Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sowing blessings: Pass It On

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

(We're back after 2 weeks of vacation with  family and friends in Michigan.) 
Today’s sermon includes a song – and since I prefer to not sing solos, and you’d prefer that I not sing solos, too, I’ve asked Larry Whitler to help me this morning.
This summer, we will read many of the stories from Genesis, in a sort of sequential order, although we skip over lots of good stories. When we start at the beginning of a story, we are more aware of the reason for telling the story. Today, we read about Jacob and Esau, and their sibling rivalry, but we can’t forget that the parents of the boys are Isaac and Rebekah, and their grandparents are Abraham and Sarah.
At the beginning of the story of Abraham and Sarah, we hear the promises from God to the family: “I will bless you – with land, descendants, and a loving relationship with me (God).” But the blessing is not just for Abraham and his family. God said, “I will bless you – so you may be a blessing to others.”
The stories in Genesis and the rest of Scripture remind us how difficult it was to actually pass on the blessings. There were family rivalries, disloyalty to God, and disobedience of every sort. In the end, the blessings were not passed on to all of the families of the world as God had first envisioned. The repeated refrain of the prophets was for those who were blessed to pass on God’s blessings to those in need of blessing.
Jesus also made it clear that God’s blessings are for all people, and today, it’s just as important as ever that we pass on God’s blessings to all.
Last week, Mike and I joined the camp community in singing an old camp song – well, it’s from 1969, so I guess it’s old. [Kurt Kaiser] It just seems to fit today’s topic, so we’re going to hear it, one verse at a time. You might know it; if you do, sing along. The first verse goes like this:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going
And soon all those around, can warm up in its glowing
That’s how it is with God’s love
Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone
You want to pass it on
God established a relationship with Abraham’s family so that they could pass on the blessings God gave them. As part of God’s extended family, we, too, are to pass on the blessings. But, it’s hard for most of us. We don’t easily share our faith; we don’t easily pray out loud in public; we don’t readily even say the name of Jesus outside the church or home.

... In the scatter method of planting seeds, the ground is prepared as well as possible. The seeds are scattered on top of the ground, with the hope of the right amount of sun and rain. Not all the seeds will grow, or will thrive. Some seeds will fall on rocks; some seeds will be eaten by birds; some seeds will be choked out by thorns and weeds. Even so, most of the seeds fall on fertile ground and sprout and grow to produce abundant fruit or grain.
Jesus uses this method of sowing seeds as a description of the kinds of faith people have. Some people have strong faith, despite the birds and rocks and thorns in their lives. Some people get distracted and move away from their faith because of the birds and rocks and thorns. When it becomes hard to have faith, some people give up on their faith and plant themselves in other fields, or in no fields at all.  Some things in our lives help us grow in faith; some things hinder us and make us less fruitful than we could have been; some things make our faith stronger than before.

The second verse of the song Pass it on describes what it means to have strong faith, and help others to have that same strong faith.

What a wondrous time is spring, when all the trees are budding;
The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming.
That's how it is with God's love;
Once you've experienced it, you want to sing
"It's fresh like spring"; you want to pass it on.

We can think of sowing seeds of faith as passing on God’s blessings. Here’s a “for example story.”
Mike and I left Florida on Tuesday, June 28, and spent several days in Kalamazoo, Michigan, at a hotel near our family. We had a great time visiting with the grandchildren and catching up with some old friends. Our granddaughters especially liked the swimming pool at the hotel.
We needed to do laundry before moving out of the hotel and on to a week at a church camp. So, Saturday evening I took our dirty clothes to the laundry room in the hotel. I lifted the lid on the washer and realized that I would need to do two loads in that tiny tub, not just the one quick load I had imagined.
As I transferred the first load from washer to dryer, and put the second load into the washer, a woman came into the laundry room dragging a large black trash bag filled with dirty clothes. We began a conversation, simple stuff: names, why we were at the hotel, and so forth. Sondra shared that she and her husband had just celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary, their sixteenth year together. I shared that Mike and I had been visiting grandchildren, and were off to a church conference the next day.
I returned to the room and waited for the first load to get dry. By the time I got back, Sondra was in the laundry room, too, ready to put her first load in the washer as soon as my second wash load was finished. We chatted some more, this time about her business upgrading cell-phone towers, which kept her and her family on the road for months at a time. We returned to our rooms, and then met back in the laundry room one more time.
This time, it was different. Sondra shared that her husband had just told her the day before that he was finished with their marriage; he wanted a divorce. She poured out her heart to me, filled with her sadness, and with her faith that God would help her get through this crisis. I listened to her and prayed silently as I listened.
Before I left the room, I asked if I could pray for her. She nodded and kind of whimpered an assent. I put out my arms to her. She hesitated, then suddenly wrapped her arms around me, and sort of melted into me and wept while I prayed.

We sow seeds of faith and pass on blessings in many ways. Sometimes, we plant them intentionally, inviting a new neighbor to join us at worship or a fun event.
Sometimes we scatter them liberally, hoping some will sprout and grow, like hanging signs on door knobs and advertising in the newspaper.
Sometimes, we nurture the seeds others have planted. That’s what I was doing for Sondra. She already had faith, strong faith, but needed a little fertilizer, a little prop to provide some support for a while. My presence and my prayer reminded her that God really did care and would be with her and her family.

The third verse of Pass it on puts it this way:

I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I've found.
You can depend on Him, it matters not where you're bound.
I'll shout it from the mountain top - HEY WORLD!
I want the world to know; the Lord of love has come to me,
I want to pass it on.

I know that for most of you, when I invite you to invite someone else to church or another church event, you can list several reasons why you just can’t do so. For years, people have told me their reasons: all my neighbors are Catholic; I don’t even know my neighbors; none of my neighbors are interested in anything to do with church; I don’t know enough about the Bible; I’ve invited all of my neighbors and they aren’t interested – or they are already here; I don’t know anyone I could invite. You can add to the list of reasons, I’m sure.
However, if we think about planting seeds of faith as passing on the blessings we have from God, perhaps it’s not so hard to do. It does mean being on the alert to people like Sondra, and being open to what God wants us to do about her situation.
Certainly, I could have walked out the door after a mumbled, “I’m so sorry.” But it was clear to me that the Holy Spirit wanted me to be God’s presence for her in that very moment. The Holy Spirit is present in and with each of us so that we can be on the lookout for opportunities to pass on God’s blessings. It doesn’t take much, just the time it takes to notice an opportunity, and to trust in the Holy Spirit to be with us. Which takes us back to the first verse:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going
And soon all those around, can warm up in its glowing
That’s how it is with God’s love
Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone
You want to pass it on