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Parable of the Sower -- selfish living vs kingdom living

In Sunday's gospel, Jesus is telling us there are four different human reactions to hearing or reading the "word of the kingdom."

Which begs the question: what is the "word of the kingdom"?

The best explanation I've heard is in the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases part of chapter five of Paul's letter to the Galatians:

He (Paul) starts by reminding us there are two very different kinds of life we can live on earth (or on any given day).

One choice is selfish living, and the other choice is kingdom living.

First the bad news: Here's Peterson's paraphrase of Paul's summary of what kind of life develops out of selfish living, of "trying to get your own way all the time" --

  • repetitive, loveless, cheap sex;
  • a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage;
  • frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness;
  • trinket gods; magic-show religion;
  • paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants;
  • a brutal temper;
  • an impotence to love or be loved;
  • divided homes and divided lives;
  • small-minded and lopsided pursuits;
  • the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival;
  • uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions;
  • ugly parodies of community.  [And so forth].

Sounds a lot like current events, doesn't it? Not much about human nature changes over 2,000 years.

Paul says if we use our freedom this way, we will not be living our lives according to the word of the kingdom. If we do use our freedom that way, we'll be squandering our inheritance in God's kingdom - we won't have or participate in kingdom living.

But what happens when we live the other way, God's way, kingdom living?

What happens when we choose to live freely, "animated and motivated by God's Spirit" - what happens when the "word of the kingdom" takes root in our lives?

Again, from Galatians 5, as paraphrased by Peterson: When we choose "kingdom living," "God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard-things like

  • affection for others,
  • exuberance about life, serenity. 
  • We develop a
  • willingness to stick with things,
  • a sense of compassion in the heart, and
  • a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. 
  • We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
  • Not needing to force our way in life, and
  • [we're] able to marshal and direct our energies wisely." . . .

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Don't you want to live like that, more often?

THAT is kingdom living...that is responding to the "word of the kingdom" the way we're supposed to.

If we use our freedom this way, we will be living in the kingdom (and therefore seeing more and more of it around us). If we use our freedom this way, we'll be enjoying our inheritance in God's kingdom - we'll participate in kingdom living, now, as in heaven.

Here's the bottom line, the way I'd put it:

The "word of the kingdom" is the series of invitations (and encouragements, and authorities/ powers/abilities) that God sows, like seeds, into our lives.

So: What happens to those seeds that God sows?

As we'll hear in Sunday's gospel and as I'll unpack in this Sunday's sermon, there are four categories - four different things that happen to those seeds, four different ways we humans respond to the seeds of kingdom living being sown into our lives.
JESUS MAFA. The parable of the sower_ from Art in the Christian Tradition_ a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library_ Nashville_ TN. http___diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu_act-imagelink.pl_RC_48309 _retrieved July 14_ 2017_

One of the most striking things about Sunday's passage is that it seems like God is wasting ¾ of the seeds God sows: three out of four seeds do not produce anything in this parable!

The implication is that when God tries to sow seeds of the "word of the kingdom" in human hearts, three out of four times, the effort fails. The further implication is that three out of four times (or in three out of four people) sermons don't connect; three out of four days we read the Bible, it doesn't speak to us; three out of four times we pray, nothing seems to happen.

If we stopped right there, it'd seem like God is a terrible gardener.

But in God's economy, the ¼ of the seeds that DO take root yield at least a 30-fold return -- and sometimes a 60 fold return and sometimes even a hundredfold return. 

The implication is that in the one quarter of the time when -- or of the people in whom -- seeds do take root, our lives/those people bear an astonishing abundance of fruit. You might call it a thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold ROI (Return on Invitation).

So it turns out God is a brilliant gardener.

How does all that happen? What causes ¾ of the seed to fail and cause us to be stuck in selfish living, and what does a 30, 60, or 100 fold return look like in our kingdom living lives?

Well, that's what Sunday's sermon will be about...

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