Because I Am Blessed!
Sowing Seeds of Grace
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
2 Corinthians 9: 6-13
What an odd pairing of Scripture that we have today! Huh?
I get asked on a fairly regular basis how I select the Scriptures that we are going to study during the worship service every week. And in case you are wondering that… I’ll let you know. We follow the Revised Common Lectionary. A lectionary is simply a schedule of Scriptures. If you have ever driven through town and looked at the marquee signs in front of our local churches that quote their Scripture of the week and thought… “Didn’t we just talk about that at church?” That is because most of the churches in the area follow the same schedule of Scripture.
But this week, we are sort of half on and half off of the Lectionary. The prophet Zephaniah has our lectionary Scripture of the week. But I brought in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, because while Zephaniah points out the problems, well… Corinthians points out the solutions.
So they might have sounded like an odd pairing – but they offer us a full circle.
Well, Zephaniah was a prophet. He was the great- great- grandson of Hezekiah- one of the great kings of Judah back in the day. Zephaniah makes sure to mention this in his book because it lets us know that he was from a royal lineage and likely rubbed elbows with those in authority even generations after Hezekiah. He was the sort of guy that was included on all the guest lists for political fundraisers, charity banquets… He was in the “know” and one of the Who’s Who of ancient Judah.
And given his vast and in-depth knowledge of the religious workings of the day, he was likely at the center of the religious social community of the day as well. Which would make sense, as he is a prophet of our Lord…
And from his unique perspective at the heart of society, Zephaniah, did not like what he saw happening. In his prophecies, he wrote that the day of the Lord was near (1:14) which he described as a time of wrath and judgment on sin (1:17)- that would ultimately/ eventually result in the blessing of God’s presence among His people (3:17).
For example, Zephaniah had a first hand look at the religious hypocrisy that was happening in the ancient world. Right in the heart of Judah, not too far from the temple mount, where it was believed that God lived. The people were building places of worship for pagan deities. Right in God’s front lawn. Which obviously was really rude and blasphemous towards God.
So, Zephaniah calls them out on the behavior! Tells them to knock it off!
In our passage today that, which is known as the ninth oracle of Zephaniah, he calls out the political and religious leaders for the worst sin of all – apathy.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.” 13 Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.
Helen Keller was once quoted as saying, “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.”
The worst of all evils.
It is no small thing to suggest that one sin is greater than another. I have to remind myself occasionally that “sin is sin,” that there is “no” one that outranks another.
But I am tempted to agree with Helen Keller on this one.
The worst of them all: apathy – indifference or, as Zephaniah said, complacency.
Zephaniah suggest that apathy is so evil that God is willing to go out into Jerusalem, into the streets, into our homes, into our hearts – with a lamp to illuminate the darkness of our indifference.
Now, our God is anything but indifferent to the concerns and needs of this world. God is not complacent.
Rather, Zephaniah teaches us that God is actively working to ensure that there will be an ongoing relationship between God and God’s people… That there won’t be anything to stand in its way. This is what is at the heart of Zephaniah’s ninth oracle. The lesson that God is not indifferent, and neither are we as God’s people to be indifferent about our relationship with God, or about politics, or about the social well-being of all, or about anything else that God cares about.
To be a follower of our God means to be the opposite of apathetic. It means being involved, interested, concerned – it means that we have to pay attention to what is going on around us. It means going beyond just existing… to being someone that keeps an eye open for opportunities to respond/to engage in the great needs of this world with Christian love.
And we do this by sowing seeds of grace.
Now, lets flash forward 800 years (long after Zephaniah was gone) to when Paul wrote his letter to the church in Corinth, because it is here that Paul teaches the church to pay attention to what they sow in the world around them.
I preached on this passage only a month ago during our Stewardship Sunday, so it might sound really familiar, but I want you to think about this passage, not as a message about giving our money. But about giving or sowing seeds of our awareness, of interest – seeds of responding to the needs of the world.
So keep that in mind as I read from 2 Corinthians.
Paul says, “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…”
As Christian people, when we go out into the world we sow seeds. Whether we are aware of it or not. We plant ideas, we impact community – sowing seeds. If we are kind and attentive to the people around us. If, whenever we leave the house, we walk around with eyes wide open looking for opportunities to share God’s grace and love and compassion with others. Then we will reap that in return – kindness and attentiveness. We would plant seed of encouragement so that yet more people could plant yet more seeds of grace. What we put into the world, God is able to grow and multiply. Because God made us blessed.
So we have to make sure that we are sowing the right things.
What happens when we go into the world leaving behind us a trail of indifference? If we put our blinders on and stick to our path? If we ignore the needs and cries for help of our neighbors and friends? What happens then?
Elie Wiesel, a political activist, said this:, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
In a world that is as broken and bruised as this one. One that has known so much hate and heresy, death and ugliness. Do we really want one more seed of apathy to be sown into the ground?
When Zephaniah was telling off the Judeans for being rude and blasphemous towards God… this would be so much worse.
Because just as God love you, and loves me. God has called us to open our eyes. To open then towards the need of grace in this world. The need to put God’s love into action.
So, as I said earlier Zephaniah tells us about the problems of the world. He warns against the dangers of our apathy. But Paul presents to us the solution. If you are sick of what you see when you turn on the news and think to yourself, “Boy, I wish someone would do something about that…” and then change the channel… moving on to something new. That is your apathetic side rearing its head.
When you see a visitor walk into the church and think, “hmm, I hope someone goes and greets him.” And you just turn back to your friends and your coffee. That is apathy.
If you see a friend in need- but claim that you are too busy to help. That is apathy.
When you see a need in this world. God says “Go! That is your purpose. Be my hands and feet in this world!
Paul goes on to say that if we don’t think we have the goodness, or the awareness, or the resources to sow grace into this world. If we think we can’t cut it… Well… God will provide it! All you have to do is be willing. God is constantly putting opportunities in our path to do God’s work. If we need a nudge, or someone to shine the light and send us a sign… if you are willing- God will show you.