Scattering Seeds: Faith on the Move

Based on the parables found in Mark and on the Hymn “We’re Marching to Zion”

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

When I was a kid I lived with my grandparents and every summer my grandfather would try to make our yard into a little slice of Italy. We had fountains, fruit trees and about ¾ of our yard was taken up with a huge vegetable garden. By day he was a roofer and in the evening you’d find him in his overalls, cigar stub in his mouth, humming some song, on his knees in the garden pulling weeds or harvesting all the many vegetables he grew.   As adults my sister Cheryl and I have kept up this tradition, sans the cigar, and we are both organic gardeners. At my house I have 5 raised beds in my yard and I grow veggies there and then I have pots scattered around in which I grow herbs and lettuce and other leafy greens. At the end of the season I often seed the heirloom veggies so that I can have seeds for next year. When I first began gardening I would read and research best methods. The longer I’ve done it, the less I plan and research and fuss and fret. The lettuces and herbs I just let go to seed. They re-seed themselves…. sometimes in the same season, sometimes in the next year they begin to grow again, all on their own. I also compost, and sometimes things don’t get fully cooked in the compost bin, so we will have tomatoes or herbs growing randomly around the gardens. Sometimes I simply take a handful of lettuce seeds or herb seeds and sprinkle them around. I realized, after about 20 years of doing this that for all my planning, I really can’t control this process, but it’s really about letting Mother Nature do her thing and trusting that God will provide a harvest.

That’s what our scripture is about. The Author Mark, who wrote this gospel between the years 60-75. He says that God’s kingdom is like seeds thrown on a field by someone who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seeds sprout and grow and he has no idea how it happens, but soon there is full harvest ready to be reaped, soon there is bounty for all to enjoy.

Notice, though, that at some point someone had to do something.  The Gardener wouldn’t faithfully wait for seeds to grow without first planting. Remember, faith without works is dead, it doesn’t make sense. The Gardner had to make a move, We’re Marching to Zion after all, we can’t get to Zion by waiting and watching and having faith that somehow we’ll be transported there, we have to move towards that beautiful city of God, seeds have to be scattered before something will grow.

There is a UCC church in Norwell, pastored by Jerry Thornell and Stephen Chapin Garner that has an interesting story about scattering seeds. They even wrote a book entitled Scattering Seeds[1], which is a worthwhile read.

Pastor Garner was worried about the church’s vitality, and about the church’s ability to continue to pay trained clergy to lead the church. Rather than try to increase membership, or increase giving, he decided to work with the membership to prepare them to lead the church by themselves.

His church created a teaching pastorate model which provided ministerial training for lay members who were interested in certain areas of ministry. After going through this training, the people of the church would eventually be able to take over all the aspects of ministerial leadership, including pastoral care calls, preaching, teaching and visioning. UCC Norwell was creating a slow shift from pastoral ministry to a lay led church.

Now what happened at this church is really interesting, because was in a relatively short period of time there was a great increase in the number of lay members that took on leadership roles. There was a new energy in the congregation because they were being empowered to engage in ministry. They were not so much interested in being ministered to anymore, but instead found great passion in discerning their own ministerial gifts and then ministering to others in their church and then turning it towards the greater community, and towards the global community. This church increased its harvest immensely and was able to do so much more than it ever imagine.

Rev. Garner didn’t set out to increase membership, or to create new programs in the church, or to move out into the community and start programs that hadn’t existed before. He was planning for something very different than what happens. There’s that saying, God Laughs while we make plans. However, I believe that God appreciates our partnership and our initiative, our taking the first step, our discerning a passion for providing a helping or healing ministry for others. God appreciated that Pastor Garner planted seeds, and look what grew. There was great transformation in that church, as a church body and within the individuals who found -in themselves- skills and passions they may not have even known existed before.

So like the mustard seed, the small ideas grew, and grew until Norwell became a church transformed. Remember, in Paul’s letter to the Romans he tells us to renew our minds before transformation can happen. Paul says to think differently. Thinking differently will lead to acting differently; thinking differently will lead to transformation. Because Norwell was thinking differently about ministry, it transformed from a church that was preparing for the worst to a church that was alive with energy, empowered by the Spirit, and working for the Kingdom. And it didn’t happen overnight, right? It’s not like magic beans. It takes time for seeds to grow. It’s a process, and God’s hidden action will bring it about.   And it takes GOD to make it grow.

