Anglican Church of Canada
Easter 6 – Rogation Sunday May 21, 2017
What a glorious Victoria Day weekend this is! The conventional wisdom for the Canadian gardener holds true: this is the time to get the rest of the garden in. To get outside and play in the dirt, to let the warm, rich, moist soil run through your fingers, to smell the humus, the new grass, the sweet smell of blossoms. This year the calendars line up, and so we have Rogation Sunday, the traditional time of prayer and blessing for the Spring planting, falling on this same weekend.
I wonder if Jesus, the carpenter’s son, spent a lot of time working as a farmhand? It is interesting that his parables don’t really talk about the world of carpentry, but there are many that speak of seeds and growth and planting and harvest. Clearly he thought a lot about such things, and clearly he saw a deep and consistent connection between the world of growth and farming, and this thing he called the Kingdom of God, the way in which God is present and at work in our world.
A sower went out to sow. So begins what is probably the most familiar of Jesus’s parables of growth. It is actually due to come up in our lectionary in mid-July, but there is not much sowing going on then, so I took the liberty of moving it forward to today, to look at what it has to tell us about farming and gardening and the kingdom.
Because I’m not sure that we often think about the aspect of planting and growing when we hear this parable. After all, we know what this parable is supposed to mean, don’t we? It comes with its own handy little explanation that tells us what each element in the parable represents, that it is about preaching and not really about planting at all. The explanation turns it into an allegory, a hidden puzzle of a story that is really about something else altogether. The problem with an allegory is when we have unpacked it, found out what it really means, then we tend to throw the original story away like a candy wrapper. This story is about preaching the word, and we think of sermons, and the logo on the Gideon Bibles, and of all the reasons people don’t accept the gospel. We moralize it, and turn it into a story of scarcity (so few seem to hear the word and bear fruit), and lose sight in our imagination of the experience of planting a garden.
That is not how Jesus’s parables work. They are not just hidden puzzles to hide some spiritual meaning. They are rather pictures of daily life and experience in this world, places where our world becomes transparent for the presence of God.
A sower went out to sow. Just as many of us may have been out over the past week in the garden, just as farmers have been sowing their fields up and down the Valley. It was hard work, sowing by hand. It was inefficient and full of frustrations, farming in the dry hard rocky soil of the Holy Land. There were so many things that could go wrong: the hungry birds, the thin rocky soil, the tough choking weeds. These are frustrations every gardener understands. Even in the lush soil of the Valley, at least for an amateur like me, gardening is full of frustration. Plants dry up when I miss a watering, weeds appear overnight, birds strip my cherry trees in a single night, frost can kill, rains can swamp the garden.
And yet, for all the frustration, for all that can go wrong, there is a miracle that happens again and again, the miracle of growth. It happens so often that we can forget what a miracle it is, we can rush by it in our busy lives. But getting down on our knees in the dirt can bring it back to us. We can try to get all the conditions right, try to avoid all the things that can go wrong, but when it comes down to us, we cannot make something grow. We cannot create even a simple daisy by our own power. We have to wait and let the miracle of life happen.
And it happens, again and again, despite all the things that can go wrong, despite the reckless way in which we abuse nature, try to tame and dominate and sterilize our world, still the green force presses into flower, still – thank God – the miracle of life continues to thrive. So many things can and do go wrong, so many seeds come to nothing. But when the miracle does happen, it bears fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.
This life force in the green plant is not exactly God. That is, we know that it is part of nature, coded into the DNA and the cellular biology of life. And yet, it is surely not without God either: because as Christians we do not see life simply as intricately coded machines – that too, sure – but also as God’s creation, an expression of God’s exuberance and generosity and grace.
When Jesus tells these parables of growth, it is not just to dress up another spiritual truth that has nothing to do with the earth. It is to invite us to see the parables that are already there, all around us, in nature: signs of God’s abundance. They teach us that we live in a world charged with the creative power of God. They teach us that we do not have to do it all ourselves, to create carrots in our kitchen, to produce the kingdom of justice and peace by our own efforts alone. We simply have to plant seeds: seeds in our gardens, seeds in our relationships and our community, seeds of kindness and consideration and courage and caring. And yes, many of these seeds, most of them perhaps will come to nothing: they will fall on hard ground, or be choked out by the cares and busyness of the world. That’s okay, we must not be discouraged. Because the few seeds that do take root and flourish, will bear fruit beyond our wildest dreams.
That’s how the kingdom works. It is not something we build; it is something that God is building all around us, and we have the immense privilege of working with him, of tending the seeds of justice and respect and gratitude and celebration, and of sharing in the harvest.
And if we get discouraged with the ways of this world, and the lies and futility of the powerful – well, let us get down on our knees, out in the garden, feel the patient richness of the waiting soil, sense the dearest freshness deep down things, and remember that this is still God’s world.