"Good Soil"-A Sermon for the Launch of our Good Soil Campaign, Luke 8:4-15
Well friends, I want to say an official welcome to the St. Julian’s Good Soil Annual and Capital Campaign. Though you have and are already receiving information about the campaign, we now begin a 5 week, intentional time, of thinking about this important work together in church. Each of the next 4 Sundays, including today, will have weekly themes that we hope will help us, together as a church and individually as participants, reflect in the context of worship, how we are each being called to respond to the God-given Good Soil vision that lies before us. Today our theme is gratitude…and the next three weeks will include…ministry, prayer, and generosity and sacrifice. Then on Sunday, Nov 19, which is week 5 in this process, we will have our In-Gathering services, or what we are also calling Commitment Sunday. On Nov 19, we are inviting everyone at St. Julian, young and old, and everywhere in between, to make a pledge to our Good Soil Campaign, which is really two pledges.
The first is to support our 2018 annual budget, for we begin our work of growing into a future campus even now, as we grow our ministries and congregation in both number and spiritual depth over the next 4-6 years, which is our goal for entering a new and permanent campus. The truth is that today we could not sustain the sort of campus we hope to build. I believe that in order to move into a future, mission-oriented campus, in about 4 years, that we can sustain and even grow, we need to increase our average Sunday attendance by 50%-75% and our annual budget by at least that much. So really our work to build a future home for St. Julian’s begins, again, even now, as we go ever deeper into the work we already do so well. The work of evangelism…inviting in those called to join us on our journey of “Growing in Relationship, Loving all Well, and Seeking intimacy with Christ”. The work of outreach…serving our larger community, particularly those in need, as an expression of God’s enormous love and generosity. The work of pastoral care…walking with people in crisis or transition, as a sign and means of God’s healing love. The work of youth and children’s ministry…inviting our own children into a life-long love affair with God the first and forever lover of their souls. And, the work of stewardship…as we seek to identify our gifts for ministry and then use those gifts well in bettering the lives of others and all to the glory of God. And I could go on and name each vital ministry that lives and thrives in our shared life. But the point is Good Soil begins with our commitment of time, talent and treasure in the very year before us…allowing us to strengthen and perhaps even grow our staff and provide even more resources to the ministries that are at the very heart of our mission as St. Julian’s.
The second pledge we are asking each of you to prayerfully consider, which is indeed a sacrifice above and beyond our annual giving in this place, is a three-year financial commitment to the capital project that Good Soil intends to support and realize. These commitments are all about preparing literal Good Soil for a significant future phase one building project. The Episcopal Diocese of Texas is, as we speak, diligently seeking a piece of land in this area for our future campus. This is a tremendous gift. I can’t overstate how generous it really is. The fact that we are raising funds to build a campus and not buy land allows us to move much more quickly to the church we dream of, and it is a blessing that many church plants of different stripes don’t enjoy. And I hope this gift, indeed, encourages us to be even more generous ourselves as we work to raise the required resources to develop that gift of land, a part of God’s own vineyard, that is being generously placed into our hands.
Now our ultimate vision is to develop a campus from which our ministries and worship and prayers can overflow out into the world around us, as a part of God’s transformative work in and for our own family of faith, our neighbors, and well beyond. Our vision includes: an inviting, beautiful, and theologically rich worship space that is both traditional and future looking and that can serve multiple uses including worship, open space, a choir, community gatherings, public lectures, theater and concerts. It includes outdoor space for prayer gardens, a labyrinth, a memorial garden for the repose of the dead, community gardens to grow food for hungry people, outdoor worship, a playscape for our children, with lots of room to run and play for ourselves and our neighbors. It includes a technologically savvy Education Building for Sunday School and weekday gatherings for spiritual formation, ministry meetings, and youth rooms…again to be shared with the community around us. It includes a 21st century office space for a growing and collaborative staff. It includes a parish hall with a commercial kitchen to feed ourselves and all those who are hungry and to serve for large community gatherings, which is also generously shared with our neighbors as an expression of God’s generosity. Our vision also includes a free standing Spiritually and Wellness Center to house our outreach ministries, space for counseling, spiritual direction, twelve-step gatherings, retreats, and workshops, that can also provide anonymity for those taking advantage of those ministries…again to serve both those inside our community and our neighbors. And in addition to all of this, we hope to have space left over for future mission appropriate endeavors like a book store, coffee shop (Julian’s Café!), with wall space for local artist and a stage for small concerts and open mic nights, a resale shop, and even perhaps a school. And, this is not an exhaustive list. But it is a bold vision…and I hope it excites and ignites each of us.
But we must now step back and begin at the beginning, which is Good Soil. For the funds, we hope to raise over the next three years, are not really for any of what I have described, but to be the foundation for all that I have described. For before a single cornerstone can be laid, before the first concrete foundation can be poured…filled with our prayers, we must prepare the land for the very first incarnation of all that follows. Thus, Good Soil hopes to raise the funds for all the pre-construction expenses that lead to building buildings. Items like clearing land, plating, surveys, master-planning, utilities, water detention, curbs, fire-hydrants, and I could go on. And here’s the thing…a successful Good Soil Capital Campaign positions us to in about 3 years…own land, through the Diocese’s generosity, and have all the pre-construction work completed, such that, again, in 3 years, we can, with a second Capital Campaign, a reasonable amount of debt, and the sale of our current facility, mount a significant phase one building project that gets us to our future campus in the 4-6 year time line I have already mentioned.
