Rich and Receptive Soil

“But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundred, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

The parable of the sower is one that we are familiar with. In Matthew’s version which we just heard, he makes a clear distinction between the crowds who hear the parable but don’t understand it and the disciples who do understand, in large part, because they are followers of Jesus and not just people who only want to hear what he has to say. They hang around Jesus long enough to ask him what the parable means. He rewards their allegiance by explaining the parable to them, ending with the promise that those who wrestle with the significance of his parables and other actions will be rewarded a hundred, sixty or thirty times over.

One commentator I read claims that the best yield a sower of earthly seeds can expect is seven to ten times over, so Jesus is telling us that his seeds, his words and deeds, if they act in good soil, will yield not just a natural, but a supernatural outcome.

Another commentator suggested that Jesus tells this parable, in part, to reassure his disciples, both then and now, that even though a lot of seeds are unproductive and wasted, the kingdom of God is surely coming in spite of any evidence to the contrary, so vigorous and fruitful are his seeds.

We should also note the fact that in Jesus’ day sowing preceded ploughing, so a sower didn’t know what kind of soil he was dealing with. Jesus is asserting that the same is true with human beings. It’s hard to know the effect of God’s word in the lives of people ahead of time. In some cases, the seeds don’t penetrate; the person simply doesn’t listen or pay attention to what God is saying to him or her. In other cases, the person doesn’t persevere in receiving the seed long enough for it to be productive. For still others, less fruitful or downright invasive plants that are already consuming a person’s time and resources crowd out and choke what Jesus promises will be the most productive and life-giving seeds of all.

I give thanks and praise to God this morning that our mission to Honduras is evidence of what God’s seeds can produce in good soil. As Jesus said in his first beatitude, blessed are the poor, those who know their need of God and are receptive to the seeds of his kingdom and who allow those seeds to do their unique and amazing work, who receive and participate in the very kingdom of God. It is our joy to sow those seeds, both directly, as members of our mission teams, and indirectly, by providing the team with the financial wherewithal to advance the mission, a mission that has now become so fruitful that the bishop is now designating our partner congregation, El Buen Pastor, no longer a mission, but an aided parish that is moving in the direction of being self-sustaining, thanks to our partnership and the seeds we have sown on their rich spiritual soil.

We celebrated the baptism of three infants and one child, and gave thanks for the birth of two infants in a congregation where thirty to fifty children were in attendance every day of our brief visit. Three of our twelve current scholarship recipients have recently graduated from high school and have expressed their hope of receiving financial assistance in order to attend college. Our one college scholarship recipient, made possible by a generous parishioner, is only five classes and a practicum away from earning a degree in international business, a degree she will earn at a cost of $2000, commuting from her home, a home that now includes both a husband and her first child, a daughter named Alyssia.

Many of their young people and adults are eager to receive the seeds of God’s word on a Happening or a Cursillo weekend, but they are simply too poor to afford the cost, a meagre $20 for Happening and $50 for Cursillo. Before I left I gave Victor, the deacon in charge, enough money to send two students to a Happening scheduled next month, thanks to the fundraising efforts of Fleet, Tommy, Rusty and all those who support the golf outing and our Wednesday evening dinners.

Our team planted fifty palm trees to beautify the grounds, some in soil that could be broken easily with post hole diggers and others only with the help of a steel breaker bar, a reminder to me that God’s word is the sword of the Spirit, capable of penetrating even the hardest of hearts.

Now that the cost of building their church has been met, we are able to address the needs of those who sow the seeds on a daily, weekly and monthly basis: Victor, the deacon who visits periodically when he can get away from his parish in Danli, along with Alexander and Hector, who are licensed as lay persons by the bishop to lead morning prayer and to preach on most Sundays. I took enough money to provide Victor the annual stipend recommended by the diocese, a mere $50/month, or $600/year. After I have reviewed our remaining resources, I hope we can provide Alexander and Hector the $25/month stipend recommended for them. You should also know that I have partnered with you to provide Alexander’s wife, Mabel, the hyperthyroid medication that is keeping her alive at roughly $100/month.

You can also be proud of St. Mary’s, the diocesan school in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, which provided two translators for our team, both daughters of the headmaster, one who will begin a degree in industrial engineering this month and the other a rising sophomore at St. Mary’s. Their English skills were so good that the older sister was able to communicate a sophisticated understanding of Christian stewardship to one of the scholarship students, explaining to him that our faithfulness as stewards will enable him to receive the financial support he needs in order to be good steward of his own time and talent. St. Mary’s conducts half their classes in English to provide the future leaders of their country with the skills they will need to bless their society and culture. We provided the school a gift of $200 in thanksgiving for their translation work.

Jack Melvin, an American-born and trained architect, who supervised Mark Parlier’s plans for the construction of El Buen Pastor, visited us on our last day to consult with us and the congregation on a solution to a mold problem they have encountered in the walls of their church. We gave him $100 for his travel expenses and expertise. The team disinfected the mold and applied a sealant before our departure, leaving the final painting of the walls to members of the congregation. Walter Ruff, who has many years of experience with roofing, recommended an improved flashing to solve the underlying problem. He and his daughter Stephany also sealed forty percent of the windows; the remainder will be completed by the local parishioners.

I took our all-in-one digital projector with me to demonstrate how they might use it for Christian education, worship, and to provide the community with its first movie theater as a way of supporting their budget. They were very receptive to this seed that might grow into a real solution to the bishop’s call for all his congregations to become self-sufficient. I will select a unit that will work in their brighter, larger space, through our Honduras mission fund and will have it delivered by Amazon to our SAMS missionary coordinator, Jeannie Loving.

Their vestry also believes that starting a business with a hen house and laying hens so that they can sell fresh eggs to the many small CVS-type stores in town called pulperias will provide needed income for their budget, along with their sewing co-op that now has a wholesale supplier.

Becky Wynkoop and Ana Jo Downs, who are members of our chapter of the Daughters of the King, gave the eleven members of their chapter, who were trained by Jeannie Loving, a copy of the Spanish Book of Common Prayer. Our outreach committee designated $1000 to Jeannie for her essential role in monitoring and sustaining our partnership with El Buen Pastor. We can help her further by identifying other congregations in our diocese who can partner with other Honduran congregations who need their support and who will find their soil just as rich and receptive as ours has been in Santa Maria.

I shared with the congregation in my homily last Sunday the fact that I would not be leading a team in the future because of my retirement at the end of the year. I am very grateful to report that Carmen Russell, who arranges tours for Disney, and Ana Jo Downs, who is bi-lingual, and Becky Wynkoop, who was serving on her third team, have all expressed interest in leading a mission next year, as well as my gratitude to Fleet and Tommy, who are excited about a possible golf outing for the first time at Mountain Lake next spring.

So Jesus’ promise is true: we have sown in good soil and God has yielded a hundredfold harvest, one of his most productive harvests in Honduras and in the entire Anglican Communion. Let us praise God for his faithfulness and for calling us into partnership with him, with each other and with our brothers and sisters in Honduras. AMEN.