Stewardship Sermon #2

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church 

November 16, 2014

Luke 8:4-15

 

 

Let me begin this morning in which we’re talking about Stewardship with the concept of the firstborn.  In the Old Testament, God calls on Israel to consecrate all the firstborn in Israel: human and beast.[1]  The firstborn was offered to God for his use, just as the first of the harvest was offered to God. [2]  We, too, are to give our first-fruits to God, as a sign of faithfulness, trusting that God will continue to bless us.  But that’s not what we often do; instead, we give God our left-overs.

Thanksgiving is coming up.  I’m not going to be here next week to offer you this tip, so let me tell you today.  There’s hotline you can call to make sure you are properly preparing your turkey.  It’s 1-800-Butterball (you leave off the L’s when dialing).  A few years ago, I heard an interview with one of the operators of the helpline.  She told about a call she handled from someone with a turkey that had been frozen for ten years in the bottom of a freezer.  They wanted to know if it would be safe to eat.  The expert said that it would be safe as long as it had stayed frozen the entire time… she went on to say she couldn’t vouch for how it would taste and it certainly wouldn’t be as good a fresh turkey.  “That’s okay,” the caller said.  “We’re giving it to the church.”  This example may be a bit extreme, but we do tend to give out of what we have left and not out of our abundance.

Compare our attitudes on giving to God’s.  God gave us his first-born!  God gave to us before we believed.  God gave to us before we showed ourselves to be worthy.  In fact, we are only worthy because God has given to us.  Paul tells us that God has shown us his love in that Jesus died for us while we were sinners.[3]  God didn’t wait and see how we’d turn out before offering Jesus.  Likewise, we are not to give only because we feel blessed, or because we feel the church is worthy, or because we know the dollars are going to causes we support.  We give out of faith and trust in a God whose love has been shown to us love before we even existed as a twinkle in our parents’ eyes.[4]

Today is stewardship Sunday and we’re asking you, after the sermon, to make a commitment to your church.  This is a generous church.  We do a lot to support missions and I am asking you to continue to sow seeds of hope!  Your gifts make things happen, they open up possibilities, they create hope! Now let’s look at our passage for today as I read from Luke 8:4-15.

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He visited me right after I had moved to Cedar City, Utah.  He showed up on the door one morning saying he needed help.  He didn’t look like he was in need of a handout. He was well dressed, but fatigue shown in his face and there was desperation in his voice.  I invited him in to my study and asked what I could do for him…

I learned he was not looking for a handout.  In fact, he was the manager of a local credit union.  But he did need help.  He told me that at his girlfriend’s insistence (and so that she would become his fiancé), he had recently been baptized into the Mormon Church.  He didn’t come from a very religious family.  He’d been baptized as an infant, but only attended church a couple times a year growing up.  His main memory was Vacation Bible School.  With this limited knowledge, he said he knew something wasn’t right.  We talked and prayed.

Over the next few months, we frequently visited.  He began to attend church and ended up breaking off his engagement and moved back to where he had grown up in Southern California.  I lost track of him.  A number of years went by before I received a phone call.  He was doing well, had become very involved in a Bel Air Presbyterian Church.  He also had a new fiancé and wanted to know if I was available to come down and officiate at their wedding.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make that work out, but it was good to know that things had worked out for him.

If we live like we should, for every story like the one I just told, there will be many that we never hear of in which God uses us to sow seeds, to share the gospel, to show the love of our Savior.  Ponder this question: How do you sow seeds?  (pause) This would be a good question to discuss during the coffee time after worship this morning.

We never know what happens when seeds are sown.  The sprouting of the seed and the growth of the new plant is not in our hands and often it is not within our sight.  Certainly we can cultivate the soil and provide water and nutrients, but there are things we can’t control and ultimately the destiny of the seed is out of our hands.[5]

I often wonder what might be going on to cause a particular situation or story to end up in scripture.  Here, it may be that the disciples are having a hard time with the knowledge that not everyone is receptive to our Savior’s message.  These men had been close to Jesus and saw him change lives (even bringing the dead back to life).  They had seen many people respond positively to Jesus’ message, but there were others who seemed unaffected.[6]  This was bothersome.  It is a question that still lingers.  Why do some people accept Jesus’ message while others ignore and some outright reject it?  Or, as a Dutch Calvinist might ask, “why is grace only irresistible to some?”[7]

The Parable of the Sower addresses the lingering question as why some ignore the gospel, while others appear to accept it, only to fall away.  There was a crowd of people around Jesus and many of them would have been farmers.  They knew what it meant to sow seeds.

