Seeds (Fourth Sunday after Pentecost)

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My big summer excitement three years ago was having a bolt of lightning directly hit a huge oak tree in my back yard.  It was in the middle of an intense thunderstorm, and I was in the house actually looking out into the back yard when it happened.

It shook the house and created a huge cloud of smoke.  But, the thunderstorm was still going on, so I wisely decided to stay in the house and go out later to survey the damage.  But about 5 minutes later, my doorbell rang. It was my next door neighbor who wanted to tell me that it looked like my shed was on fire! (Pro-tip: if it looks like your shed’s on fire, your shed is on fire!) 

It turns out, the intensity of the blast was so hot that the plastic sheathing on my snowblower caught on fire and was burning inside the shed.  I got it out with one of my fire extinguishers, and then got it all checked out when the fire department (who had been called by my neighbors arrived…)

In the end, I was able to salvage the snow blower, and the shed wasn’t that badly damaged.  Even the tree seemed like it might live.  It had clearly sustained a lot of damage, but I hate taking down trees (and paying to take down trees) unless absolutely necessary, so I figured I’d wait and see if it could recover.

By last fall however, it was, as they say, “mostly dead” and the split down the middle was making it dangerous to people, doggies and structures, so I had to have it taken down.  I was sad to take down the tree, but when it was gone, I suddenly found I had something I had never had in my back yard before – sunlight!  I actually had a large area of direct sun for a significant period of time each day.  And for the first time in over 20 years, I realized I could now put in a garden plot and see if I could grow some vegetables.

So this spring, that’s what I did.  And knowing that this will be somewhat of an experiment to see what grows well and what doesn’t, I planted just a few things, including beans from seed.

It’s been a long time since I planted anything (other than grass) from seeds, and I found myself thinking about all the things that I had learned as a kid about planting things from seeds – things like: when the right time to plant is; how deep to plant the seeds and (as my grandmother used to tell us when we helped plant her garden) that you should always plant several seeds in the same hole, because one or more might not germinate.

And maybe because I’ve been thinking about seeds lately, it’s caused me to think again about these seed parables that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel reading.  The “seed” Jesus says, is an image of the kingdom of God – that is, of God’s presence and power in your life and in the life of the world around you. 

Jesus uses this image in several places, and of course, seeds would have been a common image in the mostly agrarian society in which he was originally speaking. And so maybe folks inherently understood some things about seeds that I often forget.  But since I’ve been planting them lately, it seems to me that maybe Jesus uses the “seed” as an image of the kingdom of God because a seed:

  • Is something you can’t control or “make grow” – sure, you can plant it correctly, and make sure it has water.  But in the end, the seed has its own power to grow (or not grow as my grandmother would point out).  Part of planting a seed is trusting the seed to do its thing – and giving up the idea that you can control the outcome; I really don’t like this part!  I want to think that that I can “make” the seed grow by doing the right stuff and working hard enough.  But that’s not how it works.  And often, this isn’t the way God works in our lives, either.  God does his thing – and in his own way.  We may get in the way, or actively participate.  But in the end, the power of God happens in and among us because of God and not because of us.  In the catechism, Luther points out that even faith is a gift from God that is not the result of “my own reason or strength”.  And so perhaps part of the reason Jesus uses the seed as an image of the kingdom of God is to remind us to let go and trust the power of the seed in us and around us…
  • Takes time to grow – I want to know RIGHT NOW whether the seeds I’ve planted are going do well or not.  At this point, I have a sense of which ones have germinated or not.  But I don’t know what kind of harvest I’ll get, if any!  I don’t know what bugs or bunnies might come along and eat the plants, or if some kind of disease will kill them.  I gotta wait.  And this is also part of the parable – somebody plants and then sleeps and rises night and day, and has to wait to see what happens.  And that’s also part of living into the kingdom of God – we often have to wait to see what God does, or is doing in us or through us.  And that means not giving up doing what God calls us to do, when it hasn’t seemed to make a difference in the last month or year, or even the last election cycle!  The power of God to work faith, and transform us, and to do meaningful and lasting things in the lives of others through what we do and say is often invisible for a very long time.  We may not even be around to see the “harvest” from what we’ve done, if there is one at all.  But even though I hate to wait and see, waiting is always part of living into the kingdom of God…
  • Is something you have to watch and learn from – even though I have to wait, I have to keep watching how the plants are growing, and doing things to help them along.  In my case, this has meant doing things like tying up tomato plants to the stakes. But this garden is also an experiment – I’m learning what will grow and what won’t…  And I may be surprised at some of what I find.  In the parable, the mustard seed grows into a huge shrub so that birds of the air make a nest in it.  And the original hearers might have thought, “yes, but that’s not why I would plant mustard!”  Yet sometimes, God has other things in mind for what gets planted, and often, living into the kingdom of God means watching for the unexpected and different things God does, and how sometimes when we think we’re doing one thing, God uses that thing for something else.  And like with a garden, what we learn and experience in the kingdom of God is supposed to help us also to grow and adapt for the next season…

So in this “green” season of the church year, as we consider the growing of God’s power and presence in our lives and the life of the world around us, consider how the seed of God’s power and presence has been sown in your life, and perhaps how you’ve been an instrument of sowing God’s power and presence in the lives of others.

Remember that the seed is finally in God’s hands, and doesn’t depend upon you or your success in sowing. Be patient for the seed to grow, both in your life and in the lives of others.  And watch and learn, even and especially if some seeds don’t seem to grow, so that you can adapt and grow into the next season that God is leading you into.