As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Sowing Seeds of Hope, was given at The Salvation Army Devonport on Sunday 30 March, 2014, which was the Altar Service for our self-denial campaign, with the theme “Sowing Seeds of Hope”. The Bible reading was Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.
Sowing Seeds of Hope
Do you have hope? How important is hope for you in your life? Where does your hope come from? What do you do when your hope is gone?
In 1965, naval aviator James B. Stockdale became one of the first American pilots to be shot down during the Vientam War. As a prisoner of the Vietcong, he spent seven years as a P.O.W., during which he was frequently tortured in an attempt to break him and get him to denounce the U.S. involvement in the war. He was chained for days at a time with his hands above his head so that he could not even swat the mosquitoes. Today, he still cannot bend his left knee and walks with a severe limp from having his leg broken by his captors and never reset. One of the worst things done to him was that he was held in isolation away from the other American P.O.W.s and allowed to see only his guards and interrogators.
How could anyone survive seven years of such treatment? As he looks back on that time, Stockdale says that it was his hope that kept him alive. Hope of one day going home, that each day could be the day of his release. Without hope, he knew that he would die in hopelessness, as others had done.
Indeed, Victor Frankl, the successor of Sigmund Freud at Vienna, argued that the “loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect on a man.” As a result of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl contended that when a man no longer possesses a motive for living, no future to look toward he curls up in a corner and dies. Is there really any wonder that asylum seekers, when told they have no hope of ever being settled, are willing to risk their lives in protest, or are willing to attempt to take their own life, as their last sliver of hope is removed?
There is a dying world
The reality of our world is that it is a dying world. Alcohol, Drugs and Gambling hold a firm grip over our society. Football season is back, which leads to gambling ads returning at every break in play, and more alcohol ads than you can point a stick at. We have wars, famines, pestilence, violence. The poor are poorer and the rich make themselves richer. Homelessness – an in particular youth homelessness is at an all time high, and there’s very little housing available for them.
We are living in a dying world, where people look around them and see no hope. Generational poverty is still a massive problem, where children see their parents and their grandparents living in poverty, and give up hope, and – as Frankl said – curl up in a corner and wait to die.
Hope provides the opportunity to save the dying world.
But just as a lack of hope can cause people to curl up and die, when you can give that hope back, you have the opportunity to give life to people. Hope gave James Stockdale the ability to survive. Because Leigh Ann Tuohy had faith in Michael Oher, she invested in him, gave him a family, gave him hope, and was able to turn his life around to becoming a first round NFL Draft pick, as depicted in The Blind Side. Hope gives us the ability to turn lives around.
But it’s important that that hope is in the right place. Gamblers hope that their bet will be the one that wins them the jackpot, and not the one that loses them their house. Alcoholics hope that the next drink will be the one that dulls the pain, and not the one that causes them to do something that could get them in trouble.
Our hope has to come from the source of all hope – from God, through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. When we have that hope, we can then take on the role of the planter, scattering seeds of hope wherever we go.
Planting hope gives us and others life
We need to take on that role of the planter. Have you ever put yourself in his shoes when looking at this reading? So often, we use this reading to ask the question, well where am I in my spiritual journey? Am I in the good soil, and growing strong, or am I in the rocky ground, having had a strong start, but soon to die and fade away? And while that’s a really important analogy, we can gain just as much from putting ourselves in the shoes of the sower.
Now, I’m not great at planting seeds. We’ve got a bunch of pots of dirt that I water regularly, but the seeds that were in there… well I’m guessing that they got eaten up by the birds because there’s certainly no plant there now. However, one thing that I do know is that if I am to gain the most success, then I need to start it off in some really good soil. I’m going to get some seed-raising soil mix, and put the seed in, and theoretically, so long as I give it just the right amount of water and the birds don’t steal it, then I should get some lovely plants.
However, the sower that Jesus depicts – he’s a bit different than me. He’s almost a bit lazy. The way he’s depicted, it’s almost like he’s being paid by the bag of seed that he’s used, and they don’t care where it goes. Or maybe he’s like the Oprah of sowers, “You get some seed, and You get some seed, EVERYBODY GETS SOME SEED!”
But this is what I love about the depiction. The sower doesn’t care about where the seed goes. While you would think that he should direct the majority of the seed to the good soil, he throws it wherever he goes, it lands wherever it lands, and what happens to it is whatever happens to it.
That’s how we need to be with sowing the seeds of hope. We could sow only with those people we think are in good soil, but there’s two reasons why we shouldn’t.
First – those who are in good soil already have reason to hope. They’ve got the good stuff. They’ve got all the right conditions around them to make them succeed. Sure, they need hope too, but we can’t restrict it just to them.
Secondly – how are we to really know who is in good soil and who isn’t? We don’t know. What we are called to do is to be faithful, and to sow seeds wherever we go.
Plant seeds of hope wherever you go
Today, we planted seeds of hope in Bangladesh, in Bolivia, in China and Tanzania. But today, commit to planting seeds of hope in the way that the sower did. Wherever you go, plant hope. Form relationships with people. Encourage them. Show them love and joy, be at peace with them and have patience with them. Be kind and generous to them, and faithful towards them. These are the fruit of the spirit, which as Paul says, there is no law against such things. When we live out the gospel, when we live out the glory of Christ, when we let the spirit guide our lives, then wherever we go we will have the opportunity to plant hope. And when we plant hope, we can then let God take over – We don’t know if the seed we planted landed in good soil, or whether it landed on a path that God is about to rip up and turn into good soil. So be faithful, trust in God, and this week, plant the seeds of hope everywhere you go.
As we think on that, we’re going to sing a song, the words may be familiar but the tune may be new. But these words speak of where our hope comes from, and what it can do. The opening lines states that “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” And the chorus says what it can do: “Weak made strong in the saviour’s love. It’s through Jesus that we can do it, and when that time comes, with trumpet sound, then we will be found in him, and that is our hope, that we will be dressed in his righteousness, and can stand faultless before his throne.