It was the end of August in 1979. I was a 19-year-old fisherman on the herring seiner Rali 2 out of Paspébiac, Quebec. Don’t ask why a crew from Saint John and Grand Manan were crewing a seiner from Quebec, it’s a long story.
We had spent the summer in the Bay of Fundy and that season was over, so we had returned to Quebec to fish in the Gaspe before heading to Newfoundland for the fall.
The herring had been running and we were excited about our prospects when we received word that the department of fisheries had cut the quota in that area for a week. That seemed to be the story of the summer, if we had market we had no fish, if we had fish we had no market if we had both the DFO stepped in and we had no quota.
We were told the restrictions would be lifted in a week or so and we decided to go home for that week.
On Sunday, September 2nd, my best friend invited me to attend church with him, actually pestered me, nagged me cajoled me would be more accurate, but whatever.
And so that Sunday evening I found myself at First Wesleyan Church in Saint John New Brunswick. The second time I had been in a church service in 7 years.
The pastor, Jack McKenzie, was on vacation and a student from Bethany Bible College, Bob Coulotte was filling in for him.
I don’t recall what Bob preached on that night, but at the end of the service, I found myself committing my life to Christ and feeling a call to full-time ministry.
And it was completely unexpected. When I told people that I had become a Christian and that I was going to Bible college, they looked at me like I had said I had become a Martian.
There was no context, I wasn’t a churchgoer, I had expressed no interest in spiritual things, I wasn’t seeking God.
At nineteen if I was anything I was a hedonist.
Which is defined in the Collins English Dictionary as: Hedonist: Someone who believes that having pleasure is the most important thing in life.
My philosophy was when I got too old for wine women and song, I’d give up singing.
Although if you asked me, I probably wouldn’t have defined myself as a hedonist because as Mason Cooley once said “The philosophy of hedonism means little to lovers of pleasure. They have no inclination to read philosophy, or to write it.”
So, while I may not have identified as a hedonist, I was a hedonist.
But regardless of my philosophy of life, most people who knew me would say that my life took a 180-degree turn that night, and it was completely unexpected.
This is week three of our “Stories” series here at Cornerstone. And for the next couple of months as a staff, we are focusing on Stories told by Jesus. His parables. And Jesus really was a master storyteller.
I began two weeks ago telling the story of a found treasure, last week Deborah told the story of the workers in the vineyard and this week’s story was summed up in the scripture that was read earlier. It is sometimes known as “The Parable of the Growing Seed”.
It is the story of a small seed that was sown, flourished, and eventually bore a harvest. But for the man who sowed the seed, the process remained a mystery.
Jesus told his listeners in Mark 4:27 Night and day, while he (the farmer) is asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. Sounds like a mystery to me.
But the farmer had been doing it for years even if he didn’t completely understand how it happened, he knew it happened.
But was it really a mystery?
So let’s start with Mark 4:26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”
The first thing that needs to be noted is that The Ground was Prepared
I know that it doesn’t say that the ground was prepared, but it does say that the man was a farmer.
I’m not a farmer and I’m not a gardener, but any stretch of the imagination, I would be the person who would simply go out and spread seed on soil that hadn’t been prepared and then wonder why it didn’t grow.
On the other hand, Angela loves to garden, and I love Angela so there have been times that I have been called on to prepare the soil for her to plant her seeds in.
And you prepare the soil by removing any rocks, and breaking the soil up and tearing out the weeds and mixing in the fertilizer and eventually the soil is ready to plant in.
The hero of our story probably pulled the rocks out by hand and tilled the ground with a hoe and mixed in manure from his animals. Perhaps if he was a successful farmer with a lot of land he may have used a donkey or an ox to pull a plough to prepare the soil.
But regardless of the how we have to assume that since he was a farmer that he took the time to prepare the soil.
He understood that in order for the seed to grow there would need to be work done before the seeds were planted. And if you weren’t around for the preparation of the soil you might watch the farmer sowing his seed and not realize the work that had already gone into the process.
Very seldom do you hear about a person who had never heard the gospel suddenly embracing the claims of Christ.
The night that I was became a Christ Follower was only the second time I had been in a church service in 7 years. And both of those times were under duress.
