Sermon by Pastor Christopher Nelson

I want to confess to a bad habit this morning: I have a tendency to listen to talk radio- and I think what bothers me the most about it, whatever the political side, is that most of those who listen, or call in, have the same point of view… They demonize and caricature people holding different views, and then you can almost hear them say, “We sure let them have it…”

It makes me think of a story from the Jungle Books, by Rudyard Kipling. Mowgli, the little boy adopted by a wolf pack is kidnapped by the monkeys- the “Bandar log,” as they call themselves…

Mowgli is taken to an abandoned temple, and made to sit and listen to the monkeys pontificate about all kinds of things, and then they all look at each other and solemnly nod their heads and say, “It must be true; we all say so…”

I’ve seen preachers do the same thing- they’ll attack issues, people or personalities- and preach about issues or people that don’t apply to the people they’re preaching to.

They’ll take one side of an issue (and you can name the issue) and demonize the other, knowing full well that virtually everyone in the room already agrees with them…

I’ve heard sermons about the Second Coming of Jesus- with the preacher going on at length and in graphic detail about all the terrible things that would happen before Jesus comes back- plagues, disasters- but it wasn’t going to happen to the people listening!

God was going to “rapture” them out, lift them out before all the nasty stuff… I watched the congregation listening, nodding, murmuring or shouting “Amen…” And I could almost hear, “Better them than us…they deserve it… it must be true, we all say so…”

Reminded me of advice I read years ago in a wonderful little book called How to be a Bishop without being Religious… In the book, the “perfect sermon” is defined as “one which makes the congregation feel good about itself by attacking folks who are different.” The preacher gets all fired up, people leave happy, “Boy, you sure told them…”

But nothing has happened- it’s been a waste of time- the Good News of Jesus has been absent, because the Gospel, because Jesus speaks to each of us in worship, and if you haven’t experienced Jesus- been comforted, confronted, instructed, or uplifted, you may as well have stayed home- or gone to a social club…

Now I start with that this morning, as we continue with our Sermon Series, “All in!” because when I read the Gospel- the Parable of the Sower, I was tempted to do one of those sorts of sermons… One helpful way to read a parable in a reflective, meditative way, is to put yourself in it, and see how it plays out

The sower goes out to sow- scattering seeds as he walked through the field… some fell on the path and the birds ate them up; some fell on rocky ground- the seeds sprang up and were then scorched by the sun. Some fell among thorns, where they sprouted and were then choked by the weeds, and finally, some fell among the good soil, produced grain, some 100 fold, some 60 and some thirty…

Then at the request of his disciples, Jesus interprets: the seed on the path is the one who hears the word and doesn’t understand, and the evil one snatches it away. The rocky soil is the one who hears, accepts, and then is persecuted- or there is trouble, and because there is no root, they fall away. The seed which falls on the thorns is one who is consumed by the cares of the world and the lure of wealth… And then, there is the good soil…

Now, isn’t it obvious to you where we are in the parable? We’re clearly the good soil, right? I am- I’m a pastor, don’t you know… and aren’t you all here today?

It’s mid-winter, the mornings are dark, there’s ice on the sidewalks and street, and here you are! At least it’s a tad warmer than the last two Sundays! Aren’t we terrific? And isn’t there the slightest temptation to compare ourselves- favorably, of course, with the people who aren’t here- the ones that the parable calls the seed on the path, the rocks or the thorns.

We’ve got it made, right? And wouldn’t it be fun to discuss just what makes the others so bad- er, different?

But we would be wasting time! We would miss Jesus! What a shame! So let me suggest another way of finding ourselves in this parable.

Many of us have experienced the reality of the Gospel in our lives. For some, we began as children- we grew up in the faith. Others of us have learned the great gift of God’s love in Christ as adults.

Here at Bethlehem, we have a growing number of adults- both who have been “away” from the church and now returning, as well as those who have never been a part of a faith community before- who have been searching, and who have been found by Jesus, coming now to be a part of this Community of God’s people…

Long time followers of Christ and new Christ-followers, all gathered together to give thanks and praise- to worship God for the gift of Christ- God become human, living in our midst, sharing our joys and sorrows, and loving us enough to be willing to die with us and for us!

