Suddenly, there was the beginning of the “helicopter” days. Just when Michigan had finally broken into its first 80° day, the maple trees on our street started to let loose their little winged seedlings. Ever since I was a kid, the two seeds linked together and floating down on the wind looked like some sort of feathered messengers as they rode on the wind and floated everywhere up and down the street. Wherever the wind carried them, the little winged seeds circled and circled, moving in their gyrating ways down and over, and down again, until they hit the earth.
As I watch them now, I cannot help but think of the parable of the sower:
Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold. (Mark 4: 3-8)
I don’t need to explicate the parable that Jesus tells. It is often given as the first of his parables and it’s recorded in all three synoptic Gospels. It is even explained by him to his questioning disciples about its meaning (Mark 4: 13-20). But on this May day, when the maples on this block were showering forth wave after wave of their seedlings, all that would come to mind was the image of that bountiful sower casting forth his seed here, there, and everywhere.
Now, I have always taken that parable as an expression of how God will not stop at anything to get the Word out. Like the sower constantly thrusting his hand into the bag of seed, these maples–at the right time–cast forth their seed packets to fly with the wind and reach into all corners of the surrounding area; so is God’s presence and call. By late afternoon, there were not hundreds, but thousands and thousands of little helicopter pairs covering the street, the sidewalk, people’s lawns, our roof, the neighbor’s roof, falling into the strangest places–cluttering up and clogging gutters at the eaves, lying thick even upon the top of my car. The prodigal display of sending forth of seedlings went on all day and much of the next. I would not have thought that the nearest maple tree could have held nearly so many of these as I saw scattered around me! And like the seed of the sower, while much of it hits the pavement, or blows down a gutter, or gets trampled underfoot by the kids as they played in the street, I knew that some precious few of the seedlings would land on a spot of grass or some exposed earth – and put down roots. Looking forward in my mind a decade or so, I imagined a small maple sapling here or there, and perhaps, in time, another mighty maple added to our stock of trees in the neighborhood.
The meaning behind maple seeds or that of the Sower is the same: that God’s grace is abundant continuous. Seeds or maple seeds scattered here, there, and everywhere, with most not finding good soil take root in. But it is for the sake of the possibility of that implanting that the Sower keeps on sowing. We may respond negatively to God’s call, but God does not accept our “no” as the final answer.
Our two churches have each had decades to put down roots of faith and to provide good soil in which the seed of the Spirit can take root. That is one of the purposes of being a church community: to strengthen one another in ways that support the faith, to propagate the faith by telling God’s story over and over again. What we have received—individually and as a congregation—we need not only to preserve, but to proclaim. This will involve dedication to strengthening our own faith and exploring the fullness of our life in Christ. We do this by Sunday School, by Christian education, by Bible study, by sermons, by personal testimony and a host of other ways. There are many ways to proclaim the Gospel, but the constant in all our endeavors is to help the Sower spread the seed, that is the Word.
We know that the means to approach God and to be born in the Spirit are always readily available. God is forever offering the grace to have new life. But while with God this is a constant, the variable is the ground upon which the seed falls. For the individual and for us collectively, we must cultivate the “good soil” the Spirit-seed needs. When we harden ourselves, we cannot bear fruit. When we give up before difficulties, we give that seed no nourishment. When we resist to the call of God, or when we feel the need to soften the call of God so that it is comforting to our current lifestyle rather than transformative by helping us to leave our old self and take on the new–then we frustrate the work of God within us. As a result, we cannot bear fruit because we only offer rocks, or old well-trodden paths deadly as thorns and other barren patches. A large part of the work of the Church is to receive what God has given us, to prepare strips of good land, sections of “good soil,” which are hearts and minds that are open to receive God’s Spirit and to let it transform us so we may transform the world.
The Spirit is with you—be faithful and fruitful!