July 29, 2012

The Earth Produces

Growing a garden or a ministry takes preparation, planting, and persistence. And you have to leave the seed alone to grow. Over thinking and over cultivating and even over watering can slow down or even ruin growth in a garden and in a ministry. Gradually though, “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” (Mark 4:28)
It is hard to wait for the ‘stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head’ that Jesus talks about in the Parable of the Growing Seed. Like the photo of my grandson, we spend a lot of time looking ta the dirt but we don’t see anything going on. However, things are happening below ground long before the “green blade rises from the buried grain” as the Easter hymn by John Crum says.
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.

It is the same with ministry. Nothing seems to be happening at first despite your best efforts. So we start making adjustments and changing plans and working extra hard to try and force growth. I think the second line is especially interesting. It says “wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain” and it is true that sometimes it seems like whatever ministry you are working on has been in the ground for years with nothing happening.
Interestingly, grain and other seeds can survive for centuries under the right conditions and still germinate. Archeologists have found caches of grain that has actually sprouted when planted! New growth springs up from seemingly desolate areas. This photo of little plants coming up through the blackened earth of a recently extinguished wildfire (Waldo Canyon Fire in NM) is so symbolic of the hope that we can find in God that I had to share it!
The same thing can occur in ministry. There are times when a favorite ministry can go ‘fallow’ and then a few years later spring back to life. We should take heart, even when our cherished ministry seems to have failed, there can still be life below ground, just waiting for the right time to spring up again.  
Deep rooted ministry takes time and patience. ‘Digging’ it up to examine it and replant can be detrimental. Letting God work is important and necessary. Ministry growth, like plant growth can be slow. Just when you are ready to give up-there’s a sprout! The little spout turns into a stalk and then the beginnings of a head of grain and then a full head! That is when we know that in the ministry and more importantly in “our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.”

July 22, 2012

The Seed would Sprout and Grow

In farming or gardening and in ministry there can be a long time between planting the seed (see previous post) and harvest. Even when the first hopeful sprout pops through the ground, there’s a lot of growing to do. Jesus said the Farmer “would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (Mark 4:27)
When I was a child I was given a book of poems (which was sadly water damaged years ago and had to be thrown away) that included one that stuck with me all these year about sprouting and growing, even when conditions don't seem to be perfect.
The tiny crocus is so bold
It peeps its head above the mould,
Before the flowers awaken,
To say that spring is coming, dear,
With sunshine and that winter drear
Will soon be overtaken.
All I can ever remember are the first couple of lines, but a Google search surprised me by providing the rest of the poem, the author (Lizzy Lawson), and a list of other of her poems that I remember from that little book! (Amazing thing-the internet!) I even found this image of the cover of that book! You can see that the book was probably published around the late 1800’s and it was old when I got it, but at 5 years old it was one of my favorites. Don’t some things just bring back memories of childhood…? However, I digress.
Some plants, like the bold little crocus, are strong and courageous and don’t wait for perfect conditions. Others need just the right moisture and temperature to sprout and grow. Even then, there is care like watering and weeding to keep the little plants healthy and growing. Botonists can explain what happens below ground and how a seed germinates and sprouts, but in reality the growth is a miracle and we, like the farmer do not know how it happens.
Similarly, in ministry, you can read books (or blogs) on how to do or start a ministry, but there is still a lot of work and faith involved. There comes a lot of patiently waiting for God’s plan to emerge. Some ministry, like the crocus, seems to spring up without much work at all and other ministry takes a lot of encouragement. Whichever kind of ministry you find yourself involved in, remember that as the hymn by Arthur Ainger says:
God is working His purpose out
As year succeeds to year;

God is working his purpose out,
And the time is drawing near;
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.
Jesus said the Farmer didn’t know how the growth happened. We don’t know how or when our ministry will grow or what the end result will be. What we do know is that God IS working through our efforts to bring harvest. Like the Farmer, it is our duty to be faithful with the planting and the cultivating while we wait for the harvest.

July 15, 2012

Pentecost - Scatter Seed

Jesus starts out the Parable of the Growing Seed by saying, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground…” Mark 4:26. Farming is not a familiar occupation any more. A century ago, and certainly in Jesus time, this image would be easy to relate to. Now, the closest many of us get is picking up fresh produce. Even if you pick up a seedling plant or two for your home garden, someone else planted the seed. So we can too easily forget that all growing things start with a seed of some size.
Some seeds are ‘picky’ about the soil and moisture they require. Others will grow just about anywhere. Weeds seem to appear everywhere you do not want them. In desert regions the germination of plants is astonishing after a nice rain. It seems almost overnight and the yard is covered with greenery where before there was just brown sand.
There are steps to making a successful garden or farm. First you have to prepare the soil so that it is a better home for the seeds to grow in. That might mean adding more compost or breaking up clay soil with the addition of some looser dirt. It will certainly mean that you will have to dig and turn the soil either with a shovel or a plow to soften it and awaken it.
Then you make furrows or scatter the seed on the prepared soil, depending on what is needed. Seeds have to be covered with dirt, too. You cannot just leave them lying on the surface of the ground. Tiny seeds don’t require much dirt over them, but bigger seeds like corn need to be buried deeper.
Water is necessary for germination, but too much watering will wash out the seeds or prevent them from sprouting. It’s all part of the careful nurturing process for growth.
The last step is the hardest-you wait for the first sign that something is growing. You wait and you check the ground daily for any little crack in the soil that might indicate a seedling coming through. If you get too impatient and dig up the seed, though, you will probably kill it.

