Sow What?22nd Sunday after Pentecost
He might not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he managed to have a significant impact on this part of the world. Walter came from Edinburgh, Scotland, and had served in the army. Around 1850, he decided to become a colonist, and purchased some land from the Hudson’s Bay Company. But in order to be a settler; a colonist, you had to bring people to settle the land, to build, to plant, so he purchased the help of some men to go on ahead and they started clearing land. When he finally arrived in Sooke, he could see that things weren’t going well. But he clearly had no idea what he was doing either. Walter earned some notoriety for shooting a cow at Clover point, thinking it was a buffalo. Like I said- not the sharpest knife… He was losing money so he got a job as a surveyor. How hard could it be? Right? But he didn’t actually know how to survey, and eventually just quit.
He went to Hawaii, and came back with a bunch of seeds,that he thought he’d plant on his property. Sow what you might ask? Well they were flowering shrubs. And sow them he did. Captain Walter Grant was the first independent settler on Vancouver Island. His seeds grew really well, producing hearty shrubs with magnificent yellow flowers. That handful of seeds became the Scotch Broom invasion that we all see in the early summer. Those beautiful yellow flowers adorning the sides of roads and cliffs. All his fault.
Some of us were travelling to Duncan to attend Presbytery near the end of June, and the Malahat was awash in yellow. We started to discuss this in the car, and Brian Titus began to tell us about Walter, and the sea of yellow we were in awe of. All because of a handful of seeds planted in Sooke by Walter.
Scotch Broom grows well in poor soil. Each plant can produce up to 18,000 seeds. They can lie dormant for 80 years, even surviving drought and fire. One seed pod can snap open and the seeds fly where the wind or the water takes them, and they have travelled to the Gulf Islands and all over the southern island. While they are pretty, they are an invasive species that can impede the growth of trees, and destroy native ecosystems like Gary Oak woodlands. And they are a fire hazard. Double wammy. Sow, thanks Captain Grant. That one little act of sowing seeds has had a lasting impact.
And so we have today’s gospel reading about the sower who sowed some seeds. Jesus has gone to sit by the lakeshore, to pray, to catch his breath, to gather his thoughts, or maybe just to be alone and listen to the waves. He has encountered hostility, is likely at odds with his family which can be deduced from some earlier passages and the Pharisees are certainly out to get him.He knows what outcome awaits him. But there are those who are aching to listen to him and to be in his presence.
Jesus was used to teaching in the temple as rabbis did. A rabbi would sit to teach while the others would stand to listen. But being by the lake it made sense to get into a nearby boat to sit and teach those who had gathered. And he taught them with parables, stories they had to ponder, to reflect on.
A sower went out to sow his seeds, Jesus tells them. One way that people have reflected on this is to ask themselves what kind of soil they are. Am I rocky soil, fertile soil, thorny or rocky ? But I don’t think this is the question we need to be asking. I would suggest we look at ourselves as workers in the field trying to prepare the soil. We get our hands dirty sometimes, cut ourselves on thorns and maybe trip on a stone or two. We get muddy and dirt gets under our finger nails. Being the gardener can be tiring; even frustrating sometimes. I’m sure you’d agree.
It’s not necessarily about a great harvest to come if you do it right either. So – sow – what are the seeds that you are holding in your hands ? What do you imagine Jesus wants to grow and have take root in our garden of communities, our communities of faith and where we live? Jason Byasee – who until recently taught at Vancouver School of Theology, wrote about this passage asking “ What wild unexpected seeds might you be holding in your hands? In the parable of the sower, the planter flings seeds everywhere, without regard for where they land.”
Some seeds turn out to be duds, or wilt, or damp off. Damping off is where the seed might germinate but then just fizzles out and dies. We don’t always reap what we sow. Think back to Walter. He would have had no idea what the outcome of his seeds would have had. The sower scattered seeds recklessly, carelessly, maybe even wasting some. God sows seeds in our lives, in our families, our community and our churches. Sometimes we help. Sometimes we hinder.