But, I remember my parents having bedtime prayers with me when I was little, I remember as a child going to Sunday School at the Salvation Army when we were living in Germany and at the Baptist church when we were living outside of Fredericton.
I remember going to Vacation Bible School when we were vacationing on Grand Manan in the summer. I think my parents saw it as free childcare, but regardless of their motives, I was there. At the Wesleyan VBS, the Baptist VBS and the Pentecostal VBS.
When I was in my early teens a neighbour invited me to attend Christian Service brigade at Rothesay Baptist Church, I think I was their project that year.
And while those events didn’t seem to make a major difference in my life, the soil was being prepared.
Solomon tells us in Proverbs 22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.
Sometimes we wonder “Why?” when we don’t see immediate fruit, but the soil is being prepared. In the parable, the chances of the seed germinating and growing would have been drastically reduced if the farmer hadn’t taken the time to prepare the soil in advance.
And the chance of a person coming to faith is exponentially increased if the soil was prepared when they were young. Don’t give up on that person you love. To paraphrase Solomon, “Do your best when they are young and pray for the best when they are older.”
But it wasn’t enough that the farmer had prepared the soil.
Mark 4:26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”
The second thing we discover here was The Seed Was Sown
If the farmer had of prepared the soil but never planted anything, all of his work would have been in vain. The purpose of preparing the soil was to plant the seed.
Different times through the Gospels Jesus used “Seeds” as an illustrative device. And the seed represents an invitation to accept the grace of Jesus, an invitation to join the Kingdom of God.
And there are different ways to plant a seed. We had our lawn over seeded this spring and they spread the seed willy nilly with a broadcast spreader. But when Angela planted her carrots and beans this spring she planted each seed individually.
But regardless of how the seeds are planted they need to be planted.
I have heard people say they are just going to live their lives for Jesus, let their light shine and let God take care of the rest. But there is no seed being sown. You live your life for Jesus and let your light shine and people will just think you are a really nice person.
I mentioned that the night I became a Christian that I don’t remember what the preacher said, and I don’t. Except for a sermon illustration he used, I remember that, and that has been a valuable lesson for me as a preacher. Sermon illustrations are important, they might be the only thing a person remembers of the sermon.
But the seed was sown by my best friend who had become a believer the year before. And Reg shared the gospel with me several times without success. I brushed him off and told him maybe later, said I’d think about it. But I really wasn’t all that interested.
But he didn’t quit.
God’s word promises us in Isaiah 55:11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.
And Reg believed that he believed that if he kept sowing seeds some of it would take.
There is a great story told about John Wesley’s mother Susanna. She and her husband Samuel had 19 children, 10 of who lived. A small family, Susanna was actually the 25th of 25 children.
And she home schooled all ten of her children. Boys and girls learned to read and write, as well as mathematics, Greek and Latin and an appreciation for the classics. She didn’t think a child should have lessons until they turned five, but the day after their fifth birthday lessons began. Beginning with learning their alphabet, which she expected them to learn on the first day. And 8 of her children did that, she considered the other two kind of slow.
The story is that her husband had the curiosity to sit by one day and count while she repeated the same lesson to one child over and over ” I wonder at your patience” he said, “you have told that child twenty times that same thing.”
“Yes” she answered, “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times, I should
have lost all my labour. It was the twentieth time that crowned it.”
If Reg had of quit telling me about Jesus after the first or third or fifth time I wonder what would have happened? But he was faithful and that night when he invited me to church, once again, instead of coming up with an excuse I accepted. And that night Bob preached and extended an invitation to come forward to accept to Christ and I didn’t go forward. And the service finished, and people were leaving, and Reg looked at me and asked, “Do you want to go forward and talk to God about becoming a Christian?” And I said “Yes”.
What if he hadn’t asked? What if he just thought, “Well he had the chance, and he didn’t take it, maybe next time.”
The soil had been prepared and the seed had been sown.
But there more to the story of the seed than simply the preparation of the soil and the sowing of the seed.
Let’s go back to the story, Mark 4:26-28 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally, the grain ripens.”
It’s here we discover that Stuff Happened
Between the sowing and the reaping stuff happened, in this case, it was good stuff.
The sun shined just the right amount, it rained just the right amount and the seed grew and boll weevils or locust didn’t come along and eat the tender shoots.
