Last Sunday some members of my family and I finished up a two day tear off and reroofing of my daughter’s roof. It was a perfect roofing weekend with moderate temperatures, cool breezes and cloud cover in abundance to break the heat. It was almost like the roof healed itself. Except that was not our conditions at all!
We roofed in 88-degree weather in full sun without a cloud in sight in our hemisphere! I never drank so much water.
When done, we all went to my house where my wife, Kathy, set out a wonderful meal centered around her excellent pulled pork. We came for dinner and cooling off. After we ate, I asked one of the extended family members what his dream job would be, in light of what we had just spent two days doing. He is a talented guy, having managed restaurants, worked heavy construction and various other jobs. He has many abilities. I figured he would say own a restaurant, as I knew he was good in that kind of work.
After a few moments, he shocked me by saying that his dream job would be a gardener.
A gardener? I asked him where that came from? Never have I known him to be into plants.
He simply said, “I have a green thumb. I can grow anything.”
And with that he and I walked out to our Coronavirus garden. Kathy and I started building this on April 25th.
And it looked like this on April 26. Kathy was a good helper and we got it done in a day.
April 30th it was ready to be filled with dirt. And the back section was completed.
And what would go into this garden cube? Well, Kathy started seeds in February that looked like this in mid-April.
Next was the filling on May 5th. I had three of my grandsons on the job.
Jake figured out a filling shortcut. He is one strong mug!
Snow on May 9th. What was that about?
And we began planting our sprouts and plants in early June.
Last night the Covid garden looked like this.
Look at them ‘maters.
I come from a family of farmers on my mom’s side. My mom’s brother, Uncle Lloyd owned the largest milking and cattle farm in Holmes County down below Millersburg, Ohio.
2 miles from Pilgrim hills – UCC camp. We would visit each year as we returned from Camp. In fact, on July 20th, 1969 we watched Neil Armstrong leave the lunar capsule for the first step made by a human on the moon. A bit later that afternoon we helped with the evening milking of over 100 cows. How’s that for a full day.
Once, when we visited and stayed, some neighbors confused my brothers and me as Amish due to our long hair. My uncle loved that story and told and retold it at our annual family reunions and his annual sweet corn roast.
They owned and farmed massive acreage – tractors with step ladders – and I remember my very pregnant Aunt Carol climbing up one of those ladders after she cooled, served and cleaned up supper, to get into the cab to head out to cut hay.
I wouldn’t say that farming is in my blood, but it has a place in my childhood.
In some ways I do relate to Jesus’ portrayal of the sower and the risks and frustration of farming. I remember the challenges which lined in my Uncle’s face when there was a drought or when he had too much rain. A farmer cannot control such motions of nature. It is stressful work. Yet the whole family loved it.
In this parable, Jesus talks about a sower going out to plant – to sow his seeds. Jesus describes the kinds of trouble and the many challenges that one who plants seeds faces. He describes a kind of broadcasting of the seeds, sprinkling the seeds by hand onto the ground. But in this parable, it is not all ease and fruitfulness.
We have heard may sermons about the kinds of soil the sower faced, and the birds eating the seeds, and the difficulties of sowing and reaping. Jesus offers interpretations of the kinds of ground facing one who sows seeds. She may cast seed, but there are no guarantees she will reap a crop. She may work in earnest sincerity to plant for the needs of her family and herself, but nothing is certain for a return.
As I read these words for the zillionth time in my over 40 years of ministry, I found myself distracted away from the condition of the ground and the threats that come with farming, to the heart and soul of the ones sowing the seed. I found there are lessons here. I started thinking about stories of sowing more than the focus Jesus calls us to consider.
We, along with many other churches, temples, and places of worship, are reeling with how to remain relevant in this time of uncertainty and turmoil. This curse of Corona has us second guessing day in and day out. We want to be with you – in person for Sunday worship. I know I speak for all of us on staff when I say we miss how you, our Federated family and friends, enrich us and give our lives meaning. You have built a community of faith here and around the world. You have made a place in this troubled, and yet glorious, world for the message of Jesus who taught us to love all, honor all, and accept all. You have taken the message of God’s light and love into your families and communities, and you have made a difference. You have, as Jesus requested, brought God’s Kingdom, or in different words, God’s Dominion into being here on earth.
