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A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, September 18, 2011.

Matthew 13:23

23But 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.’

Here’s something you might want to try.  Ask people this question:  What are you best known for producing?  Don’t do it in church or around a church function.  Pose the question over a soft drink, coffee, or in some other comfortable non-church and non-religious setting. 

You may get some odd looks at first.  People may ask why you want to know.  Tell them you’ve been pondering that question about your own life and wondered what people you know and respect think about it.  What are you best known for producing?  How do you respond to that question for yourself?  How do others respond to it when you pose it to them?

After a few minutes ask this question:  What kind of world does God want?  Pay close attention to the responses.  Remember them. 

Now comes the fun part if you share my subversive perspective about living.  Now it’s time for the big questions.  These are the ones that you’ve been setting up by the first two (“what are you best known for producing” and” what kind of world does God want”).  Here they are: 

  • What am I producing that God wants? 
  • What are you producing that God wants? 
  • What are we producing that God wants (in this family, this workplace, school, social relationship, society, nation, world, etc.)? 
  • When are we producing it? 
  • How are we producing it? 
  • How much are we producing? 
  • How can we produce more?
  • Why don’t we?

These questions go to the heart of the Jesus teaching known as the Parable of the Sower at Matthew 23:13.  Jesus had already made some remarkable insights before that verse.  Let’s review them.

  • God has extravagantly planted evidence of divine grace and truth in all kinds of people and situations.
  • Divine grace and truth, although planted, never take root in some people.  They never rise above pedestrian (entry level) morality.  An eye for an eye.  A tooth for a tooth.  I’ll help you if I think you can help me.  You get the picture.
  • Divine grace and truth take root in some people, but not deeply enough.  They eagerly respond to God’s grace and truth until they encounter the hardships associated with it.  Loving enemies is hard.  Forgiving wrongs suffered is hard.  Seeking the good of people who have mistreated us is hard.  Shallow faith doesn’t sustain a person through the hardships that come with living according to divine grace and truth.  So shallow faith doesn’t become mature faith.
  • Divine grace and truth take root in some people deeply enough to get them through hardships.  But desire for material comfort, affluence, and privilege acts like weeds to choke and strangle divine grace and truth in people even when their faith is deeply rooted.  So seminaries, cathedrals, churches, temples, mosques, and the pious people associated with them may not produce more love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, truth, justice, and hope because God’s grace and truth is choked and strangled by greed, thirst for power, privilege, and pleasure.  There’s been time enough for divine grace and truth to become mature but there’s no fruitfulness.

But Jesus teaches something else.  When (and only when) God’s grace and truth is planted deep enough in us to become well-rooted and we cultivate it by exercising moral and spiritual discipline to control the constant temptations posed by materiality, pride, self-privilege, and will to dominate others, we become fruitful for God. 

This is how Jesus concluded the Parable of the Sower at Matthew 13:23:  ‘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.’

Let’s be clear about what God expects.  God expects love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, truth, justice, and hope from our living and in the world.  Imagine a world of loving, joyful, peace-making, generous, compassionate, forgiving, honest, fair, and hopeful people.  That’s the kind of world God wants.  That’s the kind of people God wants.  That’s the kind of living God wants.  That’s the kind of religion God wants. 

And that’s the kind of world, people, living, and religion God deserves.  That’s the fruit, produce, harvest, crop, profit, result, outcome, consequence, and output God deserves from people in whom divine grace and truth have been extravagantly planted, deeply rooted, protected from the choking influences of temptation, and grown to maturity.   Jesus flatly declares that this is what God will harvest from our living when divine grace is planted, deeply rooted, conscientiously cultivated, and matures in us.

How much of that harvest God gets will vary according to the person and the situation of their living.  Some people will produce more love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, patience, truth, justice, and hope than others.  But there is an amazing paradox about the fruit of God’s grace and truth.  Even a little fruit carries a lot of power. 

  • In a pitch dark room, even a flickering candle matters. 
  • In a dog-eat-dog world, unconditional love matters.
  • In a place where strangers are oppressed, extravagant hospitality matters.
  • In people who are burdened by shame and guilt, forgiveness and acceptance matter.
  • In a place where violence is rampant, peace-making and non-violent conflict resolution matter.
  • In a world where personal dignity and value is falsely associated with wealth, generosity that affirms the equal dignity and value of people who are poor matters.
  • In a confused and perplexed world, truth matters.
  • In a desperate world, hope matters.
  • In a downcast world, joy matters.

Jesus says this is the harvest God deserves and expects from us, individually and in our various relationships.  God deserves this harvest in every aspect of our living.  The workplace should manufacture, distribute, and market it.  Religion should inspire and intensify it.  Government should protect and enforce it.  Families should nurture people in it.  Education should equip people with the skills to communicate, quantify, and regulate it.  Culture should celebrate and chronicle it.   

Life’s big questions don’t involve how much money people make, how much stuff we own, and where we stuck it.  They aren’t about our perks and pet indulgences.  No, God didn’t create the world for that.

God created a world for love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, truth, justice, and hope.  That’s what God deserves from the world, from religion, from government and from us. 

So …

  • What am I producing that God wants? 
  • What are you producing that God wants? 
  • What are we producing that God wants (in this family, this workplace, school, congregation, other relationship, society, nation, world, etc.)? 
  • When are we producing it? 
  • How are we producing it? 
  • How much are we producing? 
  • How can we produce more?
  • Why don’t we?
  • When will we?

Creator, Strength, Deliverer, you have made your grace and truth extravagantly available to us.  It has taken root.  Teach us to cultivate our lives so your grace and truth isn’t choked by our desires for pleasure, possessions, and power.  Guide us to be agents of your love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, truth, justice, and hope.  Then your world will be more loving, more joyful, and more peaceful.  Then your world will be more patient, kind, and gentle.  Then your truth will be shine where there is darkness.  Then your justice will protect and provide where there is deprivation and oppression.  Then your hope will reign where there is despair. 

Then will come to pass what Jesus taught us to pray:  Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is heaven.  For the kingdom, and the power, and the glory belong to you, forever.  Amen.  

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