Appleseed Remembered

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July 15, 2001
Matthew 13: 1-9, 19-23

On the surface this parable is about horticulture, but the obvious underlying message for believers is that we must be involved in witnessing for our Messiah. The first section of the passage is Jesusí parable, or allegory, which is a story with a deeper meaning. The second section is the allegoryís interpretation for believers.

Three Involved in the Parable

Jesus says that there are really three persons involved in the process of sowing seed. There is the witness, who is portrayed as the sower. There is the person being witnessed to, the sinner, who is portrayed as the soil. The third person isnít mentioned in the parable at all, but only in the interpretation. He is the devil, who steals the seed or uproots the seedling. Iím not going to say much about him now, for I want to focus on the sower, the seed and the ground.

Sowing in Three Steps

The sower in the story seems pretty indiscriminate in his planting. He is not hoeing out rows then planting each seed with care. He doesnít even cultivate the field. He casts seeds around, and then he goes onward. Our sowing begins whenever we go forth into the great field of the world. We witness, that is, "sow seed," by both our stories and our lives.

Sowing word-seed consists of three easy steps. The first step is to do a good deed or a favor for somebody. This makes an aperture in the soil for the seed-Word. The second step is to tell our own stories of how the Word has intersected our lives. The third step is to put a name to the seed; that name is Yahshua / Jesus.

Witnessing is not preaching! If people in the world wanted to be preached at they would already be in church. Also, witnessing is not itemizing someoneís sins for them or throwing someoneís shortcomings in their face. Most people already know they are lacking. This is what witnessing is: (1) doing a favor (or asking a favor), then (2) telling your own story, (3) then naming Yahshua / Jesus in the process. Itís as simple as that. Though simple, this method is as effective as can be. You do the sowing, somebody else does the cultivating, somebody else does the reaping. You donít really have a whole lot of responsibility in the whole thing except to sow.

Seeds to Needs

Sometimes we can sow our seed to a need. Sometimes it is very obvious when someone is open to our testimony -- perhaps thereís been a death in the family, or thereís a suffering family member or a health or financial problem. When these types of issues come up in conversation, we know that the ground is already cultivated, and our threefold sowing method will often address the need.

It is also obvious when somebody is not open to our testimony. Nevertheless, circumstances will eventually arrange themselves in every life to make a way for a gospel seed to germinate. We have seen even the hardest hearts broken open by a little sprout of a seedling when circumstances were right. Charles Wesley, the hymn-writer, expresses sowing seeds to needs in may of his songs: Help us to help each other, Lord, each otherís cross to bear; let all their friendly aid afford, and feel each otherís care. (UMH 561) We must be sensitive to the needs of others: your seed will often fulfill your friendís need.

Easy and Fun

Another great way to sow the seed of the Word is by asking someone for a favor. Although you wouldnít think so, this is one of the most effective ways of witnessing, and you often get your reward immediately and later, too!

I left my lights on in a KMart parking lot. My battery was dead. Fortunately, I had jumper cables with me. My task was to find someone who would pull their car over for a jump. Thatís unusually pretty easy, but I picked out the sourest red face in the parking lot. He had his arms full of stuff. When I asked him for help, he said no! But when I asked him again, he grudgingly said, OK, "but Iím in a big hurry." We started the car. (This was my favor.) I told him who I was, and that I was at KMart to buy gifts for kids at church. (That was my story). Then I left him with the words, "Yahshua bless you, sir." (I named the name.) By this time he was smiling, and he said something very profound -- "thank you." It was he who did the favor, but he was thanking me!

And this is a perfect example of using the threefold method of sowing seed. It is easy and fun. And you can do it all the time without fear, because you are not responsible for the outcome, somebody else is.

Success Short-lived

Aside from perceiving a need, sowers often have no way of knowing whether the soil is prepared or not for the seed. Thatís OK, because we just cast our seed wherever we can. It is the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit that does the cultivating, and we put our hope in the Spirit and keep casting forth seeds. The birds eat some; others fall on rocks. We knew better than to deliberately sow on rocky or hard ground in the first place, but we cast it there anyway. We take advantage of every opportunity. Weíve all seen how a strong seedling can break a concrete sidewalk, havenít we?

On occasion, success comes, and we are disappointed to find that it is only short-lived. The seed sown germinates and even grows a little. The sinner repents in due time -- may even go running to the altar shouting Hallelujah! May even do a little premature witnessing himself, or clean up his act for awhile, or quit swearing, like brother Grady was convicted to do. But there may be no depth to it, and resistance to the devil or the world or that bad habit is limited to the personís inability or unwillingness to pray. 40 years later, the "almost persuaded" still gives his testimony of how he "got saved once" or "got religion." Yet no viable seed has ever been sown by this person.

