Listen to the podcast by Bishop Michael Rinehart

July 12, 2020 is Pentecost 6A/Proper 10A/Ordinary 16A

Genesis 25:19-34 – Jacob and Esau, the twins are born, two nations contending. Esau sells his birthright to Jacob.
Isaiah 55:10-13 – For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven… so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty…

Psalm 119:105-112 – Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.
Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13 – You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.

Romans 8:1-11 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER. Listen! A sower went out to sow… and some seed fell on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns and some on good soil.

Genesis 25: Two Nations

I started on the story of Isaac and Rebekah in last week’s post, which was about Rebekah traveling 500 miles to marry a stranger. This week we hear about the birth of Jacob and Esau, and then Esua’s sale of his birthright.

19These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22The children struggled together within her; and she said, “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.23And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” 24When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau.26Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.27When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

29Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!” (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” 32Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.34Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah. We don’t know how old she was. We are told Rebekah was barren, but Isaac prayed and with the Lord’s intervention, she conceived, fraternal twins as it happened. The pregnancy did not go well. The two children struggled in the womb, and Rebekah despaired: “If it is to be this way, why do I live?” The Lord told her two nations were struggling in her. The elder (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob).

Esau emerged from the womb first, red and hairy. Then came Jacob, holding Esau’s heel as if to pull him back into the womb, so Jacob would be first. The name Jacob ( יַעֲקֹב) either comes from the Hebrew root עקב ʿqb, meaning “to follow, to be behind, supplant, circumvent, assail, overreach”, or from the word for “heel”, עֲקֵב ʿaqeb. The name Esau ( עֵשָׂו) means “hairy” or “rough.”

When they grew up, Esau was a hunter, while Jacob, a quiet man, lived in tents, with the women. Isaac loved Esau. Rebekah loved Jacob. What follows is a strange story in which Esau, who emerged from the womb “red and hairy” selling his birthright for some red stew. He would come to represent Edom (a word which means “red”).

This is an origin story for the Edomites. Edom (transJordan) dates to the Late Bronze Era, in the 13th century BC. It is also mentioned in Egyptian history. Southeast of Israel (and 115 miles southwest of Amman, Jordan) this stone monastery in Petra may be a familiar sight. Carved into the red desert cliffs, Edom is most definitely red. Israel conquered Edom as Jacob conquered Esau.

The Bible doesn’t make any effort to hide the fact that Jacob was a cheat. He cheated Esau. He cheated Laban. He would later deceive his aging and blind father Isaac into giving him a blessing, by pretending to be Esau. I love reading about families in the Bible. They put the fun in dysfunctional. Just like families today. No rose-colored glasses. Many of the so-called heroes of the Bible are not heroes at all, but schmucks.

Rebekah warned Jacob that Esau was out to get him, so Jacob ran for his life. We don’t know if he ever saw his mother again. While running away after deceiving his father, Jacob laid down his head had a dream. You would think God would scold him, but instead Jacob saw a ladder going up into heaven. God promised he would be the father of a great nation that would be a blessing to the earth.

Jacob had twelve sons and a daughter named Dinah (with Leah), whose rape is recounted in Genesis 34. Jacob’s son Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, where he eventually ascended to become the Pharaoh’s right-hand man, interpreting his dreams and averting disaster when a famine hit. The family ultimately reconciled, and Joseph famously said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Jacob and Rebekah are buried in a cave called the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Esau settled in the hill country, quietly raised a family, and enjoyed a prosperous if not famous life. Maybe he got the better end of the deal after all.

Isaiah 55:10-13: Joy!

Isaiah 55 is the “Ho” chapter. Prior to our reading, verses one and two begin:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.2Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah can be divided into three sections, which scholars call First, Second and Third Isaiah. First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) is pre-exilic. Second Isaiah (chapters 40-54) is exilic. Third Isaiah (chapters 55-60) is post-exilic.

I don’t think anyone knows what the Hebrew word “Ho” means. Maybe “Attention!” Or “Listen up y’all!”

