“Parable of the Sower in Mark 4:13-23”

A sermon by The Rev’d Wendy Morecroft

Evensong 17 June 2018

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen

Tonight’s Gospel reading is a parable about evangelising. Many of us struggle with evangelism and so I’ve decided to recount to you, the most helpful and inspiring story that I have ever read on this subject.

The story is about an old man called Hafid. He had been a highly successful businessman who was now at the end of his life. He had given away all his wealth in readiness for his death, but he was still in possession of ten scrolls which contained the secrets to his success. The scrolls had been given to him when he was a mere camel boy of a wealthy merchant.

You see, Hafid had fallen in love with the daughter of a very wealthy man called Calneh, and decided that he must attain wealth in order that he may be worthy of proposing to her. He convinced his master to let him at least try to become a great salesman in his service. When his master learned of the reason for his newfound interest in success, he entrusted Hafid with a beautifully woven seamless red robe with a special insignia embroidered in one corner. Hafid’s master sent him to Bethlehem to sell it, warning him that it would not be easy and that he must overcome rejection in order to succeed.

After three days of knock backs and even insults, Hafid retreated to a nearby cave in order to save spending any money on accommodation. He sat down, full of despondency and decided that tomorrow, he would be sure to succeed. It was that at that moment, that he noticed a young woman and a man in the cave. They were huddled over a newborn baby whom they had covered with their coats.

When Hafid noticed the woman shiver he reluctantly took the robe out of his bag, returned the coats to the man and woman and wrapped the new born baby in his only possession, the red robe.

Hafid left the cave that night believing himself a failure and resigned to the fact he would never be able to marry the daughter of Calneh. He barely even noticed the brightest star he had ever seen, directly above the cave, or the fact that it followed him home. When he arrived at his master’s tent, his master was excited by the star and eager to hear of Hafid’s experience.

When Hafid finally admitted that he had given the robe away, and coupled with the strangeness of the star, his master realised that Hafid was the one to whom he must impart the scrolls which were the secret to his success. They had been imparted to him in a similar scenario on the understanding that he must wait for a sign as to whom he should give them. He had almost given up waiting.

Now Hafid was in the same position, an old man waiting for a sign. After three years of waiting, a bedraggled, wounded and dirty man appears at his door asking to meet with him. The man introduces himself as a tentmaker from Tarsus and a citizen of Rome. His name is Saul and he is sometimes called Paul.

Paul explains to Hafid that he needs his guidance. He confesses to being a witness to the stoning of a holy man called Stephen who was a follower of a man called Jesus. He also confesses that he had been in charge of capturing all the followers of Jesus and returning them to Jerusalem for punishment, but that was four years earlier. Everything had changed as he approached Damascus with murder in his heart when he said, (and I quote)

“there was a sudden flash of light from the heavens. I remember not having been struck but I found myself on the ground and although I could not see, I could hear, and I heard a voice in my ear say, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? I answered, ‘Who are you?’ and the voice replied, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what to do.’ (end quote)

The story goes on with Paul explaining how he went to Damascus for help and he learned to preach the Good News about Jesus but he was largely unpopular, unsuccessful and constantly fearing for his life. Four years later he heard the voice again saying: (and I quote)

“‘Thou has had the Word for nearly four years but thou hast shown few the light. Even the word of God must be sold to the people or they will hear it not. Did not I speak in parables so that all might understand? Thou wilt catch few flies with vinegar. Return to Damascus and seek out him who is acclaimed as the greatest salesman in the world. If though wouldst spread my word to the world let him show you the way.’” (end quote)

Paul told Hafid all about Jesus and he then produced the red robe which Jesus had been wearing at his crucifixion. Hafid recognised the robe at once by the familiar embroidered insignia in the corner. It was the sign he had been waiting for. He knew that this man Paul was the one to whom he must impart the scrolls which had been entrusted to him so long before.

If you haven’t recognised the story already it was written in 1968 by Og Mandino and is called The Greatest Salesman in the World. I highly recommend it to you. If you also would like to learn the secrets to successful evangelism.

I tell this story to remind each of us that even St Paul struggled at first, to get people to listen to him, but he learned to become the best evangelist of all time. I wonder if he understood how the seeds he sowed, would grow.

There is so much to say about successfully engaging with people about the love of Christ. What I do know is that every time we simply tell someone that we went to church on the weekend, or invite someone to church, we allow our light to shine. Every time we even speak the words, Jesus, love, peace, joy, hope, prayer etc., we are sowing seeds for God’s glory and we are fulfilling our baptismal prayer to shine as a light to the world.

May we like St Paul, learn to be better evangelists. Only God knows whether our seeds will bear fruit as tonight’s Gospel says, “thirty, sixty [or] a hundred fold”. Amen