Years ago I did music ministry at a Baptist Church for their Sunday night service. Every service the pastor asked for testimonies, and every time one woman would pull an old tattered piece of paper out of her purse and read off the story of her salvation in 1937. This sister had religion, but she never even sowed a wild oat in over 50 years.

There are many "Christians," so-called, that have a form of godliness but deny the power of it because they donít do agriculture. Only the undeserved favor of Yahweh can get these folks through the gate.

Hardly Ever Persuaded

In other cases, money or pride are the seed-stealing devils. Before we even have an opportunity, we are sized up as to whether we are of an acceptable economic or social status. If we donít measure up, every word we say goes into one ear and out the other. People with money and social standing are hard nuts to crack. They are often the stingiest of all. And though they may have great material wealth or power, they often are spiritually bankrupt. Nevertheless, all the veneer disappears when a the rich man is on his deathbed or when the socialite loses her status. The seed has a better chance of germinating then. Either way, we plant because we have compassion for the poor in spirit. We wait, then we sow.

Persuaded!

There are those in whom we plant the seed that understand it and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they nurture it. Like the mustard, the seed-word grows into a great bush that casts off its own seeds in due season. How blessed we are when we have the privilege of seeing the results of our sowing, a soul saved, a ministry raised up, a Kingdom ascending. In our ministry, we have had the privilege to have raised up many ministers committed to Yahshua. There might even be a few raised up here before itís all over! A few words spoken, a deed done, a powerful name named, and now, no matter what happens to us, we can see a the tall trees that we have planted becoming an apple orchard. Some here may know what I mean, for you too have raised an orchard of trees with branches hanging low with heavy fruit.

Johnny Appleseed

I grew up in the Ohio corn belt. In my day, children entering public school were taught about Johnny Appleseed. Have you folks down here in the south ever heard of Johnny Appleseed? Everyone in the Midwest knows who he is. There are statues of him, streets and even towns named after him and a museum dedicated to him. His greatest contribution to history was planting apple trees. Let me tell you his remarkable story.

"For forty-nine years, John Chapman (1774-1845) roamed the American wilderness, devotedly planting apple trees in the wildernesses of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana, spanning an estimated area of 100,000 square miles. Some of these trees are still bearing fruit after 150 years.

"The reason for John's mission is unknown, although it's said he dreamed of a land covered with blossoming apple trees; of a land where no one went hungry because apples were plentiful. John's gentleness and courage were legendary even in his own time. He walked alone in the wilderness, without gun or knife. He chopped down no trees, and killed no animals. He was respected and appreciated by the native American tribes and the new settlers alike. [He was also deeply religious, following the call of the Father.]

"John lived very simply. He slept outdoors, walked barefoot and ate berries and the like. He made his clothes from sacks and wore a tin pot for a hat (and to cook with). John made his drinking water in winter by melting snow with his feet. Even the people of his time were amazed at his endurance. Yet after his death, it was discovered that John was not poor at all. He owned considerable areas of land -- on which he planted apple trees, of course. John died at the age of 70 in the home of a friend near Fort Wayne, Indiana. He lies buried there under the epitaph ĎHe lived for others.í

"The longevity of trees and their ability to spread makes John Chapman's contribution perhaps the most lasting in American history. Laws, wars and political parties have come and gone; lawyers, soldiers and statesmen have grown powerful, only to see their life's work eventually undone. But John's apple trees have endured and multiplied, changing the face and food of a continent. All from a gentle man, possessed by a strange and wonderful dream."

--Johnny Appleseed Homepage
http://www.msc.cornell.edu/ weeds/SchoolPages/Appleseed/welcome.html

As a child, when I looked at an apple tree, I always wondered if Johnny Appleseed had planted it. In school, we were taught to venerate his meek character, his diligence to see his mission accomplished, and to his wonderful dream for a peaceful, utopian world. The fruit of his labor is still to be found on many apple trees up north. The picture we see of him in school textbooks is that of a man dressed in rude clothing with a pot on his head, a bag under his arms, and his right hand thrown outward in scattering seed. John never planted according to agricultural methods of Purdue University, he scattered hither and thither, not regarding where each seed falls. Yet many came to fruition, changing lives and landscape forever.

How superior it is for us who scatter the seeds of a Millennium Kingdom! How high is our mission, no matter how low we ourselves may be! For to be a sower of the Word of Yahweh makes one both as lofty as a King and as servile as a slave. Do someone a favor. Tell your story. Name your Savior. Go forth. Sow. If the seed is cast there will always be a crop, and the promise, even for the casual sower, is that he will indeed bear fruit and yield a hundred-fold, sixty-fold or thirty-fold.

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