Monday, July 14, 2014

As You Sow You Grow

This morning we hear the first parable recorded in Matthew’s gospel – the parable of the Sower and the Seed.  There is no way of knowing if this was the first parable Jesus told because Matthew does not record things in chronological order.  He chooses rather to group similar things: first teachings, then miracle stories, and then parables.  We will be hearing several of his stories over the next few Sundays.

The Sower and the Seed is straight forward enough.  It explains why different people receive the good news of God’s kingdom in different ways.  The evil one works on some the way birds eat seed.  Some folks have limited depth and, like seed in shallow soil, lack a sufficient ‘root’ system to sustain the faith.  Like seed that falls among thistles, some people are so tangled up in the cares of the world that way of the kingdom gets choked out.  And some people, like good soil, receive the word and it produces a bountiful harvest in them. 

While Jesus’ parable tends to lop people into on category or another, I recognize each of the soil conditions as being present in my own life.  I have areas where I am particularly susceptible to the evil one.  There are other areas where I am shallow or indifferent.  There are still other areas where I care more about the world than the kingdom.  And there are parts of me that are open to God and, hopefully, very productive.  Both by the grace of God and through some effort of my own, I hope that this part of the ‘field’ that is me is growing.

I like too that Jesus identifies how some harvest produces grain a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.  It suggests that each of us will be productive in our own particular way.  I will yield more fruit by teaching or preaching or volunteering in the Food Pantry than by singing in the choir, although I still respond to God’s kingdom through the church’s hymnody (I just try not to belt it out too loud!).  Where are you most productive (the hundredfold), where do you contribute something significant (the sixtyfold), and where do you make a difference simply by participating (the thirtyfold)?

In the parable as Jesus tells it he sees himself as being the sower.  He is the one who is spreading the news of the kingdom and we are the soil receiving that seed.  But it is helpful for us to change roles and to ponder how we ourselves are sowers.  We now are the ones who share the Good News of God in Christ.  We now are the ones who spread the kingdom of God through word and deed.  How are we doing?

In Jesus’ day a farmer prepared a plot of land for planting.  When it was ready he walked the plot scattering seed as he went.  This method of broadcasting, especially when caught by the wind, meant that some of the seed would fall on ground not cultivated.  While a sower would not be sloppy about the work, neither would he be restrictive or tentative.  First and foremost, you have to sow seeds if you want to produce a harvest.  It is an act that is one part adventure, one part daring, one part curiosity, and one part faithfulness, all held together by a sense of grace and hope – something interesting may come of this.

I have been sowing some seeds of late that may produce an interesting harvest.  Some of you know that I post my sermons on a blogsite –  I know that some of you go there and revisit my sermons after you hear them on Sunday morning.  Some of you, when you cannot be here on Sunday, go there to read what you missed.  And some of you share them with friends and family members who live out of town but want to remain in touch.  In the five years I have been posting sermons there has been nearly 7,500 pageviews on the site.  That is a kind of seed sowing and you never know who it will reach.

This became abundantly clear to me last Monday when I received an e-mail from James Goodman, who wrote a book I quoted in a sermon two weeks ago.  A friend of his came across that sermon and e-mailed him the link.  He saw it and wanted me to thank me for my careful reading of his book on the Binding of Isaac and for mentioning it in my sermon.  I was both amazed and terrified by the e-mail: amazed at the reach my words have simply by putting him on the internet and terrified at the prospect of being read and scrutinized by people much more knowledgeable and capable than me.  I was relieved that the e-mail from Mr. Goodman did not end with “you will be hearing from my lawyers and I will be contacting your bishop.”   I always take preaching very seriously and hold myself to a high standard because you deserve nothing less and God’s word demands it.  Ultimately, posting my sermons heightens my sense of responsibility in positive ways knowing that I do not know where my words are going.

Here is another seed I am sowing: I am organizing a September bike ride in Williamsburg to raise money for Camp Chaco and for Episcopal Relief & Development.  I have participated in events like this, but never have spearheaded one before.  Like blogging, it is both amazing and terrifying.  I am grateful for help I am receiving from various people.  Ann Turner, the communications officer of the diocese, worked with me to select and set-up an on-line registration and fund-raising site.  I now know infinitely more about this than I did a few months ago.  I have found a website that allows me to map out riding routes that lists directions, mileage, and even elevation changes.  I am meeting this week with a member of Bruton Parish who is an avid biker and member of a large cycling club.  I have no idea where this will all end – hopefully the legal waivers attached to registration will keep me from going to prison in the event that something goes wrong – but I am excited about the possibility of raising money and awareness for two great ministries of our church.

I think there is a direct link between congregational vitality and seed sowing: the more people who sow seeds the greater the vitality of the church.  Did you know that Debbie Askew is running a summer horse camp for parishioners two days a week at her farm?  On Tuesdays she has younger children come out and Thursdays are for older children.  They work with the horses, ride, share a lunch, a craft, and a bible study.  Our kids love it and are learning a lot about horses and about being in community with one another.  What a great ministry!

As I said earlier, sowing the seeds of the kingdom is an act that is one part adventure, one part daring, one part curiosity, and one part faithfulness, all held together by a sense of grace and hope – a belief that something interesting may come of it.  I see this faith at work when someone offers a bible study or volunteers in the Food Pantry or signs up to host a Coffee Hour or grills up burgers and dogs for a Sunday cookout. 

It seems to be true that the more seeds a person sows the more the soil that is that person becomes open to the seeds that God is sowing.  As you sow you grow.  What adventure would you like to engage with God?  What might you dare?  What peaks your interest?  What is faithful to the gifts God has entrusted to you?