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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
On Feb 20th I wrote a post I titled, While Visions Of Seed Packets Danced in My Head (http://wp.me/p1hsO8-6p). At that time, with my garden under a foot of snow, I was distracted from tidying the living room by the lure of a gardening book. An hour later there I was with my pencil and paper making plans for what to plant in my vegetable garden and wondering if last year’s compost would be ready to use. As soon as the snow cleared, sometime in April, I was out in the back yard with my work boots and gloves on, and my tiller in hand turning soil and getting all the weeds out of a section of the
garden. I got about half the area cleared that day before hitting the shower. Time passed……a little over a week ago I was sitting on my deck with a lovely view of what was once bare earth and is now covered with weeds of various types, many taller than my tiller which is still stuck in the ground where I left off.
The Gospel reading this morning, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, is all about gardening, or agriculture to be more specific. In this very familiar parable Jesus shares a story with a crowd of people beside the Sea of Galilee, so large that he actually gets into a boat to get free of the press of people. He talks of something with which all these people would be familiar, a man, the sower, planting seed. This man has a “packet” of seed. We assume that all the seed is basically the same and equally capable of growing and bearing a good
yield. Some of his seeds fall on the path and are snatched up by birds, some fall on rocky ground where they begin to grow but with shallow roots they shrivel up under the sun. Some of the seeds fall among the weeds where they begin to grow only to be choked off by the weeds. Some of the seed falls on good soil, grows and provides an extraordinary harvest. He sows all his seed, but in the end only one quarter of the seed produced a
harvest. Interestingly, the harvest was many times more than might have been expected from the whole amount of seed
Israel, situated as it was in the Fertile Crescent, was a culture which based on agriculture and much of the imagery in the Old
Testament was related to sowing and reaping. Their laws included regulations on when and where to plant, what kind of
seeds to plant, when they should harvest, and even what to do with any grain left in the field. They were used to God being referred to as the sower. In creation he planted every plant of every kind in the Garden of Eden. He is variously said to have sown Israel and Judah into the land, sown peace in Zion, and sown righteousness in the nations.
For the most part, although they were familiar with the trials of farming and the vagaries of rocks, birds, and weeds, people didn’t understand the point of Jesus’ story. The disciples, who didn’t get the point either, had the benefit of Jesus’ extra time and patience when he explained it to them later, when they are alone together. Unlike in the Old Testament, in the New Testament the imagery of the sower is used to represent the sowing of the Kingdom. Jesus explains to the disciples that the seeds in his story represent the Word of God. When the Word does not get into the soil at all, on the path, it is stolen by “the evil one.” For the other examples, where the seed reaches the soil, our hearts, the image refers to what happens with us. Sometimes we are turned away by troubles or persecution for our beliefs, sometimes overwhelmed by the distractions of the secular world, and sometimes the seed takes root and we produce a good harvest.
There are many ways of interpreting the message of this parable for our lives. Are we meant to look at ourselves as the soil, the seed, the plant, the sower, or the harvest? If Jesus is the seed and we are the soil, what kinds of harvest how can our soil provide a
better harvest. If we are a seed and plant and we produce a good harvest, what form does that take? A lot of time is spent in considering the present condition of the soils. One interpretation I read took the view that within each of us we may have areas of
all the types of soil, thus when the seed is sown some of it may find good soil while other parts of us are unwilling to yield. All of these points are worth consideration, however, when I first thought about this week’s readings it occurred to me that maybe we aren’t supposed to focus so much on the current condition of the soils in the Parable and which type we are ourselves, nor on how we can do a better job of sowing the Kingdom in our communities, but on what we do in our churches and ministries
to prepare the soil for planting.
The following is a primer on the best ways to lose a volunteer. You need not employ all the methods, many people will quit after only one strategy. Remember, volunteers are individuals so you may need to experiment before you find an effective method for each one.
Perhaps the best way to lose volunteers is to fail to recognize them. People do not, as a rule, choose to volunteer to get credit, recognition or attention. People choose to volunteer for various organizations because they believe in the cause or the need of the people for whom they are working. That being said, there is a limit to how long they will continue to be engaged if nobody says thank you at some point. If you look you can find blog posts, and even books on the topic of how to keep volunteers and the top of the list is usually acknowledgement of their efforts.
You can actually lose volunteers before they even start! To do this, do not return their phone calls or emails in which they express interest in being of help and or place a lengthy complicated process in place (especially if you call it an application process).
Select one volunteer to do a task that really requires several.
Give several volunteers the task of doing something simple which would be better and more efficiently done by one.
Fail to listen to their suggestions for improvement. Treat them as though they have no education, background, or expertise.
Hover over them as though you don’t trust them to be competent.
Get a volunteer started on something and then never check in to see how things are going.
Expect that they will stay forever/ make it a life sentence.