Samuel Giere, Associate Professor of Homiletics and Biblical Interpretation at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, points out the verbs: “Come. Buy. Eat. Listen. Delight. Behold.” The scarcity of exile now gives way to these nouns: “water, wine, milk, bread…”

Why do you spend your money on things that do not satisfy? It’s an age-old question, one worth many sermons.

These exilic texts, and this post-exilic texts ring in my ears in the exile of our pandemic. Their sense of displacement is disorienting. These are tough times. Lessons are being learned. Better times will come.

3Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

Isaiah reminds the people that they are beneficiaries of an everlasting covenant. They have been unfaithful, but God remains faithful.

Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 7let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 9For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

Then we come to our text.

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

God is on the move. “My word will not return empty, but will accomplish what I purpose.” Our God is a God of life and renewal. Have faith. Trust.

The new return will be better than before. It will surpass the Exodus. You shall go out (of exile) with joy and be led back (home) in peace. Home can mean many things. What does “home” mean for you? No more thorns. Just cypress trees and crepe myrtles. Good news. Have joy, even in exile, for the best is yet to come.

Romans 8: Glorification in the Spirit

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

10But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

Whenever I read a passage from Romans I first review Paul’s thesis, Romans 1:15-16:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation of everyone who believes, the Jew first and also the Greek. For the righteousness of God has been revealed from faith unto faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith shall live.”

At its heart, Paul’s letter and his gospel, is about faith, God’s power and righteousness, even in the midst of a sinful world, and our sinful flesh. After reminding us that the wages of sin is death, and that we are, in the life, under the power of sin, Paul turns to life in the Holy Spirit. After covering justification, Paul moves to glorification in the Spirit.

James Tabor, in Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Tranformed Christianity, says Paul’s gospel is a revelation of a mystery that has been hidden from the foundation of the world (1 Cor. 2:7). God is remaking humanity into a new humanity. Christ is the firstborn of this new family. We become part of this family by uniting ourselves with Christ, who then sends the Spirit. We were predestined for this, then called, then justified, and now glorified. This likely sounds like gibberish to 21st century Americans, by here is what Paul says in Romans 8:29–30:

For those whom God foreknew he also predetermined to share the likeness of the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Those who are called respond to the gospel and are justified. Then the Spirit comes in and begins a transformation. This glorification begins now, but is not complete until we shed our mortal bodies. We shall all be changed.

The law of the Spirit of life in Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. God has done what we could not. Now we walk by the Spirit, not the flesh. We set our minds on the Spirit, not the flesh. This is life. This is true peace. The body is dead, because of sin. The Spirit is life. If the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is in you, that Spirit will also give life to you in your mortal bodies.

For Paul, the resurrection is not just something ahead for us, on judgement day. It is a living reality now. So live in the Spirit is to find life and joy now, even though our bodies want to drag us into sinful, self-destructive behavior.

Paul’s religion is a religion of the Spirit. This infusion of the Christ-Spirit is the only way to find life.

Matthew 13: Path, Rocks, Thorns, Good Soil

Isaiah 55 reminds us that the Word of God has incredible power. It accomplishes what it sets out to do with or without our help. We are invited to get on board.

Psalm 119:110 says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Thy Word by Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant made this passage a household verse. It remains popular in many of our congregations.

Romans 8 is a powerhouse gospel message. Christ appeared in sinful flesh. The Spirit of life in Christ therefore sets us free from sin and death.

As has been pointed out previously, Matthew is divided into five sections like the Pentateuch. Each section has a narrative and a discourse. The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5 through 7 was a discourse. Matthew 10 held the Missionary Discourse. The discourse of Matthew 13 would best be described as Parables of the Kingdom.

According to Stanley Hauerwas, in Matthew, (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible). Jesus redefines family in the text immediately preceding this. Who are my mother, sister, brother? Those who do the will of my Father in heaven (Matthew 12:47-50). One does not become part of Christ’s family by birth. The parables are teachings, ways Jesus instructs his followers to become disciples. We become part of the family by following Jesus.

