AD SENSE

15 Sunday A - Sower and Seeds

The Kingdom of God was the main emphasis of Jesus' ministry and this is accepted by most. But defining precisely what the Kingdom was is a bit more difficult. Indeed, even Jesus himself was often illusive about it. He did not speak in absolutes; rather, he spoke in parables. Such is our scripture text for this morning. Jesus compared the Kingdom to a sower going out and spreading seed. Some of it falls upon hard ground and is unable to take root. Some of it falls on shallow ground, and although it initially sprouts it later withers away. But some seed falls upon good earth and comes to fruition and produces a harvest.

We are to understand, of course, that the sower is God, the seed is the Kingdom, and the various types of soil represent us--you and me. On the surface of it, of course, it doesn't sound as though God is a very frugal farmer. After all, most of the seed that is strewn about never takes root. But this is not really a story about the sower or the seed. It is a story about different types of soil, or to put it another way, the responses of different types of people to the Kingdom.

The question is really, what is the state of our hearts when the seeds are sown with us? With that in mind, let us examine the various conditions of the heart mentioned in this story.

I. The Hardened Heart
II. The Distracted Heart
III. The Defeated Heart

IV. The Hopeful (and Joyful!) Heart
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 Neither "fish nor fowl." "Lukewarm." "Wishy-washy." "Spineless." "Mediocre." 

 These are not good character references. These are descriptions of people who have no personal convictions, no compelling passions, no "take-it-to-the-front-line" faithfulness. Instead, like liquid gelatin, those who have no backbone pour themselves into whatever mold is put before to them for the simplest, easiest gain.  

The apostle Paul was definitely not a "lukewarm" or "wishy-washy" kind of guy. In fact, he warned the church at Rome "Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold" (Romans 12:2, Phillips translation). Of course, the church can "squeeze" you into a mold of its own making just as firmly as the world. The mold of Christ is the only mold that should gain entrance to the human heart.  

When Paul stood against the new religious movement forming around this guy named "Jesus the Christ," he was a "homeland defense" zealot. In his role as a protector of the establishment faith of Temple religion, Paul never hesitated to seek out and hunt down any and all who may have been open to the message of this so-called "Christ." As a protector of the tradition, Paul was vigilant and virulent. In the case of Stephen, historically the first "Christian" martyr who was stoned by a mob, Paul was even deadly. 

So it is not surprising that in this week's Epistle text, Romans 8:1-11, Paul's message sounds like yet another "black and white"  "fish or fowl" argument...
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The Wrong Question: What Does It Mean? 

For a moment, let's put this story to one side and hear another story. It concerns a young anthropologist named Connie who works among aboriginal people in Australia. The community where she lives has a rich tradition of storytelling. Everyone gathers at night, a story is told, and then another, and another. Connie feels extraordinarily privileged when she is asked to join in this activity.

The first story told that evening is about the animal ancestor of this community and its adventures at the beginning of time. The story overflows with detail, action, imagery.

At the end of the story, Connie is delighted. "May I ask a question?" she says. "What does it mean?"

All eyes are upon her. The elder looks at her gravely and says, "That is the one question you cannot ask." A long time passes before she is invited again. She has asked the wrong question.

"What does it mean?" was the wrong question for Connie to ask about the aboriginal myth. It may also be the wrong question for us to ask about the story of the sower, or any of the stories told by Jesus. "What does it mean?" is the wrong question if we think that by having an answer, we can somehow get a handle on this story, domesticate it, make it safe. The stories Jesus tells are not subject to our control. He tells these stories so that we can be transformed. He tells these stories, not so that we can ask questions about them, but so that the stories can ask questions of us.

Charles Hoffacker, What Kind of Soil Are You, What Kind of Sower? 
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 God and Three Pennies 

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India died as a world-known figure. But who would have ever thought she would have attained such influence when she first began? What did she have to recommend her? A tiny woman, she began with the most meager of resources. Mother Teresa told her superiors, "I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage." 

"Mother Teresa," her superiors said, "you can't build an orphanage with three pennies . . . with three pennies you can't do anything." 

"I know," she said, smiling, "but with God and three pennies I can do anything." 

Mother Teresa understood the principle of the seed. It takes very little -- but very little blessed by God -- and miracles can occur. This, of course is akin to Jesus' teaching elsewhere, that faith only the size of a mustard seed can produce an enormous bush (Matthew 17:20). That is a constant law in God's world. 

King Duncan, www.Sermons.com
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 Sowing the Seed 

One of William Barclay's friends tells this story. In the church where he worshiped there was a lonely old man, old Thomas. He had outlived all his friends and hardly anyone knew him. When Thomas died, this friend had the feeling that there would be no one to go to the funeral so he decided to go, so that there might be someone to follow the old man to his last resting-place.

There was no one else, and it was a miserable wet day. The funeral reached the cemetery, and at the gate there was a soldier waiting. An officer, but on his raincoat there were no rank badges. He came to the grave side for the ceremony, then when it was over, he stepped forward and before the open grave swept his hand to a salute that might have been given to a king. The friend walked away with this soldier, and as they walked, the wind blew the soldier's raincoat open to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier general.

The general said, "You will perhaps be wondering what I am doing here. Years ago Thomas was my Sunday School teacher; I was a wild lad and a sore trial to him. He never knew what he did for me, but I owe everything I am or will be to old Thomas, and today I had to come to salute him at the end." Thomas did not know what he was doing.

No preacher or teacher ever does. Keep sowing the seed. We can leave the rest to God, including keeping the fire going. And that is GOOD news for all us tenant farmers.

David E. Leininger, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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 The Life Is in the Seed 

Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal (1999), retells that old Native American tale of an opossum watching a seed grow. 

One day an opossum visited his good friend, a raccoon, at his home near the river. The opossum marveled at his friend's lush garden and asked if he could grow one like it. The raccoon assured the opossum he could do so, although he cautioned him, "It is hard work." 

The opossum eagerly vowed to do the hard work necessary, then asked for and received some seeds. He rushed home with his treasure, buried them amid much laughter and song, went inside to clean up, ate, and went to bed. The next morning he leapt from bed to see his new garden. 

Nothing. The ground looked no different than it had the day before!

Furious with anger and frustration, the opossum shouted at his buried seeds, "Grow, seeds, grow!" He pounded the ground and stomped his feet. But nothing happened. Soon a large crowd of forest animals gathered to see who was making all the commotion and why. The raccoon came to investigate with all the others.

"What are you doing, Opossum?" he asked. "Your racket has awakened the whole forest." 

The opossum railed about having no garden, then turned to each seed, and commanded it to grow. When the animals began to mock the opossum for his silly actions, he only screamed louder. At last the raccoon spoke up once more.  "Wait a minute, Possum," he said. "You can't make the seeds grow. You can only make sure they get sun and water, then watch them do their work. The life is in the seed, not in you."

As the truth sank in, the opossum ceased his yelling and began to care for the seeds as the raccoon instructed, watering them regularly and getting rid of any weeds that invaded his garden. (On some days, though, when no one was watching, he still shouted a bit.) 

Then one glorious morning the opossum wandered outside to see that multitudes of beautiful green sprouts dotted his garden. Just a few days later, gorgeous flowers began to bloom. With uncontrollable excitement and pride, the opossum ran to his friend, the raccoon, and asked him to witness the miracle. The raccoon took one long look at the thriving garden and said, "You see, Opossum, all you had to do was let the seeds do the work while you watched." 

"Yes," smiled the opossum, finally remembering the wise words of his friend many days before, "but it's a hard job watching a seed work."

 Doug Murren concludes: "There's a lesson there for all of us. Sometimes, as Christians and church leaders, we work too hard and take ourselves too seriously instead of simply planting people in the proper environment and letting them grow." (Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal: Becoming a Church That Mends Broken Hearts and Restores Shattered Lives [West Monroe, La: Howard Publishing, 1999], 13-14, 15.)

Adapted by Leonard Sweet, Collected Sermons,
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 A Wise Old Bird 

There is a story about an old man who always had witty and wise answers for people who asked him anything. Once, a smart-alecky came to him with his hands covering something he was holding. He told the sage that he had a small, newly hatched bird in his hands. He challenged the old man to tell him whether the bird was alive or dead. He, of course, planned to prove the old man wrong, because if he said the bird was dead, he would simply open his hands to expose a perfectly healthy baby bird. But if he said the bird was alive, then he would crush the bird before opening his hands. The old man proved wiser than he thought, because he said, "The bird is whatever you choose him to be." 

