"Well Rooted"

Today's Gospel reading is a familiar story called the "Parable of the Four Soils." This is one of the parables told by Jesus that you will also find recorded in the books of Mark and Luke.

All of the parables in this particular chapter of Matthew teach us about God and his kingdom. They explain what the kingdom is really like as opposed to our expectations of it. We learn that the kingdom of heaven is not a geographic location, but a spiritual realm where God rules and where we share in his eternal life. We all join this kingdom when we trust in Christ as our savior.

Jesus often times used parables when speaking to the crowds. He found it an effective way to communicate his message about the truths of the kingdom to people of varying backgrounds and education levels.

You see a parable compares something familiar to something unfamiliar to help us quickly gain understanding. Parables are also powerful ways to communicate because they compel the listeners or readers to discover the truth and meaning of the message being presented.

Jesus often times used parables when trying to help people understand spiritual truths by using everyday objects and relationships in his stories. [PAUSE]

In our reading this morning Jesus is sharing two related messages with us. The first message is one which addresses those who have a passion for sowing spiritual seeds. In other words those who have a desire to evangelize, actively spreading the word of God in all its many forms.

The message shared in the first half of the parable serves as encouragement for those who teach, preach, and lead others in a spiritual way. The farmer sowed good seed, but not all the seed sprouted, and even the plants that grew had varying yields.

Here we clearly learn that we can be the best teachers, preachers, and spiritual leaders the world has ever seen, but that doesn't matter because all the seed won't grow. All the people we talk to about God and salvation through Jesus Christ will not want to receive or accept this truth.

And as Christians it can be discouraging when we don't see the fruits of our labor come to fruition in a manner we expect. We may have offered the perfect Christian example; we may have taught the Word with passion, we may have preached until we couldn't speak anymore.

But the truth is, faith and belief in the one true God cannot be forced on anyone. It's a miracle of God's Holy Spirit as he uses our words and deeds to lead others to him. Only God can change hearts, and because we each have the freedom to choose, the person hearing and seeing God's Word must want to receive this change.

Human ears may hear sounds and human eyes may see, but there is a much deeper kind of listening and seeing that results in spiritual understanding. If we honestly seek God's will, we will have spiritual hearing and spiritual seeing, and these stories by Jesus will have a powerful impact on our life. A heart changing impact.

So as Christians who want to share the good news we mustn't get discouraged when our friends, children, relatives, and neighbors don't seem to "get it." All we can do is our best, allowing God to do the rest.

The commitment of today's Christians, especially here in our country, is not so much threatened by persecution, as it was in the time of Jesus, but rather by secular scorn. But like in the time of Jesus, the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches are still choking the Word.

We mustn't get frustrated and throw our hands up and quit. We need to keep sowing the seed knowing some will grow and some will not. We should pray that all people would be open to God's Word, and pray that God's mighty hand will reach out and touch the hearts of those we are trying to reach. "Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear." [PAUSE]

The second message shared in today's Gospel reading is one that I think is of utmost importance, because being an effective Christian and being one who can be used by God to lead others to Christ requires that we are well rooted.

Jesus, in this section of the parable, speaks of four types of soil and the different responses to God's message they represent. The first soil is one of the hard path. This soil represents those who hear the message of God's kingdom and don't understand it, so they become influenced by evil and sin rather then God's Word.

The second type of soil Jesus speaks of is rock. This is the person who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy. But since it has no root, this joy and acceptance lasts only for a short time, usually until something new and seemingly better comes along. Or, until trouble and scorn presents itself to the person.

On various religious TV stations you can watch big evangelical events that focus on bringing people to Christ. And today some of the large mega-churches are called seeker-churches because they focus on bringing people to Christ. And this is a noble and right thing to do, and is part of our mission as Christ's church. We hear this in the Great Commission, don't we? "Go and make disciples."

But having people accept Christ is only the first part of the Christian mission. Many new Christians, as a result of these evangelical events, will fall away from the faith, when the going gets tough or when some new idea comes along that seems more appealing, because they are not well rooted.

They aren't being nourished in the faith, they aren't being watered and fertilized, and they are simply caught up in a moment of joy, a joy that will diminish over time if the soil is not cultivated properly. The goal is not to simply get people to accept Christ and through the front doors of the church. The goal is to truly make disciples and prepare them to go back out into the world to do the same. New people to the faith or to the church will simply leave out the back door if there isn't anything in place to help them grow. So I do have a problem with churches and evangelists whose sole purpose is to get people, in a moment of heightened joy, to accept Christ and then leave them to figure out for themselves how to grow in the faith.

This is a problem within the Church universal today and I personally can't support a cattle-herding response to Christ. Heightened spiritual life-changing joy and awareness of God certainly, but not without support of a process of Christian study and formation.

This is why Sunday School, Bible School, youth groups, and ongoing ministry are vital. People are hurting and are seeking a soul shaking God. Our job as the church is to make it possible for them to develop a well rooted relationship with God. The third soil is the one who receives the seed, but it falls among thorns and weeds. This is the person who hears the Word, but is choked because the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the very life out of them, making it unfruitful.

These are the people who let the world we live in control them rather then placing all their trust in God. They are easily overcome with anxiety, seem to have nowhere to turn, and often time lose hope.

The fourth soil Jesus speaks of is one that is free of weeds, is well cultivated, and has the potential, and notice I said potential, to yield a fruitful harvest. This is the person who hears the Word, understands it, and most importantly accepts and believes it. This person yields a fruit many times the seed, which was sown.

This is our goal, to be this kind of soil, and I believe we all have the potential to be this kind of soil, well rooted in the teachings of God's Word. But once again, and I know for the past several weeks I have been harping on this one point, the choice is ours.

We can choose to be that hard trampled down soil, our hearts so hardened that we readily succumb to temptation and sin, rather then God's will.

Or we can choose to be shallow rocky soil where we respond favorably to a mountain top experience, only to return to our old ways when the going gets rough, or when there is no solid Christian support system to grow deep with.

Or we can choose to be the soil, which accepts the seed, but because we live with thorns and weeds, worries and other things to distract us, we can't grow to reach our full Christian potential. Allowing the things and people around us to choke the very life out of us, a life that God so much wants us to enjoy.

So how do we become well rooted Christians?

Well before we plant anything we need to make sure the soil is prepared properly, because if our spiritual roots don't dig deep into the soil of God's love, if they haven't worked their way around and beyond some of the buried rocks, which prevent nourishment, then our spiritual growth will be stunted; we become top-heavy, and easily uprooted when the storms of life come blowing our way.

Becoming well rooted in God's love does not come by just accepting Christ, it doesn't come automatically; it takes practice, study, and determination. [PAUSE]

Unfortunately there is much in life that tears apart our confidence in this love. Even if we were blessed with parents who demonstrated such love, all of us bear scars from pain and hurt that human relationships can often bring.

Because of this pain we may have developed patterns or behaviors, perhaps unconsciously, which distance us from others, or we seek to manipulate and control others, all in an effort to prevent hurting again.

This may on reason why those who are seeking hope turn away from Christianity, because in their eyes all they see are hypocrites, rather then people loving one another. These folks don't understand that Christianity is not all about mountaintop experiences and quick fixes. Which is what many are hoping for.

Christianity is about a relationship, a relationship that takes time to develop and nurture. Becoming well rooted in God's love is necessary for growing in faith and is necessary for producing the hope we profess in Jesus Christ.

But we can't share with others what we haven't first received ourselves. Many can share the concept of hope and God's love, but the whole point is to live it, allowing others to see it and feel it through us.

If you needed open heart surgery which surgeon would you be more apt to go to, one which says I have attended the most prestigious medical schools, and have received numerous academic awards related to understanding all there is to know about open heart surgery, or would you be more receptive to a surgeon which says I have preformed hundreds of surgeries just like the one you need and have never experienced any fatalities. Non-Christians will be drawn to those who live the Christian experience more so then those who can talk about it.

To be well rooted in God's love means we need to receive the love of Christ, personally and realistically. This requires time in the presence of the Risen Lord, which is achieved in different ways: It requires finding quite and quality time to be with God. This can be achieved through personal devotions, reading scripture and other inspirational books, seeking spiritual guidance from others, and prayer.

Quite means time free of distractions and other concerns. For some, quite means playing some soft music and just sitting back for a few moments reflecting and praying. Whatever quite is to you I encourage you to take time each day to be in the presence of God.

By quality time I mean effective use of the time you have allotted to be with God. For example, quality time is not simply spending time reading the Bible. Quality time means understanding the Bible. It's not enough to get into a routine of spending 15 minutes a day reading a pre-defined portion of scripture. This can be an absolute waste of time unless you plan to take the time to understand what you have just read allowing God to reveal to you his message in a close personal way.

If you only have 15 minutes a day to devote to reading scripture I suggest reading for 5 minutes and taking 10 minutes discerning and understanding what you have just read. This may mean it will take you three years to read the entire Bible instead of one, but that's ok, it's not a race.

Gandhi spoke forcefully to Christians when he said, "You Christians have in your keeping a document with enough dynamite in it to blow the whole of civilization to bits, to turn society upside down, to bring peace to this war-torn world. But you read it as if it were just good literature, and nothing else."

Understanding is what stimulates growth; it's the fertilizer if you will. Christians must pray for the gift of understanding, so that what we read in the Bible and believe with our minds may be acted out in our daily lives. Plants don't yield ripe fruit the day after you plant the seed. It takes time and it all begins with developing a good root system. [PAUSE]

Being in the presence of the Lord also frequently occurs when we offer service to others. Even in small acts of sacrificial serving we are likely to discover more fully God's faithful love for us, more so than our love for God.

Indeed all spiritual practices and disciplines such as worship, private prayer, fasting, self-examination, service, forgiveness, and spiritual guidance, are directed towards more fully comprehending God's love by active and lived experience. This serves to deepen our love for God, for others, and for ourselves. Our root structure grows deeper and wider.

Richard Rohr states, "If you want to feel the aroma of Christianity, you must copy the rose. The rose irresistibly draws people to itself, and the scent remains with them. If Christianity relied on its inner authority, the weight of its truth and the sheer power of genuine goodness, the world would also say to Christians, 'I hear you; stop shouting.' And we would not have preached a sermon or spoken a single word."

I pray your life will be well rooted in God and so influence others that they might see the joy, hope, and peace, which only comes through our savior Jesus Christ! Amen.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade