Good Soil

Weeds, rocks, thorns – there’s a lot that threatens to kill newly sown seed. But what of those seeds that land in good soil? What of the seeds that are sown, that take off? What does one do with good growth and varied sizes of abundant harvest?

You just never know where the seed of God’s loving kingdom will find receptive soil. Sometimes it happens in unlikely places like, say, our lives.

Listen if you have ears.

The powerful seed of God’s holy and loving kingdom seeks to root deeply into your heart and grow into something truly alive and beautiful. Don’t lose hope. God’s grace is still sprouting up in you and in me!

Perhaps it’s like the varied success I’ve had planting tomatoes each summer. I used to buy a few starter plants and enjoy the fruit of a few tomatoes with my family at each harvest .

Last year, I tried something different. I planted a few varieties of actual tiny tomato seeds, in little containers, in my basement, in late March, near a big south-facing sliding glass door. The sun was so warm there. I was sure those seeds would sprout and grow. Unfortunately, I failed to take into account how cold the cement floor is in our unfinished basement in the early spring. Only a few scrawny seedlings came up and never flourished.

So, this year I planted a variety of those tiny tomato seeds again, in containers, in the sunlit corner of our basement. This time, I thought enough to get the containers up and off of the cold basement floor. Good news! Everything grew. So, when the time was right, I transplanted all the seedlings outside in our garden. Surely some would get broken. Others would wash out in a deluge of rain. Still others just might not make it. By my “wise” calculations, perhaps just enough tomato plants would survive so my family and I could enjoy a few extra fresh picked tomatoes this year.

To date, I have a whole new circumstance to consider. I have 22 tomato plants now successfully flowering in my garden! The harvest is likely to be abundant! How on earth is my family going to keep up with eating all those tomatoes?!

I have a hunch we’ll figure it out – eating, canning, sharing. But what a new thing to need to fuss about?!! Good soil. Good, generously sown seed. Good growth. A potentially good harvest. What does one do with that?

God sows generously.

There’s no doubt about it. Yet it’s easy to get discouraged by what DOESN’T take. It’s easy to hear Jesus’ parable today and hear of the rocks, thorns, and poor soil. God spreads God’s grace and kingdom love everywhere – but it seems so rarely it makes it to fruition.

But what of that seed does take off? What of the bits that God plants — the little bits of gospel we receive — or the little bits of gospel we share? What happens when they take root and grow? Then what?

Be thankful for every person and every moment that sowed this seed in your heart. And throw some seed yourself. Be generous. Throw it everywhere. Don’t make judgements about the quality of the soil. You just never know where it will grow.

My 10th grade niece, Haley, lives in a suburb of Minneapolis. She attends an ELCA church, a Lutheran church, with her family where their youth are confirmed at the beginning of their 10th grade year in school. 8 months before their Confirmation Day, confirmands are to pick their own mentor – an adult with whom they will meet with once a month for guided discussions about faith. Haley asked me to be her mentor. I’m honored to have a chance to visit with her for 45 minutes monthly over Facetime. We talk about our Christian faith and what’s up in our lives.

Now, I had the pleasure of standing up alongside Haley when she was baptized as a baby. I am one of Haley’s baptismal sponsors. I love her as my niece and have loved seeing her life unfold. But we live some distance apart. Our own family lives are busy. Over these years, I probably see Haley in person just a couple times a year.

What a blessing to me that we’ve now had these monthly conversations since April! I marvel at the depth of Haley’s Christian faith as a young woman! A seed has taken root. Its blossoming and growing into expression!

Last week, in our monthly meeting, one assignment question we were to each answer was, “Who is Jesus to you?” Haley said she sees Jesus as an advocate. She’s inspired by all the times Jesus stands with the lowest, the least of these, the left out, the outcast. She sees herself striving to walk this part of Jesus path through serving others – whether its helping with a meal program like Feed My Starving Children or working with a group in her high school called Students Against Racism that bridges racial divides or doing things like supporting a school group for youth that identify as LGBTQ+.

We were also asked to talk about what we think about when we each receive Holy Communion. My heart filled with admiration when Haley said that when she receives the sacrament, she remembers that Jesus’ body and blood isn’t only for her alone. When she receives Communion, she thinks of ALL the other people receiving this meal too. She remembers that Jesus’ love is for everyone! Wow! The blossoming faith of a 15 yr old young woman whom I love!

Haley’s faith hasn’t grown by my doing. God planted the seed of faith in Haley. I get to help just a tiny little bit, along with her parents, sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, her church, church camp, friends and strangers, teachers and mentors, Haley herself, and God’s Holy Spirit. We’re all just doing our little part to hopefully keep creating the right conditions, to nurture her faith growth along.

Here in our congregation, we too are blessed to have all sorts of Haley’s. People of every age and stage of faith growth. Isn’t that remarkable?! Isn’t that wondrous?!

Are we listening?

Jesus told us, “Let anyone with ears listen!” Are we listening? Are we listening as a whole congregation? I hope so!

Because if we are listening, then we get to ask ourselvesnow what?! What will church, what will faith communities like ours do with the Haley’s of our churches? How will we keep her strong? And curious? And living like faith is relevant in her life? How will we keep encouraging her, and all others like her, young or old, to connect with a church, a faith community, throughout her life that will nurture her relationship with God and others?

One preacher whose work I read on this passage spoke of the life struggles and obstacles for people, especially children in the neighborhood surrounding his congregation. Most people were poor, the schools were way below average and job prospects were few. To his congregation, he preached these words,

“There are thorns and rocks all around. We have to get our hands in the soil. We have to dig in that dirt. We have to pull up those rocks. We have to root out those thorns. It’ll hurt,” he promised, “but if we do, we can turn bad soil into good, so that it’ll bear a crop for Jesus!”

This preacher saw, in Jesus’ parable, not only Jesus sowing seeds, but his disciples working the soil. So, perhaps one question for we disciples becomes, “who around us has obstacles in their way? Then we dig in deep into their lives, getting our hands dirty, cut, nicked, pulling up roots and rocks and thorns, so that Jesus’ seed can take root and a harvest can follow.(Jason Byassee: Scattering seeds, Faith and Leadership, 2012). Are you willing to get your hands a little dirty and a little banged up for Jesus?

Tend to the ‘small things.’

Another way we can keep nurturing God’s seeds of faith planted – either within ourselves or others – is by continuing to attend to the ‘small things’.

A family ministry director recently wrote about her realization that she’s been attending to small things while enduring these many months of COVID-19 isolation. Besides raising her new baby, she reported she’s found self-isolation amplifying her desire to nurture little things. She’s been finding something rewarding in watching her plants grow or watching her sourdough starter bubble and rise in its jar.

She recently took cuttings from one of her overgrown plants posted a picture of the cuttings on a neighborhood Facebook page, and left them out on her front porch for free. Checking periodically, 9 different people over 3 days took her clippings. None of these visitors stopped for any door bell ringing or conversation. Still, this woman said, she felt like she had made little life-giving connections. One woman sent her a message in return to say thank you after she picked up her plant clipping, writing, “My daughter is so excited to have her own little plant to take care of”.

This led this writer to ponder all the other small living things she’s cared for, and passed along, that are now touched and cared for by someone else. She wrote – Being able to pass along a small, growing thing – a thing that might bring the gift of  something to nurture into someone else’s life – is a small joy.” (“Attending to Small Things”, Melissa Kuipers, Christian Century, July 1, 2020, p12)

I’d say the same could be said of the kingdom of God. It is ours to receive as a small seed in the bit of good soil that is in our lives. It is ours to pass along, as a small clipping that can be planted anew in the lives of others. And it is ours, that we might work alongside one other, preparing better soil, so that those around us might have obstacles removed which opens the way for the kingdom of God to grow with beauty in their lives. Jesus says to us, “Let anyone with ears, listen!” Thanks be to God!

Let us pray: Lord, thank you for giving us the ears to hear and eyes to see the people in whom your kingdom is taking root and flourishing. Help us as individuals and as a congregation keep attentive to faith growth that may seem so small, its hardly noticeable. For you do call us to tend to the small things, Lord — where with a little bit of our care, you will make roots run deep, branches grow strong and the harvest will be plentiful and precious.