And that's the way it is with the kingdom of God. The choice for the kingdom to live or die is within your grasp. What do you chose? 

Brett Blair, www.Sermons.com
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 Where the Roots Take Place 

Fred Craddock tells a story about the time he got a phone call from a woman whose father had died. She had been a teenager in one of the churches he had served as pastor twenty years before, and he would have sworn that if there was ever a person who never heard a word he said, that teenage girl was it. She was always giggling with her friends in the balcony, passing notes to boys, drawing pictures on the bulletin. But when her father died, she looked up her old pastor, the Rev. Fred Craddock, and gave him a call. "I don't know if you remember me," she started. Oh, yes, he remembered. "When my daddy died, I thought I was going to come apart," she continued. "I cried and cried and cried. I didn't know what to do. But then I remembered something you said in one of your sermons . . ." And Fred Craddock was stunned. She had remembered something he had said in one of his sermons?! It was proof enough to him that you can never tell how the seed will fall or where it might take root.

Jim Somerville, The Reckless Sower
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An Extravagant Gesture of Grace 

This past week I visited an old friend dying of cancer. The hospice nurse said he had 3-5 days to live. I went to remind him of all the things he had taught me in life as an artist. Once I viewed one of his works and I said, "Tell me what that means." He said, "If I tell you, that's all you will ever see there." I never forgot this truth and have employed it in zillions of ways over the years. What struck me as a tight-fisted approach on his part, at first, actually became an extravagant gesture of grace, because it has encouraged a "good soil" part of me to look creatively at art, literature, music, people, ideas, etc., in open and receptive ways. There is now a part of me that regularly asks what may be seeking me there, calling me to understand, to respond. Good soil is that part of us that seeks to let God do his thing with us - affirm us and stimulate us to produce the kind of caring and generous spirits which only a prodigiously extravagant God, a God almost wasteful with his grace, can produce.
David Zersen 
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 Top Ten Things I Have Learned from Gardening 

10. We really do "reap what we sow". Good seeds bear good fruit.
9. Without rains and storms there is no growth - no fruit is produced.
8. When weeding, be careful! We can't always tell the difference between a nasty weed and a beautiful flower.
7. Deep roots are a good thing. Without them, we'll wither and die.
6. Pruning and trimming, as painful as it seems, actually works to our advantage.
5. In gardening, as in life, cheating does not work. Short-cuts, slipshod efforts, and neglect always show up in the quality of our garden.
4. Like anything worthwhile, beautiful gardens require attention, hard work, and commitment.
3. We cannot rush the harvest. Bearing fruit takes time and patience. Premature fruit is almost always sour.
2. Gardening and growing is a lifetime experience. We can experience growth and beauty until the day we die.
1. Fertilizer happens! In fact, nothing much grows without it. 

Allen R. Rumble, Growing Things

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From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection: 

1.     Moso bamboo’s surprise growth:

The Moso (Phyllostachys pubescens) is a bamboo plant that grows mostly in China and the Far East. Moso bamboo is the largest of the cold-hardy bamboos, growing to a height of 75 feet with a diameter of eight inches.  After the Moso is planted, no visible growth occurs for up to fifty days - even under ideal conditions! Then, as if by magic, it suddenly begins growing to its full height of 75 feet within six weeks. The Moso’s rapid growth is due to the miles of roots (rhizomes) it has developed during those two months of getting ready. Jesus’ parable of the sower invites us to be patient when we fail to achieve instant results from the preaching we do through our exemplary lives of bearing witness to Jesus and his gospel. 

