Measuring the Seeds

I had an opportunity to attend a special event this evening, despite the fact that I wasn’t really in the mood for it.  No, I wasn’t one of the few special people invited to mingle with William & Kate at the Santa Barbara Polo Club just a few miles from where we live.  Rather, I was invited to attend the graduation ceremony for five women and nine men from the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, where I’ve begun volunteering in terms of mentoring and leading worship on occasion.  

I’ve attended more than a few graduation ceremonies over the years.  Almost 10 years working in support positions for the University of Phoenix, another 11 years as a full-time and then adjunct faculty member for UAT – I’ve heard pomp and circumstance more than a few times despite never attending a graduation ceremony for my own undergraduate or graduate degrees.  Graduations are special events, and the one this evening was more so.  These weren’t people who had navigated an academic curriculum.  These were people who literally had their lives turned around and given back to them.  Each of these graduates has spent the last 12 months in a clean/sober living program at the Rescue Mission.  
It was a mixed bag of folks graduating, and it was a mixed bag of folks there to congratulate them.  Lots of tattoos and interesting hair-dos sprinkled amidst the smart dresses and fashionably casual menswear.  Looking at the graduates, as well as the alumni of the program who had come to support the graduates who in some cases were friends and family members, I couldn’t help think of the Gospel text for tomorrow morning – the Parable of the Sower from Matthew 13.  
A sower is out doing his job and the seed lands on all types of different soil, with varying results.  I thought of the parable in relation to congregations seeking to understand how to do outreach, how to share the Gospel with people.  I thought about how often, we agonize over how to share the Gospel with just the right people.  As though the sower hadn’t just sown the seed, but rather placed individual seeds into specific points on the ground.  After an extensive survey of the field to determine the ideal planting locations.  And a chemical analysis of the soil to see the most favorable spots.  As though the seed is so limited that it mustn’t be wasted, so much a part of our own being that if any of it fails to produce, we ourselves as congregations and individuals are diminished.
With that sort of approach to sowing, we’re going to hold on to a lot more seed than we actually plant.  We may be pleased to be able to point to return on investment-style reports that demonstrate that our evangelism or outreach or advertising efforts have yielded x number of visitors or members per dollar spent or hour invested.  But we may be missing out on so much.
Because we aren’t soil experts.  In fact, we’re remarkably bad judges of soil.  Or perhaps we’re just bad judges of the seed.  It’s the seed that has the power, the potential that is actualized into growth.  The soil only hosts it.  And while some soil just isn’t suitable, we aren’t always able to determine which soil is which.  
The men and women up on front this evening were an unlikely assortment of soil.  A year ago, I imagine there would have been few present who would have said that investing time in that soil would ever bear fruit.  And yet a year later, they stand clean and sober and scrubbed and embarrassed at all the fuss, but also furiously proud of what God has done in their lives, and what they themselves have accomplished as well.
If the Rescue Mission had turned them away a year ago because they weren’t the right kind of soil, they wouldn’t have graduated today.  Some would be in prison.  Some would be on the streets.  Some would be trapped in addictions.  Some might even be dead.  The same could be said of the people that need to hear the transforming power of the Gospel.  What’s more, we know the end result for those who don’t hear and accept the Word.  We know that there’s not another program or alternative out there for them.  
The Church doesn’t go out of it’s way to throw seed outside of the field.  There are times and situations and people that clearly are not receptive and we’re not called to spend all our time trying to coax a harvest off of the path or the rocky ground.  But we are called to sow.  And I think to sow generously, lavishly, even carelessly.  The seed isn’t ours after all, it has been given to us specifically for sowing.  It doesn’t run out.  Every time we dip our hand back in the sack, there’s more to be given.  And we aren’t responsible for the harvest result.  We’re just called to sow.
I pray that I become a better sower.  More lavish.  More generous.  More careless, even.  Because I know I’m a lousy judge of soil, and I know that I underestimate the power of the seed.  But I can give thanks that probably more often than not, I’ll be surprised by what God does through seed that I thought fell on lousy soil.  

