Nurturing the Seed (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost)
Sermons on YouTube…
As I return from vacation, my big home project for the next month is going to be trying (again!) to get grass to grow in the lower part of my back yard. Sometimes, getting grass to grow is easy (especially if it’s in places you DON’T want it to grow!) But it’s been really difficult over the years for me to keep grass growing right around the area of my deck and patio, where I really want it to look good. In fact, that part of my yard has pretty much been a mud pit for several years now.
One of the reasons that it’s been really hard for me to get grass to grow is that most of that part of the yard is heavily shaded, and that makes growing grass difficult. And so for a long time, I searched for the best “dense shade” grass seed. I tried seed of various brands and various types of grass. But regardless of what of seed I used, or how expensive it was, it didn’t seem to make a difference.
Over the years though, I’ve realized that the main issue wasn’t the seed. There are lots of things that are important to growing grass, and to keeping the grass growing. And these things are true regardless of the quality of the seed. They’re things like:
- Planting at the right time of year – I used to try to plant in the spring; that never lasted! That’s why I only try now in the fall (which is the “right time” for planting grass…)
- Managing the water – watering a lot and watering constantly – is really important. But I’ve also realized that I needed to deal with the drainage. I have a big hill in my back yard, and in these big downpours we get, the hill has acted like a waterfall and literally washed away the seed and the soil. I’ve tried to mitigate that this time around, because I know that water (and preventing waterfalls) are even more important than what seed I use …
- Preparing the soil – I used to believe that stuff about “loosen the soil, and then just spread the seed.” But that’s not nearly sufficient! You need to not only loosen the soil, but add fresh soil and fertilizer. Then at least, I have a fighting chance of getting grass to grow; I can’t just toss the seed and hope for the best…!
In the lead-up to today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has been showing the disciples what it means to live lives of faith. He’s talked to them about the importance of repentance and forgiveness. He’s warned them not to put stumbling blocks before people who are trying to find life with God. And he’s modeled for them what living into the kingdom of God is all about.
It’s tough work. It requires constant growth in faith. And so the disciples make a seemingly natural request: “Increase our faith!” And it’s in response to this request that Jesus tells them that if they “had faith the size of a mustard seed” they could do incredible things.
It’s sort of a strange response. But I think the reason Jesus speaks of faith as a seed is that the disciples somehow believe that the ability to grow and thrive in faith comes from having the right seed or having more seed.
Jesus, on the other hand, implicitly tells them that they already have the seed they need. And if they want that seed to grow and empower them to do the things that Jesus calls them to do – and in fact, to do things they can’t even imagine – it’s not because God hasn’t given them the right seed.
Instead, their growth in faith is going to come from their openness and willingness to nurture and grow that seed.
Faith, after all, is not intended to remain a seed that sits in a bag someplace. It’s intended to grow and develop. It’s intended to give us confidence and hope. It’s intended to grow in us in such a way that we’re strengthened and empowered to live lives that show forth the kingdom of God right here and right now.
Faith is a gift in our lives. But for it to do any good for us or for the world around us, it needs to grow and develop. And so in today’s Gospel, Jesus encouraged his first disciples, as he encourages us, to see our part and our responsibility to nurturing the growth of the faith God has given us.
Today, as we baptized Quinton and Leo, we ask their parents and sponsors questions about helping them to grow in faith. Literally, we ask them to “nurture” them in prayer and faith – to help the seed of faith to grow in them.
But nurturing the seed of faith that God gives us isn’t just for babies and parents. Every baptism gives us a great opportunity to ask ourselves how we’re nurturing – and being open to being nurtured – in faith. And like my grass seed, being open to nurturing faith sometimes means:
- Making time in our lives to listen to what God is saying to us – one of the first “stumbling blocks” to my grass growing adventures is that fall isn’t a quiet time of year when I “have time” to deal with my yard. And the leaves are falling, and I especially don’t want to deal with growing grass AND blowing leaves. But making the time now matters. And in our faith lives, finding the time and making the time makes a difference … (this month, in Confirmation, we’ll be studying the commandment about honoring the sabbath – and one of the things about sabbath is making time for God if we want our relationship with God to have any meaning or significance in our lives…)
- As in baptism, water matters! – the thing about watering grass is that it can never be “once and done.” You have to make it part of the routine. And often, nurturing faith means making the “watering” of baptism part of our routine (Luther talked about a “daily return” to baptism) … (whether that’s daily personal prayer, regularly helping others, or being part of a small group that wrestles with faith questions…)
- Loosening the “soil” of your life – and often, messing up the way things are in your life is the hardest part of all. After all, there are lot of outside forces already messing things up! But sometimes, the changes provide opportunity for God to do a new thing in your life, or at least help you to re-evaluate things and be open to God helping you to grow in a new way in your life …
So in a sense, Jesus is promising us that the Holy Spirit has already done, and will continue to do, God’s part of planting the seed of faith in us and among us. Jesus promises us that we actually do have what we need from God.
What remains is for us to be open to cultivating that seed of faith. And as with his first disciples, Jesus also promises to walk with us and help us to do the things that help our faith to grow and develop, and become a life-changing and life-giving reality in our lives and in the life of the world around us.