A Day in the Life of a Seed
by Louise Westfall
Called “the Holy Grail of baseball” the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card is a sight to behold. Full color, mint condition, with “the Mick” looking impossibly young and smiling towards a future yet to unfold. It was on display for three days only at the History Colorado museum last week, and the long line of people patiently waiting to view it gave testimony to baseball’s enduring place in the American dream. I went with my brother Tom, whose reaction wasn’t quite as elevated as mine; as we were leaving, he sighed deeply If only our mother hadn’t thrown out my baseball cards when we moved …!
Well. Darn that unrealized potential! The million dollar price tag on the card may partly reflect Mantle’s stellar career, but also the fact that only 2 others of similar quality are known to exist (apparently there were many zealous mothers). I guess we never know for sure the value of what we hold in our hands.
Today’s Scripture reading uses an agricultural metaphor that embodies potential: a seed. If you picked one up as you came into worship today, hold it in your hand. So small; so insignificant; impossible to distinguish from the bowlful of identical seeds. Yet here in your hand is one part of a genetic line dating back 3600 years. It grows in places inhospitable to other crops. Mashed into pastes such as tahini, pressed for oil, and used whole to add flavor and texture, the humble sesame seed has fed millions. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the seeds’ health benefits include lowering blood pressure, preventing diabetes, building strong bones, and helping cure sleep disorders and stress. I don’t know whether Jesus had all this in mind when he compared the Realm of God to seeds, but there’s no mistaking the powerful potential of each to produce life and goodness. A reading from the fourth chapter of Mark, at the 26th verse. Listen for God’s Word to us. [Mark 4:26-32]
I’ve been reading these biblical parables for a long time, and only recently learned that the word “parable” means “to throw alongside.” There’s a certain randomness and even haphazardness about that phrase, especially as it concerns planting. The farmers I knew when I was a pastor in Iowa would have been horrified at the thought of tossing good seed corn alongside the straight and narrow rows carefully plowed and disked for one seed at a time into the earthy topsoil. But here Jesus shifts the focus to the