Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Fertile Ground"

Message preached July 14, 2002
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Matthew 13:1-9

Order of Worship

            As I pondered what I might preach on this Sunday before National Youth Conference, I considered the NYC theme and the scripture story behind it from the book of Esther. However, I have a feeling that those of us headed to Colorado on Tuesday are going to hear a great deal about this classy lady in the Bible and how she answered the call to stand up for God and her people. Not that by next Sunday we (who are going) will be tired of this story and the theme for NYC derived from it, but maybe "for such a time as this," that is - for today, it might be more appropriate to prepare the ground in which the seeds of this mountaintop experience will be planted.

            While I will be saying some things that I really want our NYC-bound young people to hear, please understand that I am not just preaching to them. You see, we all need to prepare the ground upon which our Lord daily tosses the seeds of good news. The rest of us may not be boarding a plane to fly out to Denver, but every day is an opportunity for God to be at work in our lives - all of us - that is, if we are ready for it.

            Instead of mountaintop moments, some of us are facing more difficult journeys, whether it be an illness that takes us where we really donít want to go, or the prospect of our children flying away from us for a week to a distant location, beyond the reach of our protective hand. God is not just involved in the NYCís of life, as great as these may be. God is at work in every moment, upon every soil.

            Thatís actually one thing I want our young people to remember. NYC will be a fantastic journey. I have no doubt that - if you are open to them - there will be times when you will feel so close to God, and so inspired, that returning home to the hum-drum of every day will feel like a let-down. Church-life here may seem boring in comparison. Do remember, please, that God is just as much involved here and now, as there in the foothills of the rocky mountains. God is at work in every moment, upon every soil. Godís seeds are not just scattered at a National Youth Conference. The sower is here, and will be here when you come back, and the soil out of which good news can sprout and grow in the ground upon which you walk every day - at home, at school, at work, at church, at the mall, on the road, in your own room or in the homes of your friends. Wherever you go, whatever you do, the sower is sowing Godís seeds.

            Now, letís talk about preparing the soil. A long time ago, when I was a youth, I preached for the first time on a youth Sunday in my home church. The theme for the day was "Life: no deposit, no return." Several of us were asked to speak, and when I took my turn I remembered some words President Kennedy said on the day he was inaugurated. You see, a pivotal moment for many in my generation, a moment we remember as clearly as you will recall for years to come where you were and what you were doing on "September 11th," is the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

            Anyway, in my little homily as a young person on Youth Sunday, I quoted Kennedyís challenge to our nation to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." I rephrased it into, "ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church." It wasnít the best sermon I ever preached, but the basic gist of it was that we only get out of life what we are willing to put into it. Instead of investing energy as "takers," taking from life, from country, from church, our greater profit comes from putting ourselves fully into something as "givers," giving ourselves to God and others.

            If I were to rephrase Kennedyís words once again for such a time as this, let me say, "ask not what this mountaintop experience called NYC can do for you, ask what you can do with your God as you journey to Colorado and back." You see, we only get out of something what we invest into it. Iím sure there are youth headed to NYC looking just for a good time away from home. After the 1966 NYC, this every-fourth-year youth conference was almost discontinued. One reason was because too many kids were sneaking off during it to do things they shouldnít have. They came only for a "good time," and maybe they found it, or maybe they just settled for something counterfeit.

            What we get out of an experience such as this is in direct correlation with what we are willing to invest in it. If all you want is just a "good time," then thatís all you get. However, if the ground of your life right now is fertile, ready for the seed God is sowing, watch out! I can encourage you to prepare the soil by reading your Bible and praying before, during, and after NYC - but will you do it? That is the question. Itís not just other folks putting on a great experience for you - thatís what we call "entertainment." NYC will, I guarantee, be very entertaining. But thatís all it will be if you donít invest yourself into it. Do you catch what Iím saying?