4 Responses to “Measuring the Seeds”

  1. Diane Says:

    Many thoughts have come to mind after reading “Measuring the seeds.” I’m trying to make sense of where I went wrong in sowing my seeds, altho’ I’m talking about lettuce. I’m trying to relate this to “sowing for souls.” I prepared the soil, and I put in many, many seeds in a small area just to make sure that at least a few might take. It worked, the lettuce grew and I had enough for 2 salads, BUT then the crop was overtaken with bugs. I saw no more hope, so gave up. I’m discouraged to try again. Is there a correlation here? I do thank you for giving me a new way to see sowing seeds.

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    First off, I’m completely confused.  Not that this has ever stopped me from fleshing out my ignorance with words.  

    Have you considered growing something more pest-resistant?  But I guess that’s sort of cheating, isn’t it?  To be given one kind of seed but then switching to another type of seed that seems better suited to the soil, the climate, or resistant to the local bugs & critters.  

    Other folks in other areas deal with different sorts of pests.  We have friends in the Northwest who struggle in their garden to keep out deer and other curious (and hungry) visitors.  They developed elaborate fencing schemes, raised beds, and all manner of other contraptions.  They protected the crops more or less, but eventually they ran out of steam, sold their gorgeous place, and downsized to a smaller tract home with a fenced back yard.  They’ve scaled back their gardening ambitions substantially.  

    We’re naturally results-oriented people.  If we sow, we want to reap.  If we water, we want to see growth.  If we see growth, we want to protect it.  But these things are largely out of our control.  The bugs come when we sleep and eat before we’re awake.  Frost bites.  Sun scorches.  Contingencies arise that we could never prepare for.  It’s easy to take that personally.  To assume that if the reaping doesn’t happen, or isn’t as perfect as we’d hoped and imagined, that there’s no sense in sowing in the first place.  

    Sowing is a work of hope in and of itself, though.  Sowing is placing trust in a tomorrow we don’t know is there and can’t control even if it is.  Sowing is an act of acknowledging that seed grows.  That’s it’s purpose and I suspect that a fair amount of our purpose is wrapped up in the role of sowing as well.  

    Probably not helpful.  But then again, I’m completely confused, and a fairly poor gardener myself – what else would you expect? ;-p

  3. Diane Says:

    I certainly didn’t mean to confuse you, I was confused, reread my response, then the light went on. I was relating my planting of seeds to dealing with a former member of the church. I have had conversations with this man, he sharing how God is working in his life, and how he misses the church. So, I encourage him to come back. He says he will. Doesn’t show up, and again I see him, we have more “religious” conversations, and same result, don’t see him at church. That is my discouragement, planted the seeds, and now it seems as if they did not take. (The man isn’t back to church yet).

  4. Paul Nelson Says:

    Ahhhh…gotcha!  I thought maybe you were really hoping for some lettuce advice.  

    It may be that here we’re switching analogies and parables.  The seed has been scattered.  He has responded in faith (apparently).  The seed that was originally sown by whomever has sprouted.  It would seem that there is soil enough for the seed to grow and mature, and yet he doesn’t seem able or willing to follow through on this growth by heeding the call to Christian community (I’m assuming he’s not worshiping anywhere else).  

    At this point you’re no longer scattering seed, you may be in the process of watering the seedling.  Or maybe we need to move to 1 Corinthians 3:1-13, and combine this gardening language with the language of building, as St. Paul does.  This passage more clearly illustrates that we each have roles to play in the faith lives of one another, and we do the work that is laid out before us – again without the assumption that if we do what we’re supposed to, the proper result will occur. 

    You keep encouraging this man.  You’re a blessing to him whether he knows it or not.  You are fulfilling your task in his life (assuming the Holy Spirit  doesn’t direct you into a different role).   You pray.  You exhort.  You encourage.  You may even gently rebuke in love.  But you can’t control the outcome, but you diligently and faithfully discharge your duty in love for this man, in the desire that he would see what is necessary for his own strengthening and growth as well as for the health of the body of Christ.  In time, I pray, he’ll come around (literally, as well as figuratively).  

    Is it discouraging?  Sure. We’re human, and we get frustrated and take things personally and get fed up.  But I’m grateful for your place in this man’s life, and I pray that he will respond to the water you are providing him in your interactions.  Maybe we can pray for  him tomorrow in service (if not by name, then in a more general sense)?

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