As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Give Freely, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday September 3, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 13:1-9.
I feel as it is Father’s day, this story is appropriate.
A weathy Texan was in the habit of giving his dad unique gifts on Father’s Day. One year, it was lessons on hang-gliding. The year before, it was the entire record collection of Slim Whitman. But this year, he felt like his had outdone himself. He purchase a rare kind of talking bird that could speak five languages and sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while standing on one foot. The talented bird cost ten thousand dollars, but he felt it was worth every penny. This would be a Father’s Day gift his dad would never forget.
A week after Father’s Day, he called his father. “Dad, how did you like the bird?” His father responded, “It was delicious!”
Do you ever have trouble giving? Maybe it’s trying to pick the best or most appropriate gift. Maybe it’s trying to find something unique. Maybe it’s trying to remember you gifted you that vase, and whether you can regift it or not.
Maybe it’s trying to decide whether the person is worthy of a gift. Did they give you a good enough present last time?
We all have these internal battles which rage on inside us, whether we admit it or not, when we are deciding to give a gift or not. And I think this is why I find part of this story frustrating.
The sower makes no sense
Like me, I’m sure you’ve heard today’s parable many times before. And there’s something about it that just doesn’t make sense. And the thing that annoys me is the one commonly thought to be God. And that makes my annoyance even greater! How can there be something wrong with God? But there is.
We commonly think of the Sower as God. It doesn’t have to be, but it is a common interpretation. And what annoys me is that the sower is so lazy in planting the seeds. He’s just tossing them out there, this way and that, not even caring where they land. Oh, some are landing on the path? Oh well. There are some rocks over there? Well, they can have some seeds too. Thorns? I’ll dump the rest of my bag in there.
The sower is so free in giving away his seed. And it doesn’t make sense.
I would have thought that they would make sure that every seed would have the best chance. You know, poke a hole, drop it in, cover it up, water it. It means that each seed is planted in the best possible location, covered up so the birds won’t get it, and watered so it will start to grow. This is how you plant seeds, isn’t it?
Well, apparently not, according to Jesus. Apparently, according to Jesus, you just throw the seed anywhere you want. You give it away so freely that it doesn’t matter.
And for some people, this is confronting because Jesus gives us an explanation of the parable. Later in the chapter, we read:
“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Matthew 13:18-23 (NRSV)
The seed is the word of God. And it’s given away so freely, so lapsidaisically, without abandon. We hold the bible to be the inspired word of God, something that has tremendous value to us – and Jesus just gives it away freely, like Oprah giving away prizes on her show. “You’ve got the word, and you’ve got the word. EVERYBODY’S GOT THE WORD OF GOD!”
And that’s just it. Jesus does give freely. And he expects us to give freely in return.
We can give as freely as the sower gave
Earlier in Matthew 10, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples on mission. He sends them out with the following instructions:
Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
Matthew 10:5-8 (NIV)
Freely you have received; freely give. Freely we have received God’s love. Similarly, we are to give God’s love as freely as we have received. We need to be willing to give freely – whether that’s our tithes, or our gifts and talents, whatever it is that we have, we need to be willing to give freely.
There’s a story told about the Franks, who lived around the 3rd century AD. The story goes that whole armies were baptized at a stroke. Many of these warriors would go into the water with their right hand held high, so that they could say “This hand has never been baptized,” and they could swing their battle axe just as freely as they had before.
Is there a part of your life that you decided to keep from getting baptized? Is there part of your life that you aren’t willing to give over to God? If so, then I challenge you to release that go God today – to give it freely.
Our lives and the lives of others will be changed
When we give freely, our lives will be changed, and the lives of those around us will be changed. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, we read:
The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (NRSV)
If we give sparingly, we will reap sparingly. If we give freely, we will reap freely. And this is where the sower makes sense. God gives the word freely, so that people will freely come to God. God loves us freely, so that we will love God freely. And as I was saying last week – we don’t give because we expect to receive, we give because we want to honour God. We don’t give reluctantly, or under compulsion – we give cheerfully because we want to honour God.
We need to give our all
So Go and give your all. Give everything you can, cheerfully, to honour god, knowing that you will reap bountifully.
What is God calling you to give? Maybe there’s something that you held onto, not wanting to give it to God, for whatever reason. Is today the day that you give it to God freely? Is today the day you give your all to God?
As we reflect on this message, we’re going to sing the hymn, I Surrender all. If you’re willing to surrender all, then I invite you to stand as we sing this. Perhaps you might like to come and pray, and give your whole life to God. As always, this time is open for all to use as they need.