1 Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a
very large crowd gathered around him that he got
into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the
whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. 2 He
began to teach them many things in parables, and
in his teaching he said to them: 3 'Listen! A
sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some
seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate
it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it
did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly,
since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun
rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root,
it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns,
and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it
yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil
and brought forth grain, growing up and
increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a
hundredfold.' 9 And he said, 'Let anyone with ears
to hear listen!'
Last week, Nymphas Edwards shared with us that
only 27 of his 56 or so San Jose district
churches have been able to fully fund their 2003
apportionments. Some churches simply don't have
the funds. Some churches don't think they
have the funds. In a December letter, our
Bishop outlined steps that will be taken if the
Conference 2003 apportionment income is no
greater than the 2002 income. Eliminate as much
as $423,000 from the approx. $7.7 million
Conference budget, including equitable salary
support, a ministry staff position at Conference
and perhaps even a district superintendent.
It has always been hard to figure out the "right
cost" of effective ministry--how to allocate
resources to best meet goals and mission,
especially when the balance sheet of that mission
is cast in people and faith.
One of my mentors reminds me on a regular basis
that we aren't called to be "successful", Jesus
calls us to be faithful. Even so, It is
hard to convert "faithful" into an income stream
that pays the light bills.
The Annual Conference budget issues are
controversial. Some will applaud the bold steps
to balance the budget. Some will mourn that the
measures taken to control our financial crisis
potentially cripple our Conference and
denominational mission of making Disciples for
Some, of course, would micromanage each operation
to assure each dollar spent is done so in an
effective and efficient manner. Should we buy
4-color printing, or is photocopying on colored
stock good enough? Should we own property and
rent it out, or should we sell it and use the
proceeds as permanent endowments? How can each
dollar be used most effectively and efficiently?
We used to joke that my Dad had the imprint of
Abe Lincoln on his thumb--from pinching pennies
so hard. Each and every resource used to the
best of its ability.
Each year when I renew our Yellow Pages ad, and
have to deal with one of the world's most
irritating sales reps, I wonder if we could do
away with that ad. Church advertising--in the
paper, yellow pages, or on the internet isn't
effective evangelism: It doesn't proclaim
our faith story. Church advertising is a marker
that points to who we are and where we are. The
sales rep has tried to convince me that a bigger,
better, brighter, whiter (and more expensive)
advertisement will be more effective--a better
return on our investment. The rep has convinced
me that he doesn't understand his own product--
but that is a different story. Folks who find us
in the yellow pages call the office. Folks who
have found us on the Internet have come to
worship, and become constituents.
The sower in Jesus parable didn't seem to be
working in a time of falling economy. As a
gardener or farmer, any of us might gasp as we
hear that these seeds are scattered in wild
abandon--with no plan or order--on the path, on
rocks, into the thorns, and finally some into
rich soil. A more directed approach would
certainly have put more of the seed in the
good soil, less wasted on unfertile ground,
and netted and even larger harvest--though 30, or
60 or 100 fold is a wildly productive harvest.
But there is some risk in simply scattering
resources willy-nilly across the countryside.
(Some might say that is one way our conference
got into financial difficulty--no real focus or
master plan of how to consistently prioritize
projects, and fund only those with a firm grasp
Of course Jesus isn't simply talking about seed:
that the seed carries the Word of God. But, it
stands to reason, if we're planting something as
important as the Word of God, that we need to be
a lot more careful about where those seeds are
landing? Shouldn't we be more focused in our
approach, more targeted in our delivery?
Conventional wisdom says we sould wait until we
are: large enough to have a valid
sort of campaign, strong enough
for programs and groups to be in place,
and articulate enough to answer
every possible question that might come
to us as we sow these seeds that contain
It simply isn't good church polity or politics
to expend energy or finances into arenas where it
won't take root.
If I were efficient with my sermon
writing, I'd leave you with the interpretation of
this parable as it continues in Mark. An
allegorical explanation describing the folks that
are referred to and what happens to the seed when
that seed falls on the path, the rocky ground,
and the thorns. Lots of sermons have been
preached on those--how to avoid being those
folks. They aren't necessarily bad folks--they
are who they are--not taking God's word or their
faith life very seriously.
But, you can read that interpretation for
yourself--Mark 4: beginning in verse 10.
Have you ever watched a movie--one that you
loved--and even though you know the plot, and you
know a favorite character will make a stupid
mistake leading to a tragedy--you whisper,
perhaps in your mind--"don't do it..." When I
read this parable, my effective and
efficient mind clicks in and tries to say to
Jesus' sower "Well, don't throw the seed
there!" Put your Word where it will be more
effective!" Sometimes we simply can't turn
the voices off--but it doesn't mean we have to
act on them!
So, we're not going there this morning, because
just as I have that phrase out of my mental
mouth, it dawns on me--there is no shortage of
But the sower know that The sower throws
good seed all over the place. It is like
throwing the best bread, not just the crumbs, to
the dogs under the table...
Last week I told you a story told by Will
Willamon, United Methodist preacher and
homiletics professor from Duke University. He was
listening to a group of men's testimonies. A
fellow shared that he had been a member of the
Methodist church for 38 years, and no one had
ever told him about Jesus. Will's comment
was--briefly--that this guy perhaps was a little smug,
and made it sound as though he had been held
apart from the congregation for those 38 years.
What about all those Sunday school teachers, Will
commented, What about all those preachers, what
about all those wonderful folks at potluck
dinners. Will felt like saying, "Listen, pal, it
is great that your faith is coming together, but
what do you think we've been trying to get
through your thick head for the last 38 years?"
I suspect that if that man went to some of the
churches I grew up in, a Sunday school teacher or
two along the way figured out there might be some
hard-packed places in that kid. But they
didn't stop teaching. They didn't usher him to
the door of the church, or toss him out of
confirmation class. I suspect a pastor or two
along the way wondered why in the world that one
kept up his membership all those years--he was
rocky ground, liable to jump into a
program and fizzle out quickly. But, those
pastors didn't give his pew to someone else, or
send his membership info down the road, hoping
that other church would recruit him. His own
family might have seen the thorns growing
up, but they took him along to church anyway.
And one day, the Word of God broke through.
God's seeds carry their own future. God's timing.
Not yours and mine.
Seeds germinate and sprout in their own time,
with the sun, and warmth, and water, and the life
within begins to grow and prosper. Some seeds
require a winter to get the process started, for
that life within to awaken and take hold.
The sower sows extravagantly, and no matter where
the seed lands, there is ALWAYS more to sow.
Unlike church budgets and the Conference
financial crisis--there is always more
God's love--the result of the Sower's seeds--is
never a zero-sum game. Seed can be eaten by
birds, sprout quickly and wither away, and be
choked by thorns, and there is always as much
left as we started with. I am loved infinitely
by God, and you and you and you and you are all
loved infinitely by God, and God's love has still
not been diminished for any other person. The
sower sows extravagantly, and no matter where the
seed lands, there is ALWAYS more to sow.
Finally, the corollary: we carry God's Word
to the world each and every day. We are
God's people. There is no keeping God's word in
safe places, on good soil. It is who we are, and
is reflected in each conversation, each
transaction--Whether we're "doing" Church, or
not. Each time we step out our front door, each
time we open our mouth--God's seeds are sown.
This afternoon, Emil Sazon leads us in a workshop
introducing our community to Extension
ministries. Our community is all those things--
hard packed ground, rocky places, thorny bushes
and rich soil. Every time we are in the
community, we are sowing those seeds. Sow
extravagantly. Live who God calls you to be--a
testament to God's love to the world and in the
God's harvest is rich.