Do you remember as a child planting grass seed in a cup and waiting impatiently for it to grow? Or maybe you did a science experiment where you put a bean in a clear cup, with cotton to hold it in place and watched the little stringy root emerge and then eventually the tiny baby leaves. It was fascinating to watch the growth occur, but hard to wait for it to happen!
Back to our parable-how does the process of planting seeds relate to our ministries? Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground…” so there must be a relationship.
Planting seeds is a simple process, in itself. The difficulty is in the patience needed while waiting for the sprouts and growth. Ministry is similar and there are similar steps to growing new ministry.
For effective ministry, we prepare the ‘soil’. The soil of ministry starts in our own hearts. In this blog, we’ve looked at some ways to prepare the soil of our hearts. There is giving joyful thanks, worship, and even abandoning our will to God’s. All this prepares our hearts to be fertile and available to the seed of ministry God plants there. Sometimes the preparation of our heart can feel like we are being dug up and turned over like the gardener does with the soil in the garden.
After the ‘soil’ of our heart is ready, God plants the seed of an idea of ministry. A vision of your calling comes to you. It may be a grand plan like studying for ordination or preparing to go into the mission field. It could be just a simple idea of sending cards to shut-ins or taking up a collection for a shelter. Whatever it is, God has planted that seed in your heart.
Then we have to tend the seed while it grows. There is always the temptation to leap into action when you have a vision. You might want to pack for Africa immediately or rush out and start getting donations. However, your seed-your vision needs some tending. You probably need to find out a bit more about what living into that calling will entail. It might be learning what you need to take on a mission trip or visiting the shelter to find out what they really need. You might even need to take some classes.
If your calling and vision of ministry is from God, you will discover that God has been preparing you for this growth and work for a long time. You will probably discover that you have many of the gifts and much of the information needed for the ministry.

Take time to evaluate where you are in the growth process in your call. It might be time to cultivate the soil a bit or maybe it is time to water and tend the seeds until they sprout and you can begin to sense what kind of ‘plant’ you are growing. Be patient and remember My grace is sufficient for you, for power* is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Remember you cannot hurry the growth of a seedling, nor can you hurry the life-cycle of a ministry. Jesus says the farmer, “would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” We’ll look at that next time.

July 8, 2012

Ministry is Sowing Seeds

This year, so far, we have looked at ways we can have the heart for God and of God. Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians and people of Philippi to ‘rejoice, pray, give thanks, and be Spirit filled’ in order to live in the peace of God started off the year during Epiphany. (see the blog posts for January) The ‘peace of God’ is not a quiet corner or an unchanging sameness. Instead, the peace of God is active and challenging.
God’s peace takes us on a journey like those of Dorothy in Oz and Naomi in Moab, which we studied during Lent. (February and March blogs) Even when we think we are lost and cannot find our way home, God provides friends and guidance until we discover there is a new beginning, but we have to let go and fall into God’s arms first.
During Easter-tide we looked at Psalm 100 (April and May postings) as a way to live into that new beginning when we ‘make a joyful noise and worship’ the God we come to know more and more each day. Living into new life often means abandoning many of our preconceived plans and ideas for our life, though. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment as a way to learn how to let go so God can act.
The season of Pentecost is sometimes called Ordinary Time because it’s a time in the church year when there are no big feast days like Christmas or Easter. However, Pentecost is the time in the Church calendar when growth in ministry, both personal and in the Body of Christ can happen. The Festival times of the year can be so busy with the preparations and celebrations, that we can lose sight of living and growing in Christ.
Living as a person ‘after God’s heart’ is God’s ultimate plan, but it is lived out differently by each one of us. It can be easy to say or think “I’m not doing enough because I am not doing x, y, or z like that person who has a great and huge ministry.” However, I recently heard a quote from William Wordsworth: “The best portion of a good man's life - his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love." It’s not necessarily the big pieces of ministry that we do, but the little day-to-day things that show we belong to Christ. Perhaps it is as simple as setting up a pool so children can play in the summer, or offering a smile to a tired check out clerk... 
Ministry is very much like the Parable of the Growing Seed from Mark 4:26-28 which we will be looking at for the next few weeks. We don’t see what’s happening underground, and have to trust that something IS happening. In her Easter letter Katherine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said “I would encourage you to look at where you are finding new life and resurrection, where life abundant and love incarnate are springing up in your lives and the lives of your communities. There is indeed greenness, whatever the season.” Even if you don’t feel like you are ‘doing’ ministry, you are part of the entire ministry of the Body of Christ-the Church of God. 
Read the Parable of the Growing Seed sometime in the next week, just to see if it speaks to you about ministry, then come and check out the blog over the next few weeks as we consider together what seed sowing and growing can teach us about ministry and living as a person after God's heart.

July 1, 2012

Our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor...

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
These words end the Declaration of Independence. The men signing that document in 1776 were taking a giant risk and a giant leap of faith. They believed whole-heartedly that God was calling them into rebellion against England and to form a new nation. They were united in that belief and together pledged themselves to moving forward, knowing that it might claim their lives and their fortunes.
With ‘a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence’ the founders of the United States of America abandoned all that was secure in their lives and stepped out. On this week when we celebrate the 236th anniversary of that action, let us give thanks for the courage and vision of these men.
Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, we Christians are called to abandon all our dreams to God and step out in faith when God calls us to ministry and life. Christians are not solitary workers though. Like the nation’s founders, we ‘mutually pledge’ to support one another in the Baptismal Covenant when we assent to the question: “will you do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?” We also agree together when we recite the creed: “We believe in God…”
If you don’t have a community that you can have fellowship with, I suggest you seek out one. Find two or three (or more) to gather with for study, worship, and fellowship because our Lord promises “when 2 or 3 are gathered, I am in the midst of them.”
(We also offer prayers for all those affected by the tragic wildfires across the West and esp. for those who have lost their homes.)

Next time we’ll start looking at the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29).