PARABLE OF THE SOWER
This if the fourth and final message in our stewardship series. In the first message, we read the story of the Good Samaritan and how the Samaritan’s gratefulness overflowed from him so that he could help the man who had been beaten and robbed by the side of the road. In week two we used the story of the sheep and the goats to remind ourselves that we get to make choices in life. Do we follow Jesus or don’t we? Do we use the lives and talents that God has given us for his glory or do we waste them? Last week we used Luke’s words in Acts 11 to look at what it means to share generously what God has given to us. You also, were invited to consider increasing your offering by one percent for the next two months so that we, as a church, can get our feet back on solid financial ground as we move forward in the ministry of Jesus Christ. I’d just like to emphasize that again this week. Unlike the government, we cannot continue to spend more than we bring in. It really is as simple as that. I know that not everyone can increase their offering. Some of you are maxed out. I get that. But lots of us have some wiggle room and can afford that extra 1% which would really help us now.
Today, we’re going to look at two stories that will remind us of both generosity and thanksgiving. It is harvest time right now and the first reading really speaks to that season. The story is Jesus’ parable of the seeds from Luke 8:4-8 (NIV) that Rachel read a few minutes ago. In that story, of course, the farmer spreads his seeds around his land and where the seeds fell went a long way to determining what yield they would produce, if anything. The better the location of the seeds, the better the yield. That’s even true today and I suspect that most farmers would know their land well enough to be able to know what parts are better than others.
Nonetheless, I thought to myself, “You know, that’s a pretty good story to be reading this harvest season as the local farmers are bringing in the harvest. I remember back in the spring, we weren’t sure there would even be a harvest, the ground was so wet. And not everyone got their crops in. Some land was just left fallow, which really isn’t a bad thing because it helps the land to recover its fertility. Mind you it’s not so good when the tax bill comes in. Still, it has done my heart good to see the implements driving from field to field as the farmers harvest their crops.
But as Jesus’ parable reminds us, if you want to harvest a crop, you first have to plant the seeds. Back in Jesus’ day, they didn’t plant the way we do today. As you well know, there were no tractors or tillers. They didn’t have seed drills that would plant seeds at a prescribed distance apart and at a set depth. What farmers did back then was walk through their fields with a big bag of seed on their hips. They would reach into the bag with either a scoop or even their own hands and toss the seed around the field as they walked. It was only after the seeds had been scattered around the entire field that the farmer would then hitch the oxen or donkeys to the plow and turned over the soil to bury the seeds.
That’s why there were seeds where they probably should not have been. Without modern day precision, inevitably there would be seeds that got tossed in places that were less than ideal, places like rocky soil, shallow soil, weeds and hard paths. The sower could not guarantee that all the seeds that he planted would produce a harvest but he knew probably most of them would. And the more seeds he sowed – the more generous with his sowing – the more likely it was that the harvest would be good. The point, I suppose, is that the more generously we sow, the more generously we will reap.
Because God has blessed us so generously, God also wants us to share generously. He did not give us gifts to be hid away in nice safe places. He gave us gifts to share with our communities and maybe the whole world.
That’s what Jesus meant in Matthew 5 when he talked about not hiding your lamp under a bushel basket. A lamp that is hid under a basket is of little use but if we take away the basket and let the light shine, it sends warmth and light into the whole room and brightens up everything.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel and don’t leave your seeds in the barn. Rather scatter them generously and watch what God can do to make a great harvest.
Imagine yourself on the road of life scattering seeds, giving generously of yourself. What would that look like? The truth is that some of those seeds will fall on hard paths where they can’t take root and the birds come and eat them up. Some of your seeds will fall on rocky soil where they will appear to be sprouting but when the hot sun comes, they dry up and wither. Some seeds fall in the weeds and get choked out. When that happens there is a real temptation to hang your head and wonder why you even bothered. Look at all of those seeds that you just wasted. It can be easy to get discouraged when the harvest sometimes seems so sparse.
