God's Garden

© Photo by Evi Radauscher (Unsplash)
Published by Josh Hosler on Sun, Jul 12, 2020 12:14 PM

sermon preached at Church of the Good Shepherd, Federal Way, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler, Rector
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9A-Trk 2), July 12, 2020
Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

O God of beginnings and endings, of transformations and miracles, bury your seeds deep within us and help them to grow. Amen.

“Let anyone with ears listen!” Do you have ears today?

Has any of you taken advantage of the quarantine to plant a new garden, or to spend more time in the garden you already have? I’m not a gardener myself, but I’m married to one, and she tells me that when there’s so much trouble and uncertainty in the world, there’s something uniquely healing about planting seeds and watching them grow. And then the whole family benefits from the fresh veggies in our stir fry!

Last weekend my family watched the movie version of Hamilton, the soundtrack of which we’ve enjoyed together for four years. Toward the end of the show, Lin-Manuel Miranda has the line, “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you don’t get to see.” We are all seed-planters: living our lives, making an impact, and then eventually, inevitably, getting out of the way so others can live their lives. We plant seeds through our words and actions, but we never get to see all the results.

One of the most effective ways to plant seeds is simply to be involved in the lives of younger people. We may wish certain things for them, but ultimately we have no control over what happens to the seeds we plant.

We’re not just seed planters, though. We’re also tenders of soil. So many seeds were planted before we came along, and if we want their sprouts to keep growing, we have work to do, tilling and weeding. Some of our work may be very effective—other work will be well-intentioned but will fail. It’s a huge garden, this world of ours, and it contains many different kinds of soil.

When God plants seeds, they do what seeds do: they sprout and grow. Isaiah tells us that God’s Word is God’s intention—once it is spoken, its accomplishment is a foregone conclusion. God gets what God wants, sooner or later. The only question is how much control God is willing to relinquish to us to help tend the garden. We are God’s gardening apprentices: we learn, by and by, how everything looks from God’s perspective, hopefully coming to love the world the way God does. All the uncertainties in this garden come down to how we respond to the curriculum of the Master Gardener.

In Jesus’ parable today, a whole bunch of seeds are being sown. But these particular seeds aren’t ours to scatter; they belong to God alone. And better yet, God never runs out of seeds. So God scatters with abandon, flinging seeds into every cranny of the universe. These seeds are the Word of God, the intentions of God, the love of God, the effectiveness of God, the very person of Christ. The seeds land absolutely everywhere, even in places that aren’t receptive to growth. But the seeds sprout nonetheless, and that’s where we come in.

“Let anyone with ears listen!” Do you have ears today?

The Parable of the Sower tells us that God’s action is cosmic, mysterious, and now. In other words, God’s action is not limited, explainable, or later.

So if anyone tells you that only certain people are within God’s reach, Jesus says something different.

If anyone tells you that God can be reasonably understood by the merely logical mind, Jesus says something different.

If anyone tells you that God’s action is reserved for a later time, perhaps at the end of the world, Jesus says something different.

God’s love is cosmic. God’s love reaches everywhere. If there are aliens on other planets, God is present to them, too. And right here on earth, God is present to all people and all creation, all the time. A human farmer may run out of seeds, but God our creator does not. Furthermore, because God has scattered seeds everywhere, it’s not up to us to plant them—only to tend what’s already sprouted.

God’s love is mysterious. It is like the mystery of a seed that gets buried in the earth and disappears, never again to be seen in its original form. Indeed, if you dig up the seed to check on it, you’re doing it wrong! Put it back. A seed needs to die to live. And what then lives looks nothing like the seed. A botanist can explain the science, but no poet can fully explain the metaphor. Enjoy the mystery.

God’s love is now. It is happening in this moment and has not been delayed. Just as God’s love is in every place, it is also in every time—but this moment is the only one we humans ever have. Yet we human beings typically meet God’s love with hostility. Jesus demonstrated this just by living. God’s love shows up whether we want it or not, and then it demands a response from us. Jesus describes the seeds landing everywhere, but specifically he names four places: the path, the rocks, the thorns, and the good soil. These places represent our variety of responses to God’s love.

Some of the seed lands on the path and gets eaten by birds. But we know what will happen next, right? The birds will unwittingly help the gardener by moving the seeds somewhere else and, on the other side of their digestive tract, redepositing them for another chance to sprout. So if the birds represent “the evil one,” as Jesus says, then we can see that the evil one is ultimately powerless. The evil one can only delay the inevitable—no more than that.

Some of the seed sprouts on rocky ground. Note that it still sprouts—nothing can prevent that. But these seeds are in a place with limited nutrients for growth. They fall victim to the hostility that is so predictable among humankind. People interfere in the seeds’ growth through violence or neglect and prevent it from lasting for very long. The rocky soil of anxiety and scarcity needs clearing, but so often we don’t do that, so concerned are we with tending our own soil. We hoard resources and refuse to trust in the abundance of God’s love, so we leave small plants to wither and die. Thus there are people who have shown great promise, but they have become jaded and bitter because their fellow humans allowed their seeds no depth of soil.

Some of the seed sprouts among thorns. Again, it still sprouts! Nothing will get in the way of the transformation from seed to plant. But this time it is thorns, which Jesus describes as “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth,” that get in the way and kill the plant. This situation isn’t other people’s fault, but our own. Maybe we decided our comfort is more attractive to us than our committed care for others. Maybe our self-centered ambitions are the problem. God’s love started to grow in us, but we killed it ourselves. Thus there are people in the world who are self-centered, distracted, over-privileged, procrastinators—people who “set their minds on the flesh,” as Paul writes. Or people who never caught more than a glimpse of love before they viewed it as an exploitable weakness and smothered it.

Finally, there’s the seed that lands in good soil. Like all the other seeds, it sprouts and grows and finds ready nutrients to support this growth. These are the places where God’s intentions and our joy meet—where, as the psalm says, “mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”[1]

In this entire metaphor, then, there are a few crucial things to remember. “Let anyone with ears listen!” Do you have ears today?

God’s love is cosmic, mysterious, and now—available to everyone in this moment in ways we can’t comprehend. So there’s no point wondering who’s in God’s good graces and who isn’t, because that’s a question only the rocks ask, with unfruitful results. And to wait for some other time to welcome God into our own lives is a thorny proposition. As Rabbi Hillel may have been the first to say, “If not now, when?”

There’s something important, though, that the rocky soil and the thorny soil share in common. Some seeds may have sprouted and died, but that’s not necessarily the end of the story. There are always more seeds; what’s needed is for the quality of the soil to change. If someone clears the rocks and pulls the weeds, the soil will improve. I wonder who does the difficult yardwork necessary to make our soil ready to receive the seeds of God’s love? Is it all up to us? Or could there also be a divine rototiller? Could it be that we and God have to work together on this project?

God’s seeds have been scattered, and they will and do take root and grow. There’s no doubt about that. Isaiah prophesies that the formerly oppressed people will be able to come and go as they please—in freedom, with joy. Good plants like cypress and myrtle will grow instead of thorns and briers, and even the very features of nature will sing and clap their hands.

All we can do in response to this planting is to love. Love will empower us to clear the rocks and pull the weeds in our little portion of the field. We’re just making room for love to grow. And if that’s our entire legacy, we will have truly lived.

Do you feel seeds stirring in your soil, buried deep, longing for the sun? Fear not. You can’t even imagine what’s coming, but it will be beautiful. Amen.

[1] Psalm 85:10

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