Our first summer out of Bible College we took a position in Up State New York, close to the Quebec and Ontario border. The town was surrounded by farms. That summer it seemed to rain a little bit each night and the sun shone every day and all the farmers and gardeners had bumper crops. We know because we were given more zucchini then I’d ever seen before in my entire life.
For a crop to grow it needs sunshine and it needs rain.
Sometimes we get bummed out over rain. Last year I got to visit a land where it never rained, where the sun always shined, and the skies were not cloudy all day. Here’s a picture. Yep, that’s called the desert.
If the farmer had of prepared the soil and planted the seed and that summer had turned into a drought or the wettest summer they had ever seen there might have been no harvest.
And the farmer had no control over either one of those things.
The ground can be prepared, and the seed can be sown but sometimes there still doesn’t seem to be any results.
During the year before I became a Christ follower, there were things that were happening that I didn’t know about, and probably wouldn’t have appreciated if I did know about them. I was on a number of prayer lists at Bethany Bible College and at Saint John First I had become a regular prayer request.
And the change I saw evidenced in the life of my best friend that year was helping the seed to grow. I remember going to Sussex one night to visit Reg at the college. And on my way home I stopped at my favourite Auntie, who was a believer. And I told her “I don’t understand it, I have a good job, a nice car, everything I can ask for and I’m miserable. Reg can’t even afford to pay attention and he’s happy”
And she said, “Maybe you need what he has.” To which I replied, “No, pretty sure that’s not it.”
And that year I didn’t run into any Christians who acted like jerks. And God worked in my heart.
I’ve mentioned before that was the year I was introduced to both “Jesus Christ Super Star” and “God Spell” and they presented Jesus to me in a way that spoke to me. And I know there are all kinds of theological problems with Super Star and God Spell. But I didn’t know that in 1979, all I knew what that they showed me a Jesus that I kind of liked. And the mystery is that the seed that was sown by my best friend was watered and nurtured by all kinds of different things.
The farmer didn’t understand all the things that made the seed grow, he knew that he couldn’t control everything, like the sun and the rain.
But there were things he could control. He could pull weeds, he could work at keeping critters from eating the plants. If need be he might have even been able to water his plants if there wasn’t enough rain.
When we’ve shared the gospel with people, we can never completely understand what happens in their hearts. We don’t know their history and the baggage they might carry. But we can do our part to not be jerks and to show them the love of Christ. And let God do his part.
Mark 4:29 “And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”
And finally, There was a Harvest
At the end of the day, the farmer harvested what he had sown. And it wasn’t a one to one process, instead, that one seed produced a plant that had many seeds.
When I was teaching “Strategies for Church Planting” at Kingswood I would ask my students what an apple seed was supposed to produce. And they would say apples. Well no, an apple seed doesn’t produce an apple, it produces an apple tree which in turn produces an apple orchard.
There is a warning that Paul gives to the Galatian church that is also a promise. Galatians 6:7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. The warning, of course, is that bad behaviour and bad choices result in bad consequences. But the promise, of course, is that You will always harvest what you plant.
Gertrude Stein once wrote, “A vegetable garden, in the beginning, looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.”
The kingdom of God exists because the ground was prepared, seeds were planted and eventually, believers were the harvest. But not just a believer. Remember the fruit of the apple seed isn’t an apple it’s an apple tree and eventually an apple orchard.
The fruit of the seed that Reg Thomas planted wasn’t a Christian, it was 38 years of ministry. It was each person I have led to the Lord either personally or through my preaching, and each person they have led to the Lord.
There are people here who are the fruit of that seed that Reg began to sow a year before I made a commitment.
And maybe you are sitting there thinking, “So what? What does that have to do with me?”
Well, Jesus told those who followed him 2000 years ago, Luke 6:43-44 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs never grow on thornbushes, nor grapes on bramble bushes. And today, July 22, 2018 trees are still identified by their fruit, and part of the fruit is seeds.
Each one of you will plant seeds of some kind, and while you might not have control over what happens once you’ve sown the seed, you will choose what type of seed you are going to sow.
And after you sow the seed it’s simple, love God, love others and don’t be a Jerk.
God speaking through the prophet Hosea tells us in Hosea 10:12 I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love.”
And so let me leave you with the words of Paul to the Corinthians 2 Corinthians 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.
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