My sermon was preached at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, Spring, Tx. 16th July, 2017
I want to tell you a few stories to start us off. The first is that I work at West Houston Assistance Ministries known as WHAM –No, not the band! This church is a supporter of NAM, which is a partner organization. So, I had someone come in the other day that I want to tell you about (we see about 90 or so people a day, who need food, housing, and clothing. These are people in desperate need). So, this woman came in with a two week old in her arms. She had a 6-year-old and a 9- year-old with her as well. It turns out that this woman’s mother had just beaten her up (Her mother has a significant mental illness). After that happened, she took her children and her newborn and ran away. A kindly stranger gave her a night at a nearby motel and she called the shelters around town. They were all full. So, she came to us. As I sat there with her, listening to her story and admiring her children, I heard her pain.
It just struck me that this person is at the lowest point of her life.
We were able to give them accommodation, food, and help.
There is a second story that I want to share. On Friday I was with a captain of industry, a man at the zenith of his career. He is in a place in his life where he can choose whatever car he wants and whatever house he desires. He is a partner in a top firm. He has a beautiful office, with a great vista and plush, gorgeous surroundings. On the surface everything looks fine.
But this man has a secret addiction and he shared with me that day.
It is a very serious addiction that is causing great trauma and struggle in his life and with his family.
I sat there and reflected that this man is truly at a low point in his life.
You see, that juxtaposition spells out to me that struggle and pain doesn’t care what car you drive, what neighborhood you live in, or how big your investment account or portfolio is. As someone who travels daily, alongside the poorest of the poor, and then meets with some of the wealthiest people in Houston (I have been in meetings with genuine billionaires), I can assure you all that the common ground for each of us is struggle. All of us struggle, regardless of economic or social status, or stage of life. One of the myths in society is that if one could only amass a certain amount of income, investment, or a certain house then everything will settle down and there will be no more struggle.
What actually happens is that new problems and new issues arise.
So what is your struggle. What is your issue today?
What is it that you have going on? Is it grief, like it is for my wife and I? Is it an addiction, like with this man who is a captain of industry? Is it a secret sin? Something hidden?
Or is it violence? A fractious disagreement in your relationships?
What is it that you’re struggling with?
I want to offer you something this morning from our reading that encourages me, and I hope it encourages you. It’s found in Matthew 13, our gospel reading, verse 23. Let me read it for you to refresh your memory:
“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.”
So God, what is this? How can this help us, in this place, this morning? How can it help us with our struggle? How did it help me? Let me share that.
There are three things. The first is in the expression, ‘hears the word’. Here we have this beautiful parable of this sower, basically describing, in great detail, the different ways we can be drawn away from God. In such times, we are so deep into our struggle that we often do not feel that we have the love and support that we need.
Yet the final part of the parable, verse 23, talks about what happens if the sower puts the seed on good soil. It’s saying that if they hear the word and they understand it, then they’ll bear fruit.
Well what does that mean?
Let me unpack this for you:
The first thing is again, ‘hears the word.’ In Greek the word for hear means to obey. So it’s not that you physically heard me or that you passively heard the reading this morning. That’s not actually what it means to “hear” the Word. It is much more than that. It’s an active obedience, once you learn what the Word says.
Second, what is the ‘Word’? Well, ‘Word’ refers to John 1:1-5, ‘logos’.
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was WITH God, and the word WAS God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came through him and without him, no one thing come into being. What has come into being in Him was life, and in my life was the light of all people.’
Listen to this, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’
I became a Christian at 14 years old. I didn’t grow up a Christian. I didn’t go to church. Actually that’s not true. I went to church once and thought it was bizarre. So if there’s anyone who’s 14 or younger and thinks this is bizarre I know where you’re at. Maybe older people too. I thought it was weird. And then I encountered Jesus. I had a dramatic road-to-Damascus conversion, actually. I encountered the love of Christ and it changed my heart. It changed my life. That’s what ‘Word’ means. ‘Word’ means acknowledging, encountering, and being transformed by the God who made the universe, made you, and is changing you.
So, to obey the word means that you first must acknowledge God. Are you acknowledging God? Are you ignoring God?
Have you given your life to Christ? Have you confessed your sin and invited Jesus into your heart?
That’s what logos means.
The God who created the universe created you and through Him and only through Him, is new life given.
When the Bible talks about the light shining in the darkness, it is referring to the things that are hidden from others. The Greek for darkness is ‘private’ or ‘privacy’. So what is it that is hidden in the dark recesses of your life, that you do not bring to the church? What is hiding behind the Sunday –best face? When you’re alone at 2am, what is it that keeps you awake, questioning what is happening in your life? That’s what we’re talking about.
Are you letting God into those places? Are you letting His light illuminate the dark places in you? Are you letting God into those corners? In other words, are you confessing and facing your sin? Are you letting Christ into your heart?
Maybe you’re reading this, thinking “You know what? I need to do that. I need to do that again. To invite Jesus into my heart, to confess my sin, and to allow this creator of the universe, this transformer of lives, a foothold in the darkest most private areas of me.”
So how do we deal with our struggle?
Number one is we have to acknowledge God. This requires faith from our hearts.
Number two. ‘But as for what was sown on good soil this is the one who hears the word and understands it.’ ‘Understands it’, means comprehensively getting it. This requires head faith.
Now let me just comment about contemporary events. And let me say a disclaimer upfront. This is not a political statement. It’s an observation of what is happening.
I think truth is under attack. What I mean by that is that the trust that we have for facts is being challenged. I’ll say one expression to support that, ‘fake news’. Now, whether you think it’s actually fake news or you think that’s a ridiculous idea, that’s not my point. My point is that you all know what I’m talking about. This is a big topic right now. Do we trust a news agency? Do we trust our government? Who do we trust? What is truth?
I think the time has come for the ascension, the rising of the importance of academics and researchers. I think they have to stand up and speak boldly. Advocate for research and learning.
There is a lot of ‘dumbness’ going on.
We need to have a yearning to learn. This is the time to research and learn.
If you don’t trust news outlets, go and research it yourself. That’s going to be hard, but do it anyway. If you don’t trust the government or whatever press release or tweet you read – research it yourself.
So, what does this have to do with Matthew 13 and your struggle?
The good news is that I know the link and am about to share. Otherwise my statements would be a bit weird.
To understand comprehensively, we need to go back to the reading, learn the Word and understand it. Don’t just read the Bible, learn the bible. Do it however you can. Get a commentary, join a Bible study, whatever it takes.
Have a yearning to learn. Ask.
So we deal with our struggles by first acknowledging God’s presence in our hearts. Second, we need to ask and work to understand.
Third and finally is found in Matthew 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’. ‘Bears fruit’, in Greek, means action and conduct.
This is (and this is going to date me) the MacGyver right? This is the action. You’ve got to get out there and do it. You want to deal with your struggle? Yes, you have to accept using your heart, deal with your sin. You have to understand and have a yearning to learn and do research, but you also have to get out there and act. You have to get out there and apply what you now know. Apply.
So I’m going to confront you and challenge you, as I finish up.
Are you active? Are you doing something? Are you volunteering your time?
Wherever you are, what are the needs in your community and how can you help?
You know what, maybe you already are active, but maybe you’re thinking, “You know what? I need to do something.” Or, “I need to do more.”
Going back to the stories at the beginning, when I sat with that young woman, her two-week-old, and her two other children, when I heard her story, it deepened my prayer life. It helped me understand, Jesus was all for people, just like her.
So, I would like to leave you with a hook, something to remember. If you are struggling, and you need assistance, reach out to AAA : Acknowledge, Ask and Act.