As I was driving up to Montreal last week I drove past countless fields at various stages of planting. Some fields were bare, with the earth prepared and awaiting seed, some were newly planted with a bright fresh crop of green or yellow covering them, some were burned over and likely to be left fallow for the summer, and between them all there were wild areas with an abundance of plant life most would call weeds. What do we see when we look at ourselves, our congregations, families,colleagues etc.? Do we see fertile ground awaiting seed, rows of plants growing to bear seed, or a tangled mess of weeds?
Living Faith 4.2.1 says, “The Spirit enables people to receive the good news of Christ, to repent of their sins, and to be adopted as children of God…the Spirit enabled us to believe.” Living Faith 6.1.2 “God brings us to faith in many ways. We may have trusted in God from childhood; or our faith may have come later in life. Faith may come suddenly or only after a struggle to believe.”
Given these statements, it is clear that it is not really you and I who are bringing people to faith. The job of sowing faith is the work of the Spirit through the Word. It is with this understanding that we come to the parable of the Sower and the Seed this morning ( Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23).
Have you ever prepared a garden bed? There are many things that need to be removed; sod, old patio stones, weeds, and rocks in the ground. Whether in our own hearts or those of others we’ll need to remove preconceptions and prejudices against Christianity and or the church as an institution, negative prior experiences, hurts, and fears. Some of us have built up walls around our hearts which may take considerable care to break down. Sledge hammers are never called for, and it is important to save all we can of the soil. Our primary tools for this work are our open minds, our love, compassion and our listening skills. Once cleared, we add fertilizer of some kind in order to aid in the growth of the plants. Here we apply such offerings as Sunday School, Bible studies, service groups, book clubs, VBS, and of course heartfelt weekly worship. Even if all hearts are already prepared to receive the Word, care needs to be taken over time to watch out for and remove any weeds which may come up and attempt to take over, and the weeds are many and insidious.
I can easily justify my lack of follow-through in my garden at home. After all, if I don’t support the local farmers by buying their produce I am contributing to the economic decline, right? The problem is, at the end of the day I will still have the hearty crop of weeds there reminding me daily of my failure. There will, however be another spring and another chance to get the job done properly. Those of us in the church would do well to
remember that only ¼ of the seed in the parable turned out to be productive. Numbers are not everything! The number of people in the pews on Sunday, the number of children in Sunday school each week, the total number of families and members, don’t need to cause stress. When they are high we may be on the top of the world and feel that we are truly doing the work of the Kingdom, and when they are low we may fear for the survival of our congregation. Even if our programs or events seem less successful than we would like, so long as one plot of soil was readied, or one seed planted we have done well.
Whatever Kingdom gardening we may be doing, we need to remember to take time out to praise and worship the Father who has sown the word in our lives, the Son who is that word, and the Spirit who inspires us to listen.
Living Faith is the Statement of Christian Belief of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and can be downloaded at http://www.presbyterian.ca/resources/online/2447