The first Sunday of November is recognized in many churches as All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday. This isn’t just a day to remember those who have been declared official saints by the Catholic Church but a day to remember all those who have gone before us in the faith, especially those who have died during the past year. In just the past month, I have been blessed to be part of celebrating three of our own saints here at Faith Church, Ruth Grove, Alice McCaslin and this past Monday Mary Kahle. In meeting with the families and listening to friends share stories, what I heard in every situation was how these women, these saints, loved.
In asking the family what they wanted people to know about their mothers, no one said, I want you to talk about how much money was in their bank accounts or how many pairs of shoes they had in their closets. They didn’t want me to read a list of accomplishments or rewards, or talk about all the contents of their homes. What they wanted me to talk about was how these women loved.
In fact, I can safely say that I have never met with a family where all they wanted me to do was read the balances found in their financial portfolios. I have never had someone say, Andy please talk about how they always put their job ahead of their family and were consumed by the latest gadgets and how they always had to have a new car. While I have celebrated the accomplishments of many individuals during the past 23 years, what everyone wants me to talk about is how people have loved. How they were faithful in love to a spouse, showed their love as a parent and were loyal in love to both friends and country. I have been asked to talk about how love was expressed in hard work and sacrifice, how it was shown in the selflessness of someone who placed others first and how the expression of love made a difference in the hearts and lives of so many people.
So today I want to ask you, what would people say at your funeral? If your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers were sitting here for your memorial service – what would we be talking about?
How will your life be measured? Will we be counting up your work accomplishments and reading your financial statements and listing the inventory in your home or will we be talking about your capacity to love? For all of us, what people will be talking about then will be determined by how we are living today.
For the next few weeks we are going to reflect on how our lives will be measured and listen to some parables of Jesus that can help us set the right priorities so we can make sure we are giving our lives to the things that really matter. Today we are going to hear the first parable that Jesus told and while it is called the parable of the sower and the seed, it is really a parable about soil and the condition of our hearts. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
The sower in the story is Jesus and the seed is the word of God, or the truth that Jesus was trying to share with the world and the four types of soil are the different types of people Jesus encountered. The soil reflects the condition of the heart and the first soil Jesus mentions is the hard packed spoil of the path. This is soil so hard and beaten down that nothing can penetrate it so when seed falls on it, it can’t get through so the birds come and carry it away.
These are people who are so hard of heart that they won’t even consider what Jesus has to say. The hardness of their hearts might come from pride and arrogance or an unwillingness to consider that there can even be a God let alone a God who loves them but this hardness can also come from past hurts and pain that make it hard for people to open themselves up to love and grace and the truth of God. Jesus encountered many people like this and so do we and it’s sad because not only are their hearts hard but many times so is their life and spirit.
The second soil mentioned is shallow ground and this is the kind of soil found all over the Holy Land. There might be an inch or so of top soil but then beneath that is rock so a plant might spring up quickly but with no soil for the roots to dig into, these people will wilt under pressure and fall away from God when things get difficult. They have a surface and superficial faith that doesn’t last when the going gets tough and Jesus faced many people like this too. Crowds followed Jesus and they loved him as long as Jesus was feeding them and healing them, but when Jesus started to talk about sacrifice – people turned away. And when Jesus had to carry a cross, even his disciples turned away.
We also know people like this who are with us and supportive as long as things are going well and their way, but when problems come or challenges appear in life or in faith, they turn away. They don’t last through the struggles and they don’t work to dig deep into their faith to find strength and power in God or a love and grace that can help them endure.
Jesus then talks about the soil that is full of weeds and while this soil looks good, when the seed starts to grow so do all the weeds and the weeds choke out the good plants. Jesus says those weeds are the worries of life and the deceitfulness of wealth. This kind of heart is one that sets the wrong priorities. When we don’t put our pursuit of God first and when we don’t put love above all else in life then we are allowing the weeds to grow and those weeds, our pursuit of money, status, power or recognition will kill any authentic faith and destroy important relationship.
Jesus saw these hearts everywhere and so do we. The people who put their careers first and think that making money, gaining status, and making it to the top is what life is all about often leave behind broken marriages, destroyed children and shattered dreams. We hear these stories in the world of politics, entertainment, sports and business, but they are everywhere. We hear of people all the time who are so focused on the wrong things that their life and faith and often family is choked out and destroyed.
But then Jesus talks about the good soil and this is a heart that is eager to hear of God, learn about God and put God first. This is the heart that has the capacity to put love first in all things and embraces the love we hear about in 1 Corinthians 13:7, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. This is the kind of love families ask me talk about and children celebrate when a parent dies and this love leaves a lasting legacy or as Jesus says, produces a harvest 30, 60 or 100 fold.
