As many of you know, I was asked to give the message at Manassas Church of the Brethren (my home church) on June 17, 2012. I agreed. With both giddiness and terror.
I was given a sermon topic: Mark 4:26-32. And as I dove headfirst into research, like a good little English major, I quickly found out that a close reading of this text, along with sources I found in books and online, could easily hijack me into a written piece that would be more of a thesis than a sermon. After all, I only had about 10 minutes. And there was going to be cake and punch that Sunday in the foyer after the service. I couldn’t drag this thing out.
After outlining and drafting and re-drafting and obsessing and panicking and…in the midst of it all…finding myself completely amazed at just HOW MUCH there was to say about these two little parables…and HOW MUCH symbolism there was to seize upon…and HOW MUCH I could connect these simple stories with a MILLION things in my own life…I finally met with my pastor, Jeff, and he managed to lasso me in and limit my focus to something bite-sized enough to form into some kind of coherent sermon that would both connect the story to my own experiences AND remain focused on the message I felt Christ was trying to get across.
The following text is the result. (Please note…I could have gone on about this excerpt for hours…so if it seems a bit limited…it was.)
So…the kids are out of school. This is the time of year when, in the midst of all the packing up and signing out, all the jubilation over the start of the summer vacation, we teachers realize that, THAT’S IT. We’re out of time. We’ve taught this group of kids everything we could in the time we had with them. Now we just have to hope that some of it took root and will grow. It’s no longer up to us. We did our part…now there’s nothing we can do but hope that some of those kids listened, engaged…as I like to call it, showed up. Hope that some of our seeds fell on good soil.
In a way, it reminds me of the spring of 2008, when I came across the idea to go on this crazy, 5-week backpacking trip across the north of Spain. 500 miles on foot. I’d never backpacked before. I didn’t have any gear. I had no one to go with. But with a scratchy old cassette audiobook by Shirley MacLaine, a seed had fallen on fertile soil, and it had taken root.
I did all the research I could, and the more I learned, the more positive I was that I was meant to do this. I wanted to take this walk and learn everything it had to teach me. I wanted to rise with the sun each day…and shoulder a pack with the barest essentials, and set out with the sun at my back, knowing all I had to do that day was walk…follow the signs, and keep my eyes open, and find the friends I knew would be waiting for me along the pilgrim road to Santiago.
So I bought some hiking boots and a pack and a plane ticket…flew to France…and two trains later I arrived at the foot of the Pyrenees.
And the most amazing experience of my life commenced.
All I had to do was SHOW UP. Be there. Engage. And I believed that the fruition of my efforts would be INEVITABLE. Kind of like a farmer who plants seeds in his fields…it inevitably leads to a harvest. Like that story you just heard from the gospel of Mark, Chapter 4. Listen it once more…
26 [Christ] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
So…all this guy did was scatter seed on the ground, and then…just…leaves. Goes about his business. Ignores the seeds. Doesn’t weed, doesn’t water, doesn’t nothin’.
And somehow, the seed actually sprouts! It grows! And he doesn’t even really understand how it happens! Which may seem bizarre, considering that this is how the guy makes his living…but back then, even farmers didn’t understand germination and photosynthesis and all of that whatever that causes the seed to grow. All this guy knows is that…it always does. The seed is that good.
That’s all he needs to know.
And he knows there’s a process. He doesn’t mess with it. He doesn’t force it. Doesn’t hurry it, doesn’t try to slow it down. Lets it happen by God’s grace and in God’s time. Look at verse 28: The earth produces of itself. The sower has done his part to scatter the seed – he’s shown up – and now it’s time to leave the rest up to God. Which is exactly what he does.
Even the structure of the plant follows a process, and Christ takes the time to point this out: first the stalk, then the head…then, last…last…the full grain in the head.
And then it’s ripe for harvest.
Christ says this is like the Kingdom of God. That this is what it looks like when God’s people live with the faith and the trust that he intended them to have.
The seed is good. The love of God, the best possible vision of this world, the way things ought to be…it’s already whole and complete and good, in and of itself. The sun will shine, the rain will fall, time will pass, and the seed will grow…IF the soil is good.
And that’s where we come in. We are the soil.
I feel like I got a snapshot of this on the pilgrim road to Santiago. Every day, I saw evidence of the wisdom of allowing a process to unfold naturally and in God’s time…organically. Without force.
- To pace myself – that there was a price to pay for trying to forcing myself to go farther than my body could in a day…
- Not to hurry to walk at someone else’s pace; or drag someone along at my pace…
- To walk when I felt it was time…not to stop for the day before I was ready, or hurry along and miss the view, simply to stay with someone I was afraid to lose…
- To be open to the idea that another is coming along from whom I could learn, and whom I might teach…
- To be present in the moment with the people I was with…to give and receive what each of us has…to walk further with someone or move on from them based on whether they seemed to lighten my load or increase its weight…
- For that matter, that no one will carry my pack for me, and that I can’t carry another’s for them…
That I’d get there. Through sun. Rain. Time and pace.
After five weeks and 500 miles, I reached the Cathedral of Santiago. And looking back now, I realize that the joy I was feeling at the conclusion was the result of having watched this kingdom of God unfold in minutiae…in my own little corner of the universe. Was the result of having showed up…trusted the process to unfold…and reaped the rich harvest that had, indeed, come to fruition.
So, in this parable…what was the point Jesus was trying to get across to us?
Well…that it’s not our job to make the seed grow. And it’s not important for us to know the mechanism by which the seed grows. It’s enough to know that it WILL.
And that there’s an order to the process…the fruition comes LAST. It comes after the foundation is laid. It comes after the framework is formed, on that foundation, that is capable of producing the fruition of our labors. Fruition demands patience.
So, if we are the soil, the only choice we get is…How can we be better soil? How can we be more receptive to the seeds that fall in our hearts? How can we avoid being hard? Stubborn? Shallow? Rocky? Thorny?
- We can thwart hardness by empathizing with one another.
- We can avoid stubbornness by spending time in prayer and meditation.
- We can increase our depth by feeding our minds as surely as we feed our bodies.
- We can remove the rocks by removing the impediments in our lives that fail to align with the best vision we have of our selves and our lives.
- We can avoid the thorns that come from the company of negative people.
We can keep our eyes OPEN. We can learn how to identify the good people God brings to us to help us in our walk. We can find out how to assist others as they walk their own path. We can SHOW UP.
For me, a new seed has fallen.
And in the spirit of receptivity, in the attempt to be good soil for this new seed…I’ve sold my house. A week from tomorrow, I’ll start to pack my things into a PODS shipping crate…and within a month I’ll arrive in Colorado with no job and no family and virtually no friends…and without really ever having spent more than a few days there at all.
Why? Because it’s there. Because it called to me. Because I want to see what this seed will become.
And as I look ahead to my next big adventure, I realize that, yes…it’s big and scary. I’m heading out into the great unknown. I’m quite literally doing nothing more than following a call I feel in my heart.
But I’m trying to be fertile ground for what I know is a good seed. And I also realize that…well, I’ve got practice at this soil thing. I’ve done this “trust the process” thing before…and the more I do it, the more normal it seems. The more it seems like just something you DO. You answer the call. So…I will.
I’ll SHOW UP. I’ll go and do. I’ll keep my eyes open. I’ll look for some kind of familiar spark in the eyes of the people I meet, and when I see it, I’ll know that we were sent for one another. And I’ll build relationships. And a life.
And the seed…that good seed…will grow into the stalk that carries the head towards the sunlight, and the grain…the fruition…will show up too.