[In the audio podcast of this service, the sermon begins at 9 min 30 secs.]
The two of us were sitting in her office in the convent. It was an ordinary day. The white room was decorated by a little religious art with haoloed heads. Though her office furniture was sparse, the chairs were comfortable. I was a young, solo pastor in Sussex County; she was a 60ish Reverend Mother of her Vails Gate, NY Episcopalian convent. I don’t remember what I was saying; but I do remember what she said. I was blathering on to this guru seeking insight into leadership for she was my spiritual director. The only thing extraordinary was her comment on spiritual leadership. She stated:
Over time I’ve decided that all I can offer my people is my own burning desire to grow.
Yeah! That’s all I can offer you. That’s all you can offer your grand/kids or your work or school mates. Your own burning desire to grow! That desire propelled NBRC to allow me to take a sabbatical from tomorrow for a month. In essence, that’s what the last NBRC historical period of which I’m preaching, 1987-1994, was about: GROWTH.
So how do you/we let God grow us? That’s one of the most important life questions!
So Jesus was probably walking down a country lane lined with wheat when he stooped to touch the growing crop and compared his kingdom with growing seeds. Read with me his story (v. 26-28…). What’s Jesus saying here? That it’s the nature of God’s kingdom to grow. The nature of the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, both of which are included in God’s kingdom. But sometimes we don’t know how it happens.
For if we did we could make God’s kingdom grow. Sort of like make your husband come to church. How is that working for ya? If we knew just the right techniques to make the kingdom grow then we’d be in charge, not God. But Jesus is teaching here not to make growth, but to let growth happen. As Jesus said before our job is just to scatter seeds, and let God grow the crop which good seed naturally produces.
So in the Nordstrom period we see God growing North Branch church. Between 1987 and 1994 the NBRC membership grew by about 20% and the attendance grew by about 40%! How many of you were here during this explosive period of growth? It’s interesting that Helene reported to me once that Peter Nordstrom was somewhat mystified by the growth here. He said, I did the same things at my last church but somehow the Holy Spirit blessed them more here. the seed… he does not know how. And because of the people growth we needed to add a second floor to our education wing so that we grew from here to here. An exciting time!
Even though Jesus says that like Peter Nordstrom we do not know how, we do know one thing. Though we must let growth happen, it is most likely to happen, both for churches and for individuals, when we scatter good seed. NBRC scattered good seed.
First, there was the spiritual seed of teaching and preaching the WORD. Two of Peter’s primary gifts were preaching and teaching God’s Word. Lou LaFazia told me once that Peter tried to include 7 different elements in every sermon for different personalities: thinkers, feelers, doers, intuitives… what the 7 were, Lou didn’t remember.
Secondly, there was the financial seed of TITHING. Though Art Hodges’ story actually preceded Peter’s time here, Art’s $300K gift was instrumental in building this second story. As I understand it, Art owned some acreage that he sold for development, and he honored God by tithing, giving 10% of it to kingdom work. Apparently Art was honored at a dinner when he answered why such a generous gift? with the simple response, My mother taught me to tithe to the Lord. That’s just how I was raised.
Lastly, there was the people seed of YOUTH MINISTRY. Andre Daley and Lou LaFazia really developed the youth ministry. Lou was our first full-time, ordained Pastor of Youth and Education. In his tenure from 1992-2001 the church grew from 2 youth groups to 4, and added Children and Worship. This church became known around the neighborhood for her passion for kids. We passed on the torch of faith in Jesus!
So based on the good seed sown in the past, how do we let God grow us today? Pick one type of the following seed and scatter it this week in the soil of your soul. Is it:
Spiritual seed? How might you let the seed of God’s Word germinate in your heart? Will you pick up a devotional at the door and read one a day? Will you read a chapter in the book of John each day this month? Will you find one of our 15 groups to support and pray for you? Will you read a children’s Bible story with your kids. Sow faith seeds.
Financial seed? How might you grow in the joy of generosity? How might you grow towards living out the values that you are professing today by giving more generously to God’s cause? What seed money might you give towards, say, NBRC’s youth ministry?
People seed? To what degree is your faith and values being passed on at home? At school? At work? At church? The torch of faith flickers every generation, will it burn brightly in this one? How many more kids/adults can we reach for Jesus?
As I go off to my Part A Sabbatical (Part B is next summer) from tomorrow for a month, I am anticipating God’s growth in my life. This summer can be a mini-sabbatical for you, too, if we grow in scattering one type of seed (spiritual, financial or people) this summer. As for the WORD seed we have great preaching lined up for the next four weeks including our favorites Mark and David with our less frequent favorites Elder Paul Soskey next week on his Ghana trip, and Elder Ed Staats.
God, we offer you our burning desire to grow, Amen.
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