Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 21, 2024

Posted on January 22, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

January 21, 2024

Third Sunday after Epiphany

Mark 4:1-34
Psalm 126

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

In my previous congregation, I had the honor of accompanying a family when the husband was placed on hospice care. His name was Bill. During his time on hospice, he and I spent time talking about what he would want at his memorial service, as far as readings and hymns.

Bill was a teacher so, as we talked, he also shared that several of his former students had heard that he was dying and reached out to him. And as they talked, they told him about the difference that he’d made in their lives.

They’re now adults and living, literally, all over the world. But he remembered each of them. And he was astonished and humbled that they made the time to contact him.

And so, we talked about the power of sowing seeds in our lives. About how often we just sort of fling them – we don’t pay attention to where they land. We scatter them, cultivate them as best we can, and pray that they take root and grow.

And we talked, too, about how sometimes we’re very, very lucky to find out that the seeds we sow produce more seeds that are then sown.

And so, the parable of the sower was my preaching text at his memorial service. Partly to honor Bill’s faithfulness in sowing seeds, and mostly because he and I both recognized that God was at work in the seeds that he sowed.

We know that Jesus liked to teach using parables. This section of Mark’s gospel is simply called “Parables.” And with good reason. Leading up to this, Jesus has continued healing people, even on the Sabbath. He appointed the apostles and sent them out to proclaim his message and to cast out demons. And he told crowds of people that whoever does the will of God is his family.

And today we hear that he begins to teach about God and God’s realm, using parables to get his message across.

Our tendency is to think of parables as simple short stories, but there’s more to them than what’s on the surface. Especially for us, because – in the case of the ones we hear today – many of us aren’t familiar with living in an agricultural society.

All of the parables that Jesus told were designed to get people’s attention. If you know what to listen for, there’s humor and irony and sometimes even sarcasm in them.

For example, in the first one in today’s reading, in biblical times no one sowing seeds would have been so careless as to just let them fall wherever. There were no seed catalogs that you could order from every year. Any seeds planted would have been saved from the previous harvest for the next season.

So, they would have been carefully planted in only the best soil. And nurtured, and cultivated so that they produced a maximum yield for food, and also for seeds for the next planting season.

So, the people who first heard this maybe would have laughed. But it’s also possible that they would have said, “That sower isn’t very smart…” and wrestled with what Jesus could have been talking about.

Because not everybody understood parables. And Jesus says as much when he’s with the disciples later, “People will listen to what I teach, and they won’t get it. No matter how many times I say it. They won’t understand that they need to rethink how they understand God.”

The beautiful, and tricky, thing about parables is that they aren’t just ideas to be analyzed. They present realities for people to participate in. Jesus uses them to challenge people to a different way of understanding.

The seed in this parable is God’s word. And the temple leaders at that time were being very cautious about sharing it with others. Jesus’ experience was that they only shared it with the people they thought were, basically, smart enough to receive the word. They were being stingy.

But what Jesus says here is, “Just give God’s word to everyone. Some of it will take root and some of it won’t. In fact, most of it won’t. But keep sowing the word because it’s an endless resource. And when it does take root, it will do amazing things. It’s both precious and infinitely available. It has the capacity for enormous life, and it doesn’t need to be protected.”

Jesus sowed the seeds of God’s word everywhere he went. And it didn’t always take root. It upset people, and confused them. But that didn’t stop him. Because when it did take root, it welcomed people into a realm that they’d been kept out of.

It helped them understand that God’s realm was something they were invited to participate in. As they did, God’s word grew within them and empowered them to continue sowing its seeds. And God was at work in each one of them.

When we think about the word of God, and for us as Christians – the gospel, we often limit it to what’s written in the Bible. And the Bible is part of it. But if we limit it to the just written word, we limit what we receive and our experience of it. And we ultimately limit what we share about it.

But when we remember that when we receive the gospel, we receive the story of the possibility of God’s realm. And we experience the abundance that it offers. The more we do that, the more we’re able to recognize it. The more it becomes available to us. And the more we become part of it, and it becomes part of us.

And what Jesus tells us to do here is to share our experiences of that abundance. To not keep it to ourselves. To tell the world with our lives about God’s realm – show people what it’s like.

Share God’s love and grace and mercy. Pray with and for one another. Nurture another person’s faith by being present in difficult times. Nurture another person’s life in some way.

Each time we do this, we sow a seed. Jesus tells us to not worry about the worthiness of the situation or the person. He doesn’t ask us to bring in a bumper crop every time. He just asks us to live in faith.

Jesus kept preaching and teaching, despite people not getting what he was talking about, because God worked in and through his witness. He freely spoke to anyone who would listen – made sure they heard the message about God’s nature and who God really is. It didn’t matter if they accepted it or not.

But those that did – their lives were changed forever as they began sowing their own seeds of faith.

As we live our lives in Jesus, we can’t keep our experiences to ourselves.

So, we fling the seeds – as many as we’re given. Let them land where they land. Let them yield what they yield. Just get them out there for all the world to receive, whether they’re received or not. Because God is at work in each one of them. Thanks be to God! Amen.