I read of a story where someone prepared the soil well, fertilized, composted, and did everything right. They planted rows and rows of squash. They watered, tended and weeded, but the outcome was nothing special. However some seed blew away or fell and landed in an unexpected corner of the yard. And that is where an amazingly huge squash grew much to the gardeners’ surprise. A seed that grows into an unexpected plant like that is called a volunteer plant. In this case a volunteer squash. Volunteer seedlings and plants can be seen all over the place. I think of the wild poppies in fields or by the ocean side here. Or maybe you’ve seen volunteer calendula or dandelions. Maybe you’ve seen a dandelion decide to grow and bloom in some crack in a driveway. Even on my fourth floor balcony I’ve seen volunteer plants such as nasturtiums that hitch a ride and show up among my plants. One year I had come to the conclusion that my honeysuckle that I’d kept in a big pot on my balcony had come to its end. So in the fall I cut it back to within about 10 inches from the base. I figured that in the spring I’d be able to just pull the roots from the pot and compost it. But in the spring it was covered with leaves and this past summer- a year later, it grew to about 6 feet tall and had a month of amazing blooms. Apparently it is not always for me to say when something is done.Nor is it for me to always know what is going to grow either.
In the same way, God helps us to bloom even when it seems impossible. And we can unknowingly help others to bloom, grow and thrive as well. Today is known in most Protestant churches as reformation Sunday. Luther, Calvin and Knox didn’t finish the job of reformation. As Christ’s church, God is always reforming us, bringing change and new life, new direction, new missions. Jesus asks us to fling the seeds we have with generosity, and recklessness! Seeds of change are always taking root around us, within us and yes – in our churches.
The Church has grown and changed in so many ways in over 2,000 years. The garden of our faith keeps growing. God’s people have scattered and flung seeds that have been both good and bad. You never know what will take root. That is up to God. God says to Isaiah, my ways are not your ways!
The first 300 years of Christianity were vastly different from what we now experience. It was illegal to be a Christian. Jesus’ followers met in homes and these communities were led by both women and men. There were secret signs to indicate if you were a Christian. If you made half the sign of a fish in the dirt, and if the person you were talking to completed the sign, you knew you were in the safe presence of another Christian. Then the Emperor Constantine made it legal, and a series of patriarchal Church councils impacted the church in a way that made women’s roles more hidden. Some scriptures were deemed not worthy of being included in what we now know as a the bible. The writings of some women, for example were removed. Eventually church buildings were made. There were no pews or benches. Then the plague happened in the Middle Ages, and churches were seen as places of safety and refuge. Even animals were brought inside churches for safety at times.Most people couldn’t read, and scriptures were not even available to read, so stories of the bible found their way into church buildings with carvings, stained glass windows, paintings and so on. The buildings were used to teach.
When I was a child we lived in a Christian culture. I went to church with my little straw hat with the elastic that pinched under my chin, my little while socks and gloves. But the age of Christendom that we all once knew has passed. – at least in its dominance. The seeds of Christendom flung seeds into laws, morality and much more, but the garden is changing.
And so we are called to fling seeds of faith wherever we are called to. We need to always remember the sneakiness of God too. You never know what God has in mind. When I was a student at VST about 25 years ago I spent some time on East Hastings at First United seeing how they ministered to their community. I remember seeing the pews being used as a safe place for homeless people to sleep during the day. But since this past spring, they have pulled the entire church building down. They will rebuild, but it won’t be focused on a sanctuary. It will have housing and specific spaces to tend to the needs of those they care for. In the meantime, their mission and ministry continues in other spaces in that community. Talk about reformed and reforming! And an openness to change. God’s sneakiness shows up in unexpected places along with a mysterious Holy presence that can surprise us. Christianity is still here and we are called to fling the seeds of God’s love and nourishment, wherever we can. We can trust that those volunteer plants will take root sometimes even despite us! Even if we don’t quite get it right.
Whenever I’m driving around Victoria, I am always encountering people begging at street corners – perhaps more now than ever. You probably know the situation of sitting there waiting for the turn signal to let you turn. I love to chat with whoever is there. It’s just who I am. Recently my daughters were in the car with me when this happened. I rolled down the window to say hi, and reached into my glove compartment to pull out a granola bar. I handed it to the fellow and asked his name, and then I asked if he’d like a pair of socks. His face lit up and he said yes! So I reached down the side of my door and whipped out a pair of socks and handed them to him. My daughters laughed at this surprise. You always keep socks there Mom? Why yes I do. And the fellow took off his socks that he said belonged to someone else and in the space of that moment put on the new ones, and put his shoes right back on – all before the light had even turned. My daughters were delighted at this and how crazy their mom continues to be.
But you never know what seeds you sow. God’s sneakiness endures. Who knows how that affected that man, or the woman whose socks he had on, or even someone in a car behind me. Seeds of change are around us. We are called to fling those seeds, to sow them with abandon. The question we all need to ask, is “Sow what?”