Our Gospel this morning is the parable of the Sower and the Seeds. I suspect we have all heard this story a million times over. Most likely we have been asked to figure out what type of soil we are in terms of our relationship and commitment to God. Most likely, when asked by the preacher to figure out your type of soil, you found it easier to assign soil types to those who were sitting near you.
This morning, I want to do something different. I want us to assume this parable has nothing to do with us, and more to do with God’s generosity.
Personally, I’m not much of a gardener. After eleven years of living in the Rectory, I have basically given up trying to grow anything. First, there is too much shade because the lot is now surrounded by trees. Second, despite spraying with Deer Off, anything that we can grow in our yard eventually gets eaten by the herd of deer that live in the woods behind the house along with the rabbits and the other assorted wildlife that lives nearby.
However, one thing I have learned through observation, very few people randomly sow seeds anymore, and I doubt the ancient farmers did either. Most likely, like we do today, planting was done methodically. First the ground was tilled, then nutrients in the form of fertilizer was added to enrich the soil and then the seeds are dropped along neatly plowed rows for optimum growth and production.
Scattering seeds as we heard about in today’s gospel, is truly a waste of seed. If too many seeds germinate and grow close together, the plants choke each other out. Even if the plants did grow, harvesting the fruit would be difficult at best.
As we begin to equate the sower with God, the first thing we notice, God is not overly worried about where or how his seed grows, all God seems to care about is that the seed reaches the ground no matter what its condition.
In evangelism talks, I have heard speakers tell us to cast our nets far and wide, it seems God does not cast a net, but instead scatters the seeds of grace far and wide, never worrying as to where the seed will land, and willing to accept whatever fruits it will bear. For the earliest church, the sower and the seed served to remind members that the Gospel was not just for the Jews of Israel, but for the Gentiles as well. That the message was not just to be taken to places where they perceived they would find the best reception, but it was to be preached where audiences were perceived to be most hostile as well. The sower and the seed told them not to worry about the harvest, but simply about casting the seeds of faith, whenever and wherever the Holy Spirit took them.
Today, the parable is meant to tell us the same thing. It tell us the opposite of church growth leaders who have succumbed to modern day business models which ask us to figure out who our target audience is and then to shape our ministry around this. (I have to add, if this truly worked, then our churches should be filled with twenty and thirty something’s with young families since this is the target population every congregation is trying to attract.)
The Church, my friends, is universal, meant for all people of all ages and all back grounds. This also means every congregation is universal as well with its ministries designed for all ages and all people. And we, as both clergy and laity, have been commissioned to cast the seeds grace far and wide. God, is not worried about our success or failure, just our willingness to sow and harvest.
To be sowers of faith, we need to own our Baptism, or better yet, as Episcopalians, we need to own our Confirmation. Our time as disciples came during our Sunday school years and during our preparation for confirmation. Because on the day when the Bishop laid hands on you, you graduated from disciple (one who follows ) to apostle ( one who is sent). As we look at the lives of the original twelve, they remained disciples until after the resurrection when the risen Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon them and then sent them out to make disciples of everyone.
We are part of that tradition, each week we are sent out in the name of Christ. But as Episcopalians we are not very good at producing disciples. If statistics are true, the average Episcopalian invites a friend to church once every twenty years. If this statistic is true, no wonder why on average thirty-six Episcopal congregations close in this country every year. We can blame the decline on many things, but it mainly has to do with a lack of confidence and a desire to share our stories with others. It seems Episcopalians in general don’t like talking about religion, we feel it is inappropriate, disrespectful. And I agree, talking about religion can be distasteful and disrespectful. Nobody wants to have another’s religion shoved down their throats.
What people do want to hear and experience is our personal stories, they want to hear how we have experienced the risen Christ in our lives and how that has made a difference. The earliest apostles simply talked about their direct experience with the risen Christ, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John share their experience and understanding of Christ in their versions of the Gospel. As apostles, we too, are called to write our own Gospel story and to share that story with the world.
This week, I had the opportunity to meet a woman who simply called herself “Star”. She stopped by the office with her aunt while in route to California to take care of a dying family member. The time I spent with Star was challenging at best as I worked to reconcile that the man who stood before me was truly a woman. There was no doubt the second Star walked into the library that she was transgendered. The well-defined arms, the long curly platinum wig and her bulging Adam’s apple all gave it away. She told me she worked as an entertainer in New York City, I assume that meant she worked in drag shows.
Whatever her reality truly is, her faith intrigued me. She was clear as to what it meant to be a beloved child of God and she had a plan to share that love. She told me she and her aunt would stop at truck stops along the way. At each stop, Star would ask truckers to hang a picture of Christ in one of their windows. She didn’t seem to care about the reaction she would get, she just hoped by her asking them to share Christ it would prevent them from participating in the bad behaviors often wrongly associated with truckers. What I hoped is that her request would start conversations, conversations that would provide opportunities for her to share how she has been loved by God. What could be more powerful than a modern day woman at the well telling the world how she is loved by God.
In the end I figured, if Star could be brave enough to share her faith and not worry where the seeds fall, then so can we.