Seed Germination – Dan Teefey
Sermon text: Luke 8:4-15
Last week I introduced you to the starting point for this series of sermons on our vision for Riverside. I shared that I believe that visions that we set and decisions that we make must come out of our relation to revelation, the biblical story. We say that we are a biblical church. Our denominational history started with a bunch of people asking repeatedly, “where is it written” in the Bible before making choices. So last week I shared that my jumping off point for us was taking our name Riverside and the rich agricultural language of the Bible and asking what does it teach us about what kind of church and people God has called us to be. Our conclusion last week is that the discussion must begin with God. That God grows things. That God not only grows our personal faiths, but He grows our fellowship, and our impact on our community. We cannot manufacture these things, but will be successful or faithful to the extent that we let God be God. To the extent that we participate, or become co-workers in what He wants to do.
I shared 4 characteristics of faith in God that should demonstrate themselves in our personal lives and in our church. Interdependence. All aspects of our faiths have some impact on other aspects. I cannot love my neighbor as God fully intended unless I am in conversation with Him through prayer. I cannot overcome personal selfishness unless I am learning more about the role God wants me to play through the Bible. All aspects of our spiritual lives and the life of the church rely on one another. Multiplication. Strong faith always multiplies. Fruit is always produced from a healthy plant. We can know whether we are right with God or not by the fruit our lives are producing. The same works for the church. If lives are being transformed and people are encountering Christ for the first time or in new and deeper ways, then we know we are healthy. Energy Transformation. Bad things will happen. Negative life circumstances will affect our lives and the life of our church. Faith, however, allows God to transform these negative occurrences into positive movements. We do not wallow in our despair, but pick up the pieces and allow God to build us back again stronger. Symbioses. The intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship. Though we are different, we need each other. Despite our varied preferences and personalities, God drives us to find harmony.
Over the next 3 weeks I want to speak specifically about what it means to connect with a God that grows things. We will continue to use the imagery that Jesus uses, which is that of nature. And today we will speak primarily about what it means for the Word of God, God himself to germinate in our lives and the life of our church.
Let's read our text from Luke 8:4-15.
Botanically, we know quite a bit about seeds and how they germinate. Folks a lot smarter than me tell us that a seed consists of a protective seed coat, some kind of storage tissue with nutrient reserves, and a dormant plant embryo. We further know that under the right conditions the dormant embryo can be “awakened” to germinate and grow into a mature plant that eventually produces fruit.
The parable we read this morning, which we also looked at in our series on the parables of Jesus, is definitely the most famous with regard to seed germination and plant growth. And its focus is on what it takes for the seed, the Word of God, to be “awakened” in our lives. Remember that our ultimate goal is that the seed would take root and grow into a mature plant that produces fruit.
Notice that the parable does not begin with . . . and the farmer whipped up a batch of seed and sowed it. We cannot make a seed from scratch. Seeds come from plants. Jesus explains that the seed in the parable is the Word of God. Like we can’t manufacture seeds from scratch, we can alter preexisting ones, but we cannot create them from scratch . . . we don’t manufacture the Word of God. As we discussed last week, we cannot manufacture God’s work in the world. He works and we see to connect with that work.
So in the parable, the seeds are provided by God and the farmer then does something with them. He sows them. Even though we cannot produce seeds or even make them grow, once we have a seed, there are certain things we can do to help its growth or hinder it. Just as there are things which you and I can do, or say, which will help or hinder God’s work through us.
This is issue I want us to wrestle with this morning. If God gives us access to his seed, the Word of God, His work in the world . . . what do we do with it?
I want to make one important point here, though. We make a choice whether to participate with God in the work He is doing in our world, but his work is not in any way dependent upon us. If we do nothing with his Word, it does not stop being effective, it just stops being effective to us. We see a similar thing in nature. Nature’s growth is constant. Even though Nature’s growth is slow and unseen it is inevitable. We’ve all seen the grass pushing its way through the pavement; and tree roots coming through foundations and roads. It is never that God’s Word stops growing because we don’t take advantage of it, it is simply that it moves somewhere else to grow.
Our passage this morning is about what happens to seed, the Word of God, in our passage, when it is not thrown into a hospitable environment. The farmer in the parable is tossing seed all around. Some falls on a path, was trampled on and then ate up by birds. Some fell on rock. Others amongst thorns. All of these seeds failed to produce a plant because of where they ended up.
If a seed is not allowed to germinate (sprout) within some certain length of time, the embryo inside will die. Each species of seed has a certain length of viability. Since Jesus started it, I want to use language of seed germination to discuss how the Word of God germinates in us. And how our first task as a church, a group of believers in Jesus Christ, must be to foster environments where the seed, the Word of God, can germinate in each of our lives and the lives of people in our community.
Seeds require different things to grow and seeds have lots of different seed coats that affect the process that it takes for the seed to grow. For instance, common vegetable garden seeds are ready to sprout. All they need is some moisture to get their biochemistry activated, and a temperature warm enough to allow the chemistry of life to proceed. Other seeds are really easy to get going too. Seeds, like those for lettuce, have a very thin seed coat that is very little barrier to water and simply need light, which penetrates its thin layers and causes the seed to get to work.
