Monday, July 17, 2017

You Can't Plant Seeds with a Closed Fist

There is an old saying that holds you can’t plant seeds with a closed fist.  Think about it.  If you want to plant a seed you have to open your hand and be willing to let it go.

This morning we hear again one of Jesus’ best-known stories – the Parable of the Sower and the Seed.  The focus of the story is neither the sower nor the seed, but rather the ground on which the seed falls.  For centuries farmers in England, when scattering seed, have subscribed to an ancient proverb:

One for the rock, one for the crow,
One to die, and one to grow.

Jesus tells his story to explain why his teachings don’t always take root in a person’s life.  Some people are shallow.  Some are consumed with worldly concerns.  Some are attacked by the evil one.  And some people are like rich, fertile soil.  The seeds Jesus sows landing on these folks become a bountiful harvest in their lives.  Some sermons (including ones I have preached) encourage us to examine our own life to discern where each of the four conditions exists within us.  As Jesus tells the story the focus is on the ground and we are the ground.

This morning I want to help us enter the story from a different perspective.  I want us to think about the person who opened his or her fist to plant a seed.  Why do sowers sow? 

Why did Jesus sow?  Because he wanted to share the Good News of God’s love for all people and the coming of God’s kingdom here and now.  He sowed this seed through the words he spoke and he sowed them through the deeds he did – healing the sick, lifting up the broken hearted, reaching out to the outcast, forgiving the sinner, challenging the proud and mighty, giving his life in service to others – even to death on the Cross.  The seeds he sowed changed the world.

And they continue to change the world as new sowers cast Jesus’ seeds about through their own words and through how they live their lives.  While we are the ground in Jesus’ parable, at some point we also become the sower.  So let’s spend some time reflecting on what it means to be a sower.

The first thing to consider is what kind of seeds you are sowing in life.  Oscar Wilde wrote about agitators who sowed the seeds of discontent.  Racism does not simply develop out of thin air.  It is a seed that must be sown.  The same is true for issues involving gender relations and concerns about orientation.  Our response to each comes from seeds sown in us over a long period of time.  Indifference is a seed.  We Christians dream of a field where the seeds of kindness, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, respect, and equality are sown.  Are you aware of the kinds of seeds you are sowing?

Here is another thing to consider.  Sowers of Jesus’ seed are people of deep faith.  Geoff Hamilton, once the host of the BBC show Gardener’s World, says “seedsmen reckon that their stock in trade is not seeds at all... it’s optimism.”  Seeds take a long time to germinate.  You will not see the results of your sowing for some time.  You have to believe what you do now will make a difference down the road.  This faith is essential for parenting and grand parenting.  It is an absolute necessity for teachers and Sunday school teachers.  It takes the faith of a sower to hand out a bulletin, to read a lesson, to give a sermon, to offer a prayer, to pass the peace with a stranger, to put something in the offering plate, or to come to the altar rail expecting to encounter the Living Christ through partaking of a wafer and sip of wine.  You won’t always see the result right away.  You must have faith.

Trust is also important.  You must trust in the power of a seed.  Thoreau said, “I have great faith in a seed.  Convince me that you have a seed… and I am prepared to expect wonders.”  Captain Jim, the character of the lighthouse keeper in Lucy Maude Montgomery’s novel Anne’s House of Dreams, says this:

It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in ‘em…  When I ponder on them seeds I don’t find it nowise hard to believe that we’ve got souls that’ll live in other worlds.  You couldn’t hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone color and scent, if you hadn’t seen the miracle, could you?

If you are a sower you have to trust in the power of the seed to do something well beyond anything you could pull off on your own.  Every time and every way you live out the Gospel’s goodness, you are sowing a seed of incredible potential. 

As a seminarian I was assigned to apprentice at Trinity Church in Manassas.  I remember vividly the first time I received communion there.  Ed Campbell, the rector of the parish, came to me as I knelt at the rail.  He placed the wafer in my hand, touched my wrist as I touch yours, looked me in straight in the eyes, and with warmth on his face said, “Keith, the Body of Christ which is given for you.”  Until that moment, communion had been for me primarily a penitential experience.  It was a time for me to list the litany of sins I had committed over the course of the week and to promise really, really, really to be better in the week to come.  The next Sunday I came back to church with largely the same list of sins as the week before, feeling as guilty as ever. 

That morning in Manassas, Ed planted a seed in me that transformed my experience of communion.  It is now a place where I find God’s unconditional love and sense this love as we manifest it to and for one another in our faith community.  Ed passed away several years ago, but if he was here today I am confident he would have no recollection of that particular Sunday.  Like every other Sunday, Ed simply was being Ed.  He sowed seeds.  You never know where the seeds you sow will land, but you must trust that some will land in fertile ground where the power within them will be unleashed in the life of another.

Here is one final thought about sowers.  You will only have seeds to sow if you do not consume every seed you have.  Folks in our society today tend to spend more than they have and commit to more than they have time to accomplish.  The more overextended you are the less seeds you will have to scatter. 

Adolphus Eley owned a hardware store on West Washington Street where the wine shop currently is located.  He was a long time, faithful member of St. Paul’s who generously supported the work of the parish.  When he died in 1906 he gave the building to the church.  We rented it out for several decades before finally selling it in the 1950s. 

Mr. Eley also left a financial gift to the church, which today is overseen by a small group of our members known as The Trustees of the Funds.  Each year it generates about $5,000 of income and the Trustees are tasked with approving how this resource will be used.  Typically, the Vestry and I ask the Trustees to fund a project or pay for an expense not easily handled by the yearly contributions you all make to our operating budget. 

Do you want to know who paid for all of our expenses related to the celebration of our 375th Anniversary – the buses for the pilgrimage, the printing of bulletins, mailings, invitations, the Saturday evening gala celebration, the Sunday service and reception?  Adolphus Eley.  The fund he set up 111 years ago covered the entire cost of over $6,800.  What an incredible testimony to the value of saving so you have seeds to sow!

Allow me to close by reading a poem from Walter de la Mare’s collection in Peacock Pie.  While it focuses solely on a woman and her actual garden, it is easy to hear in it the kind of richness we find in life as we give our lives to sowing Gospel seeds.

A poor old Widow in her weeds
Sowed her garden with wild-flower seeds;
Not too shallow, and not too deep,
And down came April -- drip -- drip -- drip.
Up shone May, like gold, and soon
Green as an arbor grew leafy June.
And now all summer she sits and sews
Where willow herb, comfrey, bugloss blows,
Teasle and pansy, meadowsweet,
Campion, toadflax, and rough hawksbit;
Brown bee orchis, and Peals of Bells;
Clover, burnet, and thyme she smells;
Like Oberon’s meadows her garden is
Drowsy from dawn to dusk with bees.
Weeps she never, but sometimes sighs,
And peeps at her garden with bright brown eyes;
And all she has is all she needs --
A poor Old Widow in her weeds.

The old widow illustrates the truth of the gospel paradox that the more you let go, the richer your world becomes.  You can’t plant seeds with a closed fist.