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February 13: Planting Seeds of Faith

Mark 4:26-32

Matthew 17:20b

My wife and I have moved a fair bit during our time together. We are kinda pros at moving. It helps that my first job out of college, the year before I went back to graduate school, was at a moving company – for that year, I was literally a pro at moving. Also, just a warning – I’m going to talk about moving, for a minute, but this is not me telling you that I’m going to move. I am planning to stay right here, at Haymarket Church, for quite a while, I hope. So, if you’re getting anxious, take a deep breath – this is a story. I’m not telling you that I’m leaving.

Anyway, we've moved around a lot, which means that we've spent a lot of time – and invested a lot of our energy – in a bunch of different churches. Kim and I met at church – we both worked with the youth group at Fredericksburg United Methodist Church. I was a 20-year-old college junior, she was a 25-year-old college graduate – we went to the same school, just a few years apart. Anyway, I hung out a bunch of the young adults at church who were closer to her age – people who were already her friends – and, at some point, they set us up on a date. I was HUGELY intimidated by going on a date with a woman who was smart and beautiful and kind and amazing and, you know, HAD A REAL JOB, and she, apparently, was just hoping this dumb college guy would take her out for dinner and a movie, and figured that she'd dump me once I'd done that. Well, I waited to take her to a movie until six months after our first date, and by then, she was hooked. That's what we call strategy, my friends.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that we met at church – a church where we were both deeply invested. I sang with the band at our church's modern worship service, and I taught a weekly Bible study for middle schoolers. She taught sixth grade Sunday school. And we both were part of the team that worked with the youth group on Sunday nights – and throughout the week. Kim started working with the youth group when she was a college freshman, and I started working with it when I was a college sophomore. By the time we left had been there for about a decade, I was there for about 5 years, and during that time, we got to build really important relationships, help kids grow in faith and walk through important moments – joyous moments, really difficult moments, everything in between.

And then, we left. Because, a few months after we got married, I got into Duke Divinity School, and we moved to Durham, North Carolina for three years as I studied to be a pastor. While we were there, we found a church in Chapel Hill – Chapel Hill is the home of Duke's biggest rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels – the University of North Carolina is in Chapel Hill, which means that we were like the only Duke fans at our church, which was really fun on the Sundays when Duke had just beat Carolina, and less fun on Sundays when Carolina had just beaten Duke. Anyway, again, we got involved, and we worked with the youth group, and went on retreats, and built relationships, and invested in the lives of young people, helping to form them in faith – and then, we left.

Next, we moved to Richmond, where we both went to school – Kim got her Masters' in Christian Education, and I got a Masters of Theology. While we were in school, I worked for what's called a two-point charge – that's two Methodist churches, usually small, that share a pastor – so, one church had worship at 9:00 AM, the other had worship at 11:00, and the pastor would drive from one to the other. The two churches had pooled their money to hire an additional staff person – me, the Director of Christian Education. My job was to help with worship, preach a little, and teach a bunch of Bible Studies. And, so, we got involved at those churches, and we did what we could to help people grow in faith, and, just like at our previous stops, we loved them, they loved us, and then we had to move.

After that, the United Methodist Church in Virginia made me a pastor, and I've served three churches as a pastor – three years as one of the pastors at a large church in Annandale, just outside the Beltway; 15 months as the pastor of a small rural church in Mathews County on the Chesapeake Bay, and now the last 6 years here at Haymarket Church. And, again, just to reiterate, I'm really happy here, and I'm not planning on leaving anytime soon, just FYI, in case this talking of moving is making you stressed – take a deep breath, I'm talking about the past right now.

Anyway, along the way, at every stop, we have built relationships, we have tried our best to help our churches follow Jesus, we have tried to help folks discover God's love and take their next steps in faith. And, each time, at some point, we've had to leave – we've had to move on to where God was calling us to go next.

