Life and Ministry–Planting Seeds Eager for the Harvest
June 17, 2012

Life and Ministry–Planting Seeds Eager for the Harvest

Passage: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, 2 Corinthians 5:6-17, Mark 4:26-34

Proper 6, Year B-2012

The parable we have just heard – Jesus’ story of the seed which grows secretly – is one of my favorite parables. It expresses the core of how I understand ministry and life. And this day has such richness for me – celebrating the graduation of our youngest son Thomas from high school, marking the Sunday after our 32nd wedding anniversary, and being again with you all – having not preached among you for 3 weeks.

Now Jesus expressed his parable in 71 words. I don’t think I can match that, but I will try to keep this under control.

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a farmer who goes out and scatters seed on the ground, and goes home, waits while the seed sprouts and grows without the farmer completely understanding how. But it grows and when the harvest is ready, he gathers the harvest. This parable speaks to our graduates, to all of us in our lives and ministries and relationships and work, and to our parish. There are two parts to this simple parable. The first is the farmer who scatters what seeds he or she has.

You graduates must go on to learn and grow and live into the next season of your lives. We as your parents and parish cannot and must not do that for you. Our lives and relationships and ministries all take initiative – work – day by day, usually in little, mundane tasks – bit by bit. We must take initiative and do the work – the seed will not grow if it is not scattered. St. Augustine said: ‘without God, we cannot, but without us, God will not.’

We are not perfect or flawless farmers. As a parent, I look back at times I should have listened better, at things I should have said or done, or not said or done. We all have faults as husbands and wives, as persons, as your priest and pastor. But we scatter the seeds we have, as best we can (not like we think someone else would have done, or had other things not happened), and we hope and trust that a good harvest will come eventually.

The second part or element of the parable is that more is going on than we understand or can control. And that is both exciting and scary. It is scary to remember that we cannot keep our graduates (and our children as they grow), and all our loved ones safe. We cannot protect them from all threats. We cannot keep enemies from scattering weeds in the fields. We are not fully in control. And we are fallible farmers ourselves – we cannot seem at times to control ourselves – our tongues, our envy or fear.

Our lives do not unfold always as planned – there is a wonderful story circulating among families caring for autistic children about planning a trip to Italy, and getting off the plane in Holland. And having to discover what is good in Holland, because that is where you find yourself.

What St. Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians has also meant a lot to me over the years: “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.” (3:20)

That is our hope and our confidence. God works in and through us, so we encourage one another to use our gifts, to plant our seeds – new seeds as well as the same crops we have planted before. And we wait with hope – we need not be overly discouraged! – to see what good harvest will come.

Farming is hard work; it is not passive or safe. But as Jesus reminds us with today’s other parable of the mustard seed, and as we hear in our story of the unexpected anointing of the young boy David as king, surprises do happen.

And as Paul urges us in our Epistle lesson, let us be confident because of Jesus, who died like a seed planted in the ground and was raised to new life. We also are becoming a new creation in and through Christ, even though we don’t understand it all. There is a song about Jesus’ parable, by Jim and Jean Strathdee, that I used to sing to our children when they were little. Don’t worry – I won’t sing it. It goes like this: (from memory)

They walked up the hill, so tired and discouraged,
Trying to understand what Jesus had to say,
The kingdom of God is like some old farmer,
Who scatters the seed throughout the long day,
And lays down to sleep, and waits for the earth
To cause the little seeds to silently grow.
The leaf in its time, and the fruit in all ripeness,
How it all happens, the farmer doesn’t know.

But the harvest will come, say the parables of Jesus,
We scatter the seeds, let go of our fear.
One morning we’ll rise, and all cry rejoicing,
Make ready the feast, for the harvest is here.

She locked up the church, at a quarter past midnight,
Stood in the darkness, leaning on the door.
Her weary mind saw the day pass before her,
How could one minister do anymore?
She’d talked with a woman whose husband had left her,
A runaway child, a lonely old man.
When would her people take care of each other?
When would the congregation ever understand?

But the harvest will come, say the parables of Jesus,
We scatter the seeds, let go of our fear.
One morning we’ll rise, and all cry rejoicing,
Make ready the feast, for the harvest is here.

At five in the morning, in a high mountain cabin,
They light the fire, wake their daughter and son,
Two people who teach in an alternative high school,
They drive to the town, the day has begun.
She works with young mothers to be better parents,
He teaches the students to choose and to care,
But the drugs and the drinking, so many lives wasted,
They ask themselves, ‘O what’s the use of working here?’

But the harvest will come, say the parables of Jesus,
We scatter the seeds, let go of our fear.
One morning we’ll rise, and all cry rejoicing,
Make ready the feast, for the harvest is here.