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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Perseverance: a Fruit of the Spirit (Luke 8:4-15)

Sermon by:Robert Austell
August 19, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "All Creatures of Our God and King" (Diemer)
Hymn of Praise: "All Creatures/Give Glory" (Dawson/Austell)
Hymn of Praise: "Ancient Words" (DeShazo) 
The Word in Music (trio): "I Shall Not Be Moved" (Ingram/Youngblood)
Offering of Music (Bobby White, piano): "Meditation" (Schumann)
Hymn of Sending: "How Firm a Foundation" (FOUNDATION)
Postlude: "Carillon" (Archer)

"Perseverance: a fruit of the Spirit"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Luke 8:4-15

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

From time to time I have the opportunity to help folks who are trying to learn how to use their technological gadgets – a new cell phone, a computer, e-mail, Facebook, and the like.  I’m not sure why those things come so naturally to me, but they do; and I enjoy sharing that knowledge with other folks and seeing the look of comprehension and joy when they “get it.”

There are some folks I have worked with who ask me for help or directions and I can tell right off the bat that it’s not going to stick.  While I’m talking or demonstrating something, they are clicking, exploring, or focused on something else.  Or sometimes they insist on taking copious notes and likewise miss what I’m trying to show them (using computers is more like learning a tennis swing than reading a book about playing tennis!).  We will finish our time together and later they will tell me that they spent two hours trying to do what I showed them, all to no avail.  “These stupid computers!”

Now those folks have PERSEVERANCE; they spent two hours (and maybe many more) trying to figure out their e-mail or Facebook or iPhone; but my instructions went unheeded.

There are other folks who really cue in on what I’m saying and doing and allow me to walk them through using the technology.  For them, a combination of sticking with it and listening to instruction really pays off.  They also have PERSEVERANCE.

Today we continue our study of the fruit of the Spirit, those qualities or characteristics that God grows in every person who trusts and follows Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit lives and works in you.  Perseverance is listed in the list of fruit in 2 Peter 1:5-8, which repeats and adds to the list in Galatians 5.  Perseverance is listed in 2 Peter in the context of diligent faith, after moral excellence, knowledge, and self-control.  It makes sense that one would need perseverance to be diligent in faith and to develop traits like moral excellence, knowledge, and self-control.  But we will also look at another passage, from Luke 8, to understand a bit more about what Christian perseverance looks like as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. 

A Parable (vv. 4-10)

To help us understand Christian perseverance better we will consider today the so-called “Parable of the Sower.”  It might just as well be called the “Parable of the Soils” or the “Parable of the Seed” – those are all names we’ve added to describe this teaching of Jesus.  I’ll remind you of how I like to describe parables.  They are a particular story-form that are not fables, allegories, or direct teaching, but draw listeners into a familiar setting and then have a kind of twist at the end to make a spiritual point.  I like to compare them to a good joke, not because parables aren’t to be taken seriously, but because what makes a good joke is a good and often unexpected punch-line.  That’s what makes a good parable as well.  Let’s look at this one…

Consider the context: a large crowd was coming together around Jesus.  People were traveling some distance to see and hear him.  Some would listen with interest; some were skeptical; some would follow him; and some were against him, secretly or openly.  And he begins to tell this parable.

The sower went out to sow his seed… and the seed fell in various places with various results.  Birds ate up the seed that fell on the road; the sun dried up the seed that fell on rocky soil; thorns choked seed that fell among the weeds; and some seed prospered and grew in good soil.

You already heard an explanation given in the scripture reading.  But Jesus gave that privately to the disciples after they asked him about the parable.  All the crowd got was the initial parable, and this one more thing…

After every part of the story, Jesus would shout, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  You heard that in the video reading of the text, but let me read it again the way Luke describes it:

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled underfoot and the birds of the air ate it up.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.  HE WHO HAS EARS TO HEAR, LET HIM HEAR!

Now the Parable is This: Meaning vs. Reason (vv. 11-15)

It changes things a bit doesn’t it?  No wonder the disciples asked him about it!  And that was it with the crowd.  They wouldn’t have heard it analytically like we are prone to do or like Jesus explained it.  He explained each part so the disciples and we could see the whole thing.  But that middle part – each soil and each response – that’s not the important part.  That’s the MEANING or explanation of the parable.  But that’s not the REASON for the parable. Jesus provides that in verses 11 and 15.  The seed is the Word of God and the goal is to bear fruit with perseverance!  And the reason for the parable was to elicit that persevering response of faith from those who would hear and to confuse those who would not.

Why confuse those who would not hear?  It was not yet time for Jesus to die; some were looking for a reason to arrest and oppose Jesus.  Some might not understand or believe now, but come to believe at a later date, perhaps after seeing signs of Jesus’ power and authority.  There may be other reasons.  The point is that this parable is not (primarily) a technique to understand so much as a proclamation to respond to (or not).

As each part of the parable was shared and Jesus declared, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” the listener would have to ask him or herself, “What does this mean? Is he talking to me? Does my life and faith resemble this scene?” 

Each time Jesus shouted, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” the listener would have to wonder, “Do I have ears to hear? What am I supposed to hear?”

And when Jesus got to the last scene with the good soil and the great crop and cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” each listener surely must have though, “What is this good soil? This is the good scenario… do I have that? Can I get that?”

That’s the punch line, and it is a recurring, ever-deepening punch line that jumps out in the middle of a regular unfolding story.  It would have grabbed the attention of every person in that large crowd of listeners and invited them to really listen and understand. 

How Do I Archive E-mail?

In my opening illustration I shared my experience of working with persevering people who nonetheless didn’t “get it” with their iPod or e-mail or Facebook.  In other cases, persevering people learned and mastered those skills quite well.  What was the difference?  In many cases, it wasn’t the amount of effort they put forth, but the degree to which they paid attention and really listened to what I was trying to teach them.

That is, I hope, a good illustration of what Christian perseverance is, as described in Jesus’ parable.  It is not enough to simply try hard in this life.  Plenty of people do that and miss God and miss faith.  And we can use the word perseverance to describe them.  But Jesus pairs that determination, that “holding it fast” (v. 15) with listening, obeying, and following God’s Word.  The kind of perseverance that strengthens faith and bears fruit is perseverance that listens and looks to God’s Word for direction.

It’s like teaching yourself geometry or learning well from a good teacher.
It’s like figuring out tennis with no help, or taking lessons and practicing the good form the coach teaches you.
It’s like building an end-table from scratch or apprenticing with someone who knows carpentry and wood-working.

None of those examples are perfect because every now and then there may be some genius who can figure those things out on their own.  But God has said that the only way to know Him, obey Him, and follow Him are through His Son, Jesus Christ, as revealed in His Word, the Scripture. 

So the good news is that you don’t have to figure this out on your own.  Growing in Christ does take hard work and perseverance, but it is with the best “coach” and set of instructions there ever have been, with fuel for that perseverance coming from God Himself.

So pay attention, persevere, and see what God stirs up in you.

Those with ears to hear, let them hear!  Amen.

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