And, the thing that's hard about that is that, very often, we don't get to see the results of what we've done. That teenager who I spent an hour chatting with every Sunday night for three years in Chapel Hill? I haven't seen him, except on social media, in over a decade. He's married now. He's a grown man. I couldn't be there for a lot of the steps along the way for him. Kim and I have dozens of people like that – Katrina and Kieva and Peter and Logan and Meryn and Grace and Pat and Christina and Agnes and Mary Alice– teenagers and adults and folks of all ages, folks with whom we have tried to share this thing called church, folks who we have tried to help grow in faith and who have helped us grow in our faith – and, to whom, eventually, we have had to say goodbye.

Sometimes, when we have moved on, we have asked ourselves – does any of this matter? Having built these relationships, and then saying goodbye to them, does it matter? Does the work we have done, does the energy we have poured into these people, does it matter at all? Now that we are leaving, is it all done? Was it all for nothing?

And, as much as it was always hard to say goodbye – and it was – what we have tried to remember is this: our job is to plant seeds. We don't always – we don't often – get to see the impact of what we do. We don't always get to see the fruit when it ripens, but maybe that's just not what we are called to do. What we are called to do is plant seeds, to play our part, and to trust God to do the rest.

It's a lot like raising a kid. Because, here's the thing with children: they are their own people. You can't force them to be who you want them to be – trying to do that will only make you and them unhappy. You can do your best to form them, to train them, to teach them to love and encourage them to follow where God is leading, but, eventually, they have to step out and live life for themselves. And I'm not just talking about college or adulthood – even in elementary school, if they go to a public school, or even if they are on a soccer team or something, you are sending your kids out into the world and they've got to make their own choices, do their own thing, find their own way, spread their own wings and fly. We want to be in control, but that's not the way the world works. We want to see things through, see how they turn out, but, so often, development takes years, the seeds we plant today may not bloom for decades. It's why every moment matters – because the little things we do now, done over and over, multiplied over the years, build up and turn into something that can really last.

But it's not just the little things that we do over and over – it's not just the little seeds that we plant every day – sometimes there are moments, moments that happen just once, that stick with us, that last – when you show up, when you are there to sit with someone when things get dark, when you are faithful and present just when someone needs it. Big moments, little moments. All of them are seeds that we plant, trusting in God to do the rest.

The Kingdom of God – God's presence on earth, God's way of being in the universe – the Kingdom of God, says Jesus, in the story we read today, is like a farmer who went out to plant some seeds. The farmer plants the seeds, and then, at some point, the seeds sprout, and turn into plants, and deliver a harvest – something that seems almost unimaginable when compared to the tiny seeds from the beginning. The Kingdom of God, says Jesus, is like a mustard seed – something little, barely noticeable, that when planted and watered becomes a mighty plant, in which birds can rest, and that gives shade to those who need it.

Or, as Saint Paul puts it in one of his letters to the Corinthians, in the New Testament – in the letter of first Corinthians, he's talking to a church that he started, and describing the influence of the various teachers, the various leaders, who have been part of that church's life. After Paul started this church, he left town, and a new leader named Apollos came along. And Paul says, "I, Paul, planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth."

In other words, God is doing something in the world, and we don't always – we don't usually – get to control it. Frequently, we don't get to be there for every part of the story. What we get to do is play our part, plant our seeds, water the ground – we are God's assistants, helping God turn something seemingly insignificant into a mighty harvest.

15 years ago, Kim and I were eating dinner every Sunday night with teenagers in Fredericksburg who were finding their way in the world. We showed up, and we shared a meal, and spent a couple of hours with them every Sunday. Then, we moved away. Seven years ago, we built relationships with folks at a little church on the Chesapeake bay, and I got to baptize adults and see people come to faith for the first time, and we got to help a church begin to ask questions about what it means to include all people, no matter what, and we experienced love and tried to create safe space for folks who didn't feel at home in their hometown. And then we left. We showed up, and we planted seeds. And, we believe that showing up for them mattered – even though we aren't in their lives any more, we hope, we trust – we have faith – that the God who called us to those places used us, used those moments, to make a difference and do God's work.

