|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
March 27, 2011
out a piece of paper and a pencil – I’ve got another quiz for
you today! Last week, for those of you who were not here, I started out
my sermon with a quiz designed to evaluate whether you are a rescuer, a
person who is always out there trying to save the world. Today’s quiz
is a little different. Rather than being a personality test like last week’s,
this quiz will test your knowledge and memory. It comes in two parts of
four questions each, so if you would prefer, you can try to keep the answers
in your heads or you can jot them down on your bulletin somewhere. You will
not be graded on this exam, but please keep your eyes on your own paper!
So let’s begin. Part 1:
1. Name two of the three men who were awarded the Nobel prize for Economic Science last year.
2. Name two Heiseman Trophy winners ….. from the 1990s. (By the way, the Heiseman trophy is given out for college football, if that helps.)
3. Name three directors that won Oscars for any movie made in the 1970s.
4. Name Time magazine’s Person of the Year …. when you were ten years old
I’m guessing that so far there are a lot of blank papers so let’s move on to Part 2 and see if your scores improve.
1. Name two teachers who aided your journey through high school.
2. Name three friends who have helped you through difficult times in the past.
3. Name a person who taught you a new skill.
4. Who was your best friend when you were ten years old?
Our society likes to celebrate achievement, and every sport and discipline
has a form of acknowledging the best of the best. Whether it is the Grammy
Awards or baseball’s MVP, the Pulitzer prize or Forbes richest people
in America list, we regularly trumpet the accomplishments of people at
the top of their profession. We have heated debates with co-workers about
who deserves to win the Wooden Award for best player in college basketball.
We rush home to watch the final episode of “American Idol”.
Winners become instant celebrities: they work the talk show circuit and
grace the covers of magazines, but for all of the excitement, in the short
space of a few years – sometimes just a few months – most
of us won’t even be able to recall their names! The people we do
remember – the people whose faces come readily to our minds and
who easily traverse the decades – are the people who taught us,
the people who loved us, the people who have shaped who we have become.
Part 1 of the quiz is tough because it asks us to remember people who
were flashes of bright light for a mere second in our vision but Part
2 of the quiz is easy because it asks us to remember the people who planted
seeds in our hearts that took root, grew, and blossom still.
Maybe. Maybe some of you had unique mentor-mentee relationships with certain teachers but most of us know that we remember our teachers much better than they remember us because we were just one of hundreds of kids who passed through their doors. And even if they do remember us, they can’t be certain of how many of their lessons really took root, how many of their words live on in us and in other students now grown. How could Mr. Rinefleish, my Driver Ed teacher when I was 17, possibly know that 36 years later I still hear his voice every time I parallel park? Teachers might hope, but they cannot know. All they can do is sow the seeds and trust that something will find fertile soil to grow.
Bishop George Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, once reminded his congregation that even if we cannot always see the results of our work, it doesn’t mean there are no results. He said, “I once sat at a table in Germany with a group of air force chaplains as they relaxed and traded stories about military bases around the world where they had served. It turned out that two of them had served on the same base, one after the other. Naturally, they soon began to play ‘Did you know so-and-so on that base?’ Among the names they knew in common, one couple stood out. The chaplain who had been on that base first described the difficulties and despair those two people had wrestled with. He ended by saying, ‘I worked with them as best I could, but nothing seemed to help. I wonder if they are still together.’
"'Together?' the second chaplain said, ‘You should see them
now. They are the mainstays of our program there, and they speak so highly
of the way your words made a difference in their lives.’".
The sower sowed the seed and it yielded a hundredfold.
“Look at that seed,” he exclaims. “In the end, it will yield 30, 60, even a hundredfold! So don’t give up; keep sowing.
We have probably all heard a million sermons on this parable that focus on the types of soil that Jesus’ describes:
“Are you rocky soil?” the minister asks, “Is your heart as cold as stone? Do you need to clear the thorns out of your life so that God’s word can take root?” I’ve got to confess that when I read this parable, I’m not really captivated by those horticultural questions of proper soil preparation.. What I love in the story is the picture Jesus’ paints of this man striding doggedly across the field sowing his seed with abandon. When he gets to the path where most of us would take a break, he keeps sowing. When the field gets rocky, he doesn’t miss a beat. When the thorns pull at his feet, he strides on, his hand continually reaching into his bag and throwing out that seed. It’s as if he can’t stop sowing; as if he is determined to sow that seed anywhere and everywhere just in case there is a little good soil unseen to the eye where one seed might just take root. See the problem is that we hear this parable and in our mind’s eye, we divide the field up into these neatly defined quadrants – rocks in the north forty, thorns in the south forty, hard path to the west, and nice fertile soil to the east – and then we ask, “Which quadrant do you belong to? but Jesus doesn’t say the field is neatly divided. I mean, the world isn’t neatly divided. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was? “Over there in the north forty, that’s where we keep all of the block heads and there in the south forty are the self-centered greedy types. You’ll want to stay away from that section.” How easily we could sail through life if we had a map showing us where all the good-natured friendly folk live and we could just head that way but the world is a jumble of good and bad. For crying out loud, our own hearts are a jumble of good and bad and if we segregated the world into sections like that, we’d be constantly packing and unpacking as we moved from self-centered to loving to blockhead and back to self-centered again!
So let’s take a close at that field as Jesus might have meant us to see it. The good soil is all mixed in there with the rocks and the thorns and the hard trodden earth, but it doesn’t matter that the field is a mess. That sower is determined to find the good soil wherever it might be hiding. He will sow and sow and sow some more in the hope that even one seed might burrow down into a crevice between some of those hard rocks and find a home where it can grow. And when it does, Jesus promises, its beauty and bounty will make all of the failures fade into insignificance.
Jesus’ parable of the sower tells us to be patient and persistent. Maybe ¾ of what you do won’t make a difference but that ¼ that does will make all the rest worth it. You may not win a Nobel prize or make Forbes top ten list but you might just change the world in ways you can never know, may never even see, because you were stubborn enough to persist in sowing kindness and love in even the most unlikely of conditions.
I want to end with another parable told by John Dillenger in an issue
of the Atlantic Monthly about the days of the great western cattle rancher.
The article said: "[In those days, when the ranchers had a wild horse
they needed to break, they would often harness it to a little burro.]
Bucking and raging, convulsing like drunken sailors, the two would be
turned loose like Laurel and Hardy to proceed out onto the desert range.
They could be seen disappearing over the horizon, the great steed dragging
that little burro along and throwing him about like a bag of cream puffs.
They might be gone for days, but eventually they would come back [and
when they returned,] the little burro would be seen first, trotting back
across the horizon, leading the submissive steed in tow. Somewhere out
there on the rim of the world, that steed would become exhausted from
trying to get rid of the burro, and in that moment, the burro would take
mastery and become the leader. And that is the way it is with the kingdom
and its heroes, isn't it? The battle is to the determined, not to the
outraged; to the committed, not to those who are merely dramatic.”
1. This quiz is based on a quiz that a blogger claimed illustrated the philosophy of Charles Shultz, creator of “Peanuts”. It was not clear whether Shultz himself wrote the original quiz or the blogger. I’ve modified it quite a bit anyway.