Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we hear a beautiful poetic passage from Isaiah (55: 10-11) about how God sends down rain and snow to the earth, but that it does not return to the heavens until it has made the land fertile and fruitful. When that cycle is successful, humans can then harvest the crops and make bread to eat.
The passage further notes that just as the purpose of the water is to produce abundant crops, the purpose of the word of God is to have human beings understand and follow God’s will. In other words, rain and God’s words are supposed to have a positive effect.
Then, in the Gospel passage from St. Matthew, Jesus gives a very interesting parable that has the same theme. In this parable, a sower sows seeds. Some seeds fall on good ground and bear much fruit, while other seeds fall on poor soil that produces nothing. Needless to say, the moral of the story is for us to hear the word of God, understand it, and then live it.
To show how God’s word can indeed produce great results, let’s look how the love of Scripture touched the heart of one man, and how the Holy Spirit passed it along to other men. As a result, millions upon millions of people on the planet have heard the Bible preached throughout during the past century.
One day, a Sunday school teacher by the name of Edward D. Kimball was teaching his regular class. He noticed that one of the boys, in particular, was having trouble paying attention. For reasons only God know, Mr. Kimball felt called to go to that young student and bring him to Christ. For Mr. Kimball, simply showing up to Sunday school class was not sufficient; he expected his students to turn their hearts over to Christ fully.
So, one day, Mr. Kimball went to the shoe store where this student was working. Edward found the student, Dwight L. Moody, working in the back of the store stocking shoes. Right then and there, Edward led Dwight to Christ. Eventually, Dwight L. Moody left the shoe store to become of the most famous preachers and evangelists in the United States.
Dwight Moody went all over the world preaching and challenging others to give their lives to Christ. One day, Dwight found himself in the British Isles, preaching in a little chapel pastored by a young man named Frederic Brotherton Meyer. In his sermon, Dwight Moody told about his Sunday school teacher in Chicago and how he had personally visited every student in his class and led them to follow Christ.
That message changed Pastor Meyer’s entire ministry, and it inspired him to become an evangelist like Dwight Moody. Over time, Pastor Meyer came to the United States many times to preach. Once, when he was preaching in Northfield, Massachusetts, a confused young preacher name J. Wilbur Chapman sat in the back row. Wilbur heard Pastor Meyer say, “If you are not willing to give up everything for Christ, are you willing to be made willing?” From that remark, J. Wilbur Chapman led him to give his life to Christ.
In time, Wilbur Chapman became one of the most effective evangelists of his time. He not only touched the hearts and minds of people who came to hear him, he had a profound effect on a young volunteer named Billy Sunday who helped him set up his crusades. Billy Sunday watched Wilbur Chapman carefully, and he learned. In time, Billy Sunday took over Wilbur Chapman’s ministry and became one of the most dynamic evangelists of the Twentieth Century. In the great arenas of the United States, Billy brought thousands of people to Christ.
Inspired by a 1924 crusade that Billy Sunday held in Charlotte, North Carolina, a group of Christians dedicated themselves to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in 1932. To do this, the committee invited evangelist Mordecai Ham to hold these meetings, and that is what Mordecai did. Mordecai most likely did not realize how the Holy Spirit was working in this crusade. For not only did he touch the hearts of thousands, he especially touched the heart of a lanky 16-year boy. The teenager came back night after night, sitting spellbound as Mordecai shouted and waved along finger at the crowd. The teenager felt Mordecai was directing his words directly at him, and pointing his finger directly at him. The teenager gave his life to Christ as a result of this crusade.
The teenager’s name was Billy Graham, a man who went on to become one of the most powerful preachers the world has ever known and who has communicated the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people on earth than any other preacher in history.
In this amazing story, we see how God’s word can and does come down into human hearts, and how, with the help of the Holy Spirit, cause these hearts to grow and flourish and produce amazing results.
You and I receive the Holy Spirit in our baptism, and at baptism, we are made part of the priesthood of all believers. We are made official ministers of the Catholic Church forever. And just as people like Dwight Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham were called to give their lives for Jesus Christ, you and are have received this same call.
True, we are not all called to preach in arenas on the world stage, but we are all called to serve God in this world by living our vocations to the best of our ability. We are to hear the word of God, put it into our hearts, and then put it into action by building up the Kingdom of God here on earth.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: Les Christie. “A Nobody Named Kimball.” In Wayne Rice (Ed.), Still
More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 1999, pp. 37-38.