Words & Deeds Part 1: "They Matter"
"Soil, Seeds, and Sowers": a Reflection on Isaiah 55:10-13, Psalm 65:9-13, Romans 8:1-11, and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
John Ortberg, the former pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, recalls this story:
FTT—my wife first introduced me to those initials. Nancy was a nurse when I first met her. There were many parts of nursing for which she did not care. But she loved diagnosis…of all the diagnoses, I ever heard her discuss, FTT is the one that sticks in my mind. Those initials would go on the chart of an infant who, often for unknown reasons, was unable to gain weight or grow.
Failure to thrive.
I didn’t know why it struck me as so unspeakably sad until I read Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, a book that has affected me more than any book other than the Bible…Dallas writes that although we have tended to think of the word salvation as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment, it actually has a much more robust meaning for the writers of Scripture: “the simple and wholly adequate word for salvation in the New Testament is ‘life.’ ‘I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.’”
This is the human condition. FTT.
Thrive is a life word; a word full of shalom. Thriving is what life was intended to do, like a flower stubbornly pushing through a crack in the sidewalk. It is why we pause in wonder at a human being’s first step, or first word; and why we ought to wonder at every step, and every word. Thriving is what God saw when he made life and saw that it was good. “Thrive” was the first command: be fruitful, and multiply.
A synonym for “thrive” is “flourish.” When we flourish or thrive, individually and collectively, we experience community, a life of connecting to God and one another.
Let me identify the main theme of Isaiah 55:10-13, Psalm 65:9-13, Romans 8:1-11, and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23: these texts speak the good news of redemption and restoration, the outgrowth of the sown seeds of the gospel.
The psalmist in Psalm 65:9-13 presents a grand vision for the need for water. The land needs water. Human beings need water When we negate the need for hydration, land and personal, the system in each begins to break down.
In Romans 8:1-11, Paul states that Jesus dwells within us. He lives his life daily through the believer making a difference personally and collectively. Condemnation stunts if not stops growth as a follower of Jesus. Thriving is a work of the Spirit through forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Thriving is the experience of redemption and restoration. A non-thriving life is one without Jesus. Paul reminds his readers that they are not of the flesh but have the Spirit of Christ living in them. Paul challenges the early church and the church today, to know God and return to God as the source for flourishing.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 depicts a non-thriving earth stewardship as well as a non-thriving personal stewardship as not participating with God in the process of preparing the soil, selecting the seed, and then sowing it, on the land, and in other’s lives. Jesus gives specific instructions to his disciples since others have rejected his teaching. There is a message of persistence of bounty and overflowing joy with the outcomes. The disciples begin to understand the true nature of the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven affords an opportunity to explore the relationship between ethics and eschatology, ministry and mission, the present and eternity. The Sower is the main character in this parable. It is the Sower who scatters the seeds, after many attempts, to have it land on the prepared soil as opposed to that soil which is not prepared. Good seed into good soil is paramount.
God breathes new life into each of us when we admit the non-thriving aspects of our lives. Geneva Presbyterian Church aspires to be a congregation who remembers, tells, and lives the way of Jesus by being just, kind, and humble. We are a worshipping church committed to glorify God and empower worshippers; learning in creative formats where the Bible is foundational to God’s message of redemption and new life in and through Jesus Christ; connecting to one another and becoming more unified in our common commitment to love God and others; giving from our Life Wallet; and serving as we love others locally in word and deed through local and global partnerships.
Lean into Geneva’s Vision. Your words and deeds matter. To do so, we must experience reconciliation at many levels. Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation, writes, “Reconciliation is an ongoing spiritual process involving forgiveness, repentance and justice that restores broken relationships and systems to reflect God’s original intention for all creation to flourish.” Together, we will flourish in our sowing the seed of the gospel into the soil God has prepared.
FTT. Failure to thrive. Not here. Not now. Not with you. Not with me. Not at Geneva Presbyterian Church. Thriving is a great story to tell. Brenda Salter McNeil, the author of Roadmap to Reconciliation, writes, “Sharing stories is a central skill in community building…When people exchange information, there are many unspoken attitudes, beliefs and norms that can impact their ability to communicate effectively. The ability to self-disclose and listen empathetically is an essential aspect of strategic storytelling.” Remember, when we flourish, individually and collectively, our lives and the lives of others receive God’s blessing.
Expect Jesus to show up. Embrace an unwavering trust in God and commitment to God’s will. Grow as a Christian as well as a Sower, one sowing the seed of the gospel into the soil God has prepared. Be involved in earth repair and personal life repair. Speak the good news of redemption and restoration, the outgrowth of the sown seeds of the gospel. Blair Alison Pogue, Rector, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St Paul, Minnesota, writes, “Jesus and his teachings are not a helpful additive, like the protein powder in a fruit smoothie at Jamba Juice. Rather, Jesus the Messiah, God decisively breaks through everything that separates us from God and makes it possible to live the life God intends for us.” Flourish my friends. Believe anew in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, yes, even now. Amen.
John Ortberg, “Ministry and FTT” in LeadershipJournel.net, June 2008. In the four paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of Robert A. Ratcliff, Stephen Breck Reid, J. Clinton McCann Jr., Renata Furst, D. Cameron Murchison, Mihee Kim-Kort, and Nibs Stroupe in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 139-141, 142-143, 144-147, 148-150, 150-151, 152-154, and 154-156. Brenda Salter McNeil, Roadmap to Reconciliation (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 22. Ibid., 112. Blair Alison Pogue in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 3, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 231.