2.     Sonora 64 and IR 8:

Agricultural scientists like Dr. Norman Borlaug from the U.S., Dr. M. S. Swaminathan from India and Dr. Gurdev Khush from the Philippines proved to the world that seed has enormous power in it to save a nation from poverty. In the sixties, political scientists were predicting massive worldwide famine, hitting countries like India acutely, with its  440  million  people,  leading  millions  to  starve.  There  was,  however,  one scientist who  saw  things differently. His name was Dr. Norman Borlaug an agronomist from the U. S. who went to India with a seed called "Sonora 64," a wheat seed he developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre

in Mexico.   Borlaug convinced the Indian agricultural scientists and the government authorities to give it a try. They planted some Sonora 64 wheat in the Punjab region of India. The results were spectacular and pretty soon they were using it throughout the subcontinent. Later, they introduced a new variety of rice, called IR8, developed by Dr. Gurdev Khush at the International Rice Research Institute at Manila, Philippines and it brought even better results: It increased rice production five-fold without using chemical fertilizers and ten - fold by  using  chemical fertilizers. These new seeds enabled India and other Asian  countries  to  avert  famine.  Today  with  over  1.3  billion  people,  India actually produces a food surplus and has become a major rice exporter, shipping nearly 4.5 million tons in 2006.  Here we see the power of a seed. Jesus tells us in today’s gospel about a far superior power of the word of God.  (Fr. Phil Bloom) (http://www.homilies.net/e/E -08-07-13.asp) 

3.     The costly parrot trained to sow the word of God:

Four brothers left home for college and became successful doctors and lawyers. Some years later, they had a reunion.   They chatted after having dinner together. They discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother who lived in a far away city and decided to open their mother’s thank you letter to each. The first said, "I had a big house built for Mama." The second said, "I had a hundred thousand dollar theater built in the house." The third said, "I had a Mercedes dealer deliver an SL600 to her." The fourth said, "You know how Mama loved reading the Bible, and you know she can't read anymore because she can't see very well." "Well I met a preacher who told me about a parrot that can recite the entire Bible. It took twenty preachers 12 years to teach him. I had to pledge to contribute $100,000 to the church, but it was worth it. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse and the parrot will recite it." The other brothers were impressed. 

Then they solemnly opened the thank you letters sent to them by their mom. Mama wrote: "Milton, the house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house. Thanks anyway." "Michael, you gave me an expensive theater with Dolby sound, it could hold 50 people, but all my friends are dead, I've lost my hearing and I'm nearly blind. I'll never use it. Thank you for the gesture just the same." "Marvin, I am too old to travel. I stay at home and I have my groceries delivered, so I never use the Mercedes. The thought was good. Thanks." “Dearest Gerald”, she wrote to her fourth son. “You have the good sense to know what your mother likes. I cooked the chicken you sent. It was absolutely delicious!” 

4.  Keep  sowing  the  seed:   

One  of  William Barclay's friends tells this story. [William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, CD-ROM edition (Liguori, MO: Liguori Faithware, 1996)] In the church where he worshiped, there was a lonely old man, old Thomas. As he had outlived all his friends, hardly anyone knew him. When Thomas died, his only old friend had

the feeling that there would be no one else to go to the funeral. So he decided to

go, so that there might be someone to follow the old man to his last resting-place. There was no one else, and it was a miserable wet day. The funeral reached the cemetery, and at the gate there was a soldier waiting, an officer, but on his raincoat there were no rank badges. He came to the graveside for the religious ceremony. When the pastor finished his prayers, the officer stepped forward and gave a solemn military salute to Thomas in the closed coffin as if to a dead king. The friend walked away with this soldier, and as they walked, the wind blew the soldier's raincoat open to reveal the shoulder badges of a brigadier general. The general said, "You will perhaps be wondering what I am doing here. Years ago Thomas was my Sunday school teacher. I was a wild lad and a sore trial to him. He never knew what he did for me, but I owe everything I am or will be to old Thomas, and today I had to come to salute him at the end." Thomas did not know what he was doing. No preacher or teacher ever does. Keep sowing the high-yielding seeds of the word of God. This is the GOOD news of today’s gospel for all of us, tenant farmers. 

