Cast the Seed

Matthew 11

I am an amateur and slightly lazy gardener—I love perennials because they are low-care, and I love to see what vegetables I can grow in my less-than-perfect beds. The results generally are pretty modest, but given my effort, I am satisfied.

But the year my husband built me raised beds for vegetables was different. We filled it with a yard each of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. The first season was awesome—not only did the vegetables grow great in all that compost, but there were no weeds. I was so surprised! But I guess I shouldn’t have been, because most weeds come from seeds in the soil or from weeds moving in from an adjacent area; these beds had neither of those.

Today as we hear Jesus’ parable of the sower, I think about that first year of the raised beds, and I wonder: If the sower is interested in a greater harvest, why not get some good soil? Instead, the sower is broadcasting seed over an entire area, regardless of the quality of the soil—onto the rocks, onto the hard packed path, in and amongst the weeds. Why not clear out the weeds and rocks, and plant only where there is a good return on your investment? Seed costs money, after all, not to the mention the labor.

But then I think perhaps the Word of God is a different kind of seed—one where you can never tell where it will spring up. The first church I served was a popular place to get married. Many were looking for a pretty sanctuary with a long aisle to walk down,
not a church community. So when I met Berkley and Lisa, I figured I knew what they were about. Berkley had already told me that Lisa was getting antsy because she wanted to get married before she was 40, and that he had raised his two kids without religion so they could “choose for themselves.” No way are these people gonna stick around, I thought.

But I was wrong. Turns out Lisa and Berkley are people with servant hearts. Every year they did the lighting and sound for the Miss CT pageant, gratis. It’s months of work, all for charity and the advancement of young women. And when they saw that church
was not only a place where people talked about spiritual things but also worked together to make a difference, they jumped right in: at the shelter, at the clean-up day, and running the sound system for the whole church. Despite my initial assessment, the Word of God took root in them and bore a lot of fruit.

That’s just one story about seeds planted—you have them, too. I am seeing Children of Eden this afternoon, Epiphany’s summer musical, and that has got me thinking about how seeds are planted in that ministry. Of course, there is a musical as an outcome of this ministry—and from what I have seen from the wings, I don’t think I am going to be disappointed—but the real mission here is the experience of Christian community
that is modeled and shared. People from at least three generations work together to share a musical, but also to pray for each other and to grow relationships across what are usually siloed aged groups. One participant told me that the Epiphany drama ministry was her exposure to church, and that the accepting and loving community is what drew her in. She is now a leader of this ministry. It just goes to show that seeds germinate and grow in surprising places.

Since you just can never tell where the Word of God will take root, it actually makes sense to fling it widely. It even makes sense to get a little experimental about it. I remember once when I was in Pacific Grove, CA, we toured by a golf course and I saw that they were testing out different kinds of turf. They had divided an area into little squares, each with a flag and label for type of grass and amount and type of fertilizer.
Each day a technician recorded the growth and appearance of the turf, and at the end of the trial, people played on the grass to see how it held up to usage.

It reminds me of what is going on in the Southern Ohio Synod right now. Our synod has six new churches forming, but they look different from what you might normally think of as church. Half meet in places other than a church building; none worship in a sanctuary. Two are ecumenical partnerships with other denominations; two rely heavily on a virtual presence in Columbus and Cincinnati while in our area at La Palabra, the focus is in person connection with a Spanish speaking ministry at St Paul Lutheran in Dayton, and Saints, Sinners and Sandwiches in the Old North neighborhood of Dayton. At the same time, a group called the Out of the Box Team addresses questions of a changing church, such as how to connect with people who haven’t returned after the pandemic, how to identify and cultivate new talent as leadership ages in the church, and how to experiment so that churches can grow. The Southern Ohio Synod is a great resource and example for us of how experimenting can connect to an ever-widening community.

And that’s the point of the parable, too. We don’t get pristine beds to plant in, because there is harvest happening in other places. God wants all the world to get the message! Our job is to cast the seed widely. Our job is to experiment as we put God’s word of service and healing and peace out there. The parable indicates that it will be risky, and that we can expect failure. But parable also suggests that the seeds that fall on good soil are amazingly productive—bumper crop, even! In Jesus’ words, Seeds produce “a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty,”

So, we don’t need to worry as we move forward. It does mean we should evaluate our efforts, like the turf management people. We have a finite amount of financial and human resources, and we should make the most of what we have. That’s why the council is moving to engage in strategic planning this year and why you all will have input. We want to research our surroundings and test the health of our ministries and focus our resources on what is worth trying out, and what we believe is most faithful to God’s mission for us in this new time.

Jesus said, anyone with ears to hear, listen! It is important that we listen, too.

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