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John 21:17

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

October 12, 2007

On sowing

I have a quote on my computer desktop. It's been there so long I don't remember where I got it from originally or who wrote it. I copy it to the new machine whenever I switch computers. It says: The Kingdom expands as a relative minority of people who hear the gospel live it, and in turn, give it away.

I have it there to remind me about a harsh truth of church leadership: Not everyone in the church is as enthusiastic about this Jesus stuff as I am.

I make a lot of offers to people in my ministry. I bet you do too. And I am constantly astonished at how many of them don't respond, or make excuses, or feel guilty, or avoid me forever afterwards. Heck, I think a few people have even left the church after I have asked them to get involved in ministry.

I have never been able to get used to this, no matter how many years I minister. I have never been able to just shrug it off, to not take it personally. I feel great sorrow, every time, for the people I encounter in church who choose not to engage their lives with Jesus.

It hurts when they decline to take that first step, again and again and again. It hurts when they begin well but fall away. It hurts to hear, over and over again, how busy people are or else they would get right in there and do something with Jesus. It hurts, you know? And there are times when I just want to chuck it all, and say, in a more colorful way than this: “Forget it. I am so tired of the hassle, I don't even want to ask that next person.” I mean, there are many days when I don't want to come alongside the person who's just blown me off, or reneged on a promise or not shown up. I just want to write them off.

Every time it happens, it makes it that much harder to go out there the next time and try again. So I look at my computer. The Kingdom expands as a relative minority of people who hear the gospel live it, and in turn, give it away.

I recently read a commentary by St. Francis of Assisi in which he talks about the parable of the sower (Luke 8:4–15). Some seed falls on the path and gets trampled. Some falls on hard rock and is not nourished. Some gets choked out by weeds. But a bit of it gets into the good soil and produces abundantly. St. Francis says, hey, think about this parable from another perspective. What if the sower just said to himself, “You know, I'm not going to sow at all. Look how much seed I waste. So much of it never germinates. Look at how much sprouts and then dies soon afterwards And what about my own skill and motivation for sowing? I'm not that good at it and my reasons for sowing are not always pure. It is just not worth it to keep sowing this seed. Forget it. I'm going home and getting out of the seed sowing business.”

“What would happen then?” St. Francis asks.

What would happen is there would be no good seed sprouting either. No yields that multiply greatly. No harvest. When the sowing stops, none of the stuff that depends on it happens. St. Francis said, look, when you sow, don't worry about all the seed that doesn't make it, either because you're not doing a good job sowing or because of circumstances beyond your control. If you sow, he says, you will get a harvest. You will get most of your seed back. And who knows what will come of it?

Eventually, things beyond what you had hoped for will come of it. Because that's how the Kingdom works. Jesus keeps telling us that over and over. The Kingdom is like the tiny mustard seed. The Kingdom is like the small amount of yeast that gets mixed into the dough. The Kingdom is like the seed that ended up in the good soil “and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than what was sown.”

It is worth it to be in ministry with Jesus. It is worth it to keep sowing. Some days it doesn't seem that way, after we've beat our heads against the wall for what seems like the millionth time and we don't see results. But the Kingdom is a mysterious place. Some of the seed does end up in the good soil, and in turn produces an abundant harvest. In the end, it is worth it to be the sower.

The Kingdom expands as a relative minority of people who hear the gospel live it, and in turn, give it away.


A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.

Luke 8:5-7