5.     How about living for God by becoming a sower of the word of God?   

On June 1, 2001, a young Arab man named Saeed Hotari strapped a load of explosives to his body and walked into downtown Tel Aviv. He waited until he was surrounded by a crowd of Israeli citizens, and then Hotari triggered the bombs. Twenty-one Israelis died along with Hotari in the blast. As soon as the news reached Saeed Hotari's community, his family and friends began celebrating. To them, he is a hero. The Palestinians who commit these bombings, and those who celebrate them, believe that a jihad, an act of holy war, is the highest form of religious service. And anyone who dies in a jihad is guaranteed to go straight to Paradise. The Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that is behind these bombings, believes in educating young children in the glories of jihad. There are signs along the walls in Hamas-run schools extolling the heroism of suicide bombings. Saeed Hotari's proud father remarks that he hopes Saeed's brothers and friends follow his example and become suicide bombers, too. As he says, "There is no better way to show God you love him." That's scary. It's misguided of course, even demonic, but it's also a level of commitment that most of us don't know anything about. There IS a better way to show God you love Him. Rather than dying and killing other people for Him, how about living for Him? How about becoming a sower of seed? You don't have to be someone special to sow seeds of the kingdom, but you do need to be committed. You do have to know what you believe and you have to give yourself completely to that belief. That is what today’s gospel challenges us to do. 

6.     Professor Popsicle  or "Dr. Cool"  sowing seeds with commitment:  

Gordon Giesbrecht is the director of the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba. His nickname is Professor Popsicle. This is not a sign of disrespect. Professor Giesbrecht has spent his career studying the effects of extreme cold on the human body. He quite literally immerses himself in his  subject.  Throughout  the  course  of  his  career,  Professor  Giesbrecht  has induced  hypothermia--extremely  low  body  temperatures--on  himself  thirty - seven times. He regularly exposes himself to freezing temperatures and records the  effect  those  temperatures  have  on  his  physical  and  mental  health.  His research has led to life-saving advances in treating victims of exposure and hypothermia.  ("Dr.  Cool"  by  Alisa  Smith,  originally  published  in  Outside Magazine, reprinted in Reader's Digest, February 2005, pp. 109-111.) We do not know if Dr. Giesbrecht is more brilliant than other scientists. But we do know he has a high degree of commitment. We know that God was committed to saving humanity from its own foolish ways. How do we know? Because of the cross. You and I want to go through life on the cheap. We want to get by on minimal effort. And it simply will not work. So, ask yourself  what kind of seed are you sowing in the lives of those you love? In the community? In the world for which Christ died? Will this be a better world because you've been here? It doesn't take a lot of talent to make a difference in the world. All it takes is someone willing to take up a cross. 

7.     Sowing seeds by lives:  

Bruce Larson tells about a young African woman who 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.” [To Dance (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1972), p. 58]

5) "Dear comrade in Russia.” 

Dr. Keith Wagner, of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Sidney, Ohio tells the story of a small boy in Florida some years ago. It seems he heard that the Russians were our enemies. He began to wonder about the Russian children, finding it hard to believe that they were his enemies. He wrote a short note: "Dear comrade in Russia. I am seven years old and I believe that we can live in peace. I want to be your friend, not your enemy. Will you become my friend and write to me?" He closed the letter, "Love and Peace" and signed his name. He then neatly folded the note, put it into an empty bottle, and threw it into an inland lake near his home. Several days later, the bottle and note were retrieved on a nearby beach. A story about the note appeared in a local newspaper and the media picked it up nationwide. A group of people from New Hampshire who were taking children to the Soviet Union as ambassadors of peace, read the article, contacted the boy and his family. They invited them to accompany the group to Russia. So, the little boy and his father traveled to Russia as peacemakers. One little boy made a difference. He planted his seed and it bore much fruit. 

8.     Michael Pe’s heroism:  

In 1998, sixteen-year-old Alden Tucker read a news story about Michael Pe, a fifteen-year-old boy of multiracial heritage who had contracted leukemia. Michael's only hope for recovery was a bone-marrow transplant; unfortunately, his exotic ethnic heritage--African-American, Hispanic, and Korean--drastically reduced his chances of finding a matching donor. Alden Tucker, who is also of the same ethnic mix as Michael, immediately volunteered to serve as a donor. Because bone marrow donation is an invasive and painful procedure, federal law prohibits bone-marrow testing for people under eighteen years of age. Alden Tucker wasn't about to take "no" for an answer. He began talking to reporters and legislators about changing the consent laws for bone- marrow donation. He also met and befriended Michael Pe. Just before Michael's death in 1999, Alden promised him that he would never give up the campaign to change  bone-marrow  donation  laws.  In  March  2000,  the  Michael  Pe  Law allowing bone-marrow testing and donation by people under the age of eighteen was signed into law in the state of Washington. (Rebecca Cook in Teen People, cited in "Everyday Heroes," Reader's Digest, Nov. 2001.) He was only a teenager but Alden Tucker made a difference. So can you and I if we are willing to pay the price by sowing the seeds of the gospel with a high level of commitment. 

