One of the most well-known stories that Jesus shared is the parable of the sower. I am sure some of us will have heard it many times before; but maybe this morning it’s your first time at Church ever, or even for a long time. Maybe for you it’s the first time you’ve heard this story. Whatever the case, it’s great to see you here today for this special service of baptism, and I hope that these words I share with you give you food for thought.
We often find in life that when people – perhaps friends or family – share some advice with us – some words of wisdom – we have a choice. We can either accept that advice and take on board those words of wisdom, or we can decide to reject that advice and do our own thing. I know when I was a teenager, at times I was quite headstrong and rebellious and I often wanted to do my own thing – even if at times I had to learn the hard way by the consequences of my actions, particularly where my choices didn’t turn out so well.
The Bible tells us that God’s word – what we read in the Bible – is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. It can help us to make good choices in life and shed some light on where we find ourselves in life and faith. I think for me, reading the Bible can sometimes be like holding up a mirror to ourselves, giving us an opportunity to see things clearly. It can bring hope and healing, comfort and challenge. And in the middle of that, God always presents us with an invitation and a choice – to accept Him or reject Him. Jesus comes alongside us and always extends an invitation, an invitation to come to know him, to walk with him and to be his friend. Earlier in the service, I said “we all wander far from God and lose our way; Christ comes to us and welcomes us home. In baptism, we respond to his call.” And in this reading today, we see different ways in which people might choose to respond to that call.
- Jesus begins by saying “Some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up.” This illustrates people who hear Jesus’ call and the new life and blessings that he offers but either don’t understand or choose not to understand. That lack of response gives no opportunity for the seed – that invitation – to bear any fruit.
- He then says “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.” This illustrates people who hear Jesus’ invitation and at first say all the right things, but don’t follow through. I did that with my parents when I was a teenager. I said, ok, I’ve learned – I won’t do it again. But then a few weeks later, I was back just where I started. The seed falls on rocky ground without much soil, and when the busy-ness of life and other distractions kick in, the seed withers away. It is the easiest thing in the world to find excuses not to respond to Jesus’ invitation. At the end of the day, you can’t have a friendship by not investing yourself in that in friendship.
- In Jesus third example, he says “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” This is an illustration of people who are quite simply battered by the brokenness of this world and life events, perhaps won over by the false promises that the world can often present to us, or distracted by the lure of wealth. The seed – Jesus’ invitation – falls among thorns, and circumstances of life prevent that seed from ever bearing fruit.
To give you an example, some time ago I had a long conversation with a man who very openly spoke about challenges and issues he had in life associated with substance abuse and addictions. He clearly had talents, but he found himself in a place where he was surrounded by “thorns” of life and he was struggling to get free. I spoke to him about various organisations that could help, and I spoke to him about how I would be prepared to support him pastorally, practically and spiritually. I extended a hand of friendship and give him that invitation.
If you think about recovery programmes for addictions, and especially those that follow the 12-step programme developed by the AA, the very first step is for people to admit that they are powerless over the substance they are addicted to and that their lives had become unmanageable. The second step is for people to come to believe that a power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity. The third step is where people make a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. The tragic thing was that this man was unable to embrace these initial steps and reach out. The thorns of life choked the seeds, and he couldn’t accept that invitation.
- In Jesus’ final illustration, he says “Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” This speaks thankfully of those times when the seed that we might scatter falls on good soil and bears fruit in an incredible way – a hundredfold, some sixty, or some thirty.
I believe wholeheartedly that we are hard wired to bear fruit in life. It is tragic when we see people who have such potential and yet are unable to live that potential. The most precious thing we can give to each other is ourself; God did precisely that in sending his son Jesus. I believe that God’s truth is something that can set us free, it is something that can cut away the thorns of life, it is something that can strip out the rocks from the rocky ground of our life. It may well take time, but God promises to be with us, we heard some of those promises in the words of this service today. And it comes back down to a choice. Do we accept or reject his invitation? How do we respond to his call?
In coming along to this baptism, inevitably we find ourselves encountering that invitation and making a choice. We find ourselves hearing about God’s promises, and how he yearns to know us, and for us to be his friend.
Where do you find yourself this morning? It is a question that God asked in the very beginning of creation…where are you? Are you like the path, the rocky ground, surrounded and choked by thorns or are you open to hearing God’s call and accepting his invitation?