by: Denise Robinson
The 4R’s: Reimagine
Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; 9:35-38
We’ve taken time over the past few weeks to consider what it means to be stewards of Christ’s church. Christ left us his church. As stewards we are not just care-takers, though we are called to care for and about the church. As stewards we have been entrusted with the responsibility of teaching, worshipping, making disciples, serving, and growing Christ’s church. As we have discovered, this process of stewardship begins with our own faith and setting aside time to rest, to restore, and to renew ourselves. But ultimately, we are all tasked with doing. The church is a community of believers, what the Apostle Paul refers to as the “body of Christ.” You won’t find anywhere in the Bible the statement that coming to church for an hour on Sunday morning is sufficient for what we are called to do. In 1 Cor. 12, Paul compares the church as the body of Christ to our human bodies. Each member of the church has different abilities and can serve a different function. Each member’s contribution is important. When we are at our best, we work as a single unit, worshipping together, praying together, sharing together, serving together, loving one another. That’s a lot of together.
The first local church in the Bible was organized in Jerusalem. You can read about it in Acts 2. The believers organized their church for the following purposes: to teach the word of God, for fellowship with one another, to pray, to baptize and to celebrate Holy Communion, to be a testimony to others of God’s grace and power, to reach out into the community, and to glorify and praise God. How do we achieve these goals? Again, the Bible tells us how in three simple or perhaps not so simple, steps. First, we teach and we learn. This is the discipleship process. We study God’s word. We share our faith with one another. It doesn’t take a pastor to teach. There are quite a few people in this congregation who could talk about their lives and their faith and teach me. Start or join a Sunday School class. We have one adult class going and there is room for you. But we should have more than one. Start or join a “lunch bunch” and go out after church, eat lunch together, and discuss the sermon. If you see a visitor, invite them to lunch. Pay for their lunch and then give me the bill; the church will pay. Join or start a Bible study. We have two going during the daytime; but if we want to reach people who work, we need to have a couple of nighttime studies. One is starting soon. Join it. Offer to start one of your own.
Second, find ways to do the work of the ministry of the church. In other words, participate. What one thing are you willing to commit to do? Join the choir, be a liturgist, volunteer for the Sunday Children’s Moment that will be making a return the first of the new year, volunteer to help “ush,” greet people at the doors, help with the screen and sound (yes, you can learn), talk to Jerry and join the trustees, start or join a prayer group. There is an open invitation to come into the chapel and pray before and after the service. Nervous about praying out loud? You don’t have to. Come in and sit in the back and pray silently. Want to pray with others? Form a circle with others and pray together. The important thing is to come together in prayer. Are you good at writing note cards? We have people in assisted living and members who haven’t attended recently. Get with Kim in the office and get a list of people you can write to regularly. Let them know they are loved and missed. Have an idea of something the church should be doing? Come talk to me or get a group together and, to borrow a phrase from Nike, “Just Do It.”
Third, serve. As our faith deepens and as we grow in faith, we should reach the point where we reach out and minister to others showing them the love of Christ in action. There are some new ideas floating around the church for some new ministries. A new, different kind of worship service. A program for seniors in independent living facilities and in our community. An expansion of our food and clothing closet in the basement. An after-school mentoring or reading program for kids. Or perhaps you have an idea of some sort of outreach we could offer. I’m not asking you to get involved in everything. I am asking you to commit to one thing. One. And if you are unable physically to come to one and help, there is one very important thing you can do: commit to praying daily for one of these ministries. Pray that someone’s life be changed by the love of Christ they see through the people of this church. Adopt one ministry and pray that one life be transformed.
