My dad was the pastor at Church of the Saviour UMC in Indianapolis in the late 80s and most of the 90s. I grew up there. A few years ago he returned to this congregation as their part-time pastor. My dad asked if I would spend a Sunday morning with them and share a message. I’ve posted the scripture and sermon below. It is directed to a specific audience, but I hope that even “outsiders” might find a message of hope in these words too.
While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded crop, a hundred time more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
‘though seeing, they may not see:
though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on the good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain I, and by persevering produce a crop.”
The first time I sang a solo was in this building. It wasn’t in this sanctuary, however. We worshipped in the Fellowship Hall for a few weeks and it was down there where I first sang in front of a crowd. Do you remember why we worshipped in the Fellowship Hall? A few weeks prior my dad was standing up here preaching. Now normally he wasn’t in the pulpit. He would walk around, stand in front of it – he used the space. For some reason, that Sunday he was standing in the pulpit. It was a good thing he didn’t move because at some point during the sermon one of the can lights – remember those can lights with the wooden slats around them – one of those light bulbs came crashing down to the ground right in front of the pulpit. So, we worshipped in the Fellowship Hall for a few weeks after that!
I remember being so nervous when I stood in front of you to sing Morning Has Broken. I’m sure my voice shook and my mouth was dry. I know I was shaking a bit. And yet, I stood there in front of this group of people who didn’t care what I sounded like, they just loved me. I can’t recall for sure, but I’m fairly certain I got a lot of compliments and hugs after church that Sunday because that’s what you do. That wasn’t the last of my solos here or in other places. Your love for me gave me confidence to continue, to share my gift of music with others.
The first time (and maybe the last time!) I danced with a group in public was in this very space. We had a liturgical dance group led by Linda Goens. I remember coming over here on Saturdays to practice with the group. I was probably the youngest – there was Vivian and Kiera, Dianne and Tiffany, Pam and Becky, and others I know I’m forgetting. We would move around the altar, in and out of the rows. We would play with fabric and ribbon to see how it would flow. I recall some sign language in there too. Linda had a beautiful way of putting movement to music.
Despite my outer appearance of being confident about this dance, it was clear that internally I was a little worried. You see, the Saturday night before the first time I would dance with these women in front of you, I went to bed as usual. Then, sometime around 10 or 11 that evening, a few hours after I’d been asleep, I got out of bed, walked down the hallway to where my parents were both reclined in their chairs. I ripped a blanket off one of them and started dancing around the family room! One of them asked what I was doing and I responded sleepily, because I was still asleep, “I need to practice!” Gently my parents escorted me back to bed. My unconscious was obviously working out a few concerns in my sleep!
But the thing is, it wouldn’t have mattered if I forgot all the steps, if I had tripped over the fabric or got wrapped in the ribbon. Whatever I did was beautiful to you. I was worthy of your love no matter what. I think every child should be raised in a church full of doting grandparents.
I’m so glad to be back with you today. I know you’ve been able to keep up with me through my dad. You know I’ve gotten married and work in the church. You know about my four darling nieces. Oh, and maybe you’ve heard a few things about my brothers too. J Being in this space, although it looks a little different, feels like home. Thank you for allowing me to be with you today.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I think about planting seeds a lot. If you’ve been following along on my blog this fall, you’ll know that I’ve planted a lot of seeds! I believe I have over 200 bulbs planted in various flowerbeds around our yard. The practice of planting seeds teaches me patience. It teaches me to tend to the ground, to prepare and then to wait. It will be months before I see the fruits of my labor. I have to get through winter first.
I’m grateful that Jesus used practical objects in his teachings. Sometimes we work so hard to come up with elaborate ideas when all that’s needed is something simple – something like planting a seed. Planting seeds is something the people around Jesus would have understood. If they didn’t plant seeds, they wouldn’t have food. They understood what it took to find fertile ground, prepare it, plant the seed and wait. Seeds were the key to their existence.
You know about seeds too. Remember the community garden you had before community gardens were the hip thing to do? You understood the importance of getting your hands dirty, of working hard, of patience, of gathering people together. However, you didn’t just plant seeds in the ground. Every time you took a moment to listen to me even though I was a child, you were planting a seed. Every time a group of young people got up here to sing and you looked at us with love in your eyes and joy in your smiles, you were planting a seed. Every time you agreed to be a confirmation mentor and watched one of our plays downstairs, you were planting a seed. Every time you taught a Bible story or led a prayer, you were planting a seed.
