com(Parable): Room to Grow
March 29, 2020 Pastor: Series: com(Parable)
Topic: Spiritual Growth Scripture: Matthew 13:1–13:23
I've shared with many of you that my journey of faith began as a child within the Roman Catholic church. My mother was extraordinarily devout and involved in virtually everything that took place at the church. Bingo nights, bazaars, fundraisers, and school events. Almost anything happening at St. Maria Goretti church had my mom's fingerprints on it. And my mom cared deeply about her kids being raised in the faith she loved. So, we attended mass every Sunday and every special service. I participated in the milestone moments like first reconciliation, first communion, and confirmation. And I attended the Catholic school connected to the church into my middle school years.
Now, I know that Catholic school gets riddled by a ton of stereotypes and misconceptions. And, sure, my experience going to Catholic school was likely very different than it was for my parents. But I have to be honest, the worst thing about Catholic school wasn't the education aspect. For me, as an elementary school-aged kid, the worst part was the uniforms we had to wear. I can still feel the stiff, forest green pants and the starchy, uncomfortable mustard yellow dress shirt with a matching ugly forest green clip-on tie. I was in 3rd grade, so don't judge me for not knowing how to tie a tie. I'd see my neighborhood friends waiting at their bus stop near my house, going to school in jeans, shorts, and t-shirts.
Meanwhile, I'm wearing the educational equivalent of a burlap sack. But something I hated about those uniforms so much didn't take place in the school itself. No, it took place shopping for those green and yellow monstrosities.
Every single time we'd have to go shopping for my uniform, I knew it would happen. Even if I asked beforehand, begged even, nothing could stop it. My mom and I would always go to the same little storefront shop that sold our uniforms, and then we'd walk back to the two circle racks that held the color uniforms for my school. My mom would pull off what I needed, and then we'd go back to the dimly lit fitting room. I'd go into one of those sad cubicles that always seemed to have far too many pins riddled about the floor, and I'd put on what I was handed. I'd come out, and then it would happen, the most embarrassing thing about my school uniforms. I'd come out wearing a frown as stubborn as the stiffness of the fabric, and my mom would always reach out and pull at the waistband of my pants and other less flattering areas. And she'd always say the same thing: "Have to make sure there's Room to Grow." And somehow, it was always as if every parent decided on a designated shopping day because there were always 2-3 friends or classmates there to watch my humiliation. But, as much as I hate to admit it - for the sake of my childhood shame, my mom had a good point.
Room to Grow is necessary in a lot different scenarios. Adolescent clothing, sure. When you're buying your first house, you might make it a priority for there to be space to grow the size of your family or for future endeavors or projects. Many of us have likely looked for jobs or positions that allow and even encourage space to grow and advance. And another good example is when we attempt to grow something in a garden. When planting a seed, you always ensure there is more than enough space for that plant to grow into its fullest potential - many times larger than the seed itself. And it's just that, a seed that needs Room to Grow, that we're going to explore this morning as we continue through our com(Parable) message series. It's a parable found in Matthew 13:1-23.
Before we dig into this parable of the sower and seeds, we have to take advantage of something Jesus does in this passage and explain why He uses parables in the first place. The disciples ask Him directly: "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" Jesus' response is a tricky one to navigate. We have to remember that at least for this story, Jesus is speaking to both His closest followers and a large crowd of people who are divided on what they think about Jesus. The disciples are all-in with Jesus; we know that. But this crowd has folks all over the spectrum. Some are closer to the way the disciples think. They see something in Jesus, maybe even something they can't explain, that compels them to trust Him and to follow Him. And then there are some people who are more like the religious leaders of that time. They are not only skeptical about this rabble-rouser, rabbi-wannabe. They are actively looking for ways to discredit Him and erase Him from the picture. And then, of course, there are people somewhere in the middle. What Jesus appears to be doing in answer to this question is refining the reality of what it means to follow Him.
