Every day I do things that I have no idea how they work. I have no idea how my car works; I just put my key in the ignition and turn it on. Put it in to gear – press the accelerator to speed up and press the brake to slow down. I have no idea how any of it works – I just know it does. I turn on the computer to read the paper online – check any emails, check my bank accounts – and yet I have no idea how a computer works – I just press the button and it comes on. I have no idea how the internet works – I just use it.
That seems to be the principle at work in Jesus’ parable today about the farmer and the growing seed. We know that planting requires someone to sow the seeds. The seeds need to have soil, and the soil needs to be weeded and have work done to it. The soil needs to be watered and fertilised regularly. Gradually it grows and then bears fruit. This process seems to be simple and straightforward. The seeds dwell in the darkness away from the human eye so we don’t see what happens in the process. How long this process takes we can guess, but we don’t know the exact timing. What exactly occurs in the darkness, we don’t know. Will anything grow from the seed? We do not know that, either. How often don’t farmers and gardeners discover that they put in the best fertilizer, water as often as they should, and tend to the seed passionately, but sometimes nothing grows?
However, we have faith that something may grow from seeds and plant them anyway even though there is nothing we can do to make them grow. That is what our first parable in today’s Gospel is about: God’s grace and our faith. In fact St Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. The parable talks about the kingdom of God. And one of the things we learn about the kingdom of God is that it is not some faraway place or in the future after we leave the world. Rather Jesus talks about it being among us now like growing seeds. And one of the tasks, as St Paul said to the Corinthians is to keep establishing God’s Kingdom on earth. We need to be faithfully planting the seeds of God’s love and have faith with those God-given seeds. God created the seed, God will graciously take care of it.
We, like the farmer in the parable are to keep planting, keep sharing the good news of God’s love wherever we go – like the Parable of the Sower who sowed seeds wherever he went, even among the rocks and thorns where traditionally they wouldn’t grow. But remember, God makes them grow, not us and the growth is a mystery. We can’t force the seed to grow. We can’t yell at the seed to make it grow. We can’t threaten the seed to make it grow. And yet, sometimes, these are the methods we use in trying to convert others. We need to be patient as St Peter says: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. We need to be patient.
Abraham learnt to be patient but learnt the hard way when he took matters into his own hands. Instead of trusting that his seed would come from Sarah he became impatient and took matters into his own hands with Hagar. And that created a dispute between Sarah and Hagar – Ishmael and Isaac. A dispute that continues today with conflict over who is the true first born of Abraham’s seed.
When we first came to know God, it probably is because someone has planted the seed in us. It may have been our parents from our baptism, to Sunday school, confirmation and all the time bringing us along to church. Or it could have been a random event where the Holy Spirit led you enquire about your faith. There are many ways that we help that seed to grow. We go to church to worship, we study the Bible. We may join some fellowship, enjoy hospitality, hear and see the testimony of other Christians where we grow in our understanding of the Word and God’s way. After planting, the nurturing takes place. As we become the seed planters that’s where we can sometimes become disheartened and impatient. How long will this transformation from seed to plant take place? We do not know. In our Lutheran understanding that planting begins with Holy Baptism. The transformation has begun. In Baptism we are buried with Christ in his death – like a seed buried in soil. By it we share in his resurrection – like a seed that has sprung from its death to new life as a tree or plant.
Through Baptism we are reborn by the Holy Spirit and we bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is like the metaphor of planting that Jesus uses also when he says – unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. If the seed is not buried and never releases its old form, it won’t sprout into new shoots and have new life. As Christians, through our Baptism, we die from our old lives so we can be born again. When the seed is buried in the soil, it dwells in the darkness. Our life journey can be the same. Sometimes it is when we feel buried in dark moments, surrounded by stinky manure, that we are actually receiving God’s gracious blessings in our life. However, we may become afraid and reject the presence of God because of the darkness. It’s like the Israelites at the mountain of God – When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. How often do we think of God being present in the dark places like a seed buried deep in the ground. By the grace of God, we go through transformation and have new life. Eventually, the plant inside the seed will break through the soil and sprout into a small plant, grows leaves, flowers, then fruits. We are challenged to endure the dark moments; to be patient; a new life will come out of it.
Ezekiel also uses the language of a gardener: a twig is planted and bears fruits. We might have thought that a young twig would not have a chance to survive since it has no root, but because of God’s grace and love, it grows into a noble cedar tree and offers shelters to God’s creation. Maybe we have looked at our own lives – at our own congregation and wondered if God can really make anything grow. Well, let us look at the second parable in the Gospel; it talks about the smallest of all seeds growing to be the largest shrubs. Here we have something small that turns out to be something great. But the greatness is not about the tree itself, but about its effect of offering protection and a resting place to others. Sometimes we need to look at ourselves – our congregations and it’s not about how big we are but our faithfulness in being God’s kingdom in the world.
In God’s kingdom, anything is possible. The kingdom of God is not about material gain, but God’s love for us, and our love for God and each other. So, do not be afraid of dark moments. Do not be afraid of the small moments. Keep the faith and be patient. If you’re worried about a friend or family member’s faith – keep praying – keep watering – keep fertilizing. You may not see any results on the outside but God is working on the inside to make that seed grow. Do not underestimate the small or weak, for God has a plan for all of his creation and his Kingdom presence in the world. Let us be faithful – let us be patient and trusting and keep planting and loving God and praying his Kingdom come.