Sermon, September 11, 2005
College Baptist Church
Rev. Don Westblade

Letting the Word Dwell Richly
Mark 4:1-20

In the series on the Gospel of Mark that we began last month, we have arrived at the fourth chapter this morning, and hear Jesus begin to teach. The parable he relates to the crowd that gathers around him is  a familiar one to us. The Parable of the Sower. Like a farmer who sows seed in the ground, Jesus comes sowing the word of his Gospel, the Good News of the Reign of God, into our hearts.

He tells about three ways that the seed of the word might not bear fruit and produce a kingdom harvest in us, and one way that it will. And in between the parable about the seed being sown and the interpretation of the parable to the disciples in which we learn that Jesus means for the seed to be the word of his kingdom that he is sowing, there is another sandwiched passage (in vv.10-12) like we found last week.

Last week there was a parable in the middle about needing to bind a strong man before you can enter his house that was made more understandable by the narratives of Jesus entering a house that came above it and below it in the text.

This week we have the parable on the outer sides of the sandwich that is made more understandable by an insertion that Mark puts into  the middle of it (in vv. 10-12). In v. 1 the crowd is so large that Jesus steps into a boat to speak to the people on the shore. In v.36, he leaves from there with his disciples in that same boat. But 10-12 are an explanation Mark says Jesus gives his disciples some time when they are alone with him. So Mark has put these passages from different times together because he wants to let them shed light on each other in this structure.

What do we get from this? There are some people, Jesus quotes from Isaiah (in v.12) to tell us, who see and hear the message about the Reign of God but they donÕt perceive it, they donÕt understand it. TheyÕre like the three soils who have seed sown on them but never allow that seed to take root and bring any harvest.

The parable suggests at least three ways that that natural purpose for the seeds gets obstructed.

4:15 says the seed on the path that gets eaten by birds is like the message that Satan just comes and takes immediately away. People hear the good news in a sermon like this that God wants to reign in their hearts but it never really reaches their consciousness because theyÕre so busy thinking about other distractions in their life that they simply donÕt give the news any attention. Other, more urgent things are crowding it out. Or maybe feelings about the church -- you didnÕt get welcomed as warmly as you had hoped; they picked hymns you didnÕt like this Sunday; something the preacher did irritated you so much -- you didnÕt even want to listen to anything you heard in this place. These are all ways Satan comes to take the word away before the word itself ever really got its chance to work its truth into your heart.

4:16-17 says the seed that falls on rocky ground and springs up quickly but gets scorched in the heat and dies is like the message that makes it through all the first obstacles and seems initially like very good news. This notion that God might love me and want to reign in me brings a quick enthusiasm because I want to be loved and I want someone trustworthy to rule my life. But then when trouble or persecution comes along, suddenly the love and the trustworthy ruler donÕt seem like they were advertised accurately and I want back out of this. Wars and hurricanes and 9-11 tragedies make people wonder whether God is really there or really could be good. And those questions choke off the expectation of anything good that the promises of God held out to us. And the Bible says that this is another way that Satan takes the word of the Gospel away from us, so we hear it but donÕt perceive it.

4:18-19 says the seed that is sown among the thorns and gets too choked to yield any grain is like the message that gets by the obstacles that keep it from taking root, and might even survive the scorching heat of trials and opposition in life, but that gets choked off by the weeds and thorns of other kinds of promises that also grow in the garden. The world is full of things that compete to tell us that they can make us happier than God.

Making money can get so high on our priority list that it wins over all the time we might spend studying our Bibles or conversing with God in prayer or celebrating God in worship. Having a reputation of not being too fanatical about our religion might become more important than taking the risk to talk to our neighbors or coworkers about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Our desires to have as many cars or as well-educated a crop of children, or as nice a lawn, or as many academic degrees, or as many team victories as that guy IÕm always competing with can so preoccupy us with dreams of how to be happy that the promises of the Gospel just get drowned right out. Satan is full of devices to drag us away from the Gospel of the Reign of God.

In the meaty little insertion there in vv. 10-12 and in the picture of the good rich soil are the secrets, Mark wants us to learn, of letting God be King and of bearing the richest fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness. Fruits that are substantial and that endure for eternity.

The secret is in what Mark taught us last week: ItÕs all about whether youÕre inside or outside the house where Jesus binds the strong man of self. If youÕre on the outside (v. 11),  everything is in parables. Jesus family stood on the outside of his house and imagined that Jesus must be out of his mind. They heard but they didnÕt yet perceive or understand, because they hadnÕt yet let Jesus bind the strong man of pride and self-reliance that runs their house. If youÕre inside, then to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God.

The secret, it turns out, is also in what we have given this weekÕs service over to as well. The good soil is soil that hears and welcomes. It lets the seed of the word take deep root in its heart. Paul has given us some advice about that in two passages we read to introduce our service of music this morning.

In Eph 5:18 at the top of the bulletin, Paul says hereÕs how to be filled with the Spirit, hereÕs how to let your silos be bursting with a 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold harvest: address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks for everything to God the father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To the Colossians he said almost the very same thing in our call to worship this morning. How do you let the word take deep root in you so that you grow much fruit and arenÕt the sort of branch that God cuts off and throws into the fire to be burned? Let the word of of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

ŌMusic has the uncanny ability to burrow its way into our spiritual bones.Ķ Music is one of the main tools scripture recommends for plowing the soil of our hearts to be receptive and welcoming of the seed of the GospelÕs powerful promises.

Luther used to say : “...if one sings diligently with skill and application, then music can make man good and at peace with himself and his fellows by providing him a view of  beauty. Music drives away the devil and makes people happy; it induces one to  forget all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and other vices, quia pacis tempore regnat musica (for music reigns in times of peace).”