That’s why the wise farmers sows lots of seed because, while he knows that some seeds will not grow he also knows that most of them will. The wise farmer will focus on those seeds that produce an abundant harvest. I’d encourage you to do the same thing. Think of a time when the seeds that you sowed produced a good harvest. I don’t mean that to be prideful but rather just to acknowledge that sometimes, by the grace of God, you get it right. You give generously of yourself and you make a difference. Maybe it was when you reached out to someone who was going through a tough time. Maybe it was when you helped out at the Downtown Mission, Essex Food Bank or Gleaners. Maybe it’s when you got a letter from the child you sponsor with World Vision or Compassion. Maybe it was when you gave an extra large donation to a cause that you truly believe in. It feels good to give of yourself generously, especially when you see that your giving produces a good harvest.
Here’s something else I’ve noticed. Sometimes when you’re really generous in giving of yourself and your resource, you’re actions produce a harvest where you didn’t even realize you had planted seeds. I will never forget the dinner that was held for our family when we left our first pastoral charge out on the Prairies. Ruth and I arrived in McAuley, Manitoba in July 1987. Andrew, our only child at the time, was seven months old and the good folk in the church were delighted to have a family with kids in the manse once again because it had been many a year since that had happened. We ministered there for three years before being called to Espanola in northern Ontario. McAuley was a tiny place, much smaller even that Cottam. So everyone knew everyone else. I knew where everyone lived. I knew the names of their families and their pets and had been in every single house in the village multiple times. It was a real close knit community.
Before we left they had a nice dinner for us in one of the local farmer’s barns because it was the only place big enough to hold the guests. And the food – let me tell you, there was more food than you could ever eat. But then people got up to say their speeches. Most of them were what you’d expect to hear: “We’re glad you came to be with us. God speed you to Espanola – wherever that is – where I’m sure you’ll do a good job.” But then one man got up to speak. And it rather surprised everyone because Bill wasn’t the kind of man who usually got up to speak. He said, “Kim, I’ve never thanked you for what you did for me. It was because of your inspiration and support that I finally got off booze, got helped and got sober. You save my marriage and my job. In fact, you saved my life.” Everyone was dumb stuck. There was not a peep to be heard in the barn.
Then Bill came over to me, shook my hand with a tear in his eye and gave me a big hug. I really appreciated his kind words but do you know what? I had no idea what he was talking about because I had no memory of doing any of the things he had said I did to help him. I certainly knew Bill. He lived right behind us and we would often meet in the laneway that separated our two yards and share pleasantries. I knew he had a drinking problem and that he was trying to sober up but I was simply unaware of how important our chats in the lane had been for him. I was just trying to be a good neighbor but for Bill it was something so much more than that. Unbeknownst to me, I had been sowing seeds.
But that’s not as uncommon as you might think and it reminds me that you never know how the seeds that you sow are going to impact the lives of others even when you don’t know you are sowing them. What you think of as just normal everyday stuff may be what someone else needs to get through the day. You just never know so don’t be afraid to give of yourself for others and to do it generously because God can work through you in ways you can never imagine.
I just want to turn to one more passage in the Bible that speaks to us today. It’s 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 (NIV). Let’s start with verse 10-11 which say this: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
What this tells us, in a nutshell, is that no one can out-give God. It is God who supplies seed for the sower and the bread for the hungry. So what makes us think that God will not be able to supply for our needs as well? This also reminds us that as we are faithful, so too is God faithful. As we give of ourselves and our resources generously for the work of God’s church, so too God promises to provide for our needs. Or, as my dear father-in-law Bernie Wiseman used to say, “If you give the Lord his tithe, you will never do without.” He found that true in his life and we have certainly found it to be equally true in ours.
Verse 11, in fact, takes it a step further. It says that when we are generous, God rewards our generosity by giving us more so that can be even more generous. Think about that for a minute. Basically, it says that the more generous we are, the more generous God enables us to be. It reminds us of Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager which ends with these words in Matthew 25:23 (NIV): “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” What that tells us is that if we are faithful in little things, God will put us in charge of bigger things. That is God’s promise to us.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not jumping on board the prosperity gospel train. If you don’t know what that is, it a branch of literalistic Christianity that says that if we are faithful to following God that he will reward us in life with good health and financial prosperity. I’m not saying that because I don’t think the Bible says that. What I’m saying – and what I believe the Bible says – is that if we are generous in giving of ourselves, God will enable us to be even more generous because God will provide for our needs as we provide for the work of Jesus Christ and his church.
