Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sowing Seeds - Matthew 13

Matthew 13:1-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path.20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

          I have a jar here.

          It is my grown-up version of a piggy bank.

          At the end of the day I put my coins in it.

          It has a special lid with a special slot and when you slide coins into it the lid keeps track of the amount of money I put in.  If I put in a penny, the electronics in the lid can tell it is a penny and adds one cent to the total amount.

          If I put a nickel in, it can tell that.

          I can even put in a dollar coin – you know, those coins that were supposed to replace the paper one dollar bill years ago that no one ever uses.  The lid can tell a dollar coin from a quarter or a half dollar.

          Right now, I have $53.32.

          I think I’ll open the lid and throw some money around and see what happens.

          (Open the lid, throw some coins here and there).

          By the way, I’m not picking up these coins.  If you want them, take them.

          (toss a few more)

          Just think – yours for the keeping.  All you have to do is pick one up.

          I’ll even toss one into the front rows – nobody ever sits there. 

          And I’ll toss one to the back row because there are lots of people back there.

          You know, one thing about preaching is that every week, someone will drop a note in the offering plate telling me about a mistake I made in the sermon.  Or they will send me an email on Monday morning about something they didn’t like that I said in the sermon.

          I can see it now – someone will criticize me for throwing money away and wasting it.

          What kind of an idiot preacher just throws money away?

          Well, kind of like the idiot farmer in today’s lesson.

          Jesus tells this parable about a sower who went out to sow.  He went to plant seeds in the field.  He throws all the seed out in a willy nilly sort of fashion.

          Some lands on the rocky soil.  Some in the thorns.  If that isn’t bad enough, he even throws some on the road.  What a waste of seed!

          What kind of a farmer just wrecklessly throws out good seed like that?

I read an article this week about farmers.  Farming is a complicated process, and the writer had this to say:

“Where I live there are vast fields where local farmers grow potatoes by the truckload as well as tons of corn (both feedcorn and sweetcorn).  These farmers are very careful to “fit” their fields each spring.  They have special machines that gather up the rocks and stones that have pushed their way up to the surface of the earth, and so each spring you can see large piles of these stones in the corners of the fields.  They then disc the soil to break up clumps of dirt, put down fertilizers to prevent the growth of weeds, and only then do they sow their seed in fields that, when the seed is all sown, look like a vast but neatly combed plot of earth.  There’s nothing like seeing a nicely fitted field.  Indeed, even before the plants begin to grow a fitted field has its own kind of organized beauty.”

And here is Jesus telling a parable in which we see a farmer who apparently knows nothing about farming.

One of my professors in seminary said of today’s Scripture passage from Matthew that this was evidence that Jesus was a carpenter and not a farmer.

I mean, what kind of farmer plants seed like this, scattering it without thought of preparation onto rocky soil, on the path, in the thorns, and some on good soil.

Seed is valuable.  You don’t waste it.  You use it wisely.

Throwing seed onto the different types of soil as happens in this parable is like throwing good money away.

          It makes no sense.

          What is Jesus telling us here?  Well, he is definitely NOT giving us a lesson on farming. 

          But he is giving us a lesson on sharing the love of God.  He is telling us how to share the Good News.

          We live in a market society.  We are capitalists.  When we try to do something, we plan for success. And no company invests time and money into a venture that does not have a high likelihood of success.

          You look at McDonalds and how they operate.  You never see a McDonalds on a country road in the middle of nowhere.  You see them where they can sell the most burgers.  They are more likely to buy on a street corner where there are intersections of two roads – that increases their business.  Or they open a store in Walmart where people are already gathering.

          You look at Blockbuster.  Great company.  They rented videos all over the country.  Where are they now?  Gone.  You’ve got to work hard to stay competitive.  It is all about success.  If you don’t succeed in the market place, you’ve had it.

          Sharing the Good News of Christ is the one place where you do not have to worry about success.  All you have to do is share Christ with others.  That’s all.  Just share.  Scatter the seed here there and yonder.  Let God do the rest.  Your job is to throw out those bits and pieces of the Good News.

          The sower didn’t prepare the soil like a good farmer would do.  He just threw out the seed.

