Ode to a Seed | 23 June 2016 | Central District Conference Opening Worship Service

Text: Luke 8:1-15 

Part 1: Ode to a Seed

For ears that hear: an ode to a seed
That source of life, the Word decreed
You are the forest we have yet to perceive

Precious potential pulsating past our preconceived approximations
Our laughable expectations,
machinations of imaginations
That have never pondered the cathedrals in
Broken open
Husks that spill oceans
Shells whose birth pangs form choruses
Of bangs, both little and big
Maybe the universe is expanding because something static could never contain
The abundance of the Sower.
Exploding, expanding, abounding

Overflowingly resounding,
Bountifully compounding
Uncontainably astounding
Extravagantly confounding
Prodigal sounding

Ode to the seed,
That bastion of abounding
Teaching us how to let go and trust the cosmos abiding inside
Instructing us in the arts of abundance
Showing us what it means to get dirt under our nails
As we claw our way upward to that life that is too tightly bound
Like four year old hands that scream “don’t let go” AND
“I’m ready to fly”
Uncontainable, uncontrollable, abounding

Ode to the seed
Bearer of fruit, the seed reborn
A yield without measure, the Sower adorns-
Rocky landscapes and highways and ditches with thorns,
Unconcerned that the methods would garner quick scorn-
From those who know better, from scoffers who warn-
About wasting the effort; their methods they’ve sworn-
Will give greater yield.  It’s these the Sower mourns.

It’s these who know not the way of abundance
It’s these who have trapped themselves inside words like safe, careful, worthy, control
It’s these who concern themselves more with pointing fingers at strange soil than celebrating the fruit bursting forth all around them.
It’s these who forget that abundance is both the means and the end

An ode to a seed
But not just the seed that lands in good soil.
Ode to the seeds on the path, in the rocks, among thorns.
Your worth not diminished by fingers that point
And say “what a waste.”

Ode to the seeds who make a way out of no way.

Ode to the vines who refuse to accept a place on the ground,
But thrust themselves toward the sun, scaling everything in reach

Ode to the dandelion who doesn’t need your permission
To be fabulous

Ode to the cactus
Who shows that the fact is-
Dry rocks can’t impact us
And odds that are stacked just-
Will not detract us.
It’s not what we lacked as-
Much as our practice-
Of love that attracts us.
Ode to the cactus

Ode to the flower sprouting up through cement who dares to believe
It has earned its place
By offering fruit only weary souls can taste.

But woe to the willow who offers only its weeping
Bending and creaking through each passing storm
Maybe it’s time to embrace the grace that comes only with breaking

Ode to the seeds who most would call weeds
May you someday be freed from those who will need-
You to bleed for their creeds
Holy misdeeds that can’t hear you plead
As you cry, “I am beautiful too.”

For ears that hear: an ode to a seed
That source of life, the Word decreed
You are the kin-dom we have yet to perceive


Part 2: The Boring Part

When I first looked over the passage they wanted me to use this evening, my first thought was that they had really lobbed one over the plate for me.  Not only is the parable of the sower one of the most well known passages of scripture, in very few other places does Jesus actually go ahead and flat out tell you what he means.  So I read it and set it aside for a few months, figuring this wouldn’t be too hard. 

When I came back to it a couple weeks ago, I began to have a different experience with this text.  I’ve been taught to read parables in a way that always pays attention to the turn, the surprising part that should be shocking.  This is typically where the good news of the parable hides, causing listeners to imagine realities beyond what they know, beyond the everyday images of plants, and sheep, and dinner parties, and offering a glimpse into heaven and the character of God.

And so I read the parable of the sower again, looking for the turn, for the good news.  The more I read it, however, the more I began to sympathize with the poor, clueless disciples.  Instead of finding good news, I felt like Jesus might as well have been dryly reading from an Introduction to Farming textbook. 

If you put seeds in the middle of the road, they don’t do well.  If there are lots of rocks, they won’t do well.  If you neglect to weed, they won’t do well.  If you put them in good soil, they will do well. 

Hardly the stuff of political and social revolutions. 

Sure, there is a certain amount of wisdom to hearing the parable on this level.  Seeds in bad soil probably won’t do very well.  I’m no farmer, but I think that is pretty much the definition of bad soil.  Not only does this kind of reading make Jesus out to be somewhat boring, it also makes me think that Jesus is the kind of person who walks down the street, sees a beautiful flower bursting up through a crack in the pavement, looks around, and says, “Well, that’s gonna die soon.”  Waa waa…

So with the disciples I ask, “What’s the point?”

Jesus goes on to explain.  The seed is the word of God, everything else represents something else, mostly bad, and in the end, the good soil wins out.  Again, not really anything to write home about.  Just like before, there is a certain wisdom to Jesus’ explanation: in good conditions you’re much more likely to have good outcomes. 

But is that good news? 

Reading in this way draws on what is sometimes described as conventional wisdom.  There is a sort of cultural consensus around conventional wisdom because it is the way things usually work.  Conventional wisdom is often based around rewards and punishments.  If you do X, then Y will happen.  If you plant in good soil, you will have a good harvest.   It is wise to know these things.

But is that good news?  Is that the point of this parable?

I have to imagine that Jesus is offering us something more.  I have to imagine that the picture he is painting about God is not simply good news to 25% of the population.  The gospel has never been about 25% of the population.  I have to imagine something else is going on because Jesus doesn’t walk around Galilee surrounding himself with people who have it all together, making sure they are somehow worthy.  In fact he seems to do just the opposite.