Our Scripture reading this morning came from Matthew’s Gospel and the parable of the sower. There are three issues we can take from this parable and faith. The first is personal and it asks each of us what kind of disciple we are. Jesus, in this parable, makes it clear that the seed is the word of God. When we hear the word of God, we decide how we receive it. In other words, what we decide shows what kind of soil we are. There are four options when it comes to taking in, and responding to, God’s word. One option: we can be a path or a roadway. A path has soil and is kept clean of weeds, but it’s not receptive to seed. The ground isn’t tilled, it’s hard, packed down. This represents a person who hears the good news of the kingdom, but doesn’t take it in. This person comes to church, listens politely, nods at the right times, and then goes home. Their faith is superficial; it never reaches their heart. So, when their faith is challenged or when difficult times comes, their faith deserts them just as easily as birds come and eat the seed from the ground. Option two: we can be rocky ground or gravel, where there isn’t much soil. The seeds may start to grow, but they can’t take root. When the sun comes up, the seedlings are scorched and wither away and die. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm, who volunteers for everything and anything. But they don’t last. There is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off, there is nothing to show for it. Option three: we are weeds. One thing about weeds; they grow other weeds and they choke out anything good that might grow in their space. The seed cast in the weeds represents a person who hears the news of Christ, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it. In other words, they hear but they want what the world offers instead of what Christ offers. The final option is to be the good soil, the soil where the word of God can take root and grow. This person hears God’s word, but studies it, understands it, and lives it; and then produces a harvest beyond his or her wildest dreams.
If the first question asks us about the depth of our personal faith, the second relates to what we do with our faith. In this scenario, we aren’t the soil, we’re the sower and we decide on the seeds we are going to plant and how many seeds we will plant. By selecting the seeds that you plant, you control what is harvested – as the Bible says, what you sow you reap. Have you ever planted a tomato seed and to your amazement corn grew instead? Not going to happen. We can’t sow anger and reap peace. We can’t sow snarky words and get warm fuzzy answers in return. We can’t sow hate and reap love. Our harvest won’t change until our seed does; so, don’t complain about your harvest unless you are ready to deal with your seed. When I first went to college I had this theory, likely fueled by the fact that I hadn’t studied enough, that if I slept with my class notes and books under my pillow, I would absorb some of the information through osmosis. Want to guess how well that worked out for me? It turns out I could find all kinds of excuses for a poor grade, but the most honest one was my failure to study. Surprise, surprise, there was a correlation between the effort I put in and the outcome I achieved. How will the world hear of the love of Christ, the Wesleyan belief in grace for all, the deep-down trust we can have in the God who created us? How do we share that there is more to life that what is seen on social media, that there is a hope and joy and peace that comes from faith? We sow seeds, we live the Gospel. And we do a lot of sowing. 1 Cor. 9:6 says, “Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
Finally, the third issue relates to how we live out our faith as stewards of Christ’s church. These church initiatives we are looking at for the new year: will they all succeed? I have to say “no.” But then again, that depends on our definition of success. You see, in the parable of the sower, we are called to sow. Never does the parable say it’s our concern where the seed falls. Any good farmer, any sensible farmer, knows you don’t even try to plant seed on a road or gravel or among weeds. Farmers spend time tilling the ground, getting rid of weeds, fertilizing seed – all so that what they plant will produce the maximum growth. Jesus doesn’t say we are to do that. We are to fling seed around with wild abandon, let it fall wherever it falls. Don’t worry about it. Three out of four times what we plant won’t take root. Not our problem. Don’t get discouraged. Our reward from God comes from the sowing, not from the yield. In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus notes the harvest field is huge and that laborers are few in comparison. But then he says, the Lord will take of it as long as we labor – for in the end it is the Lord’s harvest, not ours.
We succeed in stewardship when we remember that we give to God of our time, our talents, and our money out of our knowledge that all we have comes from God. We succeed in stewardship when we work at discipleship, when we do ministry together, and when we do mission together. What seed are you willing to plant in 2022 in an effort to make a disciple or transform a life? Inside secret here: even if your seed lands on rocky ground, the discipleship that results and the life that is transformed will be your own. Can you imagine it?