GROW IN GRACE: READY FOR HARVEST
The Rev. Helen Havlik
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 16, 2018
During September, we’re looking at the joy of lifelong learning with a sermon series called, “Grow in Grace.” Last week, we were reminded that the Bible is crucial to our connection with and understanding of who God is, who we are, and what it means to be God’s faithful people. Yet it’s sometimes shocking just how little many of us really know and understand what Scripture says. This is the task of lifelong Christian Education, to help us—myself included—keep growing in knowledge, in faith and in relationship with our Creator. Without such growth, we risk facing the struggles of life without a solid foundation. This week we’re considering what it takes to be a spiritually mature person—which begins with how God’s Word is planted and nurtured in our lives. Or as Jesus says, “A sower went out to sow his seed…” I’m reading from Luke, Ch. 8, beginning with vs. 4. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
About three years ago now, the Rev. Nurya Love Parish, pastor at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church over on Post Rd. and Pine Island, partnered with Bethany & Mike Edwardson to open Plainsong Farm. Plainsong is a CSA—community supported agriculture. CSA farmers sell shares of their planned crops ahead of the growing season. The money they receive buys materials and seeds to plant, grow and harvest vegetables and fruit—and each shareholder gets part of the bounty for about 20 weeks, June through October. I joined Plainsong last summer and was so happy with it that I signed up again this year. I get the benefit of farm-fresh food without the hassle of planting and tending my own garden. Of course, I take the risk that some crops will fail—this year the beans haven’t been so plentiful, but I’ve had lots of eggplant. My own flower garden this year has been less successful—an invasion of bunnies ate most of my zinnia seedlings and even the gladiolus sprouts. The warmer temperatures have made it hard to keep up with the watering—so my herb plants look pretty scruffy. Growing things is so tricky! Some years conditions are right for corn, other years are better for wheat. As any farmer will tell us, it takes just the right combination of sun, rain, nutrients and soil—not to mention patience and persistence!
And isn’t that exactly what Jesus is telling his disciples and anyone else who’d care to listen? Any kind of growth, plant or human, takes just the right kind of conditions. When it comes to growing plants or growing faith, we need water and light and nutrients. We need good soil that’s been well prepared. Too rocky and seed won’t root properly and rain runs right off. Weeds compete for light and water and nutrients. Farming is risky under the best conditions—and so is planting the Word of God and growing spiritually. Both are an act of faith because ultimately the outcome is out of our control. Sometimes we can do everything right and still not end up with a crop. The challenge is sticking with our part, even when it looks like a crummy year for beans!
And what a challenge that is! Especially when we believe so fervently in the indomitable human spirit. We Americans are nearly addicted to unilateral action—whether it’s global politics or personal lifestyle, “I do it myself!” is the way we tend to approach everything. Even when it’s patently clear we can’t do it ourselves and we do need some help, our pride gets the upper hand as we refuse the helping hand. Sticking with our part requires us to know what our part is—and what belongs to someone else. So Jesus reminds us here and elsewhere that we are not the light and we are not the rain and we aren’t even the nutrients—because he is. He is the Light of the World; he is the Living Water. He is the one who feeds us his body broken for our sake and his blood spilled for the salvation of many. Without him, we produce nothing of lasting value in ourselves or in others. Without him, we don’t grow and thrive in faith—it’s as simple as that.
So what’s our part in this? Jesus makes it clear that the seed needs light and water and nutrients—and good soil. It’s the interrelationship among all these elements that yields an abundant harvest. Light and water and nutrients are crucial —but the good soil also is necessary for any growth to take place. And so this parable begs the question: what kind of soil are you? Dusty and empty? Rocky and hard and cynical? So choked with worries that nothing can bring hope? Or the good soil that can “hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance”?
Michigan State Extension folks will attest to just how crucial soil is to how well, even whether or not, seeds will take hold and grow. Soil needs to be “friable,” which means not too heavy on clay, not too light with sand, with lots of open space for roots to work their way deep into the ground. Breaking it up, adding peat moss to hold water, amending with organic matter, all of these things can improve the quality of soil and yield a bigger harvest, whether crops or flowers. And with the abundant harvest comes more seeds to be planted and grow in well-prepared soil. Maybe that’s what a “good heart” is—not too heavy, not too light, with lots of open space for the seeds of faith to take root. Maybe those are the conditions that make for the “fruit” Jesus talks about. And if we don’t start out with that kind of heart—and actually none of us does—we can amend it through a lifetime of worship and prayer and study and service.
Water and light, nutrients and soil. It’s the relationship among them that brings the wonderful, tasty, beautiful results we count on for food, air, shade, etc. I know it’s more complicated than that—but it’s an amazing system that brings a bountiful harvest from farmers like Bethany & Mike Edwardson. In the same way, we can’t grow in faith without the Light of the World, the Living Water—Jesus himself. And the good soil we take the time to prepare is for the sowing of the seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, all the fruit of the Spirit, a new crop always ready for harvest.