Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sowing for a Harvest

Worship Reflections

This weekend my church had a "Focus on Africa", with the band Krystaal leading worship. Krystaal is a group whose core is composed of men who escaped oppression in Congo and made it to Canada after a gruelling time in refugee camps in Kenya.

I really did appreciate the unique style that African Americans bring to Christian worship. The gospel style of music often associated with black churches and African American Christians carries with it a vibrancy and liveliness that is extremely warm and unrestrained. Participating in worship led by Krystaal was a great experience, and they are extremely blessed with wonderful voices.

While attending St. James Anglican in Kingston I developed an appreciation for traditional worship including an organ and proper choir. The beautiful harmonies reflect the affluent culture that cultivated classical music and extraordinary technical skill. Other Christian music draws on other social cultures, such as contemporary Western culture or African culture. All can be heartfelt, and this eclecticism helps to make worship something universal that brothers and sisters in Christ can all participate in in a manner most relevant and touching to themselves.

Sermon Reflections

Today's sermon was from Mark Chapter 4. Below is the text from the ESV version:

The Parable of the Sower

4:1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: 3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. [1] 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold."

The pastor touched on a number of major points. Firstly, in all these cases, the seed was the same (the Word). Thus the problem is not the seed, though often people will criticize the Bible. Secondly, in all these cases, the sower is the same. Thus the problem is not the sower, though often people will criticize Christians.

The problem is the soil: our tendency to turn away from God's will. We do not know the condition of a person's heart, only God knows this. Our job is to sow, to spread the seed and trust in God for the results. We should not be worrying about the "quality of the soil", but simply spread the seed earnestly and lovingly.

So then, what are the things that I learned from this sermon? Firstly, there is the issue of the quality of the soil. I have heard many criticisms of the church because of the kinds of people that attend. Of course there are many sincere Christians, but there are also those who come for social or recreational reasons. Some people feel this is an affront - that the church is lessened by the acceptance of these kinds of attendees. However, so long as they do not cause the members of the church to stumble, this is actually a great thing. It is the church's calling to draw people into its folds. Not all people who come will be sincere and not all will be receptive, but the church should be a beacon to bring all sorts of people through its doors so that many can be exposed to the Word. Of course, not all will be "good soil" that will bear fruit, but it is not the quality of the soil is God's concern, ours is to sow.

Secondly, I learned about myself. Jesus had outlined all sorts of responses to the gospel in this parable, and while I had heard it many times, they had never stuck out to me more than "good soil" and "bad soil" i.e. "accept" or "reject." But today, hearing it again, the types of soil began to take on meaning for me.

For instance, I began to see myself in the seed that grew up in thorny soil. Obviously, as Christians we all strive to be "good soil". However, often I do feel held back out of fear (e.g. from sharing, or committing to tasks such as travelling to developing nations or short-term missions). I do get bogged down with the concerns of life, using schoolwork (or worse: TV, games, Facebook) as an excuse for not taking quiet time to study scripture or pray. I do struggle with desires such as wealth, etc. It is equally true that God has given us many and diverse gifts, and that not all are suited for every role in the church, but rather we are parts of a greater body. But this parable does demand that I (perhaps we?) reflect on whether we are acting as "good soil", doing God's work and being fruitful, or are being choked by the "thorns" and the matters of this world.

Lastly, I learned about sharing. By this time I have had experiences where friends of mine have been seeking, or have even come to accept Christ, only to turn away. I often kick myself for these experiences, shouldering blame for not being more supportive and more available. Yet we do not know the condition of people's hearts. There is seed that falls in the rocks, sprouting up quickly, and being extinguished quickly. It is God who works in the hearts of men; we sow the seed as best we can. Now obviously this is an oversimplification - we do have responsibilities for the seed we sow. We do have to be supportive, loving, available, and helpful where needed; working to cultivate the seed. But we are also only a part of God's plan which involves many parts. Thus, we share, as best we can. The Word will not always take root, but we sow for the harvest and must trust in God for the results.

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