... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 5 Year A
Message July 13, 2014

Discipleship – Why Some Hear and Others Don’t

Text: Genesis 25: 19-34; Psalm 119: 105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13: 1-9,18-23

For the last few Sundays we have been looking at discipleship from various angles, each of which have repeated the necessary elements of commitment obedience and practice. We have looked at it in terms of computing costs and benefits, of strengths and weaknesses and, of present and future. Today’s readings seem somewhat removed from discipleship until we realize that they are outlining the necessary conditions for successful and fruitful discipleship. As we go through each of the readings we will come to understand, even though superficially, the whys and wherefores of human response to divine action.

In the story of Jacob and Esau we have the renewal of the normative privilege and entitlement of the first born. Almost from the beginning it has been customary for the first born male to inherit the estate while the other siblings receive lesser allotments and often only in kind. Even up to present times this practice has been considered the standard. But as we see God has different ideas – And in this case the younger of the twins is to be the inheritor of the promised nation. The question, “why should this be?” is a question which will lead the more inquisitive seeker into a glimpse of what God saw and knew where Isaac and perhaps Jacob and Esau themselves could not fathom. The trading of the birthright for a meal is just such a glimpse Esau concerned himself with the present. Though skilled in survival tactics he saw only the immediate satisfactions. The long term prospect was beyond his grasp. Jacob on the other hand, though spoiled and somewhat of an irritating character, is the one in whom God sees fertile soil for spiritual growth commitment and ultimate true discipleship.

The psalm is an overt display of commitment to God’s law and an avowed sense of commitment to follow where God will lead. As such it is a Segway from Old Testament to New and from Romans to Matthew.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans it is easy to get lost in the manner of logic he uses. For most of us the Greco-Roman rhetorical logic is as foreign as the far side of the moon. Yet it does lay out the reality of why some adhere to God’s way and many others do not. First and foremost the argument Paul employs places humans not in an active role per se but rather in a passive one being the battlefield of a comic tug-of-war between good and evil. His use of flesh and spirit are not to be confused with body and brain or body and mind. Instead we need to look at substituting force of evil and force of good. Humans are the objects through which these forces exert a tangible display in the world. Thus we respond either in keeping with what God desires or counter to those wishes.

Paul’s aim is to show people how their actions in life are the result of which force is prevailing at any given time. A person might be a good person but do a deed contrary to God’s design without even thinking – the “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” scenario from last week’s excerpt from Romans. Out for a nice leisurely drive through the country side enjoying a soft drink or a sandwich and without thinking one tosses the can or wrapper out the window. We see it all the time – at least we see the results – garbage spoiling the vista or worse the plastic bag around the neck of a migrating bird. A deed done with no thought of the long term possible consequences. Paul argues this action is the result of the force of evil acting within and causing one to do that which one doesn’t desire. And even though the object might have been an apple core which decomposes and enriches the soil might be an example to others by which they excuse their tossing of plastic cigarette butts or whatever, “The evil we do!”

As Paul divides human response into the two faction of the sin within or the divine within, Jesus delivers a parable. And like all parables the parable of the sower is both complex and multi-layered. One could look at it from the aspect of the sower, the four types of soil, the seed or the yield. Even the narrative of verses 18-23 can be used to expand on any of the several perspectives mentioned. The sower could be seen as God, as Jesus or as one of the disciples. The soils could be seen as the recipients of the word, the milieu of the realm of God here on earth or the actions of humans. The yields of thirty sixty or hundredfold speak for themselves.

In the theme of discipleship this parable speaks loudly as to why some become disciples while others do not. It explains the spreading of the seed in a scattergun fashion as opposed to the way modern efficiency experts would have us so engaged. Yes, it would be great to prep the soil, know what lies in each section, how the plants will do in any given soil type and make the soil fit the need. That’s the way of modern farming. The traditional is to scatter the seed then plow them in and leave it to nature to provide the nutrients. IT was this method Jesus was thinking of in the parable and as such it explains the human response to the call to follow.

All are called but only some respond. Perhaps the hearts of some are so entrenched in “this is the way we have always done it” that they can no longer hear what is being asked of them. Someone comes up with an idea to prevent chemical from leeching into the ground water. However it requires a change in the way watering and fertilizers are used. Many will say it’s too much bother or expense to change. Others might just say, “We’ve always done it the old way and never had any complaints before!” It could be said for how we preach or how we do church! God speaks to us all the time and of that I’m certain. But are our hearts so hard we cannot hear?

And then there are others who hear, become animated and are gung-ho to do. They then discard the roots of commitment and their ardour wanes. The new watering system will require further evaluation and out of pocket expenses and they no longer experience the excitement of launching out. People hear the gospel and become enflamed but without a solid Christian family behind them they fade out. We all remember the Campus Crusades for Christ of the 1960’s, 70’s and perhaps into the 80’s. They did a great job of going onto campuses and grabbing hold of the emotions of teens. And for several months these teens were excited energized and dynamic. However about 6-8 months later the ardour was not sustained. The people of the Crusades saw this and couldn’t overcome it. The problem was that there was no depth, no structure, and no maintenance to allow for the deep seated spiritual growth.

Still others are the third type of soil fertile enough but also filled with weeks. The new watering system is great and would really be environmentally friends etc. But there’s the bills, the repair of the combine harvester, the new kitchen, the kid’s university – so many other things which also require attention! The Christian way is great; it offers an ideal way of life but I just can’t do it – not with the business failing, the boat needs repairs, the cottage needs a new roof and so on. Amid such cares, who can respond to the Gospel?

Then there are those who hear the news, buy into it, act on it and implement it. The farmer with the new irrigation system. Sure it costs a bit but in the end the well water will never be contaminated, the environment will be safer and secure from potential damage and perhaps in the long term the crops will have greater yields. Those who hear the Gospel that way have become the giants in so many fields. Our social equality, the abolishment of slavery, child labour and the advancement of medicine but to name a few, have all had their beginnings in those who have heard the word of God in a specific way and acted upon it. And there’s no telling who will hear that word. God speaks, God spreads the seed upon the soil and who will hear? May we who have ears hear!