Evangelism is a scary word for me. It is scary because of the negative tone it has in our society. When I think of evangelism I think of pushy people, pushing their agendas, their message, and their views upon me. I think of those people who are yelling on street corners or the Christian infomercials. I think of people who walk on the bus and ask, “Is this seat saved…are you?” When I think of what the word evangelism, that is what I think of. Right or wrong…that is what fills my mind.
The Greek word evangelism means good message. It is the same root word that we get gospel or good news from. For us United Methodists, we are not known for our evangelical works. There are other denominations a stone’s throw away from us that are better known, as a denomination, for their evangelistic styles. But maybe that is why you all are here this morning. Maybe you are United Methodist because you don’t like to share your faith as much as others do.
When you join a United Methodist Church you are asked to “faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service.” After General Conference a couple of months ago, they decided that soon they will add a fifth element to that question. Soon I will ask people who are ready to join this congregation, “Are you willing to faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?” That’s right, we will soon be asked to actually share our witness, to share our stories, to do evangelism as United Methodists.
The parable I read today is one that is probably well known to you. It is the Parable of the Sower. This is also one of the rare parables that Jesus tells us what he means by it. After telling the parable to a crowd of people, the disciples come and ask Jesus why people speak in parables. After giving the reasoning Jesus tells them the meaning behind this parable. He says that the seeds represent the Word of the kingdom and the plants that come from those seeds are the people who hear the Word. The seed that are sown on the path stands for the word of God when it is not understood and snatched away. The seed that falls on rocky ground are people who hear the Word and have joy but then when things start to go bad, they fall away. The seed that falls on among the thorns are people who hear the Word but the world looks better to them and it chokes the Word away so that nothing is produced. “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it.”
I know we have some terrific gardeners in this congregation. I know the United Methodist Women are planning on meeting over at Gwen’s house in August so they can gobble up her famous tomatoes. I was shocked, last year, when I would walk into the church and there were baskets of fresh produce for anyone to take home. I know there are others of you out there who love this time of year because for dinner you walk out back, pick some food and cook it up for dinner. When Alycia worked as a church secretary in Charlotte, she had people come the church office and offer her some fresh produce. She would come home with cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh cayenne peppers. I thank God for people who can grow wonderful food from their own soil because I can’t.
Visiting Gwen one day, I did learn a lot just by what was on her porch. It was still early in the growing season and Gwen had all her seeds in their own little cartons starting to germinate. Then after doing some research online this week I learned that this is the best way to make sure your seeds turn into fruitful plants. You take the seeds and place a couple in each little container. You make sure they have the right type of water, sunlight and soil. This will eventually bear great plants and then great fruit or vegetables.
This is not how the sower in this parable plants though. Jesus says that this sower started to sow by tossing seed everywhere. If you look at any paintings or images about the sower, they usually depict him walking in a field chucking seeds out of his hands. In this parable it does not tell us that he went out and plowed the field, made nice neat and fertile furrows, and then painstakingly planted the individual seeds in order to produce the most plants. Nope, this guy is simply slinging seeds anywhere and everywhere and hoping that some of them grow into something.
This seems like a complete waste of time and effort. Our society is starting to take waste seriously these days. As the Living Green movement gains popularity and with the extreme increase in the price of gas and food, we are starting to look at what we waste daily. Many families are not wasting gas by running out five times in a day. They are starting to condense their driving by doing all errands at once instead. I saw an interview with a person who was trying not to waste water because of the drought by saving the water that usually goes down the drain as her shower got hot to feed her plants. The people who lived through the Great Depression understand this but my generation, the ones who grew up and lived through the yuppie 80s period and the abundance of the 90s are new to this idea but we are living into it.
I mean we are living in hard times. Gas is not the only thing going up. In 2006 white bread cost $1.05, eggs $1.45 and red delicious apples were $.96 a pound. Today, in March of 2008, white bread was $1.28, eggs $2.18, and apples $1.16 per pound. In some parts of the world rice has increased in price by 200% and in others 70%. This is causing huge issues around the world. Ethiopia has asked for $325 million dollars in humanitarian aid because they have 4.6 million people in desperate need and children are dying because of malnutrition. We helped school kids in Haiti a couple of months ago because we learned that people there are eating mud cookies. The world is hurting and when we read this parable we see the waste and we cringe at this idea.
Why does Jesus, who is Jewish, tell this parable when he knows all the stories of his people’s struggle during famine and exile. Why tell a story of such wasteful methods of planting. Jesus knew the story of his people living the desert and living off of the manna from heaven. They weren’t taught to waste but take only what they need. What does this wasteful story tell us about God and God’s personality?
Beyond waste, this story also chafes us because of our bottom line mentality. We live in a consumer society and we understand that the bottom line is the most important thing. It is something that corporations are dealing with. That is why we now have to pay more money to check our luggage at an airport. I mean I though that was covered in the ticket but apparently not. US Airways now makes you pay for drinks and are going to cut their in-flight movies. All of this is being done to make sure that the company makes a profit. They are concerned with the bottom line.
This isn’t solely a corporate idea; it has filtered into our personal agendas as well. We all suffer from W.I.F.M. You know the acronym which stands for What is In it For Me. We, as individuals tend to ask this question before we get involved in anything. How am I going to benefit by participating in this project? If I decided to give this money to you, how can I make sure I get mine? Being good Americans we try to find that answer before we get involved. If the answer to, what’s in it for me, comes back as not much, very little, or nothing at all, many people are nervous, hesitant or even resistant to put forth the effort.
Jesus gives some figures at the end of this explanation on what type of fruit is expected. In some these seeds that hear, understand and grow will yield a hundred, others, sixty and others thirty. I guess it would all depend on the context to know if this was profitable. A harvest of 100 sounds pretty good but if the sower throughout 100,000 seeds that is only a 1% return. If the sower throws out 100 seeds and the return is 60 that is much better. But Jesus doesn’t tell us that because for God the bottom line is not our bottom line. What we see as waste God sees as effort well worth the trouble. God’s vision of what is profitable doesn’t match up to ours that often.
You have to remember the God that we worship. We worship a God who gives an abundance to his children. This is the God who fed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish and had 12 baskets of food left over. This is the God who inspired the psalmist to write, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Our God gives without worrying of how much. Our God sees the results and is happy with them no matter how big or small to us. We worship a God who gave up everything to save his children. God doesn’t ask, what’s in it for me. God asks, what’s in it for them.
We are called to be sowers and we are to sow an abundance of seeds. We are called to profess our faith openly to world and “Let those who have ears, let them hear.” We are called to give our witness, to tell the good news, and to share the message of God with all we come in contact with. When asked why so many people come to hear him preach John Wesley said, “I light myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” We need to light ourselves on fire more often.
Our God wants us to throw out the seeds of the gospel, the seeds of God’s love, and the seeds of hope and grace everywhere and anywhere. That is the glorious thing about evangelism. All we are called to do is tell the story, to proclaim what God has done in our lives, and to share the love with others. The rest is up to God. We should not think of it as waste when we share and people are not converted in droves. God’s bottom line is not like our own. We don’t need to waste our time thinking about that. The Holy Spirit takes us and gives our stories power and then works in the hearer’s heart to make it true in their lives. We are the sowers not the growers. We are seed slingers. God is the one who will nurture, water, and grow the fruit. Thanks be to God.
And all God’s people said…Amen.