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Date: July 16, 2017 (Pentecost 6) 1. Texts: Genesis 25:19-34; Ps. 119:105-112; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: discipleship development. 4. Aim: guide, inspire to action. 5. Proposition: “Parables are not kids’ stories: they are Christ’s prompts for our actions.”

 

NO KIDDIES’ LIT HERE

 

Like the Greeks have Aesop and his fables, we Christians have Jesus and his parables. They are cute little stories with nice moral endings. Kids can learn a lot from parables and many a Sunday School teacher has rejoiced over the appearance of a parable in the lesson plans. Today’s parable, “The Parable of the Sower,” would be well suited to a bird seed picture and maybe a trip outdoors to scatter grass seed. Yessiree, parables are good for kids and Sunday School. As soon as we think that, we’ve plunged headlong off a cliff towards our own spiritual impoverishment. That kind of thinking dismisses parables as children’s stories. Very few adults take kiddies’ lit seriously—like Saturday morning cartoons, such stories are only for kids. In fact, when we think about parables as children’s literature and content for Sunday School lessons, then we tend to dismiss the whole Bible on the same basis. After all, when was the last time an adult consulted the Bible when making a career decision or choosing a marriage partner or deciding if a summer vacation were a good idea? Most Christians have turned parables into a kind of Christian fairy tale and dismissed them from consideration as the proclaimed word of God. Please, please, please remember that when Jesus told the parables, he was not speaking to children. He was either speaking to crowds of adults or to his adult disciples. No kids, nowhere. These are stories for adults. Jesus told stories because his culture was filled with stories. That’s how the Bible got its start, as stories shared by the community. Stories are also far easier to remember than lectures and are prone to retelling—which, again, is why we have them in the New Testament. But unlike our time, stories were told for the benefit of adults. We only say, “Once upon a time…” to children. Jesus said, “There once was a man…” to adults. Page 2 of 4 -Taking responsibility for our discipleshipNow, we all know that a parable is a story told by Jesus to teach us a lesson about God and his people, using everyday situations and sometimes with a surprise. That means that a parable is a work of fiction. Jesus never met a man who had been on the road to Jerusalem who was attacked by robbers and left halfdead on the side of the road. He never knew a father who divided up his inheritance before his death between his two sons. Every parable is fiction. But every parable is set in circumstances with which the listeners were familiar. They understood the settings and so were able to enter quickly into the meaning. That meaning was always centred on the relationship between God and his people. Yes, there were sometimes surprise endings—like in that story of the Good Samaritan. But the lessons were about God and how God’s people are to live out their relationship with God. To make sense out of a parable for adults, one usually asks four questions: 1. Who is the main character, that is, who is doing the most actions and around whom do the other characters and actions revolve? 2. Compare and contrast that main character and his actions with God and his identity. How is that main character like God and how is that main character unlike God? How are his actions like and unlike God’s actions? 3. What do those comparisons reveal about God and his relationship with his chosen people? 4. How will this parable change how I relate to God and to the world around me? This style of interpretation will almost always produce beneficial results for our development as adult disciples of Christ. Display/project four questions or print on handouts. Page 3 of 4 -Taking responsibility for our discipleshipNow, today’s Parable of the Sower is one of those rare parables for which this style of interpretation is less than ideal. But that’s ok because Jesus interpreted the parable for us. One kind of soil is like this and another kind of soil is like that. Jesus used what is called an allegorical interpretation of his own parable and it makes the application quite easy. But there is potential for a grave difficulty in this. Allegory always simplifies everything and in this case, we might be tempted to push the simplification too far. We might be tempted to say, “Well, since I go to Church and have offering envelopes, I am one of those disciples in the final allegory—I’m good soil and God is working to increase his harvest through me to a 100% increase.” So, in a quiet kind of way, we puff out our chests and swagger through life thinking we’ve got it made, spiritually speaking. But experience will prove conclusively that no person—except Jesus— belongs solely in that final category. We aren’t—any of us—only one kind of good soil. Rather, each of us is a mixture of soils. We have compacted earth, rocks and weeds alongside soil ready for planting. We have hardened hearts, secret rebellions and competing allegiances alongside our willingness to be used by God. None of us are just good soil, ready to produce God’s harvest of righteousness. What, then, does this parable have to teach us adult disciples? God is the sower. He is spreading his word of love, forgiveness and salvation throughout the world. He is implanting his freedom and grace into our hearts. His is the primary action. But we don’t have to leave our soil unattended. God scatters his seed, but we can actually cultivate the land. We can loosen the compacted soil of our hardened hearts, so that we might be more open to his implanted word. We can pick the rocks of our jealousy, pride, envy and anger, so that his word might have more space to grow. We can rip out our ideologies, greed and ambition so as to reduce the competition for God’s love. Page 4 of 4 -Taking responsibility for our discipleshipWe can actually assess our success in such cultivation as we witness the increase of our spiritual yields—from thirty to sixty to one hundred fold. So, rather than understanding the parable as a children’s story, we actually see that it is Christ’s confrontative challenge. Jesus was saying that we have to clean up our lives and allow God’s harvest of righteousness and salvation to grow in our hearts. This is not kids’ stuff—this is Jesus’ arrow aimed straight at our adult hearts. In fact, children can get little out of this parable, other than some vague encouragement to be good, little and well-behaved children. For us adult disciples, it is Christ’s challenge to change our lives so that we might bear fruit for God. Parables and the Bible are not children’s stories. We ought never to think that parables are nice, innocent, little stories told by Jesus for the sake of our Sunday Schools. Rather, they are his subversive stories meant to change our lives and through that to change our world. AMEN.