          And in the same way we do not need any special training.  We don’t need to take classes. 

          All we have to do is to share.

          I’ve been in the barber shop and in the check out lines at the grocery store – people share their political views with me.  I’m not interested in their views but they share them.  Are they trained to do that?  No.  Did they take classes?  No.

          You don’t need to be trained.  Just share.

          That is what evangelism is.  Some people might organize going door to do, some people might buy time on the television.  But for most of us, all we have to do is share with someone something that has changed our lives.

          And remember – this is  the  area of life in which success is not something you have to worry about. 

          Your job is to throw out the seed – let God worry about whether or not anyone picks up on it. 
          Everywhere I go I tell people I go to the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.  I usually tell them we are open every Sunday and they should stop by some time.  I tell them this is a great bunch of people.  Here is a place where people care about one another. 

          I don’t get much results.

          Statistically speaking?  I’m not sure – I’ve never kept records on who I invite to church and who shows up.  If half the people I invited showed up, that would be great – but it is not half.  It’s whole lot less than that.  Ten percent?  I doubt it.  One percent?  Maybe.

          But you see, I don’t have to worry about being successful.  That’s not my job.  My job is just to scatter the invitations.

I should just let God worry about the rest.

          Some of you may have heard me share a story about Mother Teresa.  She was visited by a group of US Senators and one of them was discouraged by the enormous number of sick people who came to the hospital in Calcutta, India, seeking help from Mother Teresa.  This saint of a woman calmly knelt at one person’s side, then another.  There was no way she could visit all of them.  One of the Senators asked Mother Teresa how she felt when confronted with the sheer hopelessness of the numbers of people and the lack of resources.

          Her answer?

          “God did not call me to be successful, but to be faithful.”

          And that is our calling.  We are to be faithful in sharing the Good News.  Let God worry about the success of our efforts.

          The farmer in this story is so wasteful.

          It’s time for us to be that wasteful.  To be lavish with the Gospel.

          In fact, one of my my favorite preachers, Tom Long, says, “The church is called to ‘waste itself,’ to throw grace around like there is no tomorrow, precisely because there is a tomorrow, and it belongs to God.”

          Years ago one of the members who joined a church I was serving created quite a controversy.  One of the elders came up to me to provide me with what he thought was helpful advice.  “We don’t need trouble in our church,” he told me.  “Jane is trouble.  She’s just not our kind of people.”

          Well, Jane was different from the rest of the members.  She was a stripper, had been arrested for prostitution.  I have no doubt that she had a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Her fashion sense was a bit off. 

          But she joined our church.  She got a job – one that was not in the adult entertainment business. 

          Five years later, she was a Sunday School teacher and was ordained as an elder.

          Don’t worry about whether or not a person is good enough to be here.  Just welcome them.  Invite them.

          When I graduated from college I worked in a state prison system.  Rance Cobb was my supervisor.  He was an atheist who looked down upon all Christians.  I was always open about my faith, and we would often talk about the Bible, Christ, church.  But there was no way he was ever going to change.  As long as I knew him, I never saw any indication that he would change.

          A couple of years ago, I tried to look him on the Internet.  I just wondered what became of him.  I was thinking about connecting with him again. 

          I came across his obituary.  He had died just a short time earlier.

          The first line said something about how he “went to be with the Lord” and I couldn’t help but think that Rance Cobb would have hated that.  He wanted nothing to do with the Lord.

          I read further and discovered he was a member of the West End Baptist Church.

          He was a deacon in that church.

          Who would have thought? 

          Anyone looking for success in evangelism would have passed him by and gone after other potential members.
  But I had thrown a few seeds his way, someone else continued to throw seeds his way.  One day, lo and behold, he responded.

          Don’t look for success in evangelism.

          Just do it.

          And leave the rest to God.

          (Throw some coins out).

          Now you may think that I’m wasting my time throwing this money around. 

          But I know that eventually someone is going to pick up this money.  I don’t have to see them do it, but I know this money won’t be on the floor next Sunday. 

          And so it is with all those invitations we throw out to people to join us in Christ.  Sooner or later – people will respond.