I’ve loved comics since I was about six or seven years old.
My dad used to bring home issues of the Incredible Hulk from time-to-time. He would come home after work, lean around the doorframe of my room and just say, “Here, buddy,” and hand me a new one. I loved those old books. Part of it was because of the bond between me and my dad, but also because I loved reading those stories. Bruce Banner, Betty Ross, Rick Jones… the list of characters goes on and on. I didn’t have many, just whatever my dad brought home, but it was the beginning of a life-long love of comics. I still remember the one book that got me hooked into comic book collecting though. It was Uncanny X-Men #147. Rogue Storm. I was fascinated by these X-Men and wanted to read more, so slowly I began collecting older issues which led me to more issues and more interesting stories, and pretty soon, I was visiting my local comic book shop every week with my dad. And that’s where I learned there were actually two types of collectors – people like me who read the books and people who plopped them in plastic bags for the sole purpose of collecting them. They wanted to say that their issues were “pressed steamed mint” meaning they had never been opened so the perceived value would be even higher. These guys would come into the store and just walk down the new comic book aisle, picking up one of every issue, and immediately place them into plastic bags and put them into a storage box. And there they would sit. In a bag, in a box, on a shelf. Neatly labeled, but for no real purpose. Never read or opened, but sitting there useless. I know these collectors thought one day they might be worth lots of money, but when the bottom dropped out of the comic book market, they were left with boxes upon boxes of useless comics. And they never even got to enjoy them. When we fail to act on our faith, it becomes like these comic books – put away on a shelf, never living out its real purpose. But that was never the purpose. God didn’t share his thoughts, his words, and the life of his son for us to put that knowledge away on a shelf never to be used. He gave it to us so we could do something with it.
We often feel unprepared, unworthy, and ill equipped to do the work God has called us to do.
But that’s because of our own lack of faith instead of an actual inability to do the work, because the work of God is more about attitude instead of aptitude. The work of God is more about attitude than aptitude. Jesus talks about that in the parable we are going to share this morning, so if you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to the Gospel of Mark, chapter 4, verses 1-9. Mark 4:1-9. This story we are about to hear from Jesus is known as the Parable of the Sower and it’s one you’ve likely heard before if you’ve been in church for any length of time. You could read it from two different perspectives – as the seed or as the sower. As the seed, Jesus is calling on us to be responsive to his Word; to be the ones planted in good soil that produce a crop, but as the sower we have a different perspective. As we read the passage, I want you to picture yourself in the story as the sower that Jesus talks about, and picture in your mind that this is a task God empowers us to do.
Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.” 9 Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
The Word of God for the people of God and the people said, “Thanks be to God.” Please be seated.
You are the sower.
YOU are the sower. The seeds that God is referring to are the bits of knowledge and wisdom that we have gained from listening, reading, and studying God’s Word. They are part of the fruit that he produces in us. Now it’s our turn to use those seeds to grow new fruit, which will produce even more of a harvest for God. But without us spreading his seeds, for certain no new fruit can be grown and the harvest ends with us. Without us spreading his seeds, no new fruit can be grown and the harvest ends with us. We are important to God’s plan. But even if you are a farmer, you may not necessarily be skilled at planting THESE kinds of seeds and that lack of knowledge might make you timid. You don’t want to waste your seed. You don’t want people to think you’re foolish. All of these things play into our minds as we think about becoming the kind of farmers God wants us to be. But in this parable, Jesus is encouraging us to plant everywhere. We cannot become better harvesters if we don’t ever plant a crop. We can’t tell which kind of soil will work and what won’t unless we try. We learn best by DOING. We listen to those who have had success. We formulate a plan by evaluating our tools and our seed. But ultimately, we still have to go out and plant them. The point Jesus is making here is about our faithfulness to the planting process. When we do what we are supposed to, sure some of the seeds will fall on bad soil, whether it’s rocky, or hard, or choked by weeds, but the ones that land on good soil produce such an amazing harvest that it makes the effort all worth it.
But you still have to farm the land and here’s why.