Matthew is the church’s gospel. Written half a century after the crucifixion, the author of Matthew is likely addressing issues the church is facing in that time. We now wade into three consecutive Sundays of Kingdom Parables in Matthew 13, though in a jumbled fashion:

  • The Parable of the Sower ( 13:1-9, 18-23)
  • The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds ( 13:24-30, 36-43)
  • The Parables of the Mustard Seed, Leaven, Treasure, Pearl, Net ( 13:31-33, 44-52)

Unlike the Sermon on the Mount, here Jesus leaves the house, goes down by the sea, and sits down in a boat to teach these lessons. Like the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is going to teach the disciples, but a large crowd will listen in.

What house?

In Matthew 8:20 we get the clear sense that Jesus is not a home owner. Looking back through Matthew 12 the narrative doesn’t help us much. After a few other events, we end up with Jesus speaking to the crowds. His is mother and brothers are standing outside. Outside what? Probably the house. The narrative is vague. The only three references to a house before this in Matthew’s gospel, other than parables, are Matthew 2:11, 8:14 and 9:23.

  • In 2:11 the magi come into the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph are.
  • 8:14 is Peter’s house, in Capernaum, where Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law.
  • 9:23 is the synagogue leader’s house.

We read that Jesus’ family appears outside. So we can presume this is not Jesus’ house. I vote for Peter’s house. Perhaps Peter’s house is their home base. (By the way, what do those who hold to the perpetual virginity of Mary, and thus the proposition that Jesus had no siblings, do with this text that so clearly indicates otherwise?)

The Word

Jesus has to get in a boat; as usual, he has attracted a large number of people, because the Word is powerful, it always accomplishes what it sets out to do. Again, Paul’s theme verse (propositio in rhetoric), Romans 1:16-17. Paul uses the word dunamis, from which we get our word dynamite. The Word has explosive power:

Οὐ γὰρ ἐπαισχύνομαι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν
παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι, Ἰουδαίῳ τε πρῶτον καὶ Ελληνι: 
δικαιοσύνη γὰρ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ ἀποκαλύπτεται ἐκ πίστεως εἰς πίστιν, καθὼς γέγραπται, 
 δὲ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται. 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written,
“The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

Inclusio Sandwich

Matthew 13:1-23 is an inclusio, that is, it has a lesson within the lesson. Jesus tells the parable, then he teaches a little bit about the purpose of parables, and then he explains the parable to the disciples. There are three parts, like an Oreo cookie sandwich. The top part of the cookie is the parable. The bottom part is the explanation of the parable. In between we get the cream filling: a change of subject that often lends meaning to the parable. Writers of books and screen plays do this all the time of course. One character drops a shocking surprise on another character, and then suddenly the scene changes. You have to wait to see what happens. It builds suspense. Matthew will do the same thing with the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds.

Unfortunately, the lectionary leaves out the second section, as if Matthew’s purpose in structuring it like this is irrelevant:

  1. Matthew 13:1-9 — The Parable of the Sower
  2. Matthew 13:10-17 — The Purpose of Parables
  3. Matthew 13:18-23 — The Parable of the Sower explained

Whether you consider these parables, similes or metaphors, Jesus has employed this method earlier in the gospel. In Matthew 7, those who hear the Word, and act on it are like (simile) a wise man who built his house upon the rock. The message in this parable will travel along the same lines.

The Parable

So, let’s get into the parable. A sower went out to sow. The seeds fell in four places:

  1. Path – eaten by birds
  2. Rocky ground – sprang up quickly, shallow roots, withered by the sun
  3. Thorns – choked
  4. Good soil – great harvest

Coming soon after the Matthew 10 Missionary Discourse, it seems likely that the story might have been used to process the experience of some churches growing/others not, some people growing/others not, some hearers responding to the gospel/others not.

Quantitatively, Jesus teaches them to expect a 25% ROI, return on investment. The Word accomplishes what it sets out to do, but there are external factors that impact how that Word will be received at any given time. Expect one out of four people to respond, or one out of four churches, or one our of four towns? Ah, but when they do respond, expect amazing results, like the crowds Jesus attracted! One hundredfold, sixty, thirty.

