Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
How many of you have planted seeds? …
In ancient times, seed was sown by hand. The sower carried a leather bag of seed, and took some out with his hand and scattered it. Today, seed is sown by mechanical means, a device pulled by a tractor which also covers the seed with some soil.
In ancient times, the sower wanted to use just enough seed, but not waste it by spreading it where it would not grow. The same is true today. Seed is expensive, whether it is reserved from the harvest or purchased from the distributor.
But notice how liberally the sower in today’s Gospel spreads the seed. It lands everywhere! It lands in soil where it will not grow, where it cannot be easily covered up, even on the ancient equivalent of a sidewalk. This seed-spreading is either wasteful or generous, depending on your point of view.
Today, I want to talk about being God’s hands as God continues to sow abundant, generous seeds of love and forgiveness.
… I think it’s important to know our context, the people who live near the church. We can do that with a computer study, which shows the area is mostly white, mostly older, and a variety of wealthy middle class and poor.
Considering the history of St John, I think it is also important to know what people in the area think about St John. Do our neighbors even know we are here? What kind of a reputation do we have? Do they know the conflict is over? Do they know about our plans for ministry and for the future?
I have been thinking about ways to find out. When I went to lunch the other day, I found a great place, Francesco’s, in a strip mall south on Hwy 441 at 42. Rhonda was my server. She took my order and took very good care of me. I explained that I was the new pastor at St John Lutheran. Had she heard of the church? She said, No, she said she lived in Ocala and went to non-denominational churches.
A little while later, another customer came in. She must have been a regular, because she and Rhonda talked like they knew each other. Rhonda pointed to me and said, “Pastor Lynn over there is the new pastor at St John.” So, Rhonda knew nothing about St John, but because she was a church-goer, and friendly, she was happy to share with another person that I was the pastor of an area church.
… We are often afraid to talk about religion and church because we don’t want to offend anyone. But Rhonda was not only not offended, it pleased her to have the opportunity to talk about something important to her.
So, here is my idea for all of us. I hope y’all will be willing to do what I just did. Ask some people what they know about St John. I know that your close friends know about St John, because you have talked with them about it. So I’d like you to find other people to ask. You can talk to cashiers at the grocery store, or the nurse at the doctor’s office, or a restaurant server. Someone you feel comfortable talking with.
When you have figured out with whom you will talk, I’d like you to ask them what they know about St John. Just ask them what they know or have heard about St John. Then you can respond to their answer. You can tell them whatever you want to. You can say things like, “The conflict is over and we are doing well.” “We have wonderful outreach ministries. Right now we are collecting school supplies, tooth brushes and socks for elementary children.” “We have a great new pastor.”
In your bulletins are three slips of paper. I suggest we collect the responses you get and make plans based on those responses. If no one even knows we are here, that leads us to one plan. If people think we are still fighting, that’s another plan. If people want to help us fill the bus, that’s still another plan.
By intentionally asking people in our community about St John, we are helping God spread seeds. By telling them the story about how well St John is doing lately, we are also spreading seeds.
If St John is going to grow and flourish, beyond just surviving, we have to intentionally spread seeds. We can’t just wait for all the people who left to come back. We can’t just wait for new folks to find us. We have to be more intentional about it. We have to be on the lookout for opportunities to talk with others about this wonderful congregation.
A 2006 study showed that the personal invitation is the reason most people give about why they came to a particular congregation. Many people are simply waiting for a sign from God, an invitation from someone they know to come to their church.
Here’s a story about how that happens. Cathy was an active member of Epiphany Lutheran Church, and worked with Ron at a bookstore. Cathy noticed that Ron seemed to be looking for God but didn’t know how. He also enjoyed a good meal. One day she invited Ron to church. “I hope you will come with me to church this Sunday. After church, we have a pot luck.” “What’s a pot luck?”
So, Cathy explained what pot lucks were. Ron came to church because of the pot luck, but stayed because of the community he found there. When I knew him, he was on the council and active in worship leadership many Sundays.
We are Jesus’ hands, helping him sow seeds in many hearts. Some of them will take root, some of them will not. God the sower scatters seeds everywhere, knowing that not all of them will take root and grow. Let’s not worry, as we scatter seed, whether or not the seeds will grow, because we do not know what is in the other person’s heart.
Let’s also remember that Jesus will put words in our mouths, give us the courage to speak those words, and will also try to open the hearts of the person we hope to invite to hear the words.
This week, intentionally plant three seeds. Ask three people what they know or have heard about St John, and tell them something about us. Write it up on the slip we gave you or on another paper, or send us an email, or give the office a call.
Please pray with me. Jesus, you are the sower of so many seeds. We thank you for sowing seeds of faith in our own hearts. Help us sow some seeds in other hearts, give us the words to speak, and open the heart of the person with whom we are speaking. Amen