Is Your Life Getting Choked By Weeds? | 07.30.23 | Oh No He Didn’t Pt.5
Drew Williams   -  

MARK 4:1-20

Pastor Drew Williams

I’ve said before that when it comes to gardening, I don’t have a green thumb. I actually have a black thumb. Because whether it’s plants that just look pretty, or fruits and veggies, anything that I’ve tried to take care of in a garden of some sort, I usually end up bringing death to the plants. And that’s not really good if you’re trying to garden. My wife, Megan, is a little bit better than me. She’s kept a few plants alive. But if I tell you the truth, our house is mostly full of fake plants because we haven’t figured out a way to kill those yet. And that’s been the only way we can have greenery in our lives. But at the house that we live in now, that we moved into back in December, there’s a little flower garden in the backyard next to the patio. And it just sprung up on its own in the spring. But you can tell that the previous owners had tended it well and done it really intentionally because every plant has its own spot. There’s mulch in between. And even the vines have that metal thingy that the vines grow on. And it looks so pretty and intentional at first. And then the summer kept going, and it just kept growing and getting overgrown. And pretty soon, it looked like I would need to go out there with a machete just to get through the jungle to get to the backyard. And I don’t know what are good plants and what are not good plants. And like I said, I have a black thumb. And I don’t think that YouTube could completely train that out of me to be able to take care of all these plants. But my neighbor has a beautiful garden. And she’s always out there tending to her plants. And so I figured maybe she would know a thing or two to tell me. So I asked her. And she gave me some really, really good tips because I had questions like, which of these plants are weeds? How much do I need to prune the good plants? And when do I prune them? Do I prune them in the fall? Do I prune them in the winter? Do I need to do anything to the soil? And she told me a lot of things, which I learned a lot. But one of the tips that stuck out with me the most was that weeds are just anything that don’t have flowers or fruit that you like. And weeds are also the ones that move in and choke out the good ones that you do like. See, the rest of the garden has a purpose. They grow so that they can produce flowers that are beautiful and help the pollinators. They grow so they can produce fruit. That’s delicious. But the ones that just grow and grow and don’t produce any fruit, what’s the use in that? The ones that just grow and grow and then take over the other good ones, that’s not worth keeping around. See, I used to think that all growth is good. When you’re a kid, growing is good. You want to grow taller. You want to grow older. When you have a job, growing your paycheck or growing your responsibility is usually a good thing. Growing older usually means you’re growing wiser. But what if the things that are growing in our lives are not actually producing the fruit that we want? When we let just anything grow, sometimes it’s a lot harder to get rid of later. See, some of the weeds in my garden had grown really thick like branches. And the roots were a lot deeper than I had thought. Some of the vines that were trailing along the ground and intertwined with the flower bushes actually had thorns on them. And so the scratches on my arms and the sweat on my brow were showing me that in the future, I really want to work to make sure that the things that are growing are the types of things that I actually want to grow. Do we look at our hearts with the same type of care? Do we constantly partner with the gardener of our souls to tend to our hearts, to our personalities, to ensure that it’s healthy growth, to ensure that we’re getting the type of fruit that we want? Or is your life a little bit like the garden at my house? Or has become a little overgrown? It’s going to take a little bit more work, a little bit more pain to pull up the weeds that are actually choking out the good things in our lives. Today’s Jesus story talks about this very thing. Because just like us here in the Sauk Valley, Jesus and his disciples were surrounded by an agrarian culture. So the seasons of growth and harvest were an integral part of their lives too. And so Jesus used the metaphor of seeds and soil to talk about growth that leads to the type of bounty that we’re all created for. So let’s open together to Mark, chapter 4. If you’re using your own Bible, Mark is the second book in the New Testament. If you’re using the Black Seatback Bible, it’s on page 29 in the Black Seatback Bible. And as we read, I want you to pay attention to what stands out to you, what catches your attention, what draws you in about the way that Jesus is talking about this. Because that might be the first clue to what God is trying to say to you today. So with that, let’s read Mark, chapter 4, starting in verse 1. This is Jesus. And it says, “Again, he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. He began to teach them many things and