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July 10, 2005 (Sunday 15 · Time after Pentecost)—“Sowing Recklessly and With Abandon”
Pastor David Barber
Isaiah 55:10-13; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a story which originates from Peter Drucker that tells about a shepherd herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand new BMW advanced out of a cloud of dust toward him.
The driver was wearing a designer suit and Gucci shoes. He leans out the window and asks the shepherd, "If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?"
The shepherd looks at the man, who is obviously not from around here, then looks at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answers, "Sure. Why not?"
The young man parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, and connects it to his AT&T cell phone. He surfs to a NASA page on the Internet where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location. He then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo.
Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150 page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP Laser Jet printer and finally turns to the shepherd and says, "You have exactly 1586 sheep."
"That's right," says the shepherd. "You can take one of my sheep. He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.
Then the shepherd says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is will you give it back to me?" And the young man agrees to this proposition.
"You're a consultant," says the shepherd. "Wow! That's correct," says the young man. "But how did you guess that?"
"No guessing required," answered the shepherd. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew; to a question I never asked; and you don't know diddley about my business....Now give me back my dog."
If this same consultant had made an appearance in the Palestinian countryside some centuries ago, he might have been shocked by what he saw. He would have seen a Palestinian farmer simple wasting his seed, and he might have advised him that he was not being cost effective.
I'm not the world's greatest gardener, but even I wouldn't go out and scatter the seed everywhere. When I had to plant a small section of lawn a few months ago, I took great care to make sure that the soil was well-prepared.
I raked it several different times to remove most of the rocks. I sprayed the soil with weed killer at least two or three times to ensure that the grass wouldn't have to compete with a multitude of weeds. And then I put on numerous bags of soil conditioner or compost so that the quality of the soil would be improved.
I wanted to make the most efficient and effective use of my time, my energy, and the sprigs and the plugs that I planted. Very few of us would deliberately throw or scatter the seed everywhere, and if we did, we would be foolish gardeners, indeed!
This parable is not primarily about the different kinds of soil, and I'm not going to tell you this morning to go to the State of Hawaii Spiritual Extension Service to get your soil tested. Our hymn for the day is not "Let My Heart Become Good Soil" from the blue hymnal.
First of all, only God can make soil. Besides, this parable is called "The Parable of the Sower" not "The Parable of the Different Kinds of Soil."
The focus is upon the one who plants--and in spite of great obstacles, frustrations, failures, disappointments, and rejections that we experience in our witness and our ministry, God guarantees the harvest. There will be a harvest, and we can stake our life on it.
If we look at the setting in which this story is told, it appears that Jesus is a very successful teacher because multitudes of people come to hear him. And yet as we continue with the story, the numbers who actually hear, obey, and follow dwindle to almost nothing.
Jesus becomes such an embarrassment and an offense that at the end of his life he suffers and dies alone. The great multitudes and the crowds that were impressed with his teaching are gone--and even his closest friends and disciples have deserted him.
Does not this parable mirror the life of Jesus and what life is like for the faithful who follow him? It's remarkable that out of the five verses for the parable proper, four of them describe a failure.
The bottom line of the ledger sheet is this: If we are to use numbers or percentages to describe the success or failure of Jesus, he wouldn't have fared too well. Only 25%--only 1/4 of the seeds fell on good soil and bore fruit.
Any consultant would wonder about the effectiveness and efficiency of such a farmer and would probably leave, shaking their head in frustration and bewilderment.
Effective and efficient could be two words that we might use to describe good business practices. Effective and efficient might be two words that I would value highly for the daily operation of this place as well as the management of my own ministry.
According to one pastor a church consultant once asked his church council, "How do you know if your decisions are faithful?" "Effective and efficient," were two of the early responses.
This could be true, but they didn't get such responses from this parable. In this parable there's lots of wasted seeds. Indeed, don't we also need to talk about a ministry of wastefulness?
How effective and efficient is it to set aside 24 hours for the Sabbath--a full day of rest without working? To the detriment of our minds, bodies, and spirits, we don't often do this because it feels as if we're not being productive and simply wasting time.
How effective and efficient is it for the church to waste time, energy, and money on the homeless, the addicted, the poor and the hungry? How effective and efficient is it to invite such folks into our faith community?
How effective and efficient is it for a pastor or a church member to sit in vigil with a family through the night as a loved one lingers between life and death or you wait for some word on the status of a child or a spouse?
How effective and efficient is it to waste precious resources on witness and evangelism when there're few results for our efforts. I'm sure that's the reason, of course, why many Lutheran congregations don't engage in evangelism--it's not effective and efficient!
How effective and efficient is it to waste bread and wine on everyone who comes forward for Holy Communion or to waste God's grace on some unrepentant sinner--perhaps, even ourselves at times?
However, we have a wasting God--a God who flung creativity and color with abandonment and recklessness to create this beautiful and wonderful home in which we live.
We have a God who in Jesus Christ is willing to spend and to be spent on our behalf. In Jesus, God has sown in abundance--the abundance of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. Each and every day we are showered extravagantly with these gifts hoping they will overflow out into the world around us.
We have freely received as a gift, and now we're invited to freely give as a gift. We're invited to sow recklessly and with abandon the seeds of compassion, the seeds of generosity and kindness, the seeds of understanding and reconciliation not only in our personal lives but also in our corporate life together.
It may seem that many of these are simply wasted seeds, but who knows where they might fall and begin to take root. Who knows where the soil is receptive, and warm, and fertile just waiting for the right seed to fall within its furrows where it can take root and grow and bear fruit.
This takes time and persistence--sometimes as much as a lifetime and sometimes we don't even see the results while we're still living.
H. George Anderson, the former Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, once sat around a table in Germany with a group of Air Force Chaplains as they relaxed and traded stories about places where they served around the world.
Naturally, when a group of pastors get together, the conversation often includes, "Did you know so-and-so on that base? Among the names these chaplains knew in common, one couple stood out.
The chaplain who had been on that base described the difficulties and the despair these two people had wrestled with. He ended by saying, "I worked with them as best I could, but nothing seemed to help. I wonder if they are still together?"
"Together?" another chaplain said. "You should see them now. They are the mainstays of our program there, and they speak so highly of the way your words made a difference in their lives."
This chaplain was fortunate because far too often we never get to know the results of our efforts. We try to express our faith to someone else--a school friend, a co-worker, or a child--and then we move away, take another job, or we lose track of them in some other way.
Or we spend much time and energy working for peace and justice. We spend countless hours laboring for the elimination of hunger and poverty. We wonder. Is anyone listening? Do my efforts make a difference?
But then the word takes root and the seed begins to grow. The faith we expressed to someone else or our efforts for those who are down-and-out begin to bear fruit--and the world changes ever so slightly.
Our job is to sow the seed with recklessness and abandon--letting it fall where it will. God has promised an abundant harvest--and so we labor and we sow faithfully trusting in this promise.
As the Apostle Paul encourages us in I Corinthians, "Be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that what you do in the Lord's name is not in vain."
That's God's promise--and this promise will not return to God empty. We can stake our life on it!
Copyright © 2005 David Barber
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org