When I was a ten or eleven years old my sister somehow conned my parents into buying a horse, it wasn’t long and one horse led to another and before you knew it I had been introduced to the concept of farming, at least in the sense that we had a small barn and livestock. When we moved to Hammond River, just outside of Saint John New Brunswick, my parents struck a deal with a local farmer that allowed us to keep our horse on his farm and in exchange my father sold my sister and me to him. Well not quite but at 13 it seemed that way. Murray boarded race horses and kept a few beef cattle and Dianne and I worked in the barns to pay for our horses being there. So for two years, until we sold our horses, we cleaned stalls and exercised animals, and in the spring we put up fences and in the summer and fall we brought in hay. And I discovered that I am way too lazy to be a farmer.
But in the eight parables where Jesus taught his followers about what the Kingdom of Heaven would look like he used the farmer not once as an illustration but three times . Two Thousand years ago farmers would have been a familiar site in Palestine, unlike today where our produce comes from all over the world then what the people ate was grown locally. And so even those who had no connection to the land didn’t have to look very far to see a man planting, weeding or harvesting his crop.
This is week six of our summer preaching series: the Kingdom of Heaven is Like. . . and we started with the premise that the Kingdom of Heaven is Like an Inukshuk. In case this is your first time out since June and you were wondering about the proliferation of Inuksuit around Cornerstone.
Because God’s Kingdom as manifested in the local church and the Christ Followers who make up the local church serve the same function in the world that the Inukshuk served in the Inuit’s world. To provide landmarks, direction and warning of dangers. And when the church is operating the way that it is supposed to operate and when Christ Followers are living the way that we are supposed to live then Christ can truly say: Now the People will know I was there.
Without the church, without Christians then the story of Christ would have just been an ancient myth but we make it come alive and prove the truth of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
Seven times Christ begins a parable with the words The Kingdom of Heaven is Like. . . and once he begins by saying: The Kingdom of God is Like . . . And it is that reference, found only in the Gospel of Mark that we are looking at today. Debbie read it for us earlier, but let’s read it together.
Mark 4:26-29 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”
You gotta love the Parables of Jesus at times, because they aren’t always as clear as some would have you believe. Sometimes he explains them and sometimes he doesn’t, sometimes they are self-explained and sometimes they aren’t.
And I’ve warned before beware of the person who says they have it all figured out, they might have it figured out but that doesn’t mean they have it figured out right, it just means they aren’t going to hear any other opinions.
Sometimes we hear something and we hear it wrong. One time Angela and I were in the car and a song came on from the seventies, perhaps you know it. (Play MP3 Intro to Rosalie) Written and recorded in 1973 by Michael Tarry, the song was a favourite of mine. So I was singing along and Angela said “What did you sing” so I told her “She was a belly dancer, with the grace of a duck She would dance up above in the other room.” She didn’t say it but her look said “You are an idiot” what she said was “The lyrics are ‘She was a ballet dancer. With the grace of a dove, She would dance up above in the other room.'” Wow, that made a lot more sense.
And so when we read a parable like this one, we have to ask: Is the seed the word of God and the harvest believers? Or is the ground the believers and the seed and harvest growth in their lives? Or is the farmer the believer and the seeds his influence in the world? Let’s go with the last one.
In Matthew 5 Jesus tells those who choose to follow him that they are to act as “Salt” and as “Light”. The one thing that salt and light have in common is the effect they have on their surroundings. If salt is added to something that is not salty that thing is flavoured by the salt. If it is dark, no matter how dark the dark might be light will make the dark less dark and there is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of even one match.
And Jesus left us here for a reason and that reason is that He expects his followers to make a difference and to have an impact on the world we live in. To act as salt and light in a world that needs both salt and light.
Listen to Jesus’ prayer for us from John 17:14-16 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.
Two thoughts there that I hope you caught. 1) We don’t belong to the world. 2) Jesus isn’t asking that we be taken out of the world. Sometimes as a pastor I have people who come to me, whining about how tough it is to be the only Christian at their place of work or in their class and they want me to pray that they get a job with all Christians or be put in a class with nothing but believers.
No that would be the equivalent of pouring salt into a box of salt or lighting a candle in the middle of the parking lot at noon time on a sunny day. And so here is the profound thought of the day, every one of us will have an influence on somebody.
We sow seeds of influence every day in our lives, seeds that will produce something and Jesus is telling us that if we profess to be Christ followers than we will be responsible for the harvest we produce. Actually we will be responsible for the harvest our influence produces whether we are Christ Followers or not. Every one of us would love to hear somebody tell us: “Because of something you did I am a better person.” Or to get to heaven and have someone come up and tell us “Because of your life I became a believer and I am here because of you.”
Not so much to hear someone tell us “I started smoking or insert your favourite bad habit here because of you.” Or “I rejected the claims of Christ because I didn’t see a difference in your life.”
It was Mahatma Gandhi who wrote “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” I wonder what difference it would have made worldwide if the church didn’t have to contend with the scandals that have encompassed the church and high profile Christian leaders who have been involved in high profile sinful behaviour. But more than that if Christ followers would just follow Christ.
And I know that I am constantly harping on the fact that you can’t excuse your behaviour because of what others have done, that you have to take responsibility for your actions and your choices but in the same breath we can’t allow ourselves to become an excuse for others.
And whether it is fair or not there is a greater responsibility for those of us who chose to claim the name of Christ. Mark 4:26-27 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens.