This week you should be receiving – or you should have already received – information about Haymarket Church's annual financial stewardship season. Each year around this time, we take a moment to talk about the difference your financial giving to Haymarket Church makes, and we ask you to make a pledge, to make a commitment to supporting Haymarket Church during our upcoming pledge year – which runs from July 2022 through June 2023. As part of that information, you should have received – or you will receive, soon – our 2021 Year in Ministry Annual Report. That report tells the story of what our church has been able to do because of the generosity of the people of Haymarket Church.

This process is important – it's important for us to know and to celebrate what God is doing through us, when we join together in God's work – and it's important for all of us to work together to make church happen – we can't do the amazing work God is calling us to do unless we do it together.

But, what I want you to hear today about that process is that it's an act of faith. Giving generously to your church – giving of your time, your energy, your love, your service, your wisdom, and, yes, even your money – giving to your church matters – it helps you answer God's call, to grow in your commitment to God, it is part of how we live out our faith and grow in our commitment to Jesus – it is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. All of that is true. And, also, it's a lot like planting a seed in the ground.

My wife and I believe in tithing – in giving 10% of our income back to God's work through our local church – which means that we give about $1,100 to our church each month. I tell you that not to brag or anything like that – there's nothing to brag about – I tell you because I think it's important for a pastor to be honest and transparent about their personal finances, and because I want you to understand that we are really committed to what's happening here. And, my point right now is that that's a significant chunk of what we make – and we give it happily, proudly, because we believe in what this church is doing, because we believe it's what God is calling us to do, because we look at the Annual Report and see what this church has done and are proud to say that we played a role in all that work. And, however much you give to Haymarket Church, even if you're our single largest financial giver, if you look at our Annual Report, it's something that you couldn't do on your own. None of us could make this church happen on our own. All we can do is plant our little seeds, water our little patch of ground, and trust, and pray, for God to give the growth. Our contributions, in the scheme of things, are relatively small, but God uses them to do something amazing, something big – when we are in this together, God takes the seeds we plant and transforms them into something beautiful – the seeds of faith that all of us are planting at Haymarket Church are being turned into something we could never have imagined on our own.

Haymarket Church is taking a few leaps of faith this year. We are hoping to hire a new staff position – a communications director, who will help us strengthen our communications and better reach our community, sharing the story of God's love that we feel called to share. We have added a line-item to the budget called a "community blessing fund," which we are using to do random acts of blessing for folks in the area – so, for example, we just sent a Visa Gift Card to the school nurse at every school – elementary, middle, high school – every school that has a Haymarket Church kid attending it, that school nurse is getting a gift card and a thank you from us for all that the school nurses, who are so worn thin right now – are doing and have done this school year to care for our community. Doing those things – along with a bunch of other exciting ways we are looking at growing and strengthening our ministry – these things mean we are taking a leap of faith and increasing our budget. And, so, when you give to Haymarket Church – when you commit to giving, or take the next step in your journey of generosity, maybe deciding to give a bit more this year, to take your next step towards tithing or what you feel God is calling you to give to your church – you are planting a seed of faith, helping our church do God's work, answer God's call, bless our community, and continue to do all the things we already do – worshiping together, forming young people in faith, creating community and connection.

The Kingdom of God doesn't just land in our laps fully formed. It is like a seed that we plant. The Kingdom of God isn't something we achieve on our own. It is something God does. We plant the seeds. We faithfully tend the garden. And God gives the growth. I'm excited to see what God will make bloom, this year and into the future, as we plant these seeds of faith together.

So, as we talk about stewardship and financial generosity, as you consider making a pledge to support God’s work at Haymarket Church through your financial giving, I simply ask you: what kind of seeds do you want to plant? What kind of investment do you want to make in God’s work? How do you want to use your resources to water God’s garden? And, do you trust God to make what you give bloom into something beautiful?

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