"The Seed of the Gospel" Sermon on Colossians 1:3-8 by Joe Ellis — June 13, 2021
Sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our words and actions has always been a part of our DNA. It’s what Christians are supposed to do, it’s who we are. In this sermon, I’d like to share a bit of why as Christians we believe that sharing the Gospel is so powerful — I’d like to explore what actually happens when we tell others the story of who Jesus is and what He has done. The metaphor that Paul uses in the passage we just heard is a seed. He talks about the Gospel as a kind of seed bearing fruit throughout the entire world. I think this gives us a really helpful and practical image for what happens when we share the Gospel through our words and actions. As you listen, see if the image of Gospel as seed gives you hope and inspiration for why we share the Gospel with others through our words and actions.
Last night I was talking to someone about planting seeds in the sand that is currently under the church ‘Hope’ sign. I wondered whether it would work to plant seeds in the sand. I was surprised by her answer. She said, “Yes, it would certainly be better to plant the seeds in rich, fertile soil…” But then she begin talking about seeds having a beautiful power. She talked about how in her many years of gardening, she has seen that seeds possess a beautiful, mysterious will to live. She said every spring she witnesses and is overcome by their strong determination to find life.
It is striking how many myths and fairy tales there are about mythical seeds. Often the story goes like this — a poor peasant boy or girl is sent out with her family’s last worldly possessions in order to buy some food. This is often the family’s final attempt at surviving in a harsh world. So the poor child sets out alone, on a journey with the weight of the family on her shoulders. Alongside the road, she finds a mysterious figure who captures her attention. This figure, often a beggar, calls the child over. He holds in his hand some seeds he offers for trade. Before the child can turn away, he says, “Oh, but these aren’t ordinary seeds. These seeds are magical. The seeds will change everything. With childlike faith, she parts with the family’s last vestige of hope. She proudly returns home triumphantly holding out the seeds that will save her family. The grownups don’t share her faith. Trembling with wrath ,they fling the seeds out the window, castigating the child for being so utterly, utterly foolish. The family goes to bed that night hungry and hopeless, under a cloud of despondency. Yet through the darkness of night, the seeds work their magic. Under the cover of the soil, they sprout, take root and shoot up powerfully into the sky. The family wakes up the next day, they throw open the shutters, and their breath is taken away by what they see — for this family, nothing will ever be the same.
That’s the sort of mystery we are invited into in Paul’s opening message to the followers of Jesus in Colossae. The story is so similar. A strange, humble slave finds his way into the town of Colossae. The slave’s name was Epaphras — this slave says he has in his possession a strange, new, miraculous seed. To those willing to hear, Epaphras offers this seed free of charge — though it would cost them everything. Some in Colossae shrugged him off and went on their way. Some were curious and began to listen. So Epaphras shares with those gathered about this mysterious seed he calls the Gospel. He tells a story of a King.
This King came among His people with an invitation, an invitation for all to enter His Kingdom — even beggars and outsiders — the kinds of people who might sell the last of their possessions in hopes of salvation from a magical seed. Yet there were some who thought the King’s Kingdom was their own property. They would not put up with the King’s message of welcome to outsiders. They wanted to snatch back the territory of this Kingdom from the King. They rejected this King’s message. They did not believe in what He described the Kingdom to be. So these dissidents brazenly arrested the King; they put him on trial before some corrupt rulers; they condemned the King to death; they executed the King in the most cruel and barbaric way; and they scoffed as the King’s body slumped on the cross in a bloody mess. When he was well and truly dead, the King’s followers pried those nails from his arms and feet; they tenderly carried his lifeless body to a tomb; unknowingly they ‘planted’ the seed of his body in the ground. They fully expected never to see it again. But over the next three days a fairy tale broke into reality.
A children’s story found its way into history. The miracle began growing in the hidden darkness. Life emerged from the ground. The King rose victoriously from the realm of the dead. The King came forth from the tomb a conqueror; a conqueror of death; a vanquisher of the power of sin. The King returned and summoned His followers. He gave His followers a precious gift — the Seed of the Gospel. He gave His followers a seed that triumphs over Sin and Death. He gave His followers the Seed of the Gospel, and with it He commanded them to go out to the highways and byways. He commanded them to spread the Seed far and wide, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all His commands, baptizing them in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This planting would be the The Way His Kingdom would come. So the disciples went out, these farmers of God spread the seed of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And the seed began to take root. The seed took root beyond their wildest dreams. The Gospel story and its message transformed lives before their very eyes. Those who gave ear to the Story found that they had a new life growing within them. Mysteriously they had died with this King ; in dying with Him, they died to all their sins and wrongdoings with Him. The seed kept growing and they found a deep mystery had taken place. New life was stirring within — life in this King. They became part of the story, and the story was taking over their lives.
