Today's message is based on Matthew 13: 1-23
I’m sure most of us have done some gardening in one way or another.
Flower gardening can be fun, but I used to do a lot of vegetable gardening.
For years I spent each spring turning the soil, arranging plant schemes, and setting up protection against varmints that would like to enjoy my produce before I do.
Human beings have been planting/gardening since almost the beginning of time.

In spring you sow seeds as optimism abounds, but then begins the rest of the project.
But as summer goes on, there are three things that can go wrong with your garden.

One is that, despite best efforts, many gardeners just don’t know what they’re doing.
They have planted things too close, watered too much or too little, or failed to plant the plants near or far from other plants since, like people, some plants like to be near others.
Lack of knowledge can spell the failure of even the best intentioned gardens.

Second thing is, before you know it, weeds are taking up residence in your garden.
While you baby and nurture your seed plants, weeds will grow like crazy with no help.
And, despite best efforts, the deer and rabbits and groundhogs will come to visit.
It’s easy to get discouraged and with all that happening, to just give up on the garden.

Third possible cause of failure is due to the lack of attention given that a garden needs.
The time a garden needs so diligently given in spring, can wane as summer goes on.
We can get distracted by other things and demands that occupy our time instead.
And, like anything else, when it is neglected for other things, a garden will suffer.

Jesus tells this parable about seeds being planted but says three quarters of them fail.
That’s a pretty terrible percentage for almost anything you’re engaged in, right?
But Jesus isn’t talking about seeds per se,…. but “the word of the kingdom” of God.
And he says that the odds of that taking hold in people is…..well,….pretty slim.

I don’t have to tell you Christianity in America today wonders if it’s in a crisis situation.
The percentage of people who go to church regularly is maybe a little over 25%.
Denominational churches have less members than they used to and lower attendance.
The Catholic Church isn’t much better and non-denomination churches are stagnate.
Lots of people have delved into all kinds of explanations about why this is so.
But I think we ought to consider two things when this issue is looked at.

One is that what we thought was the norm for church going was really an aberration.
The ‘hay days’ of Christianity in America were in the post World War II years.
Prior to that and now today, the norm was this smaller percentage of active members.
I won’t get into the reasons for that, but church membership in the 50s and 60s and even 70s was up beyond normal before gradually starting to decline after that.

The second reason (and more important reason) we shouldn’t be surprised is based on the fact that Jesus told us it could be like this.
In this parable about seeds he gave us a good idea of the percentages we see today.
And, if you recall, he gave reasons why 3 of 4 seeds of the word of God wouldn’t take.
He said that, like a garden, the word of God can suffer from lack of understanding.
People often don’t get the message of Jesus and aren’t serious about trying to learn.
The fault also lies in part with churches that don’t connect the Gospel with or relate it to people, so it seems irrelevant and they gain nothing.

Secondly, like when a garden fails, people can get discouraged easily.
When things go wrong in life and events overwhelm, we can just give up on our faith.
I have heard many stories of regular church goers who have done just that.
They experience hardship or suffer loss and then abandon the garden of their faith.

The third reason is maybe the most common - other things distract us from faith.
With all that the world has going today, church and faith are one of many options.
And so, like a garden that is abandoned, church and faith life are for the same reasons.

So if Jesus says 3 of 4 don’t take why be depressed at low church numbers?
We have to remember, that numbers alone do not always tell the whole story.
While the glass is 3/4 empty,….let’s not forget that its also 1/4 full !
And that means the word has taken root and grown for a good number of the people!
Not only does that matter in what it means to them, but also to the world around them.

Jesus says when the word of God seed takes hold, it “bears fruit and yields” lots.
Lots of good things, that is, for both the person as well as for others.
So what fruit is that?     Well…here’s some other statistics to ponder.
Religious people are likely to live longer and to recover more quickly from ailments.
Religious people are less apt to be stressed and have greater support systems in life.
Religious people are better able to cope with things like death and help others do so.
Religious people in the U.S. are twice as likely to give to charities religious or otherwise
Religious people have started numerous programs to help the poor and care for others.
Religious people started AA, World Vision, Compassion International, various hospitals.
Religious people give twice as much to various organizations designed to help people.
Religious people engage in work at soup kitchens or Habitat for Humanity more so too.
Even more than that, in our personal relationships and dealings with others day in and day out, are more likely to be positive than if we did not receive this word of God seed.  

Sometimes, when you start sowing seeds,….only a small percentage take hold.
And yet, from that small percentage an abundant crop can result.
When the message of Jesus was spread around the world, not everyone welcomed it.
Not then during his time, nor with the apostles after him, nor even still today.

And yet, when it does take hold it can make all the difference.
If you look back on your life, you will see how it has mattered and made a difference!
We’ve not only received much of the fruits of faith, but also have helped produce them.
Both within the church as well as outside, we have been part of a great bearing of fruit.
Its not how many seeds develop, its how we develop when that one seed takes hold.

Amen