The birds have sometimes eaten our efforts. Weeds have choked out our messages upon occasion. We have tried to plant into lives that resist receiving our care. And yet, you as a congregation and we as a church keep up the work of teaching forgiveness and peace and the joy that we can have in God’s abiding spirit.
To you I offer this morning the message that there is something to be said of the faithfulness of the sower. Today, with me in this all but empty sanctuary, we have a family of musicians and singers giving their all. We have a music director who spends hours over meaningful and inspiring music for us to experience. We have people with technical gifts who have struggled and experimented and researched and created a way in which we may all be together in worship even if divided into our own homes. These saints sow seeds of worship and love that we might receive a blessing.
Others in our fellowship sow weekly. Our staff reaches out tirelessly to keep connections alive. Some of our members are involved in creating programs to be experienced online – like Bible study experiences, and social justice offerings, along with weekly prayer lists and other hands that reach out into our church family. Phone calls are being made and love is being communicated in notes and other gestures.
Someone told me recently that with Coronavirus they have lost all hope of anything seeming to be normal or regular again. With the news depicting more deaths than ever anticipated and infections progressing unabated, we do lose hope. Businesses have been lost. Jobs have been closed. People are hungry and the evictions are just beginning. There is serious reason to lose hope and I can relate to my sad friend.
And yet, Jesus started a sermon saying, “Listen! A sower went out to sow.”
My wife tore out a little reminder from a recent Time magazine about who we are as the church. The article is about a month old, and it was in the days before churches were allowed to re-open. The author, N.T. Wright, says that as we debate to open or remain closed, he sees himself between two viewpoints. He understands the need to be together as a worshiping congregation but was appalled that some supposedly devout believers re-opened churches with no regard to safety guidelines. He commented on the illusion that says since we are Christians we are somehow protected from the disease if we go to church. My observation has always been that being a Christian does not exempt us from the challenges of life. I believe in a living, present God, not in some Magic Jesus who protects us from our own ill-advised decisions.
Wright lifts up for examination the need for being together in corporate worship, as he also admits the limitations of
livestreaming in building real community. He offers a reflection for the conundrum we face. He reminds us that Jews and Christians have often worshipped God while in exile. He says, “We find ourselves ‘by the waters of Babylon,’ confused and grieving for the loss of our normal life. We must, as Jeremiah said, settle down into this regime and ‘seek the welfare of the city.’” In other words, we can process this time of madness by remembering that in the history of our faith, there have been times and places when the church was the church, but not in the building. We are still the church in our homes this morning. We are still the church as we move carefully through our day behind face masks or remaining in our homes. And we still have a calling to fulfill, no matter where we find ourselves.
Again, the words of Jesus. “Listen! A sower went out to sow.”
I believe that you are that sower. There is a part of this story that lifts the faithfulness of the sower. Even if our sowing holds some inexperience or hardship, we still set out to plant. In planting we reproduce. In sowing we replicate and create. We bring forth fruit, nourishment, and life.
Perhaps it is fitting to remember our attachment to one of the first stories in the Bible. In Genesis we are told that, “… the Lord planted a garden, in Eden, in the east, and there God put the one that had been formed. The Creator made all kinds of beautiful trees grow there and produce good fruit... a stream flowed in Eden and watered the garden; beyond Eden it divided into four rivers. Then the Lord God placed the humans in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and guard it.
[Genesis 2:8-9,10,15 (paraphrased)]
Our place in God began as overseers in the garden. It was our first job to cultivate and to guard that creation that God gifted to us. It is our duty to continue as sowers and to bring into full fruition all the plans and dreams God has for every living person on the planet. And sometimes this takes some re-thinking. We read of churches that tried to open and then closed again when attendees became infected with Corona. They had to step back and rethink. But they still set out to sow. I have decided to try a new program called GROUP Talk Talk. Some of the teens joined me this past Wednesday. It is not my preferred style of interacting with the young adults. Yet they made my day. Here they are saying “Hi” to you in our church family.
As you can tell from my picture, I am totally comfortable with technology!
And so, we grow and change and adapt. Our garden is changing, but the need to plant the crops of Love and Joy and Peace remains an imperative. The Good New of life in Jesus is still as relevant as it was 2000 years ago. The time of planting is not over for us.
That is why I hope that you will continue to do as Jesus taught, “Listen! A sower went out to sow.”
May God be present with you in every good thing you do.