Show Me The Potatoes

This article was originally written by me in 1999.

The phrase “show me the money” was made popular by the movie “Jerry MaGuire.”  MaGuire is a sport’s agent.  One of his football players threatens to jump to another agent.  MaGuire cajoles, smooth talks, and promises.  The football player retreats to the mantra, “Show me the money.”  He wants to see some results from having MaGuire as his agent.

We all want results.  Especially pastors.  Especially this pastor.  I recently preached my 1,000 sermon.  That means roughly 2 million words have poured forth – or dribbled – from my mouth.  I have written the equivalent of 32 four hundred page novels, and let me tell you, “I ain’t exactly on the best seller list.”  The results have been paltry.  I don’t confirm kids in the faith; I graduate them from church.  When I baptize children into the family of God, I, more often then not, am bon voyaging their family.  Most adults I have catechized in the faith are not lost to the lions but to the Saints [An NFL football team], the lake, the camp, or the bed.

I know what you’re going to say to me.  “Remember the parable of the sower.”  I just preached on it too.  I saw what you did.  I saw that 3 out of 4 seeds sown don’t produce.  That means I shouldn’t be surprised that 750,000 of the words out of my mouth might as well have been spoken to rocks, that 24 out of 32 of my novels went unread, that my “graduation” rate is high, that people cruise out of my church with their baptized babies, that my catacombs are full.  There is some sort of perverse pleasure in this that I am sure Lyle Schaller would lecture me about, but there is not much comfort.

The comfort comes in the last verse of that text, the part about the Good Seed producing 100, 60, 30 fold.  If you’re like me, you have been afraid to go there.  I have only seen 100, 60, 30 folded empty chairs.  The numbers 100, 60, 30 have only related to me in the sense that has been the direction of my statistics.

Of course you’ve seen what I have done.  I have done precisely what I have accused Church Growthers and Synodical officials of doing.  I’ve focused on numbers.  That’s not Jesus’ point.  His point is what the Word can do.  One little Word can fell the prince of this world according to Luther.  One little Word can release a conscience imprisoned for years.  One little Word brings us the Body and Blood of our God.  One little Word does far more than any of us have ever imagined or will ever imagine.

This has all been lost on me over the years.  It has been lost on me despite my using the usual images of one kernel of corn producing thousands of kernels, one acorn producing millions of others.  It was all lost on me till someone showed me the potatoes.

It happened like this.  Harvey, my rancher friend in Normangee, Texas, and I were out in his barn. My eyes fell on a bushel of potatoes.  He offered that these had come from his garden.  Then I noticed a stack of crates to my right and then my eyes walked down the corral fence and noticed more crates.  I followed those crates around to the wall of the barn and there were still more stacks of crates.  I rather stupidly asked,  “What are these?” Harvey rather casually replied, “O, more potatoes.”

Now Harvey has a rather small family living with him.  (Except when my family comes in the summer, that is.  Only recently, I’ve noticed that he has been counting his cattle before we leave.)  So, I thought to mildly chide him on his permissive planting of potatoes by saying, “How many did you plant?”  “Just one,” was his answer.

I can’t begin to explain planting potatoes as well as Harvey did.  But suffice it to say that you send away for a seed potato.  Wherever it has an eye you cut around it and plop it in the ground.  That eye sends forth a shoot and roots and the shoot leafs and the roots become potatoes. If Jesus had been a Texan, He most assuredly would have used a potato planter and not a seed sower.  His point was so much easier for this non-agriculture major to understand.  There I stood surrounded by boxes of potatoes.  Hundreds of pounds all from one potato.  Now you know that not everything Harvey planted produced.  Some withered from too little rain.  Some rotted from too much.  Some the insects got and I’m quite sure some eyes never saw the ground.  I’m sure Harvey dropped one or two eyes because of his eyes.  (He should be wearing his glasses all the time for small things, but he doesn’t.  I know he doesn’t because when he was picking minnows out of the seine for us to fish with he couldn’t figure out why he kept feeling little pricks.  He had seined not only minnows but baby catfish.)
Don’t you get it?  The wonder is not how much all of our preaching and teaching produce.  The wonder is what one little Word of His coming from our lips or hands produces.  But get this.  Like potatoes, the production is not evident at all till harvest time.  It’s not evident on new member Sunday.  It’s not evident on our Cradle Rolls or  youth group.  It’s not evident in our statistics at all.  O you can count potato plants all right, but you don’t know the number of real potatoes you have till harvest time. I think we will be as surprised in heaven as I was in Harvey ‘s barn.  “Where did all these saints come from,” we will ask in amazement?  From one baby Pastor Friedrich baptized in 1952.  From one child Pastor Nelsen confirmed in 1960.  From one sinner Pastor Moritz absolved in 1965 will be the answer.

Our “job” now isn’t counting potatoes.  You can’t count them till harvest.  You would be foolish to try and count them before.  They are covered by so much dirt you would never be accurate.  Our “job” is planting potatoes.  We take that one Word and Baptize with it, absolve with it, communicate with it, and preach it.  The only thing we can know about results is that as much as God does with a potato He does far more with His Word.

Harvey sent two bags of potatoes home with us.  He exchanged them for the two calves the boys had tucked under the seats.  I’m thinking of having one of them (potatoes not calves) bronzed.  When I’m discouraged all someone will have to do is show me the potato.  Then I’ll stop digging in the dirt looking for results and get back to planting.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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