The Filling

Fortunately, Matthew includes an explanation of this parable, but first, the cream filling of the cookie – a suspense-building foray into the purpose of parables. Not so fortunately, this explanation is more confusing than the parables themselves. Apparently most will hear but not understand, see but not perceive. As he so often does, Matthew has borrowed once again from Isaiah (6):

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” 9And he said, “Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
10 Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”

Both Isaiah and Jesus are being prophetically paradoxical and enigmatic.  Louisville Presbyterian Seminary Professor Patricia Tull says Isaiah aims at “punchy irony.” Straightforward communication has not worked, so the pithy prophetic voice tries the back door: “The Lord has told me to tell you this, but you’re not gonna get it, probably because you don’t want to get it.”

Like the parable itself: most won’t get it. Spiritual things are by nature nebulous, non-linear, not easy to grasp. If I may mix gospels, the Spirit is like the wind, as Jesus tells Nicodemus in John 3. You don’t know which way it’s going to blow next. The things of the Spirit are difficult to perceive. Parables help bring it down to earth a bit. Listen, if you have ears to hear.

The Explanation

1. Then we get the explanation of the parable. The first seeds represent those who hear the word of the kingdom, but don’t understand it. The “word of the kingdom” (λόγον ʏῆς βασιλείας) is a curious phrase. This is the only place I could find it in the New Testament. Given the fact that Jesus trained his disciples (Matthew 10) to go heal and then tell people the kingdom of God had come near, it may very well be that Jesus is referring to the content of his preaching, and that of his disciples. The word of the kingdom (or maybe more accurately translated, the news of the kingdom) is that the kingdom of God is breaking into our world, and we witness is in the selfless acts of kindness, healing and casting out of spirits that the disciples themselves are doing. This passage (and a few others in Matthew) give us some more hints about the nature of the Word, which we’ll summarize in a minute.

Jesus explains, when people hear the word and don’t understand it, the evil one snatches it away, like birds snatch away seeds on a path. The word for “understand” is συνιέντος, (sunientos), which means “understand” or “perceive.” Why wouldn’t they understand the Word, or be able to perceive its meaning? Jesus has just explained this in the cream filling. Spiritual things are by nature hard to grasp, especially if you have your head in materialistic things, and are seeking them, rather than the kingdom of God. It’s sad really. Some people will hear the good news and simply not get it. Anyone who has ever been a church leader has seen this.

Pay attention to what we learn about the Word in verse 19: The Word is heard. It is audible. And it is sown in the heart. In antiquity, the heart is the center of consciousness, your thoughts, your motives, your feelings, your will. The Word can be understood or not understood. Perceived or not perceived.

2. The seed sown on rocky ground are those who hear the word, and receive it with joy, but they have no roots, so when persecution comes, they wither and fall away. All church leaders have seen this phenomenon as well.

How often have church leaders seen someone have a kind of conversion experience and respond with the unbridled enthusiasm of a convert, only to lose steam a year or two later when difficulties set in? We need to help people set roots through relationships, Bible study, prayer, worship and serving the poor. Zion Houston Pastor Mindy Roll and a team in our synod created a curriculum to do just that. Deepening Faith invites people to explore, in a 12-session group, the ways that they experience the Divine. There is also a guide for small group leaders. This could be done online in this time of pandemic.

It’s not good to rush new people into leadership positions too quickly. I’ve seen them come in bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They are enthusiastic, sparked by a new-found faith connection. They sprout up quickly, then run headlong into the dark underbelly of church politics, which sucks the life out of everyone. Or a spouse dissents. An addiction interrupts. Or they discover what they are called to do isn’t easy, and might take a lifetime, rather than a weekend.

Protect new people from all of that, and help them set spiritual roots. I’m not saying to keep them from ministry. Just don’t throw them into the deep end of leadership, where they will be over their head, to mix metaphors. Tend to faith formation, which includes serving, but also praying, and studying and so on…

Pay attention to what we learn about the Word of the kingdom in verses 20-21: It is powerful. It can cause great joy. But a person can lose it. Life’s trouble (such as persecution) can drive it away if we don’t set deep roots.