2 Corinthians 9:12-15 (NIV) goes on to say this:
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
That’s actually a lot to take in so take a few moments to unpack it a bit. These verses tell us three important things. First, they remind us that when we give generously, not only are were ensuring that the ministry of Jesus Christ is accomplished but we also are thanking God in our giving for the many blessings that we have received. So generous giving is a way to give thanks.
Second, it also says that when we are generous others will notice. We forget about that sometimes. We sometimes act as though we live in bubbles, that no one notices. But they do. In fact, they sometimes notice a great deal. That’s particularly true when you live in a little place like Cottam. I know it’s not like what it used to be when everyone knew everyone else, all of their children and probably the names of their pets too. Our town is not quite that tight anymore but it’s still pretty tight. And if you really want to know anything about anyone, all you really have to do is ask Shad and he’ll probably know the right answer. In fact, sometimes I ask Shad about myself because he knows things about me that even I don’t know.
Nonetheless, it still holds true that people notice what we do. And that’s especially true if we call ourselves Christians. I know that can sometimes feel like a burden because it means that we always have to be on our best behavior. I get that. But it’s also true that when we are on our best behavior – including being generous – that others notice that too.
And when they do notice, the third thing comes into play. It’s written in verse 14 which says, “And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” What this tells us is that when people notice our generosity, they will be led to pray for us and, in their prayers, their hearts will go out to us. What that means is that when other see and experience our generosity, they will be drawn to us and what we believe. And that, my friends, becomes an opportunity for us to share with the gospel of Jesus Christ. And what that means, ultimately, is that any barriers that exist between us are more apt to come down, any harms forgiven and any hurt healed. What that tells us is that we are generous, it actually helps to bring people together for Christ and build our community.
And isn’t that exactly what we’ve been stressing over the last couple of years? We want to let the people of Cottam know that, whether or not they belong to this congregation, this is a place where they will be welcomed and cared for no matter what they believe or where they are on the road of life. That’s why we’re emphasizing the need to reach out, to be a missional church. That’s why we are building the prayer garden as a place that our community can enjoy. That’s why we got involved in Murchadha House which is one of the five outreach missions that we actively support. That’s why when we hire a Family Minister, a full eight hours every week will be dedicated to outreach ministry in our community.
I was at a conference a couple of weeks ago called the “Re-imagine Conference” where the discussion was about this very thing because right now, apparently, it’s all the buzz. I learned that there is now a word for what we’re trying to do. It’s call a “hub”. There is a real emphasis on turning churches into the hubs in their communities. What’s a hub? A hub is the thing at the centre of a wheel. It’s the piece that everything else revolves around.
Isn’t that what the church should be? That’s what churches were created to be from the very beginning of the New Testament, a gathering place for the community. Over time, many churches have forgotten that. They have acted as though the most important thing the church does is to keep the pipe organ in good repair and the stain glass windows shiny; in other words, to maintain the building. But that’s not what the church is called to be. The church is not a building. It is people. And the church, at its very best gathers the people together. It uses its building as a hub of the community. I really like that image.
What I discovered at Re-imagine was that we’re actually a lot further ahead of this than most other congregation. In fact, while I was there as a participant, at one point Carla Leon who is the person at our national office who has really been helping us with some of our grant applications, asked me to get up and tell people about what we are doing here in Cottam. She just invited me up to the stage from the audience to tell people about Cottam United Church. So suddenly, I went from being part of the audience to being a presenter. I think I did okay because all I did was talk about the things that we’re doing here to become a central place in our community. And, trust me, I had lots of people come up to me afterwards who were interested in what we have accomplished and how we got this far down the road. The thing that struck me is that I didn’t think we were doing anything particularly extraordinary. I just thought we were doing what God was calling us to do. It didn’t dawn on me that others might look to as an example but apparently they are which really can feel both somewhat strange and somewhat humbling.
