These are perfect texts for a summer day like today, aren’t they? Isaiah’s poetry is being brought to life right outside our doors. Listen to the imagery: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater.”
It is easy as well, on a summer day like today, to remember how closely the people whose texts these were first, lived to the earth. How the earth was their first and perhaps greatest teacher. How close people were to the land because so many of them worked it, lived or died off it.
Today, we have more than enough food to go around. By some estimations, 40 percent of what we grow in the United States ends up in the garbage. Almost half of our food goes to waste. This has not always been the case, of course. It hasn’t been that many generations that our farming technology has enabled us to produce such high yields, even if we can’t seem to figure out how to share it equitably.
So the parable of the soils Jesus tells might have carried even more weight than it does today, but we still get it and the questions it raised for the early Christian communities: Why do some people respond to this good news, and why do some not? Why do some people seem to be seeds in such fertile soil for this story we are here to practice, to take root and grow, and why not others? Why does evil persist in the face of such goodness?
Or let’s put it a little differently, because I’m not so sure that we are so static in our experience. I suspect we’d like to consider ourselves among the fertile soil in Jesus’ parable. We’d like to think we are among the soil that bears good fruit—the good rich humus of humanity. But isn’t it also true that some of us are pretty thorny sometimes? I know I can be. And pretty rocky or hard pan? Weed infested perhaps? Isn’t it true that we are seeds still growing with an incomplete future?
It seems to me one of the things that is missing from the telling of this story is the suggestion that soil isn’t the same soil forever. There is One who works the soil to make it drain better, and to balance the pH, so that it will allow the seed to spout and grow to fruit. There are worms and all sorts of plant and animal that create an ever-changing ecosystem that bends toward life.
And that seems to me to get closer to the image of where we are today as we prepare to ordain and install new elders and deacons, as we give thanks for signs of new leadership and life, as we turn ourselves to the ways that make for the growth of God’s story in our life and our world.
You see, I suspect this is all the more relevant a question for us in this age of death and re-birth for the church as an institution or whatever it needs to be in the future. All around us are churches dying, while other faith communities are sprouting up in a dizzying cycle. I’m not sure there has been another time of such spiritual hunger as there is today, yet the future of the seed is profoundly unclear. And one of the lessons here, of course, is that God’s ecosystem is not limited to an institution. In fact it may be the institution itself, not individual lives that show signs of shallow rocky exuberance and thorny concerns for wealth and self-protection, and the hard pan, trampling down of injustice.
The truth is the past is different from the future. So we need people who are looking to the big Story—a story of a sower who is a pretty high risk farmer, if you ask me, a God who scatters seed far and wide and rather wildly with a grand hope for a miraculous yield. This story is about an eternal Farmer who doesn’t seem to be interested in holding back, who doesn’t seem to be worried about a lack of seed or good news or too little love to water it.
So why should we worry? Why indeed? And in fact, if we find ourselves free of worry, we are becoming more like that rich humus, that fertile soil Jesus describes in the parable. And if we open ourselves deeply to that seed that has within it everything needed for life, and trust that the rain and snow will come down from heaven and not return until they have watered the earth, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, then what do we have to worry about?
And so we have these new leaders, fertile soil for the seed of God’s good news. Are you ready to trust and to follow them? And are you willing to open yourself, to listen for the seeds of new life and possibility God is planting in you too? What God is bringing to fruit, of course, is nothing less than love. May it grow that all may know this Farmer and this good news.