For some of us, we could relate to this imagery in thinking about how the Word of God took root in our lives. Perhaps you were raised in a Christian home with parents that spent a great deal of time helping you to understand who God was and what He desired from you. And when the Word of God was planted in you it did not take much to get it going. You quickly fell in love with reading the Bible and have been reading it ever since. Maybe you quickly became a regularly prayer or found it natural and easy to share your faith with your family, friends and coworkers. They are indeed people that encounter Christ in this way. There is little struggle with God and a natural submission to God’s growth potential. They are able to quickly let God’s seed do its thing in transforming their desires.
For others of you, though, you cannot relate to that story. Things were never easy. You had more barriers that had to be broken down before God to do much work with you. Perhaps you tried to lock the Word of God up in a safe and run away from it. There are seeds in nature like this too.
Some seeds have a thick seed coat, which does not allow any water access to it. In fact, some seeds are so hard that you can throw them against a concrete sidewalk and they just bounce. It is a wonder that they can sprout at all. But there are several ways that nature cracks these seeds. Some plants have moisture inside the seed and in the winter the moisture freezes, expands and bursts the seed from the inside out. Other seeds with a thick seed coat are battered and cracked open by pounding along a river bed or beating up against rocks on the sea coast. Others are cracked open by rodents or animals who weaken the seed coat trying to eat it. This process of nicking the seed coat to initiate germination is called scarification.
For many of you, your interaction with the Word of God has been one of scarification. God, himself, and others have had to gradually beat and crack the protective coat so that the Word of God could flourish. Perhaps it has been hard to give up your desires and plans for the future. Maybe God could not fully work in your life because of addiction to alcohol or drugs. Maybe you were too arrogant to thin that God’s work would make any difference. Maybe you thought you were too smart to trust in something that you could not understand or control.
But over time, God and His coworkers, beat down that defensive shell and God sprouted forth from it, producing in you a new person. New priorities and a new life. For many of you that is your experience and encounter with the seed of God.
And for those of you that really think that you went through the ringer as God moved through you. A final, and very common, example of a way to scarify a seed coat is observed in strawberries and raspberries. Their thick seed coat is designed to be swallowed by an animal. The animal digests the fruit pulp, but the seed coat passes through the digestive system still protecting the viable embryo inside, but weakened enough to allow sprouting! The seed is deposited with a little organic fertilizer in the environment and can now sprout.
For those of you that God had to destroy to bring about new life . . . you are like the seed coat that had to be devoured before the Word of God could sprout forth in you. Difficulty, tragic, but what a testimony to God when new life is the result of such a process.
You need to be and we must be together, a people that help the seed that is God germinate in the lives of people. We can talk all we want about programs and strategies and goals and aspirations, but there is nothing more basic than ensuring that protective coats are destroyed and God’s growth potential is unleashed. We want people to have a true and profound experience with the God that we know and live for.
This is what we mean when we call ourselves and evangelical church. We proclaim the new birth in Jesus Christ is essential. We proclaim that our protective coats that we have built up around are lives must be shed and destroyed, so that we can be “born again” in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone, the new is here.”
Our faith teaches us that “by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God conquered sin, death, and the devil, offering forgiveness for sin and assuring eternal life for those who follow Christ.” New birth is more than the experience of forgiveness and acceptance. It is regeneration and the gift of eternal life. This life has the qualities of love and righteousness as well as joy and peace. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3). To enter the kingdom is not only to have a right relationship with God but to be enlisted in Christ’s service. God’s purposes entail the transformation of persons, as well as the transformation of God’s world into a place of truth, justice, and peace.
As an evangelical church we believe that conversion results in eternal life. Conversion can be defined as the act by which a person turns with repentance and faith from sin to God. Conversion involves a conscious rejection of the life of sin and involves a commitment of faith. Eternal life is given through a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Such a high doctrine of conversion does not mean that all believers have dramatic conversion experiences. While no one remembers the moment of physical birth, one’s present life is evidence of its occurrence. So a person may be truly converted even though he or she has no memory of the moment of new birth. The vitality of life is the proof of birth, not its memory or recollection.
It is the will of God that all should be redeemed: “The lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Yet it is only through the grace of Christ that we can be saved. Our savior declared, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostles concurred: “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (acts 4:12). We share God’s concern for the salvation of all, but accepts God’s word that only those converted to Jesus Christ shall be saved.
The new birth, however, is only the beginning of life. Growing to maturity in Christ is a lifelong process called sanctification. Being formed in Christ is the goal, for both individuals and communities of believers. The apostle Paul agonized as a woman in labor, that believers might express Christ’s character and goodness in their whole being (Galatians 4:19).
We must be committed to being an authentic community that admits where our seed coats have become too thick . . . that shares our stories or growth and transformation. But we must also become people that know people. We need to know our community. We need to know their needs and their histories and their stories so that we can help expose them to environments that unleash the growth potential of God within them.
Last year, we held our first Riverside block party and we held our second this year. The purpose of that event was simply to meet our neighbors, to serve them, to have fun, and to ultimately develop a relationship. We did not read our Bibles to people as they walked through the food line, or pray for them out loud as they ate their cotton candy, but God was still working. God is always working. Our hope is that over time God will use us, as we are lead, to break down barriers to the growth he wants to do. We want to partner with God in work He wants to do. We don’t have to do it all.
Next week, we will talk about this next step in who God wants Riverside to be. Once we have encountered Christ, once the seed has germinated, how do we become disciples, how do we become mature plants.