares of the world in which we currently live to become like thorns overwhelming us and choking off any hope of bearing good fruit for the kingdom of God.  But, let us not allow the good seed within us to perish.  Instead, let us cultivate our garden with the fertilizer of regular prayer and the study of the scripture.  These will assist us in building our relationship with God in Christ, enriching the soil of our hearts to germinate the good seed and to bear eternal good fruit for God’s kingdom.  In the end, dear friends, only that good which we do for God’s kingdom will remain.  All else will wither and fall away.  May we each receive the blessed assurance of our salvation by our faith alone in the good work Christ did for us on the cross with great joy.  And, may that assurance lead us to bear a multitude of good fruit for God’s kingdom.  May bearing good fruit begin in us today, as we continue tending the garden of our hearts.   Amen.