Those who have hearts that have already been softened to see the truth and wonder of the Son of God will find within this and other parables harmonies and realities that only draw them deeper and deeper into the mystery of their Savior. And those with hardened and embittered hearts will only find further cause for deciding to resent and condemn this bafflingly compelling individual they have already decided to oppose. In truth, this can be a painful and convicting wake-up call for all of us as well. We have to take great caution if we find ourselves frustrated by or seeking to circumnavigate the actions and teachings of Jesus. Jesus championed mercy without measure. Justice without exception. And love without limits. If we, in any way, attempt to reduce, monitor, or withhold those values, then we find ourselves more like the crowd pitted against the Savior than we do the friends by His side.
So, with that in mind, let's explore this parable about a sower and seeds a bit more. We have the benefit of being able to read the parable alongside the explanation and meaning of the parable. We find that each of these seeds is actually a story. A story about a person: maybe someone in the crowd, most certainly each of us. And while all of these seeds are different, there is one thing about this parable that I personally know to be true: we can be all of these seeds. The journey of our faith is not that a single harvest but instead of many. To choose to follow Jesus and to take up His cross is the labor and love of many small dyings and new livings. It is likely that, as you read or heard the descriptions of these seeds, that you reflected on specific seasons of your own lives. If you're anything like me, you maybe reflected how the past 2-3 weeks alone had given your own story of faith a likeness to more than one of these descriptions.
These seeds offer stories of people who have encountered the word and truth of God. Whether it is as a child in a Sunday school room, praying with a parent at home, in a sanctuary, a cabin, or a living room. No matter how it happened, the story of the Gospel has collided with the story of a person. And something happens. As we look at each of these seed stories, I saw a common need for each and every one: each seed needs Room to Grow. It's the only way it can sprout and become what it's meant to be. There are forces and obstacles that get in the way, enemies, both physical and spiritual, suffering, and circumstances of anguish; anxieties fixated on countless details; temptations of desire and gain. All of these things rob the seed of their Room to Grow, and so they are snatched away or wilt and wither. They never find roots deep enough to endure and are robbed of the chance of being what they are designed to be.
But that final seed, the one that fell on good soil, has space for its roots to grow strong, and it produces far beyond what you might expect. A professor of New Testament studies, Arland Hultgren, says this: "The fourth type [of seed] is what all Christians should be. It is not simply enough to hear the Christian message. It is imperative to 'understand' it in the sense of grasping hold of it, considering it in-depth, pondering it, and embedding it into one's very being by living it out." He goes on, "It is not a matter of understanding all the mysteries of the faith, but of contemplating what it means to be a disciple of Jesus – what he teaches, asks, points towards one's daily life. That is what leads to true discipleship and life in its most fulfilling sense."
And isn't that what we want? Life at its fullest? I love what this professor says because he makes one thing clear: we don't need to have all the answers. We don't have to be able to explain the divine mystery and define every element of theological minutia. It's first about Who we know, not what we know. Jesus shows us all the practices and spaces we need to grow and have a life that reaches beyond our own expectations. And, boy, do we need that right now.
It's almost funny that the title of this message is "Room to Grow" considering nearly all of us have less room now than maybe we ever have before. Our office is now also our kitchen counter or our living room couch. The concept of personal space for you might now simply be defined as the time you spend in the bathroom by yourself a few minutes every day. And each of those things that go against the seeds in Jesus' story - the troubles, difficulties, worries, and the temptations, they are creeping up around us on all angles it seems.
Many of you have made efforts to serve the needs of others during this crisis. And I am so inspired by those stories as you share them with me. I am not urging you to stop those efforts in any way, but my challenge to you is something different: make sure that you are finding the Room you need to Grow during this time. Seek out, fight for even, the time to reflect on the person and the mercy and the wisdom of our Savior. This could be the perfect time to reinvigorate a discipline of reading Scripture each day. Pick up a devotional. Open up YouTube or Spotify and tune into some Christian music. Talk about your faith with the people you're quarantined with. I see the pictures and posts on Facebook. Y'all are making pizza, painting rooms, coming up with craft projects and binging new shows. Take a little time as a couple or a family to reflect on the God who loves you. It might seem like the opposite at the moment, but I'm telling you, right now, you have a rare chance to reflect upon your faith and to find that much-needed Room to Grow.