Jesus ended his parable by saying, he who has ears, let him hear. What Jesus is asking in this is what kind of soil we are and what kind of soil do we want to be. How will we measure our life? How much of a harvest will we produce? Will we produce love in abundance? Will our love touch 30 people, 60 people, 100 people? That Jesus wants our lives to be measured by love is made clear in John 15:5 when Jesus again talks about our lives bearing fruit and producing a harvest. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. Jesus then says, that what it means to remain in him is to obey his commands and then he says, My command is this; love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has on one than this, that he lay down his for his friends.
So our lives need to be measured not by the square footage of our homes or the balance of our accounts or the list of our accomplishments but by whom and how we love. The most important people God calls us to love is our family because these are the people we promise to love or the people given to us to love. In marriage we are making a covenant to love our spouse at all times and in all places. We are not promising to like them at all times and in all places, but to love them in sickness and health, and for richer and poorer. In marriage we are called to love in the face of sin and failure and forgive as Christ has forgiven us.
Love in family goes beyond our spouse because we are also called to love our children and our parents. Children are given to us by God and so our love for them is sacred. Children are a gift and how we nurture and develop that gift is important to God. Children require a love that truly bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things because children will push and challenge us in ways that no one else can.
We are also called to love our parents. In fact, this love was so important to God that he made it one of His 10 Commandments, Honor your father and mother. This commandment was not given to children so they would obey the rules, it was given to adults so they would care for their parents as they got older and needed support. So the first people God gives us to love are those in our families: spouses, children and parents but God then extends the call to love by telling us to love one another.
So Jesus calls us to love all people but then he tells us what this love should like. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Love is to be sacrificial. Love goes out of its way to help. Love doesn’t think of what is good for us but what is good for others. Love sets aside our agenda and our will and even our own rights to give and forgive and this is the kind of love that people want me to talk about funerals and memorial services. People ask me to talk about how Mom was always there when needed and how Dad sacrificed his career or hobbies to be at a game or show up at school. Are we living in such a way today that we will measure up to this kind of love at the end of life? If not, can we make a shift in our lives and in our hearts so that our lives will be measured by love a year from now?
How will we measure our life one year from today? Will we look back and count up how much money we have earned or saved? Will we look at how far we advanced at work? Will we look at what car is in the garage or what new phone is in our hands? I hope we will look back and be able to count up all the ways we loved others. In fact, I want to invite you to be a 100-Fold follower of Jesus and commit to 100 acts of love over the next year.
Jesus talked about how a single stalk of grain can produce a harvest 30, 60 or 100 fold and I want to invite you to be the 100 fold kind of a person so that next year we will be able to look back and count up 100 acts of love, service and kindness. And please hear this, it’s not about the number and it’s not about the pride of accomplishment, it’s about living and loving in the way of Jesus. 100 acts of love is just a goal to strive for and a positive way to measure our lives.
We have some cards to give each one of you today to help remind you to live this kind of life. 100 acts of love is just 2 acts each week. My guess is that most of us are already doing this, but making this commitment is a good way to measure and evaluate our lives and faith. If you think you already measure up then let me ask you to step up and add one more act of love and kindness each week and commit to 150 acts during the next year. These are things that people will remember and celebrate and give thanks for when you are remembered and talked about as one of the saints.
One act of kindness and love we can all take part in this month is to support Operation Christmas Child and take and fill a box for a child in need. You can also fill a box online or make a donation to the church to help ship the boxes others are filling. We count these boxes at the end of the month when we collect them because every box is an act of love that reaches out to a child in need and each box can change the heart and destiny of a child, family and even community. But every box filled and brought back also marks a heart right here that is soft and deep and ready to produce a harvest 100 fold.
Make the commitment today to measure your life by whom and how you love and commit to being a 100-Fold follower of Jesus.
How will you measure your life? How you love.
1. What three things would people talk about at your funeral if you were to die this week?
Is this how you want to be remembered?
Is this how you want your life to be measured?
2. Read Matthew 13:1-9, 13-23. What kind of soil describes your heart and life? How can you work with God and others to develop a heart of good, deep and rich soil?
3. Commit to being a 100-Fold Follower of Jesus and set a goal of 100 acts of love over the next year. To start this process, identify 8 acts of love you can accomplish this month and share with someone who can help you accomplish them. Think of things like supporting Operation Christmas Child, Christmas Boxes for the food bank and Toys for Tots. Find ways to reach out to your neighbors, surprise and support your coworkers and serve you family and friends.