Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sowing seeds

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Props: strips of paper which read, “My child, I love you. Pass it on. God.” These are “sown” around the sanctuary where people sit, where they don’t sit, and even on the floor.

Did you notice anything on your seats this morning? … Did you notice anything anywhere else? … What do you think it means that these papers are here?
Exactly. The strips of paper are intended to represent seeds that are planted. Some seeds land in soil that is ready to grow the seed, some seeds land in soil where the seeds will never mature to full plants, and some seeds and where they don’t stand a chance of growing.
Does the chance that the seeds will not grow stop the sower from sowing the seeds? Does the chance that the seeds will not mature into full-sized plants stop the sower from sowing them?
Who is the sower of the seeds?
Usually, when pastors preach about this text, and when Bible study groups discuss it, the focus is on the different kinds of soils. We each try to figure out what kind of soil we are – of course, we are good soil. And we all know others who are rocky soil, or hard-packed paths, or thin soil, or thorny soil.
 Who are the healthy plants, and the choked plants, and the scorched plants? We are. At different times in our lives we are not the healthiest of plants; we are not the most faithful people.
It’s a good thing that the real focus of the parable is on God, who sows and sows and sows. When the seed falls on good soil – in the hearts of God’s faithful people – the seed grows and faith matures into healthy plants which produce an abundance of fruit. In other words, lots more faithful people result from the healthy plants.
The seeds that fall on less than perfect soil are still there, hoping for healthier soil to grow in. When we are not feeling like we are healthy soil, God’s seeds of faith are still there. Other people, those who don’t seem to us to be healthy soil, they are not lacking in seeds of faith – they simply don’t understand how to be better soil.
So, as I see it, God works through us to help the soils improve, to help sow more seeds. I could talk about a lot of things here, but I want to focus on just one kind of soil. The second week I was away I attended a conference – a family camp Mike and have participated in together since the day after our wedding. That first time is another story, for another time – suffice it to say that it was NOT our honeymoon!
Anyway, this time, Rodger Nishioka was present with us for two public presentations. He is an expert in demographic studies and what they reveal about the church and about the Body of Christ. He has personal experience as well as the data from the 2012 Pew Research Study on religions.
This study gave physical evidence to what we have all sort of known and felt, but we didn’t know how to talk about it before. The Pew Study shows that 20% of the people in America have no religious affiliation.  So, they have become known as the “Nones.”
The Nones are mostly young adults, under 30 or so. They reject religion and religious practices, and religious people, as hypocritical, disrespectful of women and gays, and judgmental. They do not like what Joyce Meyers calls the “Holy Ghost Smile” – worn by people in church, and replaced by angry faces and voices as soon as they are in the car with real children and real spouses.
It would be easy to assume that the Nones have no connection with God, but two-thirds of them claim a belief in God. They say they are spiritual but not religious. In other words, they have faith in God, but don’t think the rituals and rules of traditional religion are valuable.
They pray daily; they feel a deep connection with the earth as God’s creation. They want to be part of something authentic, where people are free to be themselves. Their soil may be fertile, tilled and ready, but the seeds of faith have not been properly watered and fertilized. Or the soil may be thorny, dry, and hard-packed.  
There are also plenty of older people who have no religious affiliation, yet believe strongly in God. They may not be labeled as Nones, but they, too, seek something authentic, something that gives meaning to their lives. They want to help the faith seed they know is inside them grow and mature, but they don’t always know how. They have been disillusioned by church in the past, hurt by judgmental church people, or disappointed that prayers were not answered the way they wanted. The soil in their hearts is thorny, dry, hard-packed.
Which takes us back to seeds and soils: Those of us who garden know that some plants like sandy soil, while some like rich humus. Some plants like a lot of water, while some plants prefer to be mostly dry. Some prefer full sun, and some like the shade. It’s important to sow the seeds for the right plant in the right soil if the plant will grow and stay healthy.
God has sown seeds in our hearts so that faith might grow, and mature, and produce seeds to sow in other lives. We sow these seeds by telling stories – that’s why I so often encourage you-all to tell your own faith stories. When were you baptized? How did you get through a tragedy? When have you felt God’s presence in a powerful way? How often and how do you pray? These are all stories you know, seeds you can sow in the lives of your friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even strangers.
For example, when I talked recently with a young person, I asked her if she went to church. She said she and her mother used to, but had stopped going. So I told her a little bit about Hope, and gave her my business card with the church website address. I knew she would one day use technology to learn more about us. I sowed a seed that had a chance of landing in the soil she was that day.
The seeds that have the best chance of landing in fertile soil are those planted by a person, face to face. We can sow lots of seeds by doing mailings and lots of those seed will fall on rocky, dry, hard-packed soil – or soil that already has healthy plants growing in it. We can welcome people in, when they come to Hope to check out the soil here – and we usually do a great job of that! But those who walk in are so few, and we have so many seeds. Outreach into the community – for example, with free meals is another way to sow some seeds and meet some real needs.
But, just as God spoke one on one with Noah and Abraham and Moses; just as Jesus spoke one on one and in a small group with the disciples, and as he spoke to the dozens or hundreds or thousands face to face; just so, the best way to plant seeds of faith is to tell someone else our stories, and match those stories to the current soil conditions.
Many years ago, I attended a retreat on prayer. One part of it was about praying out loud in a group. The leader said, “When your heart is beating faster, that’s God telling you to speak up and pray out loud.” I say to you today, when you are in a conversation with someone and your heart is beating faster and you remember a story, it’s God saying to you, “Tell the story. Plant the seed!”  
Let’s return to the seeds you found on your seats. What do they say? “My child, I love you. Pass it on. God.” This week, I hope you will intentionally plant a seed, tell someone a story, share God’s love with someone who needs it.
Please pray with me. God our Sower, we thank you for those who have planted seeds of faith in our lives. Help us to sow some seeds so that more people will come to have faith in you. Amen