9.     The harvest is God’s:  

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 long for the promised harvest. At times, however, what we may be doing by such worry and criticism is trying to force God's hand. We may find ourselves not only impatient for the harvest, but also impatient with having to live by His promise  alone.  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.

10.  Listening without hearing:  

During World War II, the city of Palermo, Sicily, a military objective of the Allied Powers, was to be bombed by the American Air Force. To warn the Sicilians, telling them to flee, thousands of pamphlets were dropped on the city beforehand, but the citizens simply did not believe the warning. They listened, but they did not hear! When the American planes came and dropped their bombs, hundreds of Sicilians were killed; in fact, in some cold, dead hands were found the very pages urging them to leave the city. Listening without hearing is also what Jesus refers to in the Parable of the Soils which was spoken at a high point in his career - when people were flocking to him in great numbers. 

11.  "Some seeds fell among thorns.”  

It was early evening on November 9, 1965, when a power station at Niagara Falls became overloaded with power demands. It was set to measure power output, and to transfer power to a backup system if the output rose too high. This system had been put in place two years earlier, but no one had thought to re-adjust the  measurements to reflect the  changes in power demands in those two years. At the first sign of a power overload, the station  shut  down  and  began  transferring  power  to  the  backup  generators. These, too, became overloaded and shut down, resulting in a massive blackout across most of the northeastern United States and Canada. Airports, utilities, corporations, schools, hospitals, public transportation systems, and homes were without power for thirteen hours. Millions of people were affected. And all because  someone  had  not  thought  to  re-adjust  the  numbers  on  the  main generator. [James Burke, Connections (Boston: Little, Brown, 1978)] 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." 

12.  “People going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.”  

we all know that sometimes the message of Christ does not get through because of the person entrusted with conveying it. The most famous example of that, of course, was Mahatma Gandhi. In his autobiography Gandhi tells that during his early days in South Africa he inquired into Christianity. He attended a certain church in Pretoria for several Sundays, but, he writes, “The congregation did not strike [him] as being particularly religious; they were not an assembly of devout souls, but appeared rather to be worldly-minded people going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.” He therefore concluded that there was nothing in Christianity which he did not already possess. Gandhi was driven away from Christianity by the fact that the performance of Christians he met fell far short of their profession of faith. (G. T. Bellhouse, The Hand of Glory, pp. 7, 8).

13.  Life is filled with choices between grains and weeds. 

There is an old Native American tale about a chief who was telling a group of young braves about the struggle within. "It's like two dogs fighting," said the chief. "One dog wants to do right. The other dog wants to do wrong. They growl at each other all the time." "Which is going to win?" inquired a young brave. "The one you feed," replied the chief. Verse 8 says, "Still other seed fell on good soil where it produced a crop, a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown." 

14.   “Some seeds fell on  ‘good soil’" 

