Paula Northwood March 24, 2019
Scripture 2 Corinthians 9:6–15
I had the incredible good fortune to be birthed by farmers. There are few things more magical than to place a seed, often tiny, in the moist, dark earth and have new life sprout forth. From my parents, I learned that from a tiny, tiny black seed would flourish a beautiful array of morning glories. I saw that what looked like a shriveled-up pea, when planted, would produce peas, or a seed that looked like a hard kernel of dried corn would produce a six-foot stalk with as many as two or three ears of corn.
I noticed how most seeds needed to be buried in the earth to grow, while others, like dandelion and milkweeds, would fly and land like little parachutists. I would dig up seeds just to understand how the seed would split open and sacrifice its life to put forth a tiny sprout that magically reached for the sun. How did the sprout know which way was up or down? I performed several plant experiments. Most were absolutely amazing, but I was disappointed with one. Planting a nickel and a dime did not produce a money tree . . . not even a money plant!
In our continuing sermon series on the Purposes of the Church, we move to the section titled “Beyond.” And it reads: God’s creation benefits from our love lived out in the world. We invest out time, talent and treasure consistent with our values.
In our text this morning, the Apostle Paul is addressing the early church community about how they are investing their resources, and he uses the metaphor of planting seeds. It is a good image that invites us to think about how we invest our time, talent and treasure consistent with our values.
I’ve titled this sermon “Sowing Wild Oats” because I think that, unless we intentionally think about the seeds that we are sowing, we are scattering wild oats aimlessly, with correspondingly aimless results. You may have heard of the Rumspringa, a period when some Amish and conservative Mennonite teenagers, boys more than girls, experience greater freedom or sow some wild oats. During this time their parents relinquish some of their control on weekends. Because the youth are not yet baptized, they are not yet under the authority of the church.
Many of their exploits have been exaggerated, and, in reality, just a few experiment with worldly activities like buying a car, going to movies, wearing non-Amish clothes and buying a television. A fling with worldliness reminds Amish youth that they have a choice regarding church membership and the Amish way of life. Knowing they have a choice strengthens their decision, if they choose to live the Amish way. It’s a tangible way to understand how they sow different seeds by the way they choose to live.
It’s not only youth who need to sow some wild oats from time to time. Two older women were sitting on a park bench outside the local town hall where a flower show was in progress. One woman leaned over and said, “Life is so boring! We never have any fun anymore! For $50, I’d take my clothes off and streak through that flower show.” “You’re on!” said the other women, holding up a $50 bill. As fast as she could, the first lady fumbled her way out of her clothes and, completely naked, streaked through the front door of the flower show. Waiting outside, her friend soon heard a huge commotion inside the hall, followed by loud applause. The naked lady burst through the door surrounded by a cheering crowd. “What happened?” asked her waiting friend. “You won’t believe it . . . I won first prize for Best Dried Arrangement!”
Some of you might remember back when Vivian Jones was a minister at Plymouth, a man streaked through this very sanctuary on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we have more to worry about than streakers entering our sanctuary.
But more seriously, what kind of seeds has Plymouth planted over the years? And were they consistent with the church’s values? Some may have wondered whether the seeds planted were random or pointless wild ideas at the time. Early in Plymouth’s history, the church started Pillsbury House for educating immigrants, which has expanded into the current Pillsbury United Communities, with a variety of programs throughout the city. This church created an interfaith housing nonprofit, now called Beacon. This church started and supported the Plymouth Music Series, now called VocalEssence. We started, with the help of other congregations, Groveland Food Shelf and Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness—just to name a few.
As a church, we invest our money in socially responsible ways, and the Board of Finance and Administration takes this very seriously. They review our investments twice a year. We give between 12 and 15 percent of our treasure to worthy causes and nonprofits in our neighborhood, and we support two international programs in India and Sierra Leone.
Innumerable volunteer hours of our time are shared with causes consistent with our values. We volunteer at Third Sunday Meal, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, Simpson Shelter, Lydia Apartments, Nicollet Square, Great River Landing, Sew Good Goods, Whittier School, 100 Hands and many other ways and places. Many of you use your talents to provide music, art and mentoring. Others make their voices heard in our community through supporting legislation consistent with our values.
