July 30th, 2018


How well you HEAR is a matter of the HEART.

Luke 8:4-15


How well do you hear?

I’m curious as we begin today how many of you can hear me well, or even hear this service well. We realize we have some dead spots in this sanctuary, so with a room full on combined Sunday I’d like to know where they are. Also different speakers and singers and microphones make a difference. So raise your hand and let me know on a scale of 1-5 how well you are hearing in this space today. 1 is low, 5 is high.

It may surprise you to know that this sanctuary was built in the 1950s without a sound system. The pastor had a booming voice, and the room was built for high acoustical effect. About a decade later they added the “sounding board” above the pastor’s head, which people often wonder about. I was told it’s a truth test for the minister, and if I should ever tell a lie, it will fall on my head. I’ve never knowingly tested that. I was also told if I ever preached past noon it would fall. That I’ve tested often, and it’s still there.

One of the leading audio-visual companies in our area will put your Corinth Legacy dollars to work here in the sanctuary and in Bost Memorial Hall this fall. Our current system is so old that when their engineers first came to check out our system one of them went into the balcony where he looked inside the sound cabinet then yelled to his buddy on the main floor, “You gotta come see this!” It was as if he found an 8-track tape of Elvis Pressley.

Hopefully when we complete our AV upgrades, we’ll not only have high quality video and livestreaming capability in the sanctuary and Bost, but in both spaces everyone will raise their hand to say, “I’m a 5.” Why is that important? Because if you can’t hear the word of God, you can’t act on the word of God.

Varying responses

The familiar parable in Luke 8 is about hearing the word of God. A large crowd had gathered from all over Galilee to hear Jesus because of his rapidly growing reputation for authoritative teaching and miracles. Matthew and Mark tell us that on this occasion there were so many people pressing in that Jesus got into a boat and pushed away from the shore. This wasn’t just to get them out of his personal space. I’ve been to the Sea of Galilee. When the lake is calm if you say something even in a normal voice the water has a powerful acoustical effect. When Jesus wanted to address hundreds or thousands of people at once, they could all hear him better if he pushed back from the shore and allowed the water to be his PA system. If you can’t hear the word of God, you can’t act on the word of God.

Among the large crowd were Jesus’ most devoted followers – the Twelve disciples, and a number of women who circuited the area with Jesus and the Twelve. These women were very devoted to him because he had cured them of demon possession or other physical and mental disabilities. Imagine if you were Mary Magdalene possessed with seven demons – maybe all at once but maybe in sequence. Life had never been normal for you with this combination of spiritual, mental, and physical disability. Then Jesus showed up and you were healed. How devoted would you be? There’s no evidence that any of the Twelve men had benefited from Jesus’ healing. That’s why their level of trust and commitment still had to be tested, with varying results – even to the cross. But these women! He had already changed everything for them. They went everywhere he went, even to Golgotha and the empty tomb. Some of them were women of significant means, and they bankrolled this itinerant band. Someone had to buy the food they ate!

As Jesus gathered this extremely devoted group of followers, however, not everyone Jesus encountered was so enamored with him. Some people were downright hostile, like most of the Pharisees. Some were curious but came in and out of the crowd depending on whether something new or exciting was happening. And some were so busy with life that they never even went to hear Jesus once, or maybe only once if he came to their particular town. Can you imagine having Jesus in Catawba County for three years, and you never once disrupted your routine to hear him?

If you don’t hear the word of God, you can’t act on the word of God. These various responses to Jesus are why he told the parable.

A story about soils

Picture this mixed audience sitting or standing on the shoreline, falling silent as Jesus from his boat tells a story about a farmer. Many of those in the audience were farmers. All of them understood farming. They had almost surely passed through many farms as they made their way to hear Jesus.

Their farming methods were different than ours, for many reasons. One of them was a difference in climate and seasons. Palestine has two seasons – hot and wet. At the end of the hot, dry season, a typical farmer of Jesus’ day would go out into his field with a bag of seed and simply toss the seed across the baked earth, dried and hardened by months of a beating sun. Then he would follow with his plow and turn the seed into the soil where it would wait for the coming rain.

The emphasis of the parable the way Jesus tells it is on four kinds of dirt where the seed fell. But Luke also tells us at the end of the parable that Jesus kept saying emphatically as he told the parable, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear!” Jesus said that throughout the parable, so I’ll insert it as well. Here’s the story.

A farmer went out for his fall planting. Do you have ears? Then listen up! 

Some seed fell along pathways that would never be plowed. That seed was trampled, or birds just came and ate it. Do you have ears? Then listen up! 

Some seed fell in areas where the layer of topsoil was thin, covering the limestone bed underneath. The farmer hadn’t realized this when he was scattering the seed, but his plow wouldn’t go very deep. That seed was the first to germinate, but it couldn’t grow a root system to draw water from underground. Do you have ears? Then listen up! 

Some seed fell in places where a thorny weed had been dormant through the hot summer, kind of like wild onions or crab grass in this area during the winter. That seed couldn’t battle successfully against the stronger weed. It grew for a while, but eventually was choked by its stronger competitor. Do you have ears? Then listen up! 

Finally, some seed fell on good soil! It grew and produced a bountiful crop so that even accounting for all the bad soils, the seed was multiplied a hundred times. Do you have ears? Then listen up! 

