(Appeared first in February 2011, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.—1 Corinthians 3:6 (TNIV)
When farmers plow and thresh, they should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.—1 Corinthians 9:10 (TNIV)
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about investing in hope. That is, he compared his apostolic work with farmers who plow, sow and thresh in the hope of sharing a harvest.
Like farmers dependent on soil and weather conditions beyond their control, Paul sowed with the hope of a harvest. He planted spiritual seed in the life of the Corinthian people, nurturing the hope that God would bring forth fruit among them. What a beautiful word picture for the way we invest ourselves in the lives of other people, hoping that God will bring about something good!
What kinds of seeds did Paul plant among the people at Corinth? What kind of harvest did Paul expect? I imagine Paul may have been thinking of the parable of the sower, where Jesus compared seed to the Word of God (Matthew 13:3-23). Surely Paul saw the good news of Jesus Christ as fertile seed that would bear fruit in the lives of his hearers, many of whom were pagans. He expected this seed to yield a harvest produced by God. The yield is the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul explained it to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience and so on (Galatians 5:22).
The parable of the sower demonstrates that God calls each of us to receive the seed of the Word. Our heart is the seedbed in which God’s word can sprout, grow and bring forth abundant fruit. At times we harden our hearts. Yet it is also true that God calls us to plant seeds in the lives of other people.
This concept is perhaps captured most eloquently in a prayer by Saint Francis of Assisi. Both of the most recent Mennonite hymnals include it among the prayers for public worship:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal
St. Francis of Assisi was aware that we are called to plant seeds in all kinds of soil. Christian ministry seeks to reclaim weed-infested soil for a harvest of right living.
Like farmers who trust God for a crop, we cannot determine the outcome of our labor.
Yet we do not “bury” seeds with lament that we will never see them again. Rather, we plant seeds of God’s peace with the confidence that we are in partnership with God. We invest in the hope that God puts life into the seed. Our hope is in God, who created all things and makes the earth bear fruit.
Over the next year, I intend to explore the theme of hope in the Scriptures, finding application for us today. Recently I’ve noticed a number of references in church papers that speak of hope. For example, Mennonite World Conference’s last issue of Courier in 2010 carried interviews with members of their Executive Committee, leaders from around the world. Each was asked what gave him or her hope. Again, the summer 2010 issue of Philhaven Perspective was devoted to an exploration of ways mental health workers bring hope to their patients.
Together, let’s explore God’s call to bring healing and hope to the world.