3. The seed that falls among the thorns, Jesus says, are like those who hear the word, and presumably even understand it, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke it, and the word bears no fruit.

Have you seen this in your context, or in previous parishes? Can you give unidentifiable examples without naming names? Have you seen wealthy people abandon the world-changing ministry to which they were uniquely gifted in order to pursue more wealth? It’s heart-breaking. Jesus is preparing his disciples (including us) for this eventuality.

This is so consistent with what Jesus says in other places. Wealth, materialism, stuff, riches, are the greatest threat to our spiritual life. Jesus says it is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom. 1 Timothy 6:10 states it even more pointedly, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”

After visiting five countries in Africa, I am again astounded at how happy people with very little material possessions can be. And here we are in the U.S, choking on our stuff, and people seem trapped in unhappiness. Perhaps the key to the things of the spirit, is becoming a little less obsessed with stuff, and a little more focused on faith, on God, and on the things God cares about.

Pay attention to what we learn about the Word of the kingdom in verse 22: Things choke the word.

4. Finally, the seed that falls on good soil, says Jesus, are those who hear the word, and they understand the word, and it bears much fruit in their lives.

Pay attention to what we learn about the Word in verse 23: The word, when planted in the good soil of a heart that is ready, can bear much fruit.

What kind of fruit? You need to seek this out in your own community. The Word is alive and working in your neck of the woods, somewhere. Can you identify it and point it out?

The comment about joy in verse 20 may also give us a clue. Personally, I resonate with Paul’s comment in Galatians 5:22. The harvest, the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in us are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Keep in mind as we march through Matthew’s gospel this year, that when Matthew uses the words, “word,” “word of the kingdom,” or “word of heaven,” he is not talking about the Bible. The Bible hadn’t been compiled yet. And he doesn’t mean Jesus as the Word of God, like John does when John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Matthew’s talking about the content of Jesus’ preaching: that the kingdom (all God’s hopes and dreams for the world) are breaking into this world, right now, in quite tangible and visible ways. At the same time, the Greek word for word, Logos, has power for meaning in Greek language, culture mythology. It also has significance in Hebrew culture, as the word that God spoke at creation, and the word mentioned in Isaiah 55. For this reason I have been capitalizing it. It may not yet be theological shorthand for Jesus in Matthew’s theology, but it means more than a few letters on the page. The word has power.          .

So what?

So what’s the good news in all of this? It depends on your context. The beautiful thing about parables is they have multiple layers of meaning. The story of the Prodigal Son meant one thing to me as the oldest son in my family. It has completely new shades of meaning now that I am a father. What does your congregation need to hear right now in your place and context?

Here are some things that jump out at me:

  1. God is at work in the world transforming lives and planting seeds in those whose hearts are prepared to receive it. One of the things that jazzes many church leaders I know, is seeing lives transformed. It’s an incredible rush when someone who is lost in life, find meaning and purpose. It is a joy when someone who is materialistic and self-centered discover the joy of giving, and becoming other-centered. The angels in heaven rejoice when someone who is slumped over finds joy and hope, and life in Christ.
  2. It is good news that the work of evangelism, conversion, transformation is not dependent only on us. It doesn’t depend on this conversation I have with someone, or that one. Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can plant seeds, but God gives the growth. Because evangelism is a team sport, it doesn’t all rest on my abilities alone. Thank God.
  3. It is good news that the gospel still has power in people’s lives. Seeds want to grow. It’s in their DNA to grow, and with the right soil, they will grow, even in an imperfect church, with imperfect leaders. And even though maybe ¾ of the seeds we plant will fall on inhospitable soil, ¼ of them are likely to bear fruit. Some people get discouraged because ¾ attempts at planting seeds bear no fruit. And they stop trying. But I can find hope that ¼ of my seeds will bear fruit! It encourages me to plant all the more. If you dream of a 30-fold harvest, plant 120 seeds.
  4. The preacher might ask the congregation to pray about a few things:
    • What seeds are you planting right now with those relationships you have?
    • What seeds are being planted by your congregation?
    • Who is planting seeds in you, and what kind of soil would you say your heart is?