The intermission

Apparently, that was it for the large crowd. Or maybe Jesus went on to tell a few more stories. Or maybe there was an intermission. But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all say at this point that a more private conversation took place between Jesus and his closest followers. They asked him why he told this particular parable. For them, this was a kind of “Captain Obvious” parable, along the lines of telling a story that a cable TV man went out to check people’s reception. In some houses there was zero reception, in others the TV was pixelated, in others the TV was on and no one was watching, but in others the family was enjoying high definition plasma view of a Hallmark movie or their favorite sports team. Well, duh, so what?

Jesus’ answer is interesting, because he quotes Isaiah who said that sometimes people hear (but they don’t get it). Not everybody gets it, and apparently some of that is for reasons hidden in the counsel of God that we don’t understand. Don’t get too hung up here on the mystery of free will and predestination. Jesus doesn’t get hung up. He just tells you that’s the way it is, and you should consider yourself fortunate if you are among those who do hear and understand.

Then he explains this particular parable.

Four hearts

The seed, he says, is the word of God. This is like the “constant” in a scientific experiment. All four soils received the same seed. This parable is not primarily about the sower or the seed. It’s about the soils. It’s about what kind of soil you are, which means, “How is your hearing?” When God’s word is spoken, do you really hear it?

As Jesus explains the four soils, note how every time he repeats the word “hear.”

The path represents those who hear, but their hearts are hard. The devil snatches the seed before they can believe and be saved. We all know people who never show interest in the word of God. The fault is not with the word or the one who speaks it; their hearts are impenetrable.

The rocky soil represents those who hear and enthusiastically respond! They’re so excited about God’s word at first, but their joy is all on the surface. They think believing in God is supposed to make life easy. So when testing comes, they wither and die. The word “testing” can mean either temptation – an opportunity to do the wrong thing – or just hard times.

The thorny soil is the one that probably represents most unreceptive hearts. They hear the word, and they think they mean well, but they’re just too busy to respond to God’s word. They have problems to solve. They have money to earn. Or maybe they’re just too busy on the lake or in the mountains having fun. They’ll get around to God’s word eventually, so they think. But they never do.

But then, then! There is the good soil. I love how Jesus describes this response to the word of God. The good soil represents those who hear the word of God with “an honest and good heart.” They’re honest about life’s struggles and its distractions. But they are also receptive, ready to be plowed, wanting to be changed. They’re eager to hold on to the word and produce fruit.

“Fruit,” the way the New Testament uses the term, is the change that God’s word makes. It’s the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. But fruit is also where the seed is reproduced and continues to make an impact.

The first and primary meaning of this parable is about how you hear the word of God. How you hear. How you hear is a matter of the heart. Before we get to “spread,” we need to deal with your own heart. Is your heart hard, like the path? Is it shallow, like the rocky soil? Is it distracted, like the thorny soil? Or is “honest and good,” ready to receive and act on the word of God? Do you have ears? Then hear!

Spread (Pastor Paul Cummings)

Our focus on Spread has three E’s – Everywhere, Extravagantly, Empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The condition of the soil is God’s work. Jesus said in John 16 that the Holy Spirit will lead into all truth and convict the world of God’s truth.

Jesus gives the task of spreading to his disciples. This is our job. In Matthew 28, Jesus didn’t say you can leave the spread up to the Holy Spirit. “You go and make disciples of all nations.”

Are we surprised that a farmer is spreading the seed? No. It’s like a toddler and germs. They go together. We expect a farmer to be focused on farming. That’s not surprising.

Then what about the word “Christian”? A Christian should be steeped in, live, eat, and breathe Christ.

When we talk about evangelism, we think, “I heard in my church that I’m supposed to spread. They keep telling me I’m supposed to spread.”

You are already spreading something. It’s not that we don’t know to spread. The question is, “What are you spreading?”

You are created as a vessel. If you are a vessel for Christ, you can also be a vessel for other things. Whatever you are steeped in, surrounded by, that’s what you are spreading.

The week before last, I took the youth on a trip. For the first time in my life I took the youth on a for-real caving expedition. This isn’t Luray Caverns; this involves getting on your hands and knees, and getting your chin, knees, and belly in the mud. There aren’t trolls down there, just mud. When we got out, we looked like someone had taken a mud roller paintbrush and covered us.

Let me tell you something about youth. After they get dirty, they like to spread. They touch everything. Five minutes after we got back from caving, you could see everywhere the youth had been. Smudges of mud were even on the ceiling! What we had been engaged in intentionally, we left traces of it behind.

When you’ve been in the mud, you spread mud. The youth were spreading what they had spent quality time in.

Let me pick on two sets of Christians. The first set, I want to say with humility, are spreading the same message as the world spreads. “Me, me, me.” “Don’t judge me.” “If it’s good for me, I’ll do it.” “If it feels good…” This message is anti-Christ, the same message the world spreads.

Other Christians take the same motto as the Boy Scouts have when they go camping:  “Leave No Trace.” These Christians believe no one should know a Christian has been there. Some of our students didn’t go caving, and they left no trace around those clean cabins. But when you treat the gospel this way, the message you spread is nothingness. We think it’s better to share nothing than to mess up the message. But spreading nothing is “no thing.”

Effective evangelism comes naturally out of intentional time with Jesus. We’re not changed by “accidentally” spending time with Jesus. Paul gets blinded by Jesus, then goes into the desert to spend time with God. That’s why we have Romans and the rest of his letters.

What are you spreading? Does everyone at work know you’re a Democrat… a Republican… a Duke fan… A vegan? You’re spreading something.

Are you available for Jesus? If you will say, “Holy Spirit, I’m available. I want to be with you in Bible study, prayer, fellowship,” he will saturate your life and your world and everywhere you go you will spread him. The goal is not to “leave no trace.” The goal is that everywhere we go, we spread Jesus.


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