Farming in the first century was different than today. They didn’t have all the farm implements: plows, disks, planters, and cultivators.  It almost seems as if today’s farmers have it easy (but even all the fancy equipment can’t bring rain in the right amounts).   First century farmers also did things a little different than today’s farmers.  Instead of preparing the field and then planting the seeds, they would scatter the seed and then, with a primitive plow, disturb the dirt enough to bury most of the seeds.

Of course, things did not always work out the way you’d hope.  Some seeds would fall on the path and be trampled or eaten by birds instead of finding ground in which to germinate.  Other seed would fall on spots in which there were rocks right below the surface.  These seeds might sprout and grow quickly but since there were no solid roots, they would die just as quickly.  Other seeds would sprout in the same ground as weeds and fight a losing battle.    But there were a few seeds that landed in good soil and they reproduced as such a rate that they made the harvest.

Listening to this parable, I’m sure, were many who wondered what Jesus was driving at.  Certainly they knew and understood, in a literal sense, what it meant to sow seeds.   They’d probably even done this task themselves.  When Jesus interprets the seed in the story to be the word of God, many listening in probably wondered whether or not they were good or bad soil.  In other words, will the gospel take root in me or will I turn away in despair?  This is why they ask for an explanation.

We now learn that this parable isn’t intended to make us worry and wonder about our faith.  Instead, the parable addresses the concern Jesus’ followers have about not everyone responding to the word, to the gospel.  Not everyone hears Christ’s call; and not everyone who hears takes his word to heart.  But just as the sower continues to plant even though he knows not every seed with take root, we too much continue our word.  In other words, instead of seeing ourselves as the soil, we in the church should see ourselves as the sower.  We are called to share the gospel, to sow seeds of faith.  But like the sower in our story, we can’t control the outcome.

The idea of us being the sower of gospel seeds also addresses one of the questions that would have been in the mind of those listening to this story.  There were no union shops in first century farms.   There were no “sowers,” per say.  They were farmers and yes, one task was to sow seed.  But they also plowed and chopped weeds and brought in the harvest.[8]  But in this passage, Jesus is referring to just the work of getting the word out, not all that our faith entails.  Jesus wants us to sow seeds regardless of the harvest we receive.  A few verses later, after our reading, Jesus tells us not to be misers of what we hear, for generosity begets generosity, stinginess impoverishes.[9]

When we see ourselves as sowers, we understand our responsibility.  Our task as Christians, it has often been said, is to be faithful, not successful.  God gives the growth, not us.  Because we don’t know where or even when a particular seed might germinate, we’re to carry out our tasks and trust that God will bless our efforts.  This takes a big burden off our shoulders!  We are just laborers in God’s kingdom.  We sow the seeds; God brings in the harvest.  All we are asked to do is to faithfully share the gospel.

Now we share the gospel in several ways.  We are to do it in our own lives: As followers of Jesus are to be living examples.  We do it with our words, telling others about what we have experienced through Jesus.  And we do it by supporting the work of the church.

First and foremost, our purpose as a body of believers is to make disciples.  Secondarily, we are to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  And it takes money, it requires our generosity, a commitment to God.  Our offerings given through the church is another form of sowing seeds.  And like the germination of a seed, such as it was with my friend from Utah, we may not know the results of our sowing.  We may not know of the blessings a missionary or one of the missions we support in downtown Savannah experiences.  We just keep on sowing because God has given to us first.

In a moment, we will sing our closing hymn and as we do, I invite you to come forward and present your commitment to our church.  God loves a cheerful giver.[10]  Amen.

©2014

 

[1] Exodus 13:2.

[2] Exodus 23:19.

[3] Romans 5:8

[4] Ideas from Robert Morris, .The Blessed Life (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2002), 30-34.

[5] 1 Corinthians 3:6.

[6] Consider the story of the ten lepers, only two came back to give thanks.  See Luke 17:11-19.  In Luke, this is after Jesus told this parable, but it is just one of many examples.

[7] The fourth point of Calvinism as defined by Dort is “Irresistible Grace” (the “I” in Tulip:  Total Depravity, Unlimited Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints)

[8] This comes from a reference to the parallel passage (Matthew 13:1-9).  See F. Dale Bruner,  The Churchbook: Matthew 13-28  (Grand Rapids: Eerdman, 2004), 5.

[9] Luke 8:18, The Message.

[10] 2 Corinthians 9:7.


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