That’s how the Letter to the Colossians opens. Paul recalls how one of the followers of the King arrived among them. A slave. Some of the poor beggars in Colossae gathered around, and listened as Epaphras told them about the mysterious seed he had on offer — this seed which he called the Gospel. A mysterious sort of magic was taking place as Epaphras told those beggars in Collosae about the seed — some might call it a trick, but more would call it a miraculous gift. As Epaphras told the story of the Gospel — he wasn’t just telling them a story. The very act of telling the story was planting the seed. Epaphras was planting the seed as he told the King’s story. In the very act of listening, those beggars in Colossae were receiving the Word of God. And as God says in prophecy of old , “my word that goes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
So as the Word of God was spoken through Epaphras, and as Epaphras told the story of King Jesus — the Seed took root in the hearts of those hearers of the Word. The seed sprouted, it shot through the soil, flowered and bore fruit. In the opening of the letter we read today, Paul calls them to pay attention to its effects: “All over the world this Gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow slave, who is a faithful minister on behalf of the King, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
Paul takes notice of the fruit springing from the hope of the Gospel — the fruit of faith and love. Faith that, upon hearing the Gospel, sprung up in their lives. As they heard about this King and what he had done — they found themselves offering allegiance to this King, swearing obedience to this King, offering to serve this King and follow Him wherever he should lead. That’s the mysterious effect of the seed. Paul describes the fruit he sees springing up in their lives — the fruit of love. The bitter poisonous fruit that shaped their lives before — lust, anger, lies, envy, greed — that fruit withered and died. Instead, a new fruit is ripening — kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, acceptance and care for one another. The Gospel had taken root in their lives, as it had throughout the world.
This is the seed that we are in possession of. Like Epaphras, we are slaves of the King and we have been sent to sow this seed in the Bulkley Valley. It is out of hope in the Gospel that we share the story. It is not out of obligation. It is out of hope in the Gospel that we live the story with our lives. We trust that as we proclaim this story, it will take root. The seed will fight to live. It is not our job make it live, it’s the nature of the seed to live. And so we tell the story because we want to actually see a world transformed by the Gospel! We want to see the seed take root in our community. We want to see this world transformed into the likeness and goodness of the Kingdom of God. That is why we tell the story, that is why we act out the story in our lives. In doing so, we are planting small seeds that we believe will germinate, sprout, take root and bear fruit.
Often the act of telling the story, the act of living the story doesn’t feel particularly earth shattering. It can often feel humble, inconsequential, fruitless. Much the same way as planting a seed in the ground can feel humble, inconsequential and fruitless, unless you know that what you have in your hand is a seed. But it is faith in the seed that transforms planting into an act of faith and hope. Think of the difference between planting a pebble and planting a seed. What you hold in your hand changes the way you plant.
You have been entrusted with the Gospel. The seed that you have in your hand is the seed of eternal life. The seed that you hold in your hand is the one seed that we believe will transform the world in hope. How is God calling you to sow? How is God calling you to plant? With whom is God calling you to share this message? How is God calling you to act in a way that speaks of the character of Jesus?
On the table I have set a pot filled with soil. I ask each of you to come forward, one at a time, to plant seeds in the soil. Plant a seed, or seeds, to symbolize the humble, inconsequential, seemingly fruitless ways we can plant the Gospel in the lives of others. I’m inviting you to think about the nature of the seed of the Gospel that you have within you. How it is an unstoppable force of life. In trusting in the power of God’s Word, how might God be calling you to plant the word in the life of another?
Song: This is My Commandment
Planting the Word is much like planting a seed. The act can feel humble, inconsequential and fruitless — It is faith in the seed that gives us hope. Just as the seeds you planted are now hidden from our sight, so there are times often, when the victory of Christ is hidden from our eyes — either because we are not looking for it or because it is not yet revealed. The hidden seed remains — trust that God is faithful to His Word.