They are people who are receptive to the Good News of Christ. They understand that faith is not meant to be an add-on. It is not a burden you carry in addition to other burdens. When we open ourselves to Christ and say to him, "All I am, all I have, all I hope to be, I give to you," we discover a sudden lifting of all our burdens. Then we restructure our priorities according  to  our  faith  commitment.  Dr.  Tom  Kim  did  that.  Dr.  Kim  is  the Korean-born grandson of a Presbyterian minister. Arriving in the United States, his family settled in Knoxville, TN. He chose a small Christian college to attend. Kim wanted to be a medical missionary to Korea. When he prepared to attend Korean medical schools, despite being accepted at Indiana University, his mother was opposed. "She never wanted to go back and didn't want me to either," Kim says. Evidently his mother's wishes prevailed, because when he finished Korean medical school he returned to Knoxville and has been practicing internal medicine, hematology and oncology since 1979.  The unique  thing  about  Dr. Kim's office is that he does not charge the uninsured or the working poor. "My father became a physician because he didn't want to be so poor as his father, the minister. But he still had the faith, and I do, too. I finally realized that I didn't have to go so far to find people in  need that I could minister to." Dr. Kim estimates that he has seen 1,000 poor patients. When he began this policy five years ago, he set aside two extra hours a night for treating nonpaying patients after each of four days of regular office hours. Now, all his patients, both insured and uninsured, are seen throughout the work days. "I give them free everything. Sometimes I have free samples from drug companies for giving medicine. Sometimes I give them a check to buy medicine." For patients with ailments he can't treat, Dr. Kim makes referrals. Dr. Kim says that most of his free patients could get nowhere if they made the referral calls, but he can! "I explain this patient is without insurance and ask if they can't treat them and work out something on payment." Kim says donating his time is a way of repaying his debt to the U.S. where he's "prospered so much." “I got a talent--curing sick people--and I want to use it to do a little of what Jesus did. I don't want to be a Sunday-only  Christian."  (Knoxville,  TN  News-Sentinel 7 -11-98,  p.  A4,  "Doctor Ministers to Poor.") 

15.  "You see that fire in there?” 

The Tennessee Valley Authority started building its many dams on the Tennessee River in 1930s. To do that, they had to relocate a number of people who were living in the area that would be flooded when the dams were finished. One family in particular lived in an old, ramshackle cabin. The TVA built them a beautiful split-level ranch home on the hill overlooking the location of their former home. But when the Authority came to help the family move, they refused to go. The engineers tried to reason with them and, when that did not work, they called the project manager in. He failed, too. Finally, the TVA brought in a social worker. She asked the family to tell her the reason they did not want to move. The father of the clan pointed to the fireplace and said, "You see that fire in there? My grandpa built that fire 100 years ago when no one in these parts had matches. So he made the family promise to never let it go out. He tended it as long as he could and then my father took over and kept it going while he was alive. And, now that it's my responsibility, I am not about to let it go out." That gave the social worker an idea. She asked the family if it would be all right if the TVA brought in a coal bin and transported the burning coals from the cabin to the new house up on the hill. That way, they would have the same fire in their new home. The family huddled together to discuss the suggestion and decided that would be acceptable. And so that family was moved out of the way before the river came and covered their old cabin. Have you ever felt that it was absolutely and utterly up to you, against all opposition, to keep the fire going (no matter what "the fire" might be)? If you have, you are certainly not alone. The situation being addressed in this morning's gospel parable    is along that line. Matthew's gospel was compiled and distributed probably some fifty years after Christ's earthly ministry (around 85 AD). The early church had expanded beyond Jerusalem through the missionary efforts of Paul and others but was still rather minuscule in terms of numbers and influence. There was opposition and even some persecution at the hands of political and religious establishments. It was a time when discouragement could have easily overcome that small band of believers. Hence, Mathew included the parables of chapter 13 in his gospel ("earthly stories with heavenly meanings"), perhaps to motivate and encourage the preaching and practice of the good news in the face of opposition. (David E. Leininger).

16.  Raccoon and opossum story:

Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal (1999), retells that old Native American tale of an opossum watching a seed grow. One day an opossum visited his good friend, a raccoon, at his home near the river. The opossum marveled at his friend's lush garden and asked if he could grow one like it. The raccoon assured the opossum he could do so, although he cautioned him, "It is hard work." The opossum eagerly vowed to do the hard work necessary, then asked for and received some seeds. He rushed home with his treasure, buried them amid much laughter and song, went inside to clean up, ate, and went to bed. The next morning he leapt from bed to see his new garden. Nothing. The ground looked no different than it had the day before! Furious with anger and frustration, the opossum shouted at his buried seeds, "Grow, seeds, grow!" He pounded the ground and stomped his feet. But nothing happened. Soon a large crowd of forest animals gathered to see who was making all the commotion and why. The raccoon came to investigate with all the others. "Wait a minute, Possum," he said. "You can't make the seeds grow. You can only make sure they get sun and water, then watch them do their work. The life is in the seed, not in you." As the truth sank in, the opossum ceased his yelling and began to care for the seeds as the raccoon instructed, watering them regularly and  getting  rid  of  any  weeds  that  invaded  his  garden.  Then  one  glorious morning the opossum wandered outside to see that multitudes of beautiful green sprouts dotted his garden. Just  a  few days later,  gorgeous flowers began  to bloom. With uncontrollable excitement and pride, the opossum ran to his friend, the raccoon, and asked him to witness the miracle. The raccoon took one long look at the thriving garden and said, "You see, Opossum, all you had to do was let the seeds do the work while you watched." "Yes," smiled the opossum, finally remembering the wise words of his friend many days before, "but it's a hard job watching a seed work." Doug Murren concludes: "There's a lesson there for all of us. Sometimes, as Christians and church leaders, we work too hard and take ourselves too seriously instead of simply planting people in the proper environment and letting them grow." (Doug Murren, in Churches That Heal: Howard Publishing, 1999], 13-14, 15.)

