15th Sunday OTA

ISAIAH 55: 10-11 ROMANS 8: 18-23 MATTHEW 13: 1-9

Dear friends! A young African woman came to the U.S. from Angola. Her name was Maria and she was always laughing. One day she went to a meeting on evangelism in her church where they were talking about pamphlets, missions, campaigns, and all the rest. At one point someone turned to Maria and said, “What do they do in your church in Angola, Maria?” “In my church,” said Maria, after a moment’s thought, “we don’t give pamphlets to people or have missions. We just send one or two Christian families to live in a village. And when people see what Christians are like, then they want to be Christians themselves.”

I see people every day who are overloaded, and choked. We want to do everything so well. We want to provide for our families, excel in our work, make sure our children are able to participate in all kinds of extracurricular activities and look after aging parents, and the list suddenly becomes overwhelming, and religion, well it will just have to take its place in line. Jesus described us well when he said that “other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.”

God allows the seed to land on the hard paths, on the rocky ground and in the thickets of our lives in the hope that in those places it will find a place to mature and bear fruit. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: Am I merely hearing God’s word without understanding it? Does God’s Word meet with a hard heart in me? Am I too anxious about money, security, provision for retirement or old age? Is God’s word taking root in me? Converting me? Transforming me? Enabling me to sacrifice? And what about the “fruits” that we are being invited to produce: justice and mercy, hospitality for the immigrant and those with AIDS, the unborn, the single mother? By refusing to consider these, we may be missing the healing that the Word of God can bring into our lives.

We need to become the good soil and produce hundred-fold yields by earnestly hearing, faithfully assimilating and daily cultivating the word of God we have received, so that the Holy Spirit may produce His fruit in our lives. We should not allow the trials and tribulations of this world to overwhelm the tender seed growing within us.

Pastors and people worry about shrinking church membership. At times this worry is expressed by criticism aimed in one direction or another. “If only our pastor preached the gospel,” a church member said recently, “then our church would be filled to overflowing every Sunday.” “If only my people would live out their faith,” a pastor said recently, “then our congregation would grow.” “If only our bishops would develop some effective guidelines for evangelism,” both pastors and people say on occasion, “then we wouldn’t have to face another year with fewer members.”

Both worry and criticism of this kind grow out of a concern for the coming of God’s kingdom. We want more and more visible assurance of the harvest’s coming. And so we look for people or for programs to make it happen.

Certainly there is nothing wrong with pastors preaching the gospel, or with lay people living out their faith, or with denominations issuing effective guidelines for evangelism. It certainly may be wrong, however, to connect such activity with guaranteed growth. Pastors, people, and denominations may do everything “right,” and growth may still not occur. That is no reason for not doing things “right,” but it is a reason for optimism beyond any visible success. The harvest is God’s, and you and I should be cut free from ever thinking that it is ours.

The Church in every century has seen people reject Christ, as illustrated in the parable of the sower. But God continues to scatter generously and lavishly the high yielding seeds of his living word by the world-wide preaching of His words and by the exemplary and powerful Christian witnessing of the believers by their transparent Christian lives. The parable challenges us to do our part by preparing fertile soil in our hearts for the word of God to yield 60- and 100-fold.