Our practice of investing our time, talent and treasure consistent with our values is well executed, I think. I am proud of the way this church has lived its values and continues to take them seriously and grapple with difficult issues as they arise.
Returning to our text this morning, the Apostle Paul is sending some members to Corinth to receive a monetary collection that has been pledged. The concept of pledging is an old one that we continue to practice. We know this from the preceding verses. Paul deliberately avoids using any financial words to describe the collection and uses the Greek word eulogeia, which literally means a blessing but, in this context, means a freely given gift. Generous and pledged giving is born from a heart touched by grace.
Paul is reminding them not just that “you reap what you sow” but also that if you sow sparingly, you reap sparingly. He is encouraging them to be generous and reminding them that God loves a cheerful giver. At first glance, it may read as a bit manipulative, but I think he is encouraging a spiritual practice of abundance and generosity. He is emphasizing that how much a faith community shares their time, their treasure or resources matters—quality and quantity, in other words, not one versus the other.
So far we have been examining the church, but churches are made up of individuals. How do you measure up? Are you making choices that reflect your values? Are you making enough of these choices, trusting in abundance from God as a return on your generosity?
I have heard people say, “I don’t have the time to volunteer, so I give money.” Or “I volunteer my time to help those in need,” or “I use my talents to raise funds for philanthropic causes, so I don’t really have to give my money. People wealthier than me can do that.” But Paul wants us to know that it’s a “both/and,” not an “either/or.”
Imagine that Bill Gates was trying to discern how he could make the world a better place. How would you react if he concluded that, instead of investing a single dollar, he would spend one week each year in Mexico, shovel in hand, digging latrines for people who have no toilets? One of the wealthiest men in the world, with a net worth greater than $50 billion and phenomenal business skills, deciding that the best way he can help is by shoveling dirt for seven days a year.
Of course, most of us do not have access to this kind of treasure, so we focus on our time and talent. I think many of you are making good use of both. But if this pricks your conscience, or you find yourself feeling a bit defensive, take a closer look at where you are spending your time, your talent and your resources.
How much of your time is screen time? How much money spent on stuff that doesn’t really “spark joy”? You may have heard of Marie Kondo, famous simplicity advocate, who asks us, in our materialistic culture, to examine our stuff. If it doesn’t bring joy, let it go. Or what talents have you set aside because you don’t have time? How are you sowing your seeds? Are enough of your daily choices consistent with your values?
In the Middle Ages, Meister Eckhart wrote, “God’s seed is in us. If it were tended by a good, wise and industrious laborer, it would then flourish all the better, and would grow up to God, whose seed it is, and its fruits would be like God’s own nature. The seed of a pear tree grows into a pear tree, the seed of a nut tree grows to be a nut tree, the seed of God grows to be God.”
We are not just made in God’s image: “God’s seed is in us, itching, itching to grow.” And we, who are seeking to grow spiritually are asked to turn our face to the son and follow in Jesus’ steps. If we seek to grow as God’s children, we come to see with new eyes.
More and more people are arriving in this church seeking a space of sanity, compassion, dialogue, support, integrity, spiritual depth, responsible freedom and respect for the human spirit. We, as a church, have been a light in the past, are a beacon in the present and, with the help of God, will be a blessing to the future.
How well we will do that is in your hands—in your time, your talent and your treasure. We are planting free, deep and wise spirits to grow into the future; we are cultivating our own spirits to be equal to our times. That has always been and will always be our calling. We were made for these times. We are forged in the same crucible of history that has forged this moment. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Is sharing of your time, talent and treasure consistent enough with your values? If not, what can you vow to do differently? What new seeds do you aspire to plant this spring?
We live in a troubled and broken world, and, as Christians, we are called to participate in its healing. It doesn’t mean giving it more time to see what happens, but rather we are to give our time, our talents and our treasure—not just our well wishes and good intentions, not just our hopes and prayers, but action: faith in action. I invite you to a greater generosity of all that you are and all that you have.
We are, in truth and love, made for these times. May it be so. Amen.