|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
January 15, 2012
liked to talk about seeds, and January in Alfred, when the snow is (finally)
covering the ground, is great time to talk about seeds. This is the time
of year when we dream of green and growing things and many gardeners are
right now spending the long winter evenings planning out their spring planting.
I recently came across a website devoted to the growing of calla lilies,
a flower that the site describes as looking like "trumpet shaped rolled
paper."1 Gardeners love calla lilies because
they make great cut flowers and are relatively easy to grow, being propagated
from bulbs. The website's author suggests, however, that adventurous gardeners
might want to experiment with growing calla lilies from seeds.
"The exciting thing about propagation using seeds," she says,
"is that you can never really be sure what you get as a result."
Bulbs reproduce asexually which means that the baby bulbs are genetically identical to the parent bulb and the flower it produces will also be genetically identical. You won't suddenly get a neon pink flower growing from the bulb of an orange calla lily to spoil your perfectly planned color scheme. Moreover, because baby bulbs bud off from the original bulb like large warts, your baby calla lilies will stay in the spot you designated as the calla lily district. The only way a calla lily bulb can leave home is if a passing squirrel digs one up for lunch and then changes his mind before he eats it and reburies the bulb in a new place. When you grow calla lilies from bulbs, then, you can be pretty sure you will get an obedient flower that blooms where its supposed to bloom and looks the way you want it to look.
But, as the author of the website suggests, dependable is not always exciting. If you want to be surprised, if you want a garden that's different every year and riotous in its color, diversity, and unique nature, if you want your plants to go places you never thought of taking them, you should grow things from seeds.
Seeds are produced sexually. The male part of a plant produces pollen that fertilizes the germinating seed in the female part of a plant and this means that seeds, unlike bulbs, are genetically diverse. Seed bearing flowers have been known to say to their offspring, "You certainly didn't get that garish green from me; it must have come from your father's side of the family!" Along with greater genetic diversity, seed bearing plants also beat bulb producing plants numerically. The brown spike of the common cattail, for example, may contain up to a million tiny seeds and with so many seeds needing a place to grow, plants have developed clever ways of dispersing those seeds across a large territory. The cattail seeds grow their own little sails to fly them on the wind; burdock seeds cling stubbornly to dog fur; and raspberry seeds grow inside tasty fruit which entices animals to eat the fruit and 24 hours later poop out the seed thus not only carrying the seed to a new location but fertilizing it at the same time. The longest recorded dispersal of a seed was more than 15,000 miles: the Crucifixion Bean, named because of a cross shape on one side, is a native of the rain forests of Central America, but has been found growing on the beaches of Norway, having drifted there on ocean currents.
Now, the fact that our yards are not a jungle of Crucifixion Beans, cattails, and raspberry bushes shows the drawback of seeds -- most of them will land in a place that's just no good for growing. A bulb stays close to home in an environment that is safe, and so the chances for the baby bulb's survival is pretty good. A seed bearing plant, however, tries out all kinds of new genetic combinations and ventures into all sorts of unknown places, so the plant has to offset that risk by dispersing thousands upon thousands of seeds knowing that only a few will take root.
Which brings us -- finally! -- to Jesus' parables.
Jesus says that faith is like a seed. He says it in three different parables
in three different ways but it all comes down to the same thing: as faithful
disciples, we are called to be like seed bearing plants, not bulb bearing
plants. We are to disperse the word of God's love far and wide, in every
location, in every opportunity, accepting that some of it will take root
and grow, and some of it will not. Some of it will fall on rocky soil
and shrivel up while some of it will grow overnight to our complete surprise.
Some of it will bear huge results from the smallest of efforts, while
some of it will get trampled under the feet of a rushing society that
has no time for growing. If there is one thing that all of Jesus' parables
have in common, it is the message that we are to keep on sowing and leave
the worry about the results in God's hands.
"Leave the results in God's hands?" we exclaim. "Don't worry about failure? Don't try to measure our success? You're asking a lot of me, Jesus."
Because the fact is that we want results. We don't want to just scatter our compassion willy nilly and hope that something takes root. We have problems shrugging off the work that doesn't seem to accomplish a darned thing. We are a people who look for results: we measure our success or failure by results; other people judge our work by our results, and they judge us by our results. This emphasis on quantifiable results starts from the very moment you are born: your parents buy that baby book to record your progress as a developing human being and carefully write down how many pounds you gained each week, the first word you spoke, the age you first sat up on your own, and your first step. From the moment you opened your eyes, your parents were looking for results that proved their investment in you was paying off and that certainly you would grow up to become the next president of the United States, or at least be able to hold your own in kindergarten. Let's be honest, how many parents among us have agonized over our child because all of the other kids in day care are coloring beautiful pictures while our daughter is still eating the crayons?
At the age of three, an enthusiastic graduate student diagnosed my niece as having mild autism because her sentence structures were strange and not in accordance with the prevailing standards for sentence structuring among three year olds. Today, at 17, that same niece is an A student involved in theater, music, graphic design, and has self-published two children's books. Her garbled sentence structure at three years old was caused not by autism but by an overly creative brain that produced non-standard results on the standard tests. I'm sure you all have your own stories to tell of people who didn't fit the norm and were judged wanting in our quantified society where grades, income, degrees, ratings, and numbers of all sorts are used to judge your worth. I even read about churches that have devised formulas to determine the most efficient ratio for money spent on programming versus the number of souls those programs save. It's not that those churches really believe you can put a price on a soul; it's that they, like every church, have to produce an annual report and propose a yearly budget and so they have decided that this is the best way to justify to their congregations that pledges are being used wisely.
"Look," they say, "we spent $100,000 this year and baptized twenty new converts, which was a 20% improvement over last year's QEL (Quality of Eternal Life) quotient. If you each raise your pledge by 5%, we have calculated that the total gain in QEL's will be 6.2*n/(p*c)2 where n = the number of converts, p = pledge amount and c = congregants. "2
Ok, maybe they don't go that far, but I don't know a single church that doesn't list in its annual report its attendance, the number of Christmas boxes prepared, the number of baptisms, new members, and programs accomplished over a year. We want to put something down on paper that proves we have been doing God's work and we don't know how to measure it without using numbers.
And what goes for the church goes for all facets of our lives. We judge how well we are doing with our lives by how well our kids turned out, how many accolades we have received, how much we make, or -- in our more selfless moods -- we judge our effectiveness by how many poor families we have helped, how many houses we have built for Habitat for Humanity, how many hungry mouths we have fed, how many worlds we have saved, wars we have stopped, animals we have kept from extinction, and hearts we have converted through our love!
And when the world looks just as dry and dreary as it did when we started
caring, we are discouraged and tempted to stop caring all together because
after all, has anything we've done made a difference?
So listen very carefully again to what Jesus is telling us in these parables:
Jesus is not saying, "Don't worry if some years you don't produce the kinds of results you expected;" Jesus is saying, "Don't think about results, period. The knowing is God's job. Your job is the sowing."
Jesus is not saying, "Don't worry if you can't see the results immediately
or even in your lifetime;" Jesus is saying, "Don't think about
results. The knowing is God's job. Your job is the sowing."
Knowing is God's job -- your job is the sowing.
2 Don't try this at home I made this up :)