Jesus takes on our deaths- and everything that separates us from God and each other- on the cross, and then is raised from the dead on the third day, so that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.

We have the presence of the living Jesus in us- changing us, transforming us into his likeness. Paul says it this way in Romans 8:

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you!”

Jesus lives in you! How do we respond to that incredible love? How do we respond to our Savior?

Here is where I would put you and me in this parable- not as the “good soil,” where the seeds grow, pats on the back all around…

 Instead, we share the Good News we have been given with people who don’t yet know the love, the freedom, the peace and community we have in Jesus Christ!

You and I are the sowers of the Good News- that’s our place in the parable… and then, let me guess that’s it is not such an easy parable anymore. I mean, it’s one thing to be active in church. It’s something altogether different to be expected to share my faith with someone else…

For many of us, that’s a frightening thought- it reminds us of street corner preachers- or people knocking on our doors with the words, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or to hell???” (There’s a fine way to share faith, by the way… to use the language of the parable, it’s like sowing seed on concrete…)

By the way, what do you get when you cross a Lutheran with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who knocks on your door and says nothing…

I’m not a gardener (I kill plants- I don’t mean to; it just happens…) but I know that soil has to be prepared to be good soil- plowed, turned over, fertilized, if the seed has a chance of growing and bearing fruit…

This is clear from Jesus’ ministry: look how he treated people- accepted them where they were, with no manipulation or ulterior motives, just simple acceptance. Jesus cared about people and loved them. He started with them where they were, not where he wanted them to end up…

And because that acceptance and love were genuine, Jesus’ touched people’s hearts. They were opened to the Kingdom of God, to the Good News of a relationship with God in Jesus Christ, and they were changed! Lives were transformed!

How we treat people- how others see us- either helps prepare them for the Good News of Jesus- the Good News we have and know- or it makes them wary: is it real, or are we pious fakes…?

When we live lives of caring- of love for the people around us, we are witnessing far better than we ever could with words. We are preparing the soil, helping our neighbors to be ready for the seed of the Good News, planted as we cultivate. We’re helping others to hear- to know Jesus Christ.

Our garden, our harvest is in our neighborhoods, our places of business, our schools, often, with people we already know; sometimes those we don’t. That’s why we’re engaging in Minnetonka- it is a wonderful, large garden, waiting to be planted with the seed of the Good News.

Now, if someone knows you and trusts you, you are already showing them Jesus and his love. It’s in your life- He’s in your life. They could well be open to a simple invitation to worship.

Notice that it is a two-step, both/and process: first you show the love of Christ in how you treat someone, then you invite… We noted a few years ago that our unchurched neighbors would not simply walk through our doors for worship, but they were eager to work alongside of us in acts of service within the community. So it is important to be able to share your faith story while you are serving- to explain WHY you would do these things! And then, invite…We will help you learn to do this, if you need help!

George Gallup has said 80% of people who are in church because they were invited by a friend…

I know a young man who when co-workers are sharing troubles simply asks them “Do you pray about it?” And then he shares that he does, and that he’s part of a community where he can share his troubles and his prayers- would they consider coming?

I’ve suggested this before, but it’s been awhile: when you are a restaurant, ask your server how you can pray for them. I was at a breakfast meeting not long ago where this happened, and the server, a young woman, stepped back, eyes brimming with tears, and said, “My father was diagnosed with cancer yesterday. Can you please pray for him?”

These are just two things you all can do. It’s hard at first, but only because you haven’t tried it before. The worst that can happen is the person walks away… and the best is that someone is now open to hearing Good News! Oh- and if you do ask your server, make sure you leave a decent tip… prayers do not equal tips…

Accepting, inviting, welcoming, and sharing! That is being the sower God wants you to be!

A sower named Jeff, or Glenn, or Patsy, or Shannon- or you, went out to sow… for Jesus’ sake and in his Name! Amen.