Sermon by Revd Graham
Forgive me if I have told you this before but one of my heroes is Billy Graham. Not only is he blessed with an excellent surname, but I had met so many people who had come to faith through his crusades in the North East when he visited Roker Park in Sunderland in the 80s. When I was studying my theology degree I had the opportunity to do an essay on Billy Graham and looked on the database. To my surprise and delight, the university had, in their special collection, a few original copies of some of his literature that had been used at his crusades. To access it, I had to go through security, was given a special cushion for the book and was surrounded by serious academics reading ancient tomes in latin or old English. Only to be presented onto my pillow with white gloves a fairly normal paperback. I felt so daft surrounded by these great tomes of ancient knowledge and me in the middle with a daft paperback, I found you could geta copy of for a fiver on eBay, so why it was in a special collection I have no idea. But I am glad I had the chance to read it. You see one of the books was a book on the hymns that Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows his head of music wrote together, taking turns to explain each hymn that may be sung at the crusade. What was fascinating was that on hymns that billy Graham wrote about he couldn’t go about more than a sentence before proclaiming his message of Jesus, salvation and choice. It was fascinating. He talked briefly very briefly about the particular hymn before linking it unapologetically to the gospel. If you ever read anything by him, and it’s the same with other famous preachers like Wesley and Martin Luther King, they are absolutely dedicated to proclaiming the gospel at every opportunity and to prayer. The gift they had received as followers of Christ was proclaimed gladly and prominently to almost the exclusion of all else.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus uses this little parable of the lamp to encourage us to do the same. He gives the example of lighting a lamp – who would put it under a basket, or under the bed it would be completely useless. We who are Christians bear the light of the world with us, Jesus. Therefore stand and be counted and shine out. Seems fairly straight forward doesn’t it? You have received the light of Christ, therefore, off you trot, go get on a lamp stand and shine. Like the famous children’s song proclaims, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. We have all got to be like Billy Graham and John Wesley and Martin Luther King right? Well you’ll be pleased to hear, absolutely not.
One of the problems we have is that when we read this passage, we don’t appreciate that it is one of four parables one after the other and what Jesus is saying here is far more nuanced once we understand this parables place in the whole of the fourth chapter of Mark. You see the parables go like this. First in the chapter we have the parable of the sower, well known to us, followed by this parable. The third parable of the growing seed, a farmer who sows a crop doesn’t know how or why the seeds germinate but reaps the harvest. The final parable is the parable of the mustard see, that from such a small seed rises a great tree. You see Jesus isn’t here teaching individual things but stringing together a number of ideas that make much more sense together than they do apart. By looking to them together as a group and understanding the theological story that Jesus is weaving we will get, I think, to a far better understanding of what it is to be a called follower of Christ.
In the parable of the sower we hear about the different types of seed. Some fail for a number of reasons but some bear fruit. Jesus explains that His followers where His message germinates in will bear fruit. Those who don’t won’t and court destruction. Jesus never pulls His punches doe He?
The next parable, our gospel today brings the next point. Those who bear fruit are to let the gift they received, the light they receive to shine out. They are to break the darkness of our world by being living lamps of Christ. The gift of salvation is to share not to hoard. We are not to hide the gift we received but share it widely and effectively.
The third parable, of the farmer who sows, whose grain germinates and grows with nothing to do with him before he reaps the harvest is a lesson to show that it is not effort that produces fruit. We don’t have to be up at 4am and prayer for four hours. We don’t have to follow a certain course or initiative. God brings the growth. God brings the blessing. We receive freely, and amazingly we get to give freely. It isn’t down to us, its down to Him.
In the final parable we see that from small beginnings great things grow, through the power of God. from the mustard seed of faith, a great tree can grow, powered by God not by us.
These four parables are teaching us an important principle of the gospel.
Can you see what Jesus is saying here? He is teaching His disciples as He teaches us through His word today that those who listen to His word will bear fruit. Those same people are to shine that gift of God out. They are not required to do it in their own power. What starts small can grow with God into something truly impressive.
Let the word take root. Shine like a light on a lamp stand. God will do the work. God can grow amazing things from small beginnings. Despite the warning for those who will not hear, or shine or grow, which we need to listen to, that message seems a whole lot more wholesome and encouraging in context doesn’t it? Listen to Jesus, shine for Jesus, growth comes from Jesus and great things will come from Jesus for all those who bear fruit. But where does it leave us?
Ultimately this is a cry to be faithful, to believe in the power of God, to rely on Him. Some people are called to be the Wesley’s, the Luther Kings, the Billy Grahams, but many of us aren’t. We look on amazed at them, and yes, they did bear fruit. They did stand on lampstands and shine the light of Christ, but they didn’t do it alone, God did it and grew great things with them. We are though to look at saints of the faith like these three and faithfully follow what Jesus would have us do, remembering that any success isn’t ours but God’s giving Him the praise and the glory.
We may be called to be spiritual giants like those famous preachers I have mentioned. But we may also be called to be quiet, to be prayerful, to be a friend, to check on neighbours, to collect of the needy, to provide comfort to the hurting, to give, to receive or maybe none of the above. Any of us could be called to any of these things but we are all called to be fruitful, we are called to let God’s light within us to shine, we are called to remember that God provides not us and to allow Him to grow something marvellous in us. We are all called to be redeemed people of God and that is more than enough. The great truth in our faith is that we don’t achieve anything but God through His Son with the Holy Spirit achieves all and gives all, to Him be the glory. You are a wonderful gift from God – you are not required to do anything other than follow Him. You don’t have to achieve anything except to allow Him to work through you. So will you stand on the lamp stand, a light for God and just see what He does through your redeemed life?