17.  Mallard duck hunting:  

The Reverend Jerry Anderson, a retired pastor in Tennessee, was an avid duck hunter as a young man.  Every fall when the first cold front moved in from the north, he would take out his duck decoys, clean them up and put new anchors on them. When duck season opened, he was ready.   He and his dad usually hunted mallards.   Now, mallards are puddle ducks, according to Reverend Anderson. They paddle around in shallow water and feed on the marsh grasses growing there.  They eat only what they can reach from the surface.  Occasionally, though, he and his dad    would see a redhead or canvasback slipping into their decoys.   These are diving ducks.   They dive to great depths to feed on plants growing on the bottom of the lake. Now in some ways Anderson says, Christians are like those ducks.  Some are puddle ducks, satisfied with the nourishment they find in the shallows of the Christian life. Others are divers. They plunge deeply into the Word through study, reflection, and participation in the life and ministry of their church.   According to the parable of the sower the word yields a rich return in their lives.

18.  God’s vegetable seed store: 

This is the story of the fussy vegetarian.  A young woman was committed to being a vegetarian, but she was never satisfied with any of the fruit or vegetables she bought.  For her, all melons were too ripe, or not ripe enough, tomatoes bruised, heads of cauliflower and broccoli were too big or too little. Then one day, driving down Tarpon Avenue, she drove past a new store with a long line of people waiting to get in.  She looked, and the sign said, God’s Fruit  and Vegetable  Stand.  “Finally,”  she said, “I can  get  some decent vegetables and fruit.” So she stood on line and waited.  Hours went by before she walked through that door.  She was enveloped in light, but she didn’t see any apples or oranges or tomatoes or cabbage, or anything to buy.  She walked to the light, and there was a counter there.  And behind the counter, there stood God.  She could tell it was God because of the light, and because he had an apron on with a big G on it. Anyway, she placed her order, “I would like some perfect broccoli, and some perfect carrots, some perfect tomatoes and a perfect melon.  Also, if you have perfect Brussels sprouts, that would really be a miracle.” “Sorry,” God said, “I only sell seeds here.” Actually, God doesn’t sell seeds, He gives seeds to us. The seeds are his Word in its many expressions. But we have to do something with this precious gift. It simply is not enough just to hear the Word of God. We have to let it grow within us and influence our lives enabling us live like the People of the Word (Fr. Joseph Pellegrino) (http://www.homilies.net/e/E -08-07-13.asp

19.  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:  

In a recently televised interview, Maya Angelou (b.1928), one of the great voices of contemporary American literature, told of a childhood tragedy that had a profound and lasting impact on her life. When she was seven years old, Angelou was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Because the man threatened that he would kill her brother if she told anyone what had happened, she told no one. But her brother, sensitive to his sister’s sadness and pain, eventually convinced Angelou to share with him her private horror. When she did, the man at fault was arrested, jailed for a short time, and then released. Not long thereafter he was found dead, kicked to death by unknown assailants. The rapists young victim, believing that her words had perpetrated the man’s death entered into a self-imposed silence and did not speak a word for six years. Later in life, Angelou would give voice to the silence and suffering of those six years in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Her appreciation of the power and effectiveness of the words is reflective of a similar understanding of the word of God in scripture. (Patricia Datchuck S├ínchez) L/11