Sunday, June 17, 2018

Parables and stories and seeds

Mark 4:26-34

Prop: Ginger plant

In today’s gospel story, Jesus tells two stories about seeds that are planted and that grow to produce fruit. Under most circumstances, seeds will try to sprout and grow. But they only thrive if conditions are right. They need the right amount of light and water and nutrients to grow.

… About 4 years ago, my husband Mike decided to try growing a ginger plant, so we went to a store and bought a couple of hands of real ginger. He planted it and watered it and fed it. And it grew. He transplanted it into this planter, and it did well for a while, then it stopped growing. All the leaves went brown. Mike put the planter in the garage. (Don’t ask me about why it went into the garage instead of the yard waste recycling. There is all sorts of stuff in the garage that should have disappeared long ago, but it’s still there.)

A year went by, and one day, Mike noticed that there were green shoots coming from the ginger roots we thought were dead. So, we brought the planter back into the house and have been watering it and feeding it.

What made the ginger grow? Time, and God’s plan. When we plant seeds, they grow when they get water and sun and find fertilizer in the soil. But, it is only because of God’s plan that plants emerge from the seeds.

Some seeds plant themselves. Plants often produce seeds that fall onto the ground and grow next year without human assistance. But farmers intentionally spread seed of the type they choose, so they will have a crop of the fruit the seed naturally produces.

Congregations are like plants. They have been placed in a certain location, and fed and watered with people at the beginning. In the 1880s in the upper Midwest and the 1970s in Florida, people came, looked for a church like the one they knew at home, and congregations grew and grew. As new people came, the congregation was well-fed and well-watered. They grew naturally, and no one had to do much to help the church thrive except put an ad in the phone book.

Today, people are not looking for churches like the one they knew at home, because they have not been to a church for a long time, or they have never been to one. They don’t know what they are missing, of course.

… I believe the best way for us to draw people to church is to plant seeds in them by telling stories. Jesus told parables, a word that describes a particular type of story. The disciples told Jesus’ stories, and they told their own stories. New believers heard the stories about Jesus and they came to believe as well.

We all have faith stories. … For example, think about your baptism. What do you know about it? If you were an infant, you only know what people have told you. But you can put the pieces of the story together and create a larger story. Who was there? Where was it? Did you wear a special garment? Who were your God-parents? Did they keep in touch after that day?

I was baptized at about 5 weeks at St Luke’s Augustana Lutheran Church in Chicago. I know my parents were there, and Auntie Vi and Uncle Bob were my God-parents. There are no pictures of that day, but I assume my grandparents were there, since they all lived in the same area.

Later on in my life, my God-parents showed up, at various moments in my life and kept in touch with cards and letters. They were consistent faith figures in my life.

What stories can you tell about your faith life? Your baptism and confirmation stories are usually pretty easy to tell. … Another easy one is the story about how you came to Ascension Lutheran Church. Was it because someone told you a story about the church and invited you to come and see for yourself?

What stories would you tell about Ascension? Would you talk about the past, or would you talk about your present: your desire to call a new pastor, and your intention to fill the food pantry, and your commitment to partner with a nearby school, and your ability to have a musical service without a live musician?

My faith stories are places where God and I intersect, places where God has been or continues to be active in my life. Your faith stories are places where God has been active in your life. Today, our stories, yours and mine, intersect in two ways: you and I connect as humans and as pastor and parishioner, and you and I connect with God. We are doubly connected because of our faith in God.

If we are aware of our own stories we can find ways to connect with others. We can help them connect with God, through their own faith stories, even if they don’t believe they have them. In that way, our faith stories become seeds of faith planted in someone else’s heart. And perhaps, they will realize their seed will grow best if they are here at Ascension Lutheran Church.

… So, here’s something I would like to do. I would like to start an Ascension Lutheran Church story collection. When I visit homebound people, or ill people, or grieving people, they almost always tell stories. So, I am going to get to know them by gathering and writing down their stories. At the same time, I would like y’all to begin to write down the stories you would like to tell about your own lives.

When have you noticed God being present in your life? Sometimes, we are aware of God’s presence in the moment; more often, we are not aware God was there until we look back a year or two or five, or even a lifetime. When we look back, it is then that we notice we weren’t alone, but God was there, putting pieces in place for us. God is constantly planting seeds of faith in us.

This little project will have a two-fold purpose. It will help us learn to tell our own stories, and we can put them together in a booklet for the new pastor, whoever that may be.

Also, I would like to have a little time each week for some story telling. So, I suggest that we use the announcement time at the end of the service for a story or two. You can tell your story, or I can tell one from a person I visited.

I know you normally don’t do much about announcements, but they are important. Most people need to hear the announcements as well as read them. Plus, visitors don’t know the details, and they may need more information. So, I invite you to stay seated after communion for the prayers and the benediction, and the announcements. Then stand for the sending hymn.

Now, let me tell you a story. Larry and Lucy were Lutherans and they went to church every week. Carl and Cathy were Catholics and they also went to church every week. One weekend, Carl and Cathy visited Larry and Lucy, so they went to the Lutheran Church. After the benediction, Carl and Cathy gathered their things and made ready to leave. At the same time, Larry and Lucy opened their hymnals and began to sing the sending hymn. Cathy said to Carl, “My God, they’re staying for the credits!”

I suggest we stay not only for the credits, but that we make the coming attractions, the stories and the announcements, something worth staying for.