parables. And in his teaching, he said to them, listen, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched. And since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns. And the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding 30 and 60 and 100-fold. And he said, let anyone with ears to hear, listen.” When he was alone, those who were around him, along with the 12, asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God. But for those outside, everything comes in parables. In order that, they may indeed look but not perceive, and may indeed listen but not understand, so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.” And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word.” These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground. When they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy, but they have no root, and endure only for a while. Then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those who are sown among thorns. These are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, the lure of wealth, the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil. They hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, 30, and 60, and 100 fold. Beloved, this is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Now, there’s a lot in that passage, and some of it is maybe very familiar. Maybe you’ve read this many times. Maybe you’ve heard many sermons preached on this passage. But the first thing that I want to point out is that the seed never changes. And the sower sends it out generously, everywhere, no matter what type of soil. See, the seed always has the potential for growth, but it just needs to be received by the soil in order to begin the process. So if it gets eaten before that can happen, or if it never makes it into the soil because it’s too hard and it won’t let anything in, well, then it won’t lead to fruit. And even though Jesus is using the common image of seeds and soil, we know from his explanation that those who are actually leaning in, right, he’s explaining to the people who are leaning in. We know that this whole story is all about the gospel. This is the good news of the kingdom of God coming close, breaking in, establishing a new way of life that we’re all invited into. But there’s some people who are too hardened, too guarded to let in the possibility of that good news. And so the good news that Jesus is the king of love and that we get to learn from him and that we get to be healed by him and join him in restoring the world around us, that never makes it into their heart to grow and produce the bounty of that truth in their lives. But we also see from Jesus’ explanation that there’s the birds that come and eat the seeds, that there is an enemy. Now the name Satan means deceiver or enemy. And we don’t live in some neutral existence. There is actually a force working against the gospel, growing and producing in our lives. And so we can’t ignore that fact. And now it does not mean that we need to be scared. I mean, after all, birds are some of the easiest animals to scare away, right? Like you just put up a scarecrow or some shiny bits of ribbon that flash in the sun and they flee. But we can’t pretend that an enemy doesn’t exist. In the next section, Jesus talks about the rocky ground and that’s where there isn’t that much soil to sustain the growth. Like even if there is a little bit of growth, it has no strength or staying power. And Jesus explains down in verses 16 to 17 that the initial growth actually brings with it trouble or persecution. And it makes me think of the little patches of grass that are in the cracks of cement or in the driveway. I don’t know if your driveway has this, right? But because it’s the only little bit of green in the middle of cement, it actually draws my attention to it. And usually it draws the attention of my weed whacker as well. ‘Cause I see it, it’s there. It shouldn’t be there. See, Jesus is saying that when there’s some new growth in our life, it draws attention. Our friends and our family notice that something is different. That part of our lives that used to be pretty desolate and rocky now has some fresh new life. But if we don’t tend to that growth, if we don’t care for it or if we let it stay out there in the middle of the rocks in the cement without any extra help, we shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t last.
 And And then Jesus talks about the third section, when the seeds grow well enough, but because it’s surrounded by thorns, it doesn’t produce any fruit. It gets choked out. He actually explains that the cares of the world, the lure of wealth, the desire of stuff, all of that actually chokes out the good news of the gospel from bearing fruit in our lives. And that’s what we’re talking about. I mean, sure, the plant grew, but it didn’t yield anything. And if it yields nothing, what’s the point? Growth is only part of the purpose, right? If there’s no fruit, if there’s no flower, if there’s no potential for more growth or reproduction, where’s the good in that? How many of you know that there’s nothing worse than a plant that yields nothing?