People who aren’t Christian aren’t walking around saying to themselves, “Oh, I wish I were Christian.” “If I were Christian, my whole life would be better! If only someone would show me how to BE a Christian!” No. Most people are not simply one step away from accepting Christ. Most people don’t know that they need Jesus and are just looking for someone to show them the way. For the most part, they’re walking around thinking life is pretty good – or not. Some are happy, some are sad, but they don’t KNOW that there’s another kind of life waiting for them. They don’t know that there is a whole different kind of existence when you have Christ in your life. They don’t know how GOOD it can be! It’s like Indian food. There’s nothing like a good bowl of dal or a good pot of chicken tikka masala and there are times I CRAVE, absolutely CRAVE masala dosa. I’ve searched all over the Central Valley and haven’t found one restaurant that has it. Cassie and I will make a point of going to Little India when we visit my parents just to eat it. But before I TRIED Indian food, I never knew what I was missing. I could take it or leave it, and honestly I preferred to leave it. I never had it, never saw it, never smelled it, and frankly never wanted it. I was happy enough in my life without it and I wasn’t all that interested in trying something new, but when Cassie asked me to I loved it! I wish I hadn’t waited so long to try it, and I always encourage people to eat it. If you like Chinese food or just kind of spicy food, you’ll love the flavors of Indian food. But had Cassie not come along and invited me to try it, I would have lived life perfectly happy, not knowing what I was missing. Christianity is like that. It’s this awesome, incredible, wonderful part of life that makes life more meaningful and more worth living, but unless you know you need it, you can just go on without it.
That’s why it’s so important for us to take up our seed bags and sow our seeds.
Because we have the power to change lives. Through God’s grace and God’s love, we have the power to change lives. And it doesn’t take any more knowledge or power than what God has already given you. Think about the ways in which God has changed your life. Think about the difference God has made in the way you live. Think about how you approach life differently because God is a part of it. Those are the seeds you have to share. Biblical knowledge is great and you should be encouraged to involve yourself in growing deeper in your faith, but if you’re waiting to have “enough” Biblical knowledge to answer every question or counter every argument, you’ll never get there. Learning about God is a lifelong project. You won’t graduate in this life. But you have enough to share your faith, whether you believe it or not. You have enough. The seeds God has put in your pouch are enough. Now who are you going to share them with?
I know that fear is a big part of not sharing your faith.
Fear of failure, fear of being inadequate, fear of your own knowledge – but fear should never stop you from planting seeds. In fact, it should do just the opposite. It should inspire you and encourage you and motivate you to go out there anyway. Fear of the number of lives you fail to change because you chose NOT to share your faith. Fear of what God will say when you die and he asks you what you did with your faith. Fear of knowing you had the power to change people’s lives and didn’t do it. I was visiting with a woman at one of the churches I served, and I’ll never forget the story she told me. She said that although she went to church every week and it was important to her, she didn’t want to force her faith on her children. She wanted them to choose for themselves what path they would follow. So after they reached a certain age, she didn’t encourage them to come to church. She let them choose. So naturally, given no other incentive, they chose to stay home. They chose to go out with friends. They chose a life away from God. And they often floundered in life, struggling with fear, worry, anxiety, and insecurity. Later in life, her daughter started to come to church again. In it, she found many of the answers that had eluded her for so long. One day, she asked her mother why it was she never shared about her faith. When her mother told her she wanted her to find out for herself, the daughter said, “I wish you had told me all of this years ago. You should have told me why you believed. If it was that important to you and to me, you should have told me why you believed. It would have saved me from years of pain and frustration.” Her story really touched my heart. While I do believe ultimately we have to choose whether or not to follow God, how can we choose when we don’t even know what the choices are? Is our lack of faith that profound that we can’t even share it with those closest to us? Fear shouldn’t hold you back. Fear should make you stronger and bolder in your faith.
Be bold in your faith.
You may not have all the answers, but no one does. Not me, not you, not any one except God. So if you’re waiting to be “ready” you’ll never get there. Like riding a bike, like learning to walk, like planting seeds, like anything in life we gain knowledge in the doing. Some of our seeds may land on infertile ground, but we learn from it. Some of our seeds may start to bloom and then wither under the weeds, but we learn from it. Some of our seeds might get taken away, but we learn from it and in each instance we learn how to be better at sharing our faith. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. If fear is holding you back, it’s because you don’t fear the consequences enough to do something about it. And if you feel like you’ve tried and failed, just remember, the one who plants the seeds isn’t always the one who harvests them. The one who plants the seeds isn’t always the one who harvests them. Don’t be frustrated in your attempts. Don’t worry that you don’t see fruit right away. There are plants that take years to harvest. The fig trees that Jesus always seems to be talking about take anywhere from three to five years to produce any figs. A traditional apple tree can take anywhere from six to seven years to give any fruit. And olive trees can give fruit as early as three and sometimes as late as 12 years. You might be the one to plant the seed, but it might take a team of people to finally harvest it. So do not be discouraged by a lack of results, but instead be faithful to the planting process. It’s the planting of the seeds that honors God. If we don’t share our faith, it’s like putting a comic book into a bag without ever reading it. An unread comic is a wasted comic. An unsowed seed is a wasted seed. And a life without Christ is really no life at all. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.