            You will return home, and there wonít be thousands of young people gathered in a huge auditorium worshiping God and celebrating Jesus ... just us. What happens here after you return depends upon you - upon all of us - investing ourselves in this life Jesus gives us. As the theme of that Youth Sunday from my earlier days revealed, this life we have in Christ is "no deposit, no return." I think you know this deep down. I think you are ready to be challenged to invest your life in the things that really matter. If anything, the rest of us in the church need to prepare our own soil, and focus upon the things that really matter in life.

            Sometimes, when our young people return from life changing experiences - and Iím not talking about just NYC, Iím thinking about camps, service projects, BVS, you name it - they return to a church that is not focused upon the things that really matter in life. When I was a youth, my home church was spending a lot of time and money exploring the prospect of adding a steeple on our meetinghouse. We youth questioned whether that was something that really mattered, and they listened. That project was put on hold, energy was invested elsewhere. Of course, once we had grown and moved on they went ahead and added that steeple. I must admit it did look nice. I can still see it from my motherís home, even though the church has since built a whole new facility and the old building now belongs to Bridgewater College.

            Church (thatís all of us, folks), are we focused upon the things that really matter in life? Iím glad we are spending time and money sprucing up the youth room - new carpet, new ceiling, new paint. But, as nice as all that may be, is that what really matters? Youth, when you return, donít invest yourself in a clubhouse where your little group can meet. Instead, spend your lives in the mission of God, sharing the good news of Christ in words and deeds. Focus upon the things that really matter in life! Likewise, I greet with joy the prospect of a new sign out front of our facility. But, if we are not reaching out with the good news, living out the good news, then that sign is just a fancy decoration. Are we focused upon the things that really matter in life?

            This is what preparing the soil is all about. The ground of our lives may be hard - so hard that Godís seeds canít penetrate. Or we may not allow for depth in our walk with Christ. We thrive on mountaintop experiences, such as NYC, but we donít allow the dark valley times to grow our faith deep into the soil. Instead, we search for the next spiritual high or we give up. Thatís the worry I often have for those returning from events such as this. Donít allow your soil to be as the rocky ground in the story Jesus told.

            Likewise, pay attention to the weeds and thorns that can choke out whatever seeds God sows. Donít return from NYC to "life as usual," letting the negative, life-destroying culture that you and I know is out there in high school, in the homes of some of your friends, at work, letting this grab hold of you and pull you down, and choke the life out of you. Iím not talking the "good times" kind of life, which is built upon being entertained, upon doing whatever "I" want to do, whenever "I" want to do it. Thatís not life, itís counterfeit life. It doesnít last. In that kind of life the weeds win and we lose.

            However, when we pay attention to the soil, focusing upon the things that really matter, we become fertile ground for "real" life - the life we have only in Jesus Christ. You heard his story, how in this kind of environment the seeds of the sower grow like crazy. The funny thing is that when we truly invest ourselves in what God has for us, we receive in return far more than we ever put in. Thatís how the kingdom of God is. Thatís why it really is "good news." But you and I will never know this unless we throw ourselves fully into what God has intended for us. Not just an itty-bitty portion of ourselves, but everything.

            This is true whether we board a plane for Colorado on Tuesday or remain here in Maryland. As I said, God is not just involved in the NYCís of life, as great as these may be. God is at work in every moment, upon every soil. How is soil of your life? Have you grown too "tough" for your own good? Is yours a fertile ground for the seed God is sowing today? Are you growing deep? How are the weeds? Donít let them choke the life out of you. Focus upon whatís most important.

            Well, thatís the message of this sower for such a time as this. Now, Iíve asked Mark L. to come and sing again the song he wrote for NYC. Though it wasnít picked to be the theme song for this weekís conference, it will be a blessing for us today. By the time he is finished singing, would all those going to NYC this year be up front standing around him? Would one of the ushers also go and tell the Sunday School class that itís time for the children to join us?

            Mark, itís sowing time.

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Matthew.

©2002 Peter L. Haynes

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