It’s time I write about the “seedy” characters and aspects in my life. I had a good laugh when I looked up the meaning of the term “seedy” in the dictionary:
* abounding in seed; * containing many seeds; * gone to seed, bearing seeds; * poorly kept; run-down, shabby; * shabbily dressed; unkempt: a seedy old tramp, * physically run-down, under the weather; * somewhat disreputable, degraded: a seedy hotel.
So, just to put you all at ease, my use of the term only refer to the first THREE definitions, although some folks would characterize my husband`s grey ponytail, recycled clothes and coveralls as belonging in the fourth category some days. You see, my husband Jim is THE seed man par excellence, having grown organic garden seeds on a small commercial scale for nearly 30 years (see Prairie Garden Seeds). And now, our daughter Rachelle has not only joined him in this venture; she`s in the process of taking over her father`s life work. Needless to say, this is a source of immense joy and pride to us.
While Jim and Rachelle happily work in the garden and play with seeds, I preach about the same stuff they work with. We have a ball cap with the caption `Gone to Seed.`I wore it one summer Sunday when preaching in a Lutheran Church on Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23. I wore the cap because I think I`ve earned it. I`ve spent the last 35 years living with a seed grower (and now I`m the mother of a seed grower too :)). And even though I always say, I`m only married to the gardener, I`m NOT the gardener (except at harvest time), I cannot help but having learnt a few things about seeds. That is why I`m wearing the cap.
In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the parable of the sower going out to seed, focusing on the conditions in which the seeds germinate (or not) and grow (or not). I too have learnt about that by sharing my life with Jim. I have learnt that an awful lot depends on those external conditions. In much the same way, we sow love and trust and forgiveness in our families and surroundings, but if the conditions of the heart are not healthy, those seeds will have difficulty growing into full bloom.
But living with Jim the Seed Man has also taught me that there are conditions in the seeds as well that matter. When I first moved to the land, I though you just sow seeds in the ground and they will grow. All you need is rain and sunshine at the right times. But Jim knew more than I did: some seeds get started as bedding plants indoors before they are planted outside. Some seeds get seeded in a flat with dirt all right, but then, to my great surprise, end up in a plastic bag in my fridge. He leaves those seeds in wet soil wrapped in plastic in the fridge for several months; it`s called cold stratification.
Then there are other tidbits of trivia about seeds. Some seeds take more than one season to sprout. Jim looked at some flats he seeded this spring, only to discover that what was coming up looked like what he had planted in that same soil the year before! Some seeds will take the first few seasons growing deep root systems before they show any sign of life above ground. This happens frequently with wildflowers, for example. Most seeds keep their germinating power best by storing them in the freezer. Some seeds are only good for one year, like parsnip seed. Other seeds, such as tomatoes, will still germinate well even at 10 years old. We also know that seeds from certain trees will only germinate after a forest fire, or after passing through the digestive tract of an animal.
And so all this trivia about seeds applies to Jesus`speech about seeds as well. The human heart, without exception, is full with thorns and thistles, with rocks and infertile soil, with desert drought and with `birds of prey.`From time to time our lives need some good plowing or roto-tilling. Each one of us requires certain kinds of seeds and certain conditions in which divine seeds of faith, hope and love can sprout and will thrive.
For good prairie farmers like us there’s plenty in Jesus’ parable that sounds familiar. We know all about a sower going out to seed, and then be at the mercy of the elements of nature, the soil conditions, the weeds and the thorns. Some years it’s a miracle there is even a crop worth harvesting. That’s simply the way it has always worked, back in Jesus’ time and still today.
Life happens in much the same way, with a lot of our efforts often wasted, exposed as they are to the elements of disaster and crisis, violence and abuse, abandonment and betrayal. We try hard to live our faith, to reach out in love, only to pull back a bleeding stump because someone’s anger, bitterness or revenge bit us. We know what it`s like to try and try to care and to make a difference yet not get anywhere, not even a word of appreciation or thanks.
So why bother? Why bother broadcasting our love and care wide on all kinds of soil that does not nurture its flourishing? Is it all still worthwhile in this 21st century to be faithful to Christ in this world of death, amidst the thorns and thistles of ISIS, of exploitation and injustice? Should we still go around proclaiming Good News when so much seems to fall on deaf ears?
If the main message were about human results, or about the soils, the health of human hearts, the type of seeds and what they require to sprout and grow and bloom, or about the difficulties of planting and the dangers involved, and all that seed wasted, then … it may indeed not be worth it. If the parable Jesus tells is only about what is humanly possible, then it doesn’t have much new or interesting to say to us.
But there is one piece in Jesus’ story that is really shocking. It was shocking to the first hearers and it’s still shocking today. That shocking piece was the yield, the harvest. In a good year seven or eight fold was hoped for. Ten fold was phenomenal, and anything above that was simply unheard of. And Jesus said: yielding thirty-fold, sixty-fold, even a hundredfold. To promise this sort of result was more than optimistic — it was to live in whole different order of creation; it was to operate from a entirely different vision.
To sow that that sort of hope and vision was a totally new thing. To sow in this way is to sow God’s own field, God’s reign, to live “in the Spirit” as St. Paul calls it. When you live and love “in the Spirit” we don’t care about the rocks and the birds of prey or the thin soil of whatever else gets in the way. The one who sows — God himself along with those called into the holy sowing — does not need to worry. We are simply called to scatter broadly and liberally our generous acts of love and service and forgiveness and trust. The rest will be taken care of. Not because of our efforts but because of God’s power.
This hope and confidence is the real gift of this parable. We love and serve in broadcast fashion, knowing full well much won’t amount to much. Bad things happen all the time and everywhere, even to good and well-meaning people. Nevertheless, we trust through Jesus in the remarkable abundance of the harvest. Much will be wasted, at least as we see it. Maybe even our favourite seed, our best, our most self-sacrificing good deed, our greatest insight, will end up on rocky ground, or inside some fat bird. But that’s not ours to control; it’s not ours to fix nor is it ours to worry about.
God has placed all of us in fields with divine seed to sow. In the assurance of God’s unbelievable harvest we can lighten our step and even extend our reach. Wave at the birds this summer and smile at the weeds. Know that God’s Word delivers its promise. Think about this news story from several years back:
It has five leaves, stands 14″ high and is nicknamed Methusalah. It looks like an ordinary date palm seedling, but it is a miraculous piece of history brought back to life. Planted about six months ago, the seedling is growing in a big black pot on a kibbutz in Israel’s Arava desert. The seed is 2,000 old — more than twice as old as the 900-year biblical figure Methusalah who lent his name to the young tree. It is the oldest seed ever know to produce a viable young tree. The seed that produced Methusalah was discovered during archeaological excavations at King Herod’s palace on Mount Masada, near the Dead Sea. Its age has been confirmed by carbon dating. Scientists hope that the unique seedling will eventually yield vital clues to the medicinal properties of this Judean date tree, a date tree which was long thought to be extinct.
By the grace of God every seed sprouts eventually. By the grace of God, the harvest will be great beyond measure, great beyond belief, great beyond imagining. What God makes of our efforts is more that we can ask or imagine. The seeds of love and mercy we plant in God’s name will sprout and grow into God’s reign. And that seed, that word, God promises, will not return to God empty — but it shall accomplish that which God intends it for; and it will prosper in the thing for which it is sent, no matter how long it takes.
Gone to seed …
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