You see the premise here right? The farmer scatters the seed and once the seed it scattered it begins to grow until it produces a crop. Now in theory the farmer is only supposed to be scattering good seed, in theory. You know what Yogi Berra said right? “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.” In theory the farmer is only supposed to scatter good seed, but the seed will grow whether it is wheat or weeds. So here is the question: What Seeds Are You Scattering? Because we are all scattering seeds in our lives and once they have been scattered they can’t be unscattered. My father used to tell me that everyone is good for something, even if it’s being a bad example. So let’s take a look at the type of seeds we spread in our lives.
Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
We Scatter Seeds With Our Actions Here is the scary thing, somebody is watching you. It might be your kids, it might be a friend, someone at work or school but someone is watching you to see how you act and behave in certain situations. Dwight L. Moody said “Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me.”
If you are a Christ follower and people know it they are watching you to see how you respond to life and most people know or at least think they know how Christians should behave and that is based on Christ’s teaching. And for the most part people know what Jesus taught, at least in broad strokes. Love you neighbours, do unto others, turn the other cheek. What if people saw us act like that?
And for the most part people know the type of behaviour that Christians are supposed to avoid. They might not be able to quote Galatians 5:19-21 but most folks know that Christians aren’t supposed to live that way. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. And that’s why people can look at someone’s actions and say “And you call yourself a Christian” Because they know the reality of 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
They know that if you are a Christ Follower than you are supposed to be different from a Non-Christ Follower. That if you follow Jesus then you should reflect Jesus in your personal life, and your family life and your professional life. And so the assumption is if Christ hasn’t made a difference in how you behave that Christ doesn’t make a difference.
On the other hand David wrote Psalm 112:1 Praise the Lord! How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. And for the rest of that particular Psalm he writes about the impact that type of person will have and he ties it all up in Psalm 112:9 They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honour. Benjamin Franklin wrote “Nothing preaches better than the act.” And that goes back to what you are doing speaks so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.
You understand that your kids will model their Christian behaviour and their commitment to the church on yours right? So if church attendance is a priority for you as a family than there is a good chance it will be a priority for them, on the other hand if Church is what you do if there is no hockey games, or it’s raining or if it seemed like the thing to do, well what goes around comes around. The same goes for your spiritual habits, your bible reading, your prayer life and your giving patterns, because in most cases more is caught than taught.
But it’s not just our actions, Jesus’ brother wrote in James 1:26 If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
We Scatter Seeds With Our Words The book of James contains an entire section warning us about the power of our words. And I don’t think that anyone would question that. But typical of being people we understand how other’s words hurt us but when it comes to our words we can’t understand why people are so sensitive.
Words are so powerful, James talks about them being like a spark that starts a raging forest fire. He writes that our tongues are like a tiny bit that when you put it in horse’s mouth is able to control an animal that outweighs you six to one, he tells us that our tongues are like the rudder on a ship, disproportionately powerful. And the problem is that once the words are out they are out, you can’t take them back and you can apologize for them, you can say you didn’t mean them but once they have been spoken there is no getting them back.
The old story is told about the Rabi in a small Russian town many years ago and a lady in the town had spread rumours about him, one day she realized that what she had done was wrong and came to ask his forgiveness and asked what she could do to make it right. He told her to take a feather pillow to the town square cut it open and shake the feathers into the wind and then return to him. She thought it was a strange request but agreed to do it. When she had completed her task she returned to the Rabi and asked if there was anything else she should do to which he replied “Yes, now go back and collect the feathers.”
And so we influence people by what we say. Do we build people up with our words or do we tear them down? Do our words encourage or do they discourage?
A disturbing trend, with Christ followers is there careless use of profanity and the Lords name. Don’t know if they think they are being cool or what but we need to be reminded of Matthew 15:11 It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth.” And not only does the use of profanity cause people to automatically deduct 50 IQ points from their opinion of you it always causes them to doubt your Christian experience. Because although most people in the world have never read the book of James the understand the truth of James 3:10-12 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.
So what do we have so far? The things we say and the things we do, but there is one more thing to look at this morning.
Romans 14:17-18 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too.
We Scatter Seeds With Our Attitudes As important as what we say and what we do is so is our attitudes. We can say and do all the right things but still have a stinky attitude toward life. We are almost like the little boy who was told to sit in the corner and as he sat there with his arms crossed he was heard to mutter, “I might be sitting on the outside but I’m standing on the inside.” You know how we say and do things.
We talk about having the joy of the Lord in our lives but look like we’ve been sucking lemons. Talk about trusting God but worry things to death. Talk about forgiveness but grant it grudgingly. Do you remember what you have been praying since you were a little kid, the line from the Lord’s prayer Matthew 6:12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. We are asking God not just to forgive us but to forgive us the same way that we forgive others. And that might be a dangerous prayer for some of you.
Are we the type of person who sees a silver lining behind every cloud or a cloud in front of every silver lining? Are you the type of person that people want to be around or the type of person that people avoid?
If you are a Christ follower and people know that you are a Christ follower than people will assume that your attitude in life is determined by the Christ you are following. Remember he is supposed to make a difference in your life.
And I know that people either think or say “But that’s just the way I am, I’ve always been a melancholy person or I’ve always worried about things even as a child.” But it goes back to the fact that as a Christ follower we have experienced a new birth, we have become a new person, the new has come the old has gone. Time and time again the scriptures talk about a change that happens in the life of the person who experiences Grace.
As Christ Followers we have a responsibility to demonstrate Godly, positive, trusting attitudes and the result is:
Jeremiah 15:19 This is how the Lord responds: “If you return to me, I will restore you so you can continue to serve me. If you speak good words rather than worthless ones, you will be my spokesman. You must influence them; do not let them influence you!
Who are you influencing in your life? And what type of influence are you having?
Everyone’s perception of Christianity is coloured by the Christians they have met. Every person out there who is outside the Kingdom, when you say Christian they think of someone. And so if they think of you what is their perception of Christ and his Kingdom.