We, here at South Church, started thinking differently about coming together on communion Sunday. We began to have potluck lunches on Communion Sunday. What a beautiful thing to come together at the communion table to celebrate being members of the mystical body of Christ and then coming together again to celebrate being in fellowship with one another in this wonderful faith community.   And we can continue to transform our thinking about communion, and about our potluck lunches. Seeds have been planted around extending the lunch invitation to the larger community, to anyone who wants to join us;  transforming fellowship within our church to radical hospitality towards our community. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our neighbors from Chips house or any of the residential programs in the area began to join us for lunch?  Maybe there’s simply someone who lives alone and would like to have some company at a meal. The possibilities for offering fellowship and hospitality are endless, we just need to plant a seed, extend an invitation, make a few extra deviled eggs or a nice Pot of Soup as Edna and Shelba have recommended.

Sometimes the growth, like the bush that grows from the mustard seed, is disproportionate to the amount of energy that we put into it. Imagine the energy it would take to put a welcome sign on the lawn, or mail an invitation to lunch, make a few more deviled eggs, some extra salad, a pot of soup compared to the difference we could make in the life of someone in need, someone who is lonely, someone who doesn’t ever get invited because they are different, someone who is hungry for food and fellowship…….. .The mustard bush grows so large that birds can nest in, without anyone fussing over the seeds, or the amount of water or fertilizer, or nitrogen in the soil. It happens because God wants it to grow.   These parables include encouragement to act while being patient and hopeful, and faithful, trusting in God. As it says in Corinthians “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, only God makes things grow” (I Cor 3:6-7) We plant, we water, and we patiently wait to see what takes root, what becomes possible, what bounty can be harvested. It takes patience and faith because God’s kingdom is not frenetic, it shouldn’t cause stress, and it’s not a check list of things to do. On earth, hard work and checklists and goals lead to earthly rewards. But with a kingdom mindset, seeds are planted- trusting that God has plan, God will help things grow and God will give us the passion and the energy to go where God is leading us.

In our hymn of the day, We’re Marching to Zion, the upcoming third verse says that the hills of Zion yield a thousand sacred sweets. Now Mount Zion is an actual place it’s a hill in Jerusalem and in the Old Testament it is often synonymous with Jerusalem or the City of David, The City of God. In the New Testament, Zion is used as a metaphor for the Heavenly Realm, the Kingdom of God. So we’re moving, marching towards heaven. Now don’t get nervous, I’m not saying that we’ve got one foot on the earth and another in heaven, because when Jesus talks in parables about scattering seeds in the Kingdom, tiny seeds growing beyond our imagination, he’s talking about planting them on earth, right?   Jesus says “the Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seeds on the ground. Why would Jesus preach to people about planting seeds on earth, if he’s talking about the Kingdom of God that is some far away heaven that hardly will need a beautification committee? Jesus is asking the listeners of this parable to bring God’s vision of the Kingdom to earth, where the seeds are planted. Those hills of Zion that yield a thousand sacred sweets, those hills are oddly enough right here on very flat sea level Cape Cod. Those hills of Zion are at the beach and the sweets are the people we are able to touch at our beach services that don’t come to church in our building. The sweets are the meals we make for people experiencing homelessness, those sweets are the homes we build for habitat, the space that we offer for 12 step programs, the Good Works Ducks, and those sweets are clothing at the Niche. We offer many sweets here to God’s children, and we’re all God’s children, Right?  As the hymn says God’s children benefit from Zion, benefit from the best Heavenly realm we can create here and now, not in some far off time in a far off place.

I wonder what other seeds can be scattered in this beautiful place. What kinds of seeds that can yield a bounty of sacred sweets.

Are they seeds of homework help? Are they seeds of prayer vigils for lives lost? Are they seeds of community dinners? Are they seeds of outdoor ministry to those experiencing homelessness? We’re on the Move here at South Church, Marching to Zion and planting seeds of hope, seeds of care, seeds of help, seeds of compassion, seeds of ministry in all sorts of places to all kinds of people.

Let our songs abound let our joy be known and shown. Join in the song by moving, in faith. Join in the song by scattering seeds. Join in the song by allowing God to create a beautiful harvest through the gifts that God has given to each of us. Amen!

[1] Garner, Stephen Chapin, and Jerry Thornell. Scattering Seeds: Cultivating Church Vitality. Herndon, VA: Alban, 2011