Here is a sermon that I wrote after doing some work in my Matthew class. It has never been preached publically, but I thought I would share it here.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’
I was in youth ministry. You hear that a lot “was in youth ministry.” I heard it from members of my congregation, and I hear it now from seminary students. There is something about youth ministry that makes many of us “past tensers.” It was something that we did, but we moved on to “bigger and brighter things.” But I think to really understand this parable you have to understand youth ministry.
Jesus talks in this parable about a sower, who sows some seed. Four possible end results to our seeds that we sow. They could be eaten up by birds, scorched, choked, or brought forth grain. Now easy to see the good conclusion and Matthew is as nice as to even tell us what it means. The seed that the bird has snatched away comes from those who do not understand the message and they are taken to other interest. We all know that kid, don’t we? The kid who just doesn’t get “it.” We know they hear us, but they don’t hear us! Now we try to get the message to this kid. We might package the message in a movie, or a song, or dance, but they just don’t get it, but unfortunately something does get their attention. Maybe it’s a sport that becomes idolatry, or a group of friends, but the enemy takes it away, because they never understood what was being sown in the first place. So we begin to grieve for these kids. Now what about the seed that was sown on the rocky ground. Who does that remind you of? Church camp kids. Yes, we know those kids well. They are the once-a-yearers: Jesus is the coolest thing ever. One of their friends invited them to church camp. They got caught up in the excitement of following Jesus and next thing you know it’s Thursday night and they are crying their eyes out and promising to never sin again. But you don’t see them again, until the next year at church camp. Now these same kids are rededicating their life to Jesus (they can’t be saved again, so this is a good option). This time however you see them for an extra week or two at church, and they are planning to read the Bible all the way through. Last you heard they got to Genesis 28. Your heart breaks with these kids because you saw that it was real for them, but it couldn’t last, and you as a youth worker are wondering where these kids are now. Do they remember the joy they had? And so we grieve for these kids. So, we move on to the next batch of kids, those who “hear the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing.” Those are the “grown up in the church kids.” O they hear the word. They know the word well. “Jesus loves me.” “God so loved the world.” And “I can do all things.” Are some of their well known phrases. You like these kids, they aren’t rough around the edges, they have been polished by the church for years and here they come into youth group and for a while things are good, but slowly you see it. You almost don’t recognize what is happening, but it’s a word they use here, or a decision they make there, and then they are gone. They are 16; they have their own car, and now their own life. They have bigger fish to fry. We have lost them to the world. It’s sad when this happens, and you wish that you could have killed the thorns when you first saw them, but they choked the word away before it could yield anything. It almost clicked for them, but the world got them before the word got them, and we grieve for these kids as well. But, (always a good word to use in a despairing sermon) the final soil hears the word and here is the key understands it! She understands it and bears fruit. These are our superstars of youth ministry. We are proud of them. They don’t miss a Sunday or a Wednesday. They open doors for the old people in the church. Volunteer to build ramps, and might even serve on a church committee and they are bearing fruit, and we rejoice for these kids. But, (now I know some of you are thinking, you are buting your previous but, we liked your previous but, don’t refute that.) is the only appropriate thing to say, because it doesn’t always work at like we think. You see we youth directors get those phone calls that go something like this, “Hey, I’m really worried about (insert good soil kid name here) he isn’t hanging around the right crowd. I know he is using drugs, having sex,” whatever the sin, and those stars of the youth ministry have fallen. It breaks our heart because we thought it might happen to 99 kids, but not that one and that is the strange thing about youth ministry is that you never know what will happen. The great preacher Fred Craddock tells the story while he was a professor of a young woman who came into his office telling him about her recent experience. She was a depressed woman who had climbed onto the top of a bridge and was there on the edge when she heard a whisper in her soul. “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” This hit her enough that she climbed off the edge and went to Dr. Craddock’s office wondering what that meant and where and why that came to her. He asked her did you go to church when you were growing up. No my parents didn’t take me to church. Did you ever go with a friend to a VBS or anything? No, I never did anything like that, but wait I did go to my grandmother’s house for a couple weeks during the summer and she took me to church. You see that is the thing about youth ministry: You never know where your seeds might fall. What may look like good soil is actually just rocky ground, and what seems like that which has been choked away by the world is actually just taking longer to sprout. So, you sow seeds as many as you can. You keep throwing them out there. You remind the youth to “Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” You take them to serve the poor. You allow them to be loved by the mentors of the church, and you give them a place to celebrate the Super Bowl. All are seeds and we don’t know how they fall, but we know that some will land in good soil. Some will bear fruit and yield 100 fold, 60 fold, and 30 fold. So we sow and we sow and we sow, and we look at ourselves not as past tensers, but we understand that that seed that we sowed 3 years ago 6 years ago may just now be sprouting and we thank God because one day, we were those church campers, or those kids who just didn’t get it, and someone sowed a seed. We may have forgotten who, but the seed, the Word, has sprouted and we are bearers of that fruit.