Did you know that Neil from the lunatic 1980’s BBC comedy The Young Ones was paraphrasing (or possibly parodying) Jesus in the episode where he and Rick attempt to grow their own veggies in the back garden? If you choose to watch the episode (the specific clip of which can be found on Youtube here) then be warned its not very polite… but the Young Ones never had any aspirations in that direction.
Anyway, last weekend we were reflecting on the original version as we looked at Mark chapter 4, verses 35-end, where Jesus talks about seed growing and the harvest coming. The passage also includes a version of the mustard seed parable which I’ve talked about elsewhere so didn’t get covered this time around…
When we moved into our current house there was a tree growing outside the lounge window- I call it a palm, but I think it might really be a yucca. It was as high as the guttering of the house, with lovely gigantic flowers that the birds loved and long leaves. About 3yrs ago, when we had a particularly cold winter it, and many similar ones in town, was seriously damaged by the cold and frost- every leaf on it died, and after leaving it for around 6 months to see whether there would be any recovery, I cut it down, leaving a stump to see what might happen (in the back of my mind I expected to turn the stump into a bird feeding table). In the next year around a dozen plants sprouted from around the base, and we’ve now thinned them down and there are 2, well, trees of about 10 feet tall and for the first time the huge flowers have appeared… Things do not always turn out in the way or in the timing that we expect.
Jesus speaks about growth of seeds in many of his parables…the mustard seed, the harvest, the sower, the workers in the field etc… is he just using a easily understood metaphor that represents life or is there something basic to his message- when he speaks about the Kingdom of God and his work, he is talking about something that grows? I think it is the latter- for Jesus growth is an intrinsic part of the Kingdom of God. Growth is the name of the game… how we talk about that is quite varied, but ultimately the church has been sent into the world with the expectation that we will witness growth. Some churches focus on the ‘scattering of seed’, some on the growth of the crop, others on the harvest- the reality is that all 3 are essential.
Scattering the seed- this phrase encompasses all that a church and the individual members of a church do that allows the world to see, hear and in any other way encounter the Good News of Jesus Christ- that is the seed. It includes the preaching of the gospel at a Christmas service or in a school or the talking about church with friends, family or colleagues during the week; the welcome extended to new faces at coffee mornings, mini music and Wednesday club- but also the welcome extended by any of us to a new face in our street or a new member of any group we’re part of. But, and this is important- we need to be scattering seeds of the Kingdom of God rather than just simply being nice… whatever we do, we do it as a Christian- a follower of Jesus, a disciple, with the expectation that God can and does work through our lives in the lives of those around us.
Take a moment to think about what are the essential aspects of the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, as far as you understand them- that you would want to hear shared with others…
Now turn to the person next to you, and ask them to share with you one or two of those things- just briefly.
To include- Jesus is the son of God, through whom we can receive the gift of eternal life and become children of God. All of us have sinned and are in need of forgiveness, which is available for those who ask. When we turn and receive that forgiveness Jesus sends his holy spirit to help us live as his followers.
Growing the crop- this is a really key stage that can easily be missed. Those of us who’re impatient may want to sow seed and gather the harvest in the same moment- I know I’ve done that. When we’ve spoken with someone, or had a chance to show generous love in a way that reveals our faith, we may want to see the fruits immediately. But we need patience. Patience is waiting with expectation and anticipation- its not the same as doing nothing. While the crop is growing we don’t dig it up and look at the roots or pick the fruit to taste if its ripe… We water it, we tend it- in the Christian life that translates to praying for people, and to continuing to be there for them… How long does it take? Because these are people we’re talking about it varies- from months to years, but on average it takes someone 5-7yrs and 35 ‘encounters’ with the gospel to move from a first hearing to a place of naming themselves as a Christian; but many of us know people who’ve come to faith after much longer, or people where we’re still seeing no results after years… Its easy to give up, its easy to try to rush things, its easy to wonder whether anything is happening… but just as a plant grows all by itself when its in the right conditions, our role at this stage is to provide a place where people can grow- where faith can grow. This is the season of persistence- persistence in prayer and in presence, in being there.
Take a moment to think about those people in your lives where the seed of God’s word has been planted, and there is not yet much sign of it- those people who know your faith but don’t yet ‘get it’ themselves. Those are the people you could be praying for… and we can all be praying for them too.
Turn to the person next to you and ask them ‘who are you praying for, who can I be praying for?’
Gathering the harvest- for some people this is the really exciting part, for others this is the bit they’d like to leave to others, but Jesus has a clear instruction and encouragement for his followers here- there is a harvest, and it needs to be gathered. There are people we know who would like to come to know God- who would like to come to faith and be a part of the church. Something like 20% of the UK population, when asked ‘would you go to church if someone asked you?’ said yes- there are people who want to come. Many don’t know that they can simply turn up (despite signs saying ‘all welcome’), many have had a bad experience in the past or are nervous about coming alone and not knowing what to do- they need to be invited. And there are others, for whom coming to church isn’t the problem or the aim, but who are seeking a spiritual meaning in life- looking around at world religions and schools of philosophy, taking their pick from them all, like the values but not understanding that they have their source in the person of Jesus and God… they all need help to come to place of realisation that God is there for them and that today they can meet him- that they needn’t wait any longer… that the question ‘and why not you?’ applies to their life.
So take a moment now- who do you know that might be at that place where they have heard the Gospel, the seed has grown in their life over time, and they are now ready to come to faith? If you know more than 10 people outside this church, the chances are you know someone who would like to either come to church or come to faith…
If you’ve a pen, write their name down. Or put a note on your phone, or just remember it until later… Don’t forget this person. Pray about how you could encourage them and genuinely help them to know that they are welcome in church and to come to God- they’ll need knocking into shape, but no more than the rest of us and God knows what He is doing.
And the reality is that these things that I’ve been talking about are easier than we fear. They’re not complicated and you don’t need huge amounts of training- if you know people, and care about them, and if you appreciate the wonderful nature of the gift of life that God has given you, then you can be part of the growth of the Kingdom of God. You may feel that you don’t have the answers or the right way of saying things, in which case follow the example of the Samarian woman ‘come, meet someone’… you may feel you need to grow in your own faith before you can share it with others- that too is the growth of the kingdom and is essential in our lives, but it leads to the other- if we are growing in our own personal faith, then part of that growth is a willingness to share our faith- to scatter seed and watch it grow and gather in the harvest.
Unashamedly, the church is about growth. Its what God created it for. Not just people turning up, not just people growing in faith, but people hearing about Jesus, growing slowly to the point of coming to faith, some of whom may find their way into this church community, some into others… Wanting God’s church to grow- being committed to mission and evangelism is at the heart of our reason for existing. The church in England has gone through a difficult time in the last 70years, but in increasingly more places, the corner has been turned and Christians and churches are growing in faith and number… Christ calls us to follow him, to be part of the Kingdom of God…through the simple things we’ve just looked at we will be doing exactly that.
Have a good day, and help those around you to have a better one than they would otherwise have had.