And I must conclude this piece of my reflection by saying, what I believe we all already know in our hearts, which is that Good Soil is not really about buildings, about bricks and mortar. For I truly believe, that St. Julian’s is to be nothing less than the very spiritual heart of the larger community in which God has placed us. To be salt and light, that brings flavor and vision to a world that so often feels like it lacks substance and is so very dark. Our future campus is not to be an end unto itself. Quite differently, it is to be a center of God’s redemptive love that shapes all who come to us and those who live around us more and more into the people we are all called by God to be and become. To be a sacred space from which flows gospel inspired ministry and worship and prayer that forms equipped Jesus-followers and love-spreaders, Good Soil people, that actually, that literally, help reshape our reality into something that more perfectly images the God of love…this is our alpha and omega…our beginning and our end. And this is the purpose and vision of Good Soil and the various incarnations it will take long into the future. The formation of Good soil people…is what this work is all about…the most important thing to remember, as we enter into Good Soil together.
Now, I would like to conclude with a brief reflection on the title Good Soil and this idea of gratitude, which is our theme for the day. So, Good Soil comes Luke 8:8-9, in which, Jesus says “‘Some [seed] fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.’ As he said this, he called out, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’”. These two short verses are a part of Jesus’ larger parable, called the Parable of the Sower. This is perhaps the familiar parable of a person, perhaps a farmer, that sows seeds, that he or she hopes will produce good fruit. Fruit that feeds both the bodies and souls of God’s beloved people…all the rainbow-colored people of God. And as perhaps you recall, the farmer, seems gracefully indiscriminant in his or her work of sowing seeds. The farmer seems to throw the seeds out with reckless abandon. And I have always thought of this as not wasteful…but as an expression of God’s great generosity. For God sows his love on every available piece of land and in every available human heart without distinction…without some sort of moral or religious prerequisite. And the parable tells us that this generous sowing inevitably leads to seed being sown in all sorts and conditions of earth…some lands on paths and roads, some lands on rocks, some on thorns, and some, of course, on Good Soil. Now one way to think about this parable is that the different sorts of earth are different sorts of people…people who are hard, resistant to the transformative work-of-love that God wants to do in their lives…people who are rocky, whose lives are uneven a work in progress, who fall in love with God on one day and out of love the very next…people who are thorny, that is pricked along by the opinions of others and the preoccupations of the day…and lastly, people who are Good Soil, those for whom the love of God, the teachings of Jesus, the promise of Easter, that love is stronger than death, utterly convicts their hearts…such that they give themselves entirely over, their selves, souls and bodies, to be like Jesus in the ways they love and care for others…in how they use their time, their money, all the giftedness that resides within them.
And, if we interpret the parable this way, we may be tempted to ask ourselves…well which am I…hard, rocky, thorny, or, perhaps even good soil. And if, by chance, I am good soil, then who are the others…those bad soil people? Further then, if I am not one of them…thank God I am not like them. They must need to straighten themselves out, work on their dirt, so that they can become good soil just like me. So, this is one way to interpret the parable…though I don’t know that it is entirely helpful and seems like it might be missing the point. Instead, I like to think that we are individually the various soils. At different times and places in life…maybe even in the same day if I am honest…we are all hard, rocky, thorny, and good soil people. As I have said many times before, we are each a glorious living, breathing paradox…both broken and beautiful…capable of self-centeredness and insensitivity and capable of courageous and self-giving love. We are folk created in the likeness and image of love itself…yet we live after Eden…after the fall. And herein we find, the very good news in this parable…for the sower sows his or her seeds, again, utterly indiscriminatingly…God sows the seeds of love on every available piece of land…in every available human heart…even yours…even mine. And in those glorious moments, when that seed planted in our hearts finds the good soil that resides in each of us…it indeed takes root…produces an abundant crop…that fills our bodies and souls…brings joy, delight, wisdom, meaning and direction…and moves us to good choices and courageous actions that make the world a better place…a place that images a bit more perfectly the God of love. So, it is incumbent upon us to work the dirt in our own lives, rather than being overly concerned about soil content in others, that more of our own hard, rocky and thorny places can be worked into good soil, giving the seeds of God’s love, graciously sown in each of us, more room to take root, grow and thrive.
And I would say further that gratitude, our theme for today in this Good Soil Campaign, is among those good and Godly things, a fruit worthy of taking delight in, that is produced as an organic outpouring of the seeds of God’s love planted in our hearts. As St. Augustine once wrote, “O Lord, thou didst strike my heart with thy Word, and I did love thee.” That love is a profound expression of gratitude…for gratitude is more than just a feeling…it may begin as such…but it becomes a lived experience. Gratitude looks like something…like grateful hearts…overflowing in acts of great love and generosity…words of grace and encouragement shared generously with others…a smile, a hug, a handshake…a helping hand to someone in need…taking a courageous stand against injustice…and, of course, sacrificial gifts, given gratefully from the things that make up our lives…our time, our giftedness, our hard-earned money…to support God’s indiscriminant seed sowing work that continues even today, even in this place, we call St. Julian’s, through our shared ministry, our worship, and our prayers.
And here’s the kicker, gratitude is contagious…our lived gratitude encourages others to explore their own lives…and discover that for which their own hearts cry out in thanks…leading to their own experience of living and loving gratefully. And, our own sense of gratitude, as we claim it and live it, snow balls into something that is not simply momentary…but a lifestyle…a permanent attitude and disposition…that sees blessings everywhere…the hand of God in places expected and unexpected. This is indeed a fruit producing life…a Good Soil life…a life worth living…the life of joy…a grateful life that is complex, rich, full of meaning, and makes a difference. The very life, for which, God made each and every one of us. Amen.