Cultivating Fruitfulness Through Seeking
“Cultivating Fruitfulness Through Seeking” Sermon for 03/10/19
Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a season of seeking and of preparation. Today we begin: A Five-Week Lenten Series About Personal Growth, about “Cultivating Fruitfulness” in our lives. Lent is a marvelous time that naturally lends itself to contemplation and reflection as we look forward to the celebration on Easter Sunday. In my recent letter to the congregation, I said that I view the 40 day period leading up to Easter as an opportunity to renew our spirits as we move through the natural rhythms of the year, from the dormancy of Winter to the vibrancy of Spring. In the same way that we anticipate the earth’s awakening once more as new life strains to burst forth from the ground, we can also take steps to cultivate the growth of our souls. If Easter is the Lily opening up in full bloom, then Lent is the seed actively germinating just before the bud pushes up from where it has been carefully planted the ground. It is no longer dormant, but it requires the right soil, temperature, adequate moisture and a increase in oxygen if it is to flourish fully into a mature plant. In a like manner, Lent can afford us an occasion to nurture new life in our spirit, to cultivate fruitfulness in our lives.
There is no one right way to observe this season. Historically, some well-established Lenten practices include reading, reflection; meditation, prayer, self-examination and self-denial. I encourage you to ponder some ways in which you might cultivate your own personal fruitfulness this season. This morning I’d like to begin by considering ways in which we can seek the Lord simply by devoting some time to Prayer and Bible Reading.
Prayer. If you have trouble connecting to God in prayer, maybe your trying too hard, or maybe you simple need to keep trying, to keep at it and not give up. The promise in our second reading says that in seeking, you will find. So Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. But what is the key to the door? I think one of the keys is to keep it simple, like a conversation with a friend… or a running dialog with someone you are already close to. And try different things until you find the best ways of expression that work for you. If you have trouble closing your eyes and spending extended time in concerted prayer, then try keep your eyes open and keep it short! ‘Popcorn prayers’ are short declarations that can pop-out at any time and any place during your day. Just allow a sentence, a phrase or a word can be a profound expression of the heart. Outside it could be “Wow, God, that’s a beautiful sunrise!” or “Gee, Lord, that’s a lovely song that you taught that bird to sing!” In the car, you can drive by a church and ask “God bless that congregation!” At the store you may see a friend who is struggling: “Lord, I know she’s hurting, please give her the comfort she needs.” At the end of a long, exhausting workday you can simply say, “God, that was a tough one- thanks for getting me through it!” Or if we find ourselves getting impatient, or short tempered with others we can shoot up a quick “Help me with my self-control” or “I’m sorry I didn’t swallow those last words before they popped out; help me do better next time.”
Other times we may be struggling and truly be at a loss for words. We just don’t know what to say to God. At time like this, we can borrow words from others. Say the Lords’ Prayer, or the Serenity Prayer. Read a something from the book of Psalms, which is full of prayers that were originally sung. Or open up a hymnal or another songbook, and read the lyrics aloud and allow them to become your prayer, make it your own. There are other helpful little prayer books as well, like to Bible Pocket Promise Book with topical index for place to turn for promises or prayers when you are anxious, or weary, or worried.
Ultimately, prayer isn’t even as much about the words of our mouths as it is about the cries of our hearts. And the most important thing is to reach out to God, regularly, and persistently as an expression of faith and trust in His steadfast presence and watch care over us. This is prayer that anyone can do.
Reading the Bible. It’s much the same when it comes to reading and studying the Bible. There is no one right way to read or study God’s Word. And the best translation is the one that you personally find easiest to read. Unless you are feeling really ambitious, The best way to read the Bible is not from A-Z, from Genesis to Revelation, from cover to cover. If you haven’t read much of this book of books, then try using a resource to help you dive into the Scriptures. Daily Devotional readers. Topical Bibles. Study Bibles. Chronological Bibles. Online resources include daily meditations you can subscribe to and have sent to your email box each day. Use A website like BibleGateway and search for a word like love, or truth or faith, and then read through the search results. A Picture is worth a thousand Words” Sight Psalms capture a different thought from the Bible in a picture every day. But, not all of us are readers. We all have different learning styles. Some of us are Visual learners, and some of us are Auditory learners. You can get the Bible on CD, and listen to dramatic readings in you car or with your earbuds. There is great drama in the Bible stories – adventure, poetry, love songs. Have listen to these. Or subscribe to a podcast, or listen to sermons online on your computer. Again, keep on trying until you find the best method for unlocking the scriptures for you.
In our first reading, the Word of God is the seed in the parable of the Sower. The seed is good and it wants to grow, but it needs to find the right soil. We read that all too quickly the message of the Bible is crowded out by the noise of the world, by the cares and riches and distractions of this life. We are told that these good seeds never grow into maturity, because they are not nurtured. But, we learn that the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
"The Seed Is The Word of God"
In 1973, archeologists uncovered a cache of date palm seeds in ancient Masada, Israel. Scientists estimated that the seeds were produced about 70 AD. The Romans called it Phoenix dactylifera -- "the date-bearing phoenix" -- because it never died and appeared to be reborn in the desert where all other plant life perished.
The seeds were stored at Israel's Bar-Ilan University where they remained for the next thirty years. In November 2004, Dr. Sarah Sallon approached the university and asked for some of the seeds.
"When we asked if we could try and grow some of them, they said, 'You're mad,' but they gave us three seeds," Sarah said. Sarah's friend, biologist Dr. Elaine Solowey also didn't have much faith that the seeds would germinate, but Elaine carefully prepared the seeds for planting. First she soaked the seeds in hot water to make them once again able to absorb liquids. Then she soaked them in a solution of nutrients followed by an enzymatic fertilizer made from seaweed.
Tu B'shevat, a Jewish holiday known as the New Year for Trees, fell on January 25, 2005. Elaine chose that day to plant the seeds in new potting soil, hook them up to a drip irrigation system, and then she left them locked up. Elaine occasionally checked on the plants for a few weeks, and in March 2005, she noticed a sprout. By November 2005, the sprout had turned into a sapling that was 3 feet high with nine leaves. Nicknamed Methuselah, the seeds is oldest seed to ever germinate.
" In all these years the germ of life in those seeds had not died. All they needed was to be planted in ground, and watered and nurtured to life.
What an important illustration this is for a great principle taught in the Bible. Luke 8:11 says, "the seed is the word of God." When that seed (or word) is planted in the heart of men, it brings forth exactly the kind of plant and fruit that God wants. Even though the word (the New Testament) is 2,000 years old, the germ of life that the Lord put in it has never died.
What is amazing about this seed (the word) is that it does not matter that it is 2,000 years old. When planted in the human heart it can become active. When mixed with trust (faith), it germinates, comes up, and bears fruit. What an amazing process! No philosophy of man, no mere human opinion, no majority of collective thought has the power of the word of God.
This is the first challenge before us this Lent. To take the seed of God’s Word and grow it in the soil of our faith. To pray until we feel like we’ve connected with the Lord, and then to keep on praying. To carefully cultivate our souls, to give them the nourishment that will cause us to flourish into someone even more beautiful than we are today.
My simple, one sentence popcorn prayer is that this Lent we will all find new and rewarding ways cultivate fruitfulness in our lives.