I’m sure there were times you tried to plant a seed and it ended up in the weeds or thorns or even on a busy path. Not all of our seeds make it. Thankfully, you didn’t stop when you noticed a few seeds weren’t getting to the fertile ground. You kept going. You worked a little harder, tilled a little longer, and soon enough the seed was where it needed to be, in a safe place ready to grow.
The thing about seeds, however, is that we don’t always get to see the fruit. Some seeds can take years to produce any fruit. I have planted many seeds not knowing what kind of ground they landed in, not knowing if they would ever produce any semblance of fruit. I’ve been in youth ministry for 13 years – longer if you count summers at camp and leading retreats while in college. Thanks to social media, I know where some of my “kids” ended up. I know about one young man who runs a YMCA camp in Kentucky. I know about one young woman who is an elementary school teacher while also raising her young son with autism. I know about one young woman who followed her dream and is creating a horse farm in northern Indiana. I know about nurses and realtors and actors and stay at home parents. However, there are many more I don’t know about.
I don’t know about the young woman whose parents sent her away in high school because of her pregnancy. I don’t know about the young man who struggled in school and just couldn’t seem to make any good choices. But, I do know they each have the possibility of producing much fruit – the seeds are there, but someone has to tend to them.
Several years ago when I first started in my position at North, we took a group of youth to Kenya. On this trip we cleaned and painted a space that housed women escaping domestic violence. We visited a workshop that employed people infected with HIV. We went to an orphanage and held little babies who had been abandoned because they were HIV+. We toured a hospital and played with children in the pediatric center started by a member at North. From the outside, it doesn’t appear that we did much work. But, we listened and learned. We explored. We searched for God. And, little did I know, we were also planting seeds.
When we returned from that trip one of the young women knew she had to go back. And she did, many times. She sat by young children while they were dying. She comforted mothers and fathers. She worked side by side with Kenyans, trying to find sways to empower young girls in an oppressive culture. Since then she has graduated high school and college. She is now the Program Manager for Global Interfaith Partnership – a local organization that brings together congregations in Indiana and congregations in Western Kenya to support and help the orphaned and vulnerable children. She is now reaching out to her fellow travelers from 2009 asking them to support the school lunch program. I have no doubt that after her graduate studies are completed, she will be back in Kenya once again.
There is no way I could have known 7 years ago what an impact that trip would make on her life. I didn’t know that all the hours I spent on raising money and coordinating travel and collecting forms would mean so much. I had no idea what seed I was planting. But, I did the work in front of me, I trusted that there was a purpose, I planted and then I waited. The joy in being in one place so long means I often get to see the fruit of the seeds I helped to plant. I’m not so confident to think I did this by myself – sun, rain, dirt, worms, other farmers and the seed itself – all I did was put the seed somewhere I thought was safe. I may have done a little watering and provided some warmth, but so much more was going on under the surface. Things I couldn’t see, but trusted were happening.
You have planted so many seeds – seeds of love and hospitality, seeds of respect and mutuality, seeds of acceptance and grace. Because of the seeds you planted, fruit has grown. That fruit then produced more seeds, which were planted, and now more fruit is growing. The seeds you planted have created an infinite amount of fruit in this world. Think about all the seeds that you planted over the many years you’ve been in the space. Tiffany, Andrew, Natasha, Portia, Jonathan, Kiera, Matt, Jason, Becky, Donna, Erin, DeVaughn, Chris, Margaret, Christopher, me…and so many more. Because of the love and respect and grace you planted in me, I’ve been able to plant those seeds in hundreds of other lives. Not all will produce fruit, but many will and then they will plant more.
Don’t you see? Can you see what you’ve created? Do you see the legacy that started in this very room? You have taken the seeds you were given, you have taken the Word of God you heard, and you have planted it. When you found good, fertile soil, you planted in there. When you found weeds or thorns, you cleared them away and planted more seeds. When you saw the path that was rocky, you moved the rocks, tilled the land and planted. When the trees were knocked over, when the path was blocked, you cut those trees and made the path clear again. You haven’t let obstacles get in the way of your mission. You spread the seeds of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in every patch of land you can find. And because of that hard work, no matter what happens to the space or the people, you will live on. Your work will continue in the lives of those who you’ve blessed.
My path appears very rocky at the moment. There are weeds and thorns and rocks and very large trees blocking my view. But, my path has been clear before and I know it will one day be clear again. In the mean time, I trust the fruit I need, inside a seed planted by people long ago, is waiting just below the surface and will bloom right when I need them.
Thanks be to God.