So what are we to make of this parable?  Is there wisdom beyond the conventional wisdom that lies at its surface?  During this conference we are focusing on the theme of abounding and abiding, and I think that these two ideas are the perfect way to think about this parable. 

First, while the conventional wisdom of the parable might fall on bored ears, the part that Jesus calls attention to is the abundance that works its way throughout.  The sower treats that which is most precious as if there is an abundant supply.  The Word of God is not a well which runs dry or a precious resource to be rationed out in careful measure.  The seed, the Word of God, the good news, is abundantly, extravagantly, overflowingly poured out through all of creation.  It cannot be controlled or confined within the walls of the Church any more than it can be held down by death. 

The truly surprising part of the parable, though, comes at the other end of the story.  Not only is the Sower abundantly offering the world the seed, in the end, the harvest produces a hundredfold yield.  A double yield would have been surprising enough, but a hundredfold yield is utterly confounding, eye-rolling-ly astounding, abounding.  As a glimpse into the character of God and the nature of heaven, the parable of the sower reminds us that abundance is both the means and the end.  For love to abound, we must love abundantly.  For justice to abound, we must do justice abundantly. 

Abounding and abiding.

Where abounding takes us beyond ourselves, questions limits, and refuses to live by the rules of scarcity, abiding feels like an opposite direction.  In fact, some of the definitions I’ve found say that to abide is “to remain stable or fixed”, “to conform” or “to continue waiting.”  I don’t think, however, that abounding and abiding are necessarily opposites. 

As we live out a call to abundance, we must also learn to abide in that which is good, and true, and beautiful.  At the end of Jesus’ explanation of the parable, he has this to say: “But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”

Hold fast, abide in that good soil and bear fruit with patient endurance. 

Conventional wisdom would have us endlessly assessing ourselves and each other, trying to determine what kind of soil we are, using our energy trying to make sure that we measure up, hoping that if we just pray enough, read the Bible enough, go to church enough, that just maybe we might be worthy of being considered good soil.  Conventional wisdom tells us that we need to get things just right, and then we will be enough, but in the end, when we’ve exhausted ourselves trying to measure up, we all wind up feeling a little bit like dirt.  

In this parable, the only measure of whether soil is good is if it bears fruit.  While it is not spelled out here, other scriptures would explain that bearing fruit means the recreation and expression of things like love, joy, peace, patience, and other virtues against which there can be no law.  Good soil is that which produces love, and we are called to abide, to dwell, and to hold fast to these things. 

The strongest measure of a soil, is simply whether it produces good fruit.  Yet for too long the Mennonite Church has continued to refuse to acknowledge the fruit that is growing in the lives of LGBTQ people.  We have been pushed to the side, we have been put on trial, we have been scorned and told we were tearing the church apart.  But by and large, we refuse to be the weeds in this Mennonite garden because we know that weeds are just plants whose virtues have yet to be fully recognized.  We know that good and abundant fruit is being produced in and through us. 

And I can only speak for myself, but to me the strongest argument for the affirmation and celebration of LGBTQ people within the church is not some dense theological argument about what words really mean or how Paul really meant what he wrote.  I am thankful for people who undertake that work, but at the same time I am tired of allowing other people’s theologies to be the map that transcribes my body along acceptable battle lines.  The strongest theological argument to me is simply the fact that before I came out and accepted my own sexuality, I was dying inside.  The strongest argument is that the full and abundant expression of my identity as a gay man has produced more love and joy and peace than was ever possible before. 

The only measure of good soil is that it produces good fruit.  It is time for MCUSA to recognize the fruit that queer people have to offer it.  It’s time to stop treating us like we are only the thorns in their sides.    It’s time to stop trampling on those of us who land on that path well-worn by the feet of priests and levites.  It is time for MCUSA to repent of all the ways it has thrown hearts of stone into the good soil of queer lives.

The Mennonite Church may not have had any direct influence on the shooter who killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at the Pulse nightclub, but when we perpetuate the narrative that queer lives are weeds marring our landscape, we cannot be surprised when someone tries to do some weeding for us. 

It’s time for MCUSA to start believing in the God of abundance and helping all of us to abide in places where good fruit becomes possible, wherever that might be. 

In the wake of the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, it is time for all of us to realize that the Church has forced so many to find fertile ground outside its walls.  For so many queer and latinx people, the Pulse nightclub was their sanctuary, it was where they found good soil in which love and joy were able to spring up in abundance.  For so many, the beat of the dance floor is the beat of God’s heart, and the rhythm of bodies is the sacrament mediating that grace in a communion just as rich as any bread and wine.  

For so many years, powerful men have been telling us that God is an almighty King.  Perhaps it’s time we start believing in a God who is much more like a fabulously fierce and sacred, brown-skinned drag queen who has more fruit than she knows what to do with. 

On the day that I was licensed for ministry, I closed my sermon with a challenge to the congregation to be the kind of church that is willing to dance when LGBTQ people extend their hand.  Afterward, a very wise woman came to me and asked what it might actually look like to be a Church that dances. 

Ever since the shooting of 100 queer and latinx people in a dance club in Orlando, her question has hounded me.   I am afraid we have not done enough to make us a Church that dances, but tonight I am extending my hand to you.    

For the next three minutes and forty-five seconds, I want you to be brave with me, trusting in a God of abundance, trusting that there is fruit we might not be able to recognize until we allow ourselves to abide in foreign soil.  I want you to feel the Pulse of God’s heart that will never stop beating and overflowing into this world.  

If nothing else, I need you to help all of us in the LGBTQ community believe in the kind of God who is able to turn all of our mourning back into dancing. 

And so, friends, my wish for us this evening, is simply that we would be the kind of Church that dances.  Will you dance with me?