There is no greater act of faith than to make your living off the land, farming, ranching, fishing, etc.
For most of humanity’s existence this is how we lived, first as hunter gatherers, then by planting and raising livestock or going out to sea to fish. Only gradually, as we became more efficient at producing food did people have time to worry about luxuries and artisans and merchants and an upper and middle class began to arise. Perhaps it is because we no longer are tied to the earth, we no longer remember that we are totally dependent upon forces beyond our control for our existence that people have stopped putting their faith in God and now worship science. Perhaps now that we are living in a time when the weather is changing, when we find we are no longer in control of disease and death, perhaps now people will turn back to God.
I am no basher of science. I became an Episcopalian because we do not despise science, but even science has its limitation. It is limited by the data gathered and the skill of the person making the hypothesis. Both our understanding of God, our theology and our understanding of our universe, science must constantly be evaluated against our experiences and the experiences of others. That is why we gather as a church for worship, study, and pastoral care, to share those experiences. Those of you who are graduating this year from high school or college, remember that you are just barely out of the starting gate in your pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. What has changed is the pursuit has now become your responsibility. We never stop learning.
Our scriptures are full of stories that cause one to ponder their meaning. It is not a book of rules, though there are some in it. It is the story of the unfolding relationship between God and humanity and we must tease out of it the meaning for us today.
When Jesus told his parable of the seed that grows overnight, he was speaking to people who knew what it meant to live off the land. Here in rural Virginia, many of our families have continue to do so to a certain extent, but we live in a global market are typically producing a commodity that can be turned into money that buys us what we want from various merchants.
Imagine for a minute that we lived in a community where we were totally dependent upon one another. If the local milkman’s cow dies – you do without milk, butter, cheese, ice cream. If the farmer’s crop fails you do without bread. If your garden fails you do without vegetables. If the rancher or shepherd’s flock gets sick you do without meat, without wool to make clothing to stay warm. This is life in many third world countries. Jesus and his audience lived somewhere between these two worlds.
The farmer in Jesus’ parable prepare the land, plants the seed and then waits. There is nothing he can do beyond giving the seeds an environment conducive to growth. We know much more about the life cycle of a plant now than I suspect Jesus’ audience did, but they were not as ignorant as we often make them out to be. In some ways they knew many things that generally we have forgotten. With all we know I still find it amazing that a tiny seed can grow into a specific and highly specialized plant almost overnight.
Jesus uses this illustration to talk able the kingdom of heaven. All we can do is prepare the ground and plant the seed. How do we do this? By loving our neighbor, telling them about Jesus and letting God do the rest. That is an easy statement to say. It is a much harder thing to do.
First, loving our neighbor can get complicated. Those of you who have raised kids know that wanting the best for them and giving them what they want are often in conflict. The church has been known to do things “for someone’s own good” or “to save their soul” that we now look back and think, what were they thinking, how could they have behaved so cruelly. On the other hand, we have more recently become so afraid of imposing our beliefs on someone else that we have failed to honor Jesus’ directive found in Matthew 28: 19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Telling others about Jesus can be hard, but if Peter and Paul and the others had said, “I am so glad I know Jesus, but every time we tell someone about him people get upset. Stephen was stoned. We both went to prison. Maybe it is best if we just remain silent.” What would have happened? When some Pharisees told Jesus to silence his disciples he said, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (Luke 19:40) God is not dependent upon us, but God has chosen to use us to further the kingdom of heaven.
It takes great wisdom and discernment, especially in times of great conflict like we see today, to be able to “respect the dignity of all persons” and not condone or enable destructive behavior. Like with the farmer in Jesus’ parable. We must do the best we can to provide an environment conducive to spiritual growth, plant the seed, and then let God do the rest. We are not responsible for the outcome, but we are responsible for planting the seed.
The third hard part is letting God do the rest. We are a culture that wants immediate gratification with minimal effort. We expect our computer brains to work faster and better than our own. We frequent “fast food” places, we shop and bank on the internet, never leaving our chair. We have instant access to almost any song ever written and half the TV shows, movies, and concerts and complain we are bored. We want what we want and we want it now and if we put any effort into something we want to see the results now.
God doesn’t work that way. Many of the times I have seen God working in my life is when I look back 10, 20 years or more. Frequently at that time, I did not see God working in my life. I often felt like I was pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down. Doors I was trying to open remained locked. But, had those doors opened, I might have missed something even greater that was down the waiting down the road if I were patient.
The seeds we plant in ministry can feel like pushing that boulder up a hill. We feel like we take one step forward and two steps back, but like the farmer, we have to wait. We have to give the seeds time to germinate. We have to pray that the rain comes and the insects do not. Occasionally we get to see the effort of our work. When I was in my twenties, I taught 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in Sunday School. One of the boys that had been in my class I continued conversations with for several years. I feed him a couple of times after his parents kicked him out of the house at 17 and I told him good-bye as I saw him off to college in another state. He eventually became a Dean of Student Affairs for a university, and one day he wrote me and thanked me for encouraging him when he was a teenager. We are still Facebook friends.
More often, we never know the impact, good or bad, that we have on another person. We are human and relationships are messy, but that should not stop us from trying. For those of you who are just beginning your adult lives, begin planting seeds now and possibly, you will see some grow. Remember those who planted seeds of hope in your own life and when possible, let them know, it is nice to see the fruits of our labors.