THE 1% CHALLENGE
There is a lot of really good stuff, creative stuff going on here at Cottam United Church. And that’s why it’s so important for us to get back on a solid financial footing. Last week, the Finance Committee offered a challenge. Would you consider raising your offering by just 1% for the next two or three months. What that means is that if you are currently giving 3% of your income, would you consider giving 4%. If you are giving 5%, could you give 6%. If you are giving 2% could you raise it to 3%. If you are doing 10% – and some of you are – could you raise it to 11%? That’s good challenge that I hope you will consider.
Finally, I want to say this. Yes, we need to dig a bit deeper to improve our finances. And yes, I am confident that we can do that. But I hope that we can do it joyfully and not begrudgingly. I hope that we can give with thanksgiving as a way of sharing what God has given to us. That’s because God loves a cheerful giver.
I want to thank you for your patience and support these past few weeks as we have focused on our giving campaign. It’s the first time we have done such a campaign in many a year. It’s probably something that we should do more often so that we don’t get caught short. And I want to thank the Finance Committee for all of their hard work and diligence in putting this whole programme together for all of us.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Gracious God, we give you thanks for your many blessings. We praise you, as we approach Hallowe’en on Monday and All Saints Day on Tuesday, for all of the faithful people who have gone before us. Thank you for their persistence, for their sacrifice and for their care in sharing the Good News of Jesus with succeeding generations right down to our own time and place. As they have been faithful, enable us to be faithful so that, in years to come, our children may thank us for shining the light of Christ into their lives. Thank you.
We thank you for the harvest and for the farmers who do the planting and the reaping that we may enjoy the bounty of the land of which they are your stewards.
We lift up prayer our southern cousins who are approaching the end of a very bitter and childish election season. Whatever happens, O God, they will need your healing. May your will be done, even in the midst of the sin and hatred that is so widespread.
We pray for the Church. Too often, we have hidden your light under clay jars. Too often we have neglected to do what you have called us to do. Give us the courage, God of Grace, to lead people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ so that they may know in whom they have their salvation. Enable us to share the Good News openly, honestly and with sensitivity and respect for others. God, hear our prayers.
We remember those who mourn. Especially we pray for the Pears and Federman families as the mourn the death of David who died in utero this week. Especially touch Hanna and Nick in their grief that they may come to your peace. Also, we pray for the family and friends of Melissa Smith-Lovering, the daughter-in-law of Melodee and Jack Lovering who died this week and whose life was remembered yesterday. Be with her husband Lloyd and their two young daughters. Heal their wounded hearts and fill them with your peace.
We lift up in prayer those in our congregation and community who are sick at home or in hospital. Bless them, God of Life, with your Healing Touch. God, hear our prayers.
Shine upon us, O God, and bring us
peace. Heal our wounds. Mend our brokenness. Comfort us in our times of distress.
God of Light, hear our prayers and all of the prayers of the Saints. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 3, 2017 / Pentecost 21 / Proper 26
Psalm 119:137-144; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Luke 19:1-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
CALL TO WORSHIP
We come as saints and disciples of Christ;
to praise God for our gifts and our new life in Christ.
We come as saints and disciples of Christ;
to seek the transforming power of God’s Spirit.
We come as saints and disciples of Christ;
to worship the God of heaven and earth, our God forevermore.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of all Creation, we come before you, remembering with thanks all of those saints who have gone before us. We praise you for all of the faithful who a living now and bearing witness to your Saving Word. We are humbled by the greatness of others and by your great call and commission to us. As we worship grant us the courage and wisdom that will enable us to be your faithful servants of the Gospel in our time. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We are inspired by the saints who have gone before us but we confess that we do not easily see ourselves in their company. We hide from your sanctifying call to be the best that we can be. We hang on to our worries, possessions and old habits. We are timid to share the saving Gospel of Christ and the message of the Cross. We are so concerned about offending others that we neglect to share the truth that we have been given. Forgive us for we are truly sorry and humble repent. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hear the Good News! When we humbly repent, God forgives. God helps us to begin anew and inspires us to be the best that we can be. Thanks and praise be to God!
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
As surely as you have blessed us, O God, so are we called to bless others with our gifts. Bless us with the courage and generousity to give freely from what you have given to us. Amen.
Glory be to God who give us life, shows us how to love, and fills us with dreams. Go in the name of Jesus to dance with the Spirit wherever you may go.