Time after Pentecost #15 (A)
Last week at the Men’s Breakfast we were talking about invitations; about inviting people to activities, about inviting them into the fellowship of believers. I mentioned that I had read an article that said the average Lutheran invites someone to worship or other church activity once every 27 years. They, of course, all laughed and, rightly so, they speculated as to my source for information. Interestingly, later that very same day I read another article that referenced a study by the department for Research and Evaluation for the ELCA. That report said it was once every 40 years. Now, to be fair, I tried to find the actual report that was being quoted and I could not. However, the fact that you laughed when I said this means that you recognize some truth in this statistic.
You may have heard me use the term, “The Frozen Chosen?” The term doesn’t just apply to Lutherans in the middle of a Montana winter. Nor does it apply to just Lutherans. Many Christians have a tendency to remain quiet about their faith; to keep their mouths permanently frozen shut rather that speak of anything relating to God and their faith.
We all have our reasons for not speaking up about our faith. Often it involves fear. Fear of what the other person will say, fear of ridicule, fear of rejection. Those of us who have tried at times to share our faith and come up disappointed in the reception may have decided that it isn’t worth the effort and frustration. If somebody really wants to know about our faith they will ask. Especially if that person is an adult, we expect that they can decide for themselves if they want to find out more about faith, or God, or church, or about what it means to be a Christian and a disciple of Jesus Christ. Or worse, we look at someone and decide for them that they don’t want or need to hear the good new of Jesus Christ.
Until now I have been speaking in regards to the practice of sharing our faith verbally—with our mouths. But now I must bring up the other way in which we share our faith—in the way we interact with our community and with each other. What do our lives say? Are the actions we take outside of this sanctuary spreading the good news of the gospel or are we just doing our best to blend in and not make a fuss, just trying to survive in a town that is undergoing rapid change?
Sometimes I wonder if we live as though there is an abundance of everything except grace. We don’t have trouble spending our money or using our resources for our own pleasure and benefit. We squander time as though we will never run out. We certainly eat as if we will always have more than enough food. But when it comes to the grace of God, we are hoarders. I wonder if we are afraid there is hardly enough for ourselves, let alone extra to share with those around us?
Today’s parable, the very first parable in Matthew’s gospel, is about the extravagance of God. It is the story of a farmer who lavishly plants seed…EVERYWHERE. In places that were full of predators who would eat the seed, in places that were shallow with no place for the seed to take root, in places where the seed had no hope of survival, and yes, even in good, fertile soil. At best, 25% of the seed planted would yield a harvest. Not very good odds. We would probably say that this farmer is not too wise with his resources, to waste 75% of his seeds. ¾ of his crop isn’t going to produce anything? Here is a farmer who is willing to risk everything in the hope that he will get something back.
As we read later in this chapter we get an explanation of this parable. The seed is the Word of God. Does that make the story any more sensible? 25% of the people who hear God’s Word will take it heart and grow in faith and understanding? It will only impact ¼ of the people who hear about the grace that God has given to us in Jesus Christ? Not really good returns on our time as people of the Word who are called to share the good news…Perhaps that is why we tend to keep quiet. Perhaps we have tried to live out the gospel in the world and even this 25% return seems optimistic. We have given and been used for our resources. We have spoken of God’s grace and love and seen people walk away; their lives seemingly untouched.
The Word of God, whether spoken or acted out, is vulnerable. As people who claim this spoken Word, we have seen it be manipulated and used for selfish gain. As people who claim this Word made flesh we have seen Jesus ridiculed and abused. But this Word is also powerful. It is the spoken Word that says, “You are forgiven.” “You are loved.” “You are not alone.” It is the Word made flesh that rose from the clutches of death. That continues to bring life and hope where there was once brokenness and despair.
Yes, in this parable of Jesus says that only 25% of the seed planted will survive but he goes on to say that the 25% yields a hundred times what was planted. This is the good news! The Word of God is bigger than our feeble understanding, stronger than our fiercest determination. The results that we are able see with our plain little human eyes are just the tip of the iceberg when compared to the harvest that is being influenced by our planting.
That is the good news.
Here is the BEST news: The sower knows that some of the seed is not going to produce fruit but he keeps on sewing. This is a story of the extravagance of God. It is good news for you and I that God does not wait until the soil of our hearts is in perfect condition for planting.
At some point in your life someone cared enough to sow the seed of God’s word in your life. And let’s face it. They didn’t really know what kind of soil you were. Chances are, you have changed soil composition at different times in your life. I know that I have. I remember a distinctly shallow time in my life. Not too much depth. Lots of enthusiasm but a lot of rocky spots that kept roots from taking hold. There was my angry, disappointed phase when any word of grace got choked out by the thorns. There have been times in my life when I was continually side-tracked by everything except what I should have been focused on. The birds came and grabbed the seed before it could take root. I like to think that now I have “good soil” kind of figured out, but…I don’t think any of us are constant in our soil composition.
Isaiah 55:10-11 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
I share this text with you this morning because it is my desire for us that we take all of the scriptures this morning into our hearts, both so that we might be encouraged but also so that we might encourage one another to boldly share God’s Word with the people outside these four walls. Do not be discouraged. Sharing the gospel will never be without purpose or result. There is someone in your life who needs to hear the promises of God. There are many in this community to need to experience the Word made flesh in a kind gesture and helping hand.
Let us give thanks for those who planted the seeds that got us here. And may we, in turn, be sowers of God’s Word.
Pastor Charlane Lines
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270