 When When I was growing up, my mom was gifted a sapling of a papaya tree by a friend. And this was really good news for us because we loved papayas. My dad would eat half of a papaya with breakfast most mornings. And so this way, we were gonna have fresh fruit. It was gonna be a money savings. It was a win-win. We were so excited. And so my mom, we planted that sappin’ together. She got good soil for it. We kept all the weeds away. She tended to it. She watered it. And it grew. And pretty soon, it was towering above our heads and the leaves were splayed out, just like the other papaya trees that we had seen. And there wasn’t any fruit that first year, but that’s okay because it had taken root and it was growing. We were on our way to papaya town and it was gonna be amazing. And then the next year, the season came and went with still no fruit. And my mom was disappointed, but it’s okay. Sometimes these things take a few seasons to mature so they can start actually developing fruit, but that’s gonna be fine. And by the time we had made it through four years with no fruit, she knew something was wrong. And so we asked her friends that knew a lot more about this than we did, and they came over and they were inspecting it top to bottom. I mean, it looked healthy. It was growing fine enough. The leaves looked good. The roots looked good. It was in plenty of light, until one of the friends that knew the most,
 peered peered closely at the small little blossoms on the branch. And all of a sudden, her intense, concentrated face turned to dismay. And she said, “Oh no, you have a male tree. “This one just pollinates. “It doesn’t produce fruit.” Are you, that’s a thing? Are you kidding me? (audience laughing) We were so bummed. What do you mean this one doesn’t produce fruit? All the time, all the effort, all the watering and the money spent on the soil and the fertilizer, all that for no fruit? What’s the point of that? What a waste. I was, I still, I’m holding onto that a little bit. (audience laughing) But it reminds me of this story because Jesus is telling us that growth should lead to fruit. So when there’s things in our life that seem to be choking us, keeping us from yielding anything, that’s actually stopping the gospel from producing what it’s meant to produce, which is a harvest that multiplies 30, 60, 100 times. That means that one life that is changed by the gospel and produces the fruit of learning how to follow Jesus every day, of produces the fruit of becoming an apprentice of Jesus, learning how to live his way of life. That one life has the potential to impact 100 other lives in the same way. But when there are thorns in our lives, whether those are things that we are letting grow in our hearts that we shouldn’t, or whether those are other influences, other friends that are holding us down, well, it keeps us back from the full life of abundance that Jesus came to invite us into.
 So So where are you feeling choked in your life? Where have you let something grow in your heart that you shouldn’t have that’s actually inhibiting the good things? How do we get rid of those things so that we can actually experience the transformation and growth and fruit that Jesus is seeking in our lives? Because if we look closely at our passage,
 good good soil is the difference maker. That’s how we experience a huge harvest. Now, good soil doesn’t cause the fruit, right? The seed is the one that grows and produces the fruit. The soil just provides the right environment. So how do we cultivate good soil in our lives? How do we make sure that we’re not
 the the ones that Jesus is talking about in verses 12 who don’t understand, who don’t turn back, and who don’t experience forgiveness? See, Jesus gives us that warning because we need to pay attention to it. He says that if we hear his word, if we hear the good news of the gospel, if it gets sewn into us but we don’t turn back, if we don’t lean in,
 we’re we’re keeping ourselves back from experiencing a life of forgiveness and transformation. We’re keeping ourselves back from the fruit that is supposed to come with growth because growth should lead to fruit. That’s why we’re trying to lean in right now. That’s why we want to respond in the way that Jesus suggests. We’re trying to lean in, we’re trying to ask how to get back to the fruit. Lean in, we’re trying to ask how to get fruitfulness in our life. We’re trying to ask how to get good soil because growth should produce fruit. Because the good news though, is that hard soil can be softened. And rocky soil can be tilled and sifted. Thorns and weeds can get pulled out. The gardener just needs to be able to work. So even if you see spots in your life that aren’t producing the fruit of the life of Jesus, if we lean in and put ourselves in a position to be tilled and tended by God, we can experience transformation and restoration. But that’s also why Jesus gives us the warning because not everyone who hears the gospel will be bothered with receiving it in a way that produces fruit. There’s people that we know that are like that. Many people who have come to church and aren’t being changed by church. There’s people who come to church all the time, but they’re not leaning in. They are asking Jesus to keep tilling and tending their hearts. They’re not willing to undergo the work of digging out the rocks and pulling up the weeds. They’re content to just be here.
 But But I’ve got to tell you, just being here isn’t the same as leaning in to the work of God in your life. Because sometimes when you’re here, you’re not really here. And you know what I mean because I’ve done it too, right? We show up, we mouth the words of the songs, we nod along with the message.
 Meanwhile, Meanwhile, our brain is somewhere else, completely somewhere else. Maybe you’re thinking about what’s coming up next in the day. Maybe you’re thinking about, oh, I’ve got to remember to mow and those wind brought the branches down. Maybe you’re worried about that conversation you got into with a spouse or a friend on the way to church. But if all we’re doing is just being here and not letting the gospel penetrate into our hearts, if there’s something stopping that or choking that, or choking that out, we’re never gonna experience the transformation. Because growth is supposed to lead to fruit. The gospel is supposed to lead to fruit. Is it producing the harvest of 30 or 60 or 100 more lives around you that are also being transformed by Jesus? See, our call as apprentices of Jesus is never to just hear His word. Followers of Jesus hear and obey. Followers of Jesus hear His grace, but also accept His grace. And that bears fruit in our lives. And if we’re not seeing the type of fruit that the life of Jesus is supposed to bear in our lives, well, that just means that we’ve got some gardening to do. So here’s what I want you to do in response to this message, I think. I want you to grab a shovel and get to work. Ask God, where do I need to dig, God? Where do I need to tend and care for my own life? Ask God to reveal some of the rocks in your heart and ask for His help to dig them out. Ask God to help you identify the weeds that are actually choking out the good in your life. And then do the work of ripping those out of your heart. And see, the good news is we don’t have to do this by ourselves because as the family of God, we also get to take action in the lives of those around us. And so as we are learning how to follow Jesus every day, we get to help others do the same. And so we get to get into the garden of our family and ask God where we can help them flourish and experience transformation. We can pray for opportunities to tend those around us. Because the good news is that there are no lost causes in the kingdom of God. God doesn’t pick and choose where He does and doesn’t spread His good news with the gospel, right? Do we see that in the passage? If you were a smart gardener, you would only plant all your seed in the good soil. God doesn’t do that. He recklessly and generously spreads the good news of the gospel everywhere. He doesn’t just look for good soil because Jesus is always generous with the good news of His grace and healing and new life. So we don’t have to clean up our lives in order to receive from God. We don’t have to clean ourselves up first. No, God is already pouring into us. But if our lives have hardened spots, if our lives have thorns that prevent us from experiencing full life, well, then we get to partner with the gardener to prepare the soil of our hearts to better experience growth and fruit. So grab a shovel and get to work. Where do you need God’s help in your life? I mean, I don’t know about you, but does it seem like every time something good comes along, it gets snatched away? Well, if you want to scare off the crows, the enemy birds, you need the one who is lifted up on a cross to watch over the field of our heart. Do you feel like there’s too many rocks in your life that you trip over that get in the way of good growth? Well, you need the one who rolls stones away to clear out what’s blocking your heart. If you feel like you have distractions and thorns that are clutching at you and choking you, you need the one who wore the crown of thorns, who isn’t afraid of getting hurt to pry you out. We need Jesus, because our Savior is a sower who doesn’t hold back, but sows generously into our lives, and shows us how to clear the way for good growth that leads to fruit, so that we can be a part of transforming the hearts and lives of others, so that we can join in with the work that God is doing in our community and beyond, so that we can be a conduit for the generosity of God’s grace that’s offered to everyone who will lean in,
 everyone everyone who will hear and accept and bear fruit. And isn’t that good news?
 Amen. Amen.