Arrange times to meet with your volunteers and then cancel without notice, “Because something important came up.”
Stop thinking of a volunteer as a person, once they are on board they are just one of the numbers.
Hopefully it is clear to my readers that I do not actually advocate any of the above actions. Indeed it would make an excellent list of what not to do when you are working with people, either employed or volunteers.
I just came out of a restaurant with my parents having finished a great meal and, of course, feeling over-stuffed! Even having ordered the “mini” plate of liver and onions I was unable to finish all the fries. Don’t get me wrong though, I still had carrot cake for dessert!
A few days ago a friend sent me the following email which included pictures of families with the food they would eat in an average week on display.
“Quite a powerful story in pictures. What is eaten in one week around the world? Very interesting assortment. Note the large amount of drinks in some pictures.This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting e-mails I’ve ever received. Take a good look at the family size & diet of each country, and the availability & cost of what is eaten in one week.
Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide, Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07
United States: The Revis family of North Carolina(Sure hope most American families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.)Food expenditure for one week $341.98
Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily, Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca, Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna, Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo, Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo, Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village, Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp, Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Don’t know about you, but right about now, I’m counting my blessings!”
It is a pretty stark picture of the plenty with which most of us live, while others are smiling and proud to display what we would consider to be barely enough. Growing up many of us were told to consider the starving Armenians when we didn’t finish all our supper. Obviously our parents were hardly planning to send our left-overs overseas, but they were on track with their mention of the need to stop and think about the lack of balance in food distribution worldwide.
I’m looking across the room at a picture of Winnie the Pooh in his classic thinking pose. His eyes are scrunched closed, one arm is around his chest and this other hand is up to his temple. Even looking at the picture I can hear him saying, “Think, think, think.” Maybe he is trying to think of an answer to a question piglet has asked, or maybe he is working on a hum, but he is thinking hard!
Here at the front of the room the same scenario is playing out. OK, I’m not physically squinting my eyes or knocking on my temple, but I am mentally trying to squeeze some kind of coherent thought out. I have an assortment of posts in the works at the moment, but they are stalled at some point or other. Some are just cool titles at the moment, while others were going along fine until I hit a mental snag on a point of logic or an annoying fact making my conclusion questionable.
There are various ways I get around this. Today’s choice was to write about the block itself rather than try to dislodge it from my path. Other options which I often use for blog writing include; saving my work and then choosing tags, previewing the post as it stands, heading off to http://creativecommons.comto find a good image to use, doing a spell check, or fixing the font and paragraph spacing. If all of these distractions fail to help me reach the dangling strand of my thought, I just stop for a while and do something totally unrelated.
There are times when the strands just won’t be caught and I eventually give up on the post altogether. Those bits often come back at a later date when they end up fitting like the missing puzzle piece into a completely different topic. I’m sure you are familiar with the adage, “I think, therefore I am.” It is the thinking that really matters and a slight change of focus can make all the difference.
This morning at church when the minister was finished with the Trinity Sunday children’s story he said he had one more thing he wanted to share. He told us that one of our little boys in the congregation had let him know, through his mother I believe, that we say The Lord’s Prayer too fast when we repeat it in worship. He said he can’t keep up. As the minister said, “Out of the mouths of babes!”
Not only may we be repeating the Lord’s Prayer too quickly, but I think we try to do most everything too quickly. Several times lately I’ve been at the microwave at work or a checkout waiting for my card to process a charge and noticed how slowly it seemed to be going. Two minutes in the microwave seems like such a long time now, and it is even worse if whatever we are heating isn’t done when the two minutes are up and we have to, gasp, put it back in for thirty more seconds.
I was at a meeting the other day as an observer and saw this same sort of scenario. The goal of the meeting seemed to be to figure out the fastest way of getting the business done. This led, for the most part, to motions being passed without discussion and the delightful result of being able to finish all the business before lunch by tacking on an extra fifteen minutes to the morning session. This done everyone went their separate ways rather than gathering for a shared picnic lunch as had been attended. Everyone seemed so pleased to be finished that the idea of fellowship over a meal was cast aside.
What else are we doing this way? When we listen to our children do we seem to be in a rush for them to finish so that we can do something more important? Do we ask people how they are but then walk away so quickly that they don’t even get to answer? Really, what is the big race for?
The children’s story usually concludes with a prayer with the minister saying short phrases for the children to repeat. Today, however, he led us in The Lord’s Prayer, which had already been done in its usual spot in the service, at a slower pace. It was slow enough that there was time to reflect after each phrase on the meaning or ramifications of what we had just said. What a great message. Let’s relax our speed this coming week and reflect more on the meaning of that which we say and do.
For those of you over forty-something have you ever listened to a rapper? To include the younger set , have you travelled to an area where people all spoke a different language or with an accent that was very difficult for you to understand?