July 16, 2017.  At first sight, the two readings set by the Church of England in its wisdom for this fifth Sunday after Trinity don’t seem to fit together, which is something of a challenge for preachers.

The New Testament reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul was a very prolific writer, and he was a very philosophical, almost academic writer, never more so than when he wrote to the church in Rome. But when you boil down Paul’s message, he really has just three points to make: we are all born sinners – that was the major text in last week’s readings; we can only be saved by the sacrificial love of God’s only son, Jesus Christ; and we must live by the Spirit. And life in the Spirit is the subject of that selective passage set for the New Testament really this week.

Of course, Paul being Paul, he also includes his other two points as well, but what he doesn’t do, and what he rarely does, is offer practical advice about exactly how we are meant to “live in the spirit.” Certainly it means spending our days praising God for his great goodness, certainly it means caring for each other, and certainly it means sharing word of God with those who do not yet know its saving grace.

But as those well-worn phrases role of my tongue, I’m very aware that they are exactly that: well-worn, hackneyed phrases which actually don’t mean a great deal in ordinary, everyday life. They are summaries of the life and spirit.

Turning for the moment to the gospel reading from St Matthew, the content of that really is very clear and well-known: it is the Parable of the Sower. Like all parables it is a story told to illustrate some deeper meaning. It doesn’t stand alone as a story, it needs explanation. And if, like me, you see readings set out like this, Matthew 13 verses 1 to 9 and verses 18 to 23, you will have looked privately at verses 10 to 17 to find what’s been missed out! I can tell you, in this instance, in this Jesus explaining to the disciples why he talks in parables!

So, onto verse 18 where he begins to explain his parable of the sower. And it is a fascinating explanation. It shows how very well Christ knows our human hearts and minds, and our weaknesses. But it also shows the potential that we have. I’m sure it’s familiar to you, but please allow me to go through it very quickly.

There are, Jesus said, four types of people when it comes to hearing God’s word, which is one of the practical aspects of living in the Spirit. We who are Christians, who are saved by the blood and body of our Lord Jesus Christ and who therefore live in the Spirit, are compelled to share that good news with everyone we meet. The technical word for ‘spreading the good news of Christ’ is evangelism, and one of the best explanations of evangelism I know is the daily prayer of Mary Sumner who founded the Mothers Union in 1876. Her daily prayer was this:

All this day, O Lord, may I touch as many lives as possible for thee; and every life I, do thou by thy spirit quicken, whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breathe, or the life I live. Amen

The very best description of evangelism which I know, evangelism being the expression of God’s love and hope presented to other people so that they too may come to know and to love him, not by our efforts but by his work.

So we Christians are called and compelled to do that, and one way is to share scriptural knowledge with people, the word of God, whether a direct quotation from the Bible or one of the principles which the Bible offers; and those people react in one of four ways.

Some hear the word of God and do not understand it, so the devil comes and snatches away anything that might have been sown in their heart, like seeds sown upon a rocky path and taken away by the birds. I want to say they are people who really don’t listen, and the word of God takes no hold in their lives.

Then there are those people who hear the word of God and immediately start shouting and singing, “hallelujah! Christ is risen! Come and join the risen Christ!” There’s a saying: there’s nowt so devout as the newly converted. They try to convert everyone they meet, not humbly presenting the word of God in the way they live their lives and so allowing God to do his work, but trying by their own efforts and energy to browbeat people into joining their faith. But they quickly fall away when they are challenged about their new faith, as is bound to happen because they lack depth in their faith despite having great enthusiasm.

Thirdly, said Jesus, there are the seeds sown among thorns. They are quite like the second group but these are people who seem to grow in the faith, their faith becomes deeper and they can become very knowledgeable, their roots become quite deep. And they become comfortable, well off, settled and successful in their own walks of life, and like thorns that part of their life chokes the faith they have, and their ending is no better than their beginning. They might continue as ‘Sunday Christians’ but they are confined by the thorns of their daily lives.

But finally, said Jesus there are those who hear the word and understand it, and who live by it. They are those who know what God requires of them. And what does God require of them? The prophet Micah tells us: chapter 6 verse eight;

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

 and what does the Lord require of you

 but to do justice, and to love mercy,

 and to walk humbly with your God?

To me that is the way of life that we followers of Christ are called to live. It sums up the two Great Commandments given to us by Christ: number one, to love God with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and with all our strength, walking humbly beside him in awe of his great majesty and power. And number two,  to love our neighbour as ourselves, doing justice to our neighbour and being kind and loving to our neighbour which is the meaning of Micah’s phrase, ‘to love mercy.’

And, said Jesus, if we do those things, and we are seen by the world to do those things, others will see within us the joy and contentment of walking with God, and God may bring them to himself. And that can yield great fruit, in some cases perhaps a hundred full and another 60 and in another 30. But never underestimate the power of God to use every one of us to his glory.

Most people know of Billy Graham, the great American Christian evangelist. Billy Graham has repeatedly appeared on international lists of the most admired men and women in the world. In fact he’s appeared on one list 60 times since 1955, more than any other person in the world. His message of salvation in Christ has been heard by millions, from kings and presidents to commoners. He hosted annual Crusades from 1947 until his retirement in 2005, and one estimate suggested that in his time over 3 million people have responded to his invitations at his crusades to “accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour.” His estimated lifetime audience, including very many radio and television broadcasts, was more than 2 billion people.

Billy Graham clearly touched very many lives for Christ. We can’t all be Billy Grahams, but we could all be Albert McMakins, for it was one Albert McMakin who in 1934 persuaded the 16-year-old Billy Graham to go to a series of Christian revivalist meetings. We don’t know how many other lives were touched by God through the example of Albert McMakin, but if it was only that one life, Billy Graham’s, which God quickened through Albert’s witness, what a glorious encouragement he is to us. May I finish this by repeating Mary Sumner’s daily prayer, and commend it to you?

All this day, O Lord, may I touch as many lives as possible for thee; and every life I, do thou by thy spirit quicken, whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breathe, or the life I live. Amen

if you have been, thank you for listening and please accept my invitation to tell me what you think. If you have not been listening, you are of course forgiven, and please know that I would welcome your comments too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *