Matt 13: 1-9, 18-23
What I love about today’s Old Testament and Gospel readings is that they draw on images from creation.
The sower sowing seed.
Rocky ground, thorns and thistles, paths, fertile soil
Seed that produces 30x, 60x, 100x
The moutains and hills bursting forth in song.
The trees clapping their hands.
Cypress and myrtle rather than thorns and briers.
Today’s passages resonate because we are outside a lot in the summer:
Gardening, swimming, biking, camping, working or relaxing.
The world around us:
Do we take it for granted and not see it at all?
Or, do we experience it with wonder and open hearts?
Is the world around us our teacher?
Thomas Berry wrote this about creation:
The natural world is our primary language as it is our primary scripture, our primary awakening to the mysteries of existence. We might well put all our written scriptures on the shelf for twenty years until we learn what we are being told by the unmediated experience of the world about us. (EarthHeart.org; Thomas Berry quote)
So, if we don’t open our Bibles or a book once this summer but pay attention to the natural world around us, we will become wiser about the mysteries of life and wiser in own spiritual journeys.
Sally McCoy told me about a trip to the family farm in Iowa over the 4th of July week-end.
One evening she walked the land with her four year old grandson, Owen. Owen lives here in Madison. He is not a farm boy but he pointed out the corn and the soybeans. He identified the white clover with its sweetness and the milkweed. And, he told his grandmother, the milkweed is important because the monarch butterflies need them for food.
What if every child had this kind of knowledge. Don’t you think the future of our earth would be more hopeful??
Jesus looked to the natural world in his wisdom teaching.
In Matthew 13 there are parables about sowing and seeds, wheat and weeds and mustard seeds.
Those listening were peasant farmers with dirt under their fingernails.
These parables would resonate.
Parables are stories…
Lynn Bauman calls the parables “spiritual hand grenades”
I don’t particularly like this image because it is one of destruction and warfare. But, on another level I do like it, we get the sense of the power that a parable can unleash.
So here we are with a parable, the parable of the sower and the seed. This parable seems rather straight forward:
Sow seed on the path—the birds get the seeds. That’s a no brainer.
In my back yard the squirrels get there first!
Sow seeds on rocky ground-seeds sprout quickly because the soil isn’t deep. But then the sun scorches them and they wither away. That’s also a no brainer. We have all planted stuff that has withered away because of not enough water and too much hot sun.
Sow seeds among thorns, they get choked out. Another no brainer.
There is competition between the already present weeds and the new seeds. You need to clear out the weeds and their roots before sowing.
Sow seeds on good soil, get an abundant crop. BINGO!
Isn’t this every gardener or farmer’s dream???
But it isn’t quite that simple.
Not all soil is created equal. There is tremendous diversity among soils.
Greg Armstrong tells me that there are probably over 20 soil types here at the Monastery.
So, you want to sow the appropriate seed or plant the appropriate seedling in the right soil.
Plant in the wrong kind of soil…you will be disappointed.
Soil contains water and air, ideally 25% of each.
Too much rain or a drought…there are consequences.
In June we got more than twice the average monthly rainfall. The soil was saturated, more than 25% water. Not good for planting, roots can’t breath when the soil is like mud.
There is one more ingredient that is tremendously important—sunlight/heat to warm up the soil so the seed can germinate and grow.
This year we are way off kilter because of our long winter and now a cool July.
When the right seed in the right soil, when the soil has enough moisture and when there are the warm sunny days of summer, BINGO!
A plant emerges and grows and produces flowers or fruit!
It may be tomatoes or lilies or gay feather or basil or corn or raspberries or any number of wonderful things.
There will also be WEEDS!
We have had lots and lots of weeds this year with all the rain we have had.
Pull out the weeds, get another two inches of rain and another crop of weeds are calling.
The weeds need to be removed because they take space and nutrients from the plants we want to grow.
Weeds are any plants that are not wanted.
What I call a weed, you may not.
Most of us adults classify dandelions as weeds.
But I have a friend who is a wonderful gardener who has always loved dandelions. She even has stencils of 3 foot dandelions on the wall of her stairwell.
The UW Weed Science Department tells us that a single dandelion has between 54 and 172 seeds.
A single plant can produce more than 2000 seeds.
In a dense stand of dandelions, there may be 240 million seeds in an acre.
The responsorial Psalm today is also about abundance:
The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.
What makes us good soil? What are the conditions ideal for fruitfulness in our lives?
First of all, and perhaps most important, is the gut level belief we have of God.
Is your God love or is God judgmental, harsh and capricious?
I chose to believe that God is love and all of creation is the expression of God’s love.
So, something challenging happens to your or me. Let’s say a diagnosis of cancer. Or whatever it is that life dishes out.
Can I trust that the God of love is with me in this?
Or, do I think that God is punishing me?
Your answer will shape your experience, your attitude and your resilience.
Next, we need community to bear fruit. We are not created to go through life alone. The sower doesn’t sow one seed but multiple seeds.
This past week I was reminded again of how important community is.
The dream group that I have been a part of the past 3 ½ years gathered to mark a transition.
One of our members, Nancy Howe, is moving out of state with her husband, Tom. This change has made us pause and reflect on something we have all taken for granted. We all always assumed that dream group would go on with the same seven people.
We all acknowledged the fruit of our time together and how we have all changed. There has been growth that probably would not have happened if we had not been meeting faithfully twice a month.
And, we are aware that our gathering has impacted others.
This is one example of community. Community might come from a shared mission, such as Moses or Vera Court. It comes from shared spiritual disciplines or tasks. It is present in our families and the people we live and work with.
Community bears fruit.
Next. Fruitfulness comes from being faithful to one’s spiritual disciplines.
Practicing our spiritual disciplines, whether it be centering prayer, meditation, lectio, journaling, chanting, showing up here for prayer or Sunday Assembly, silence or whatever, is putting in roots, getting moisture and sun.
One size does not fit all. Remember there are over twenty different soils here at Holy Wisdom. Different seeds and different plants need different soils.
Seed will not grow in soil without moisture and sun.
Our spiritual disciplines are our moisture and sun.
There will be times of drought and storm, dark nights of the soul. It is inevitable. If we have put in roots, established our spiritual disciplines, we will continue to grow, the Holy is with us. We won’t wither and die. Remember, God is love.
Next. We bear fruit as we remain faithful.
Faithful to our calling. Faithful to our integrity. Faithful to the promises we have made.
We cannot be soil with thorns and thistles, we cannot have competing loyalties.
Dave, Amy and I lived in the Central Valley of California for six long years. There were huge challenges for each of us. Each of us did our best to remain true to ourselves. Now, looking back, those six years bore fruit. Then it felt pretty barren and dry.
Lastly, at least for now, we bear fruit as we are hospitable.
The soil is hospitable, it welcomes the seed and nourishes it.
We are hospitable…to the stranger in our midst, to those in need.
We open our hearts and our home, we share of ourselves and something miraculous happens.
We cannot anticipate the fruit that we will bear but it will be there.
I would like to close with a poem from Mary Oliver.
Mary Oliver is a student par excellence of creation. She is always paying attention, always pondering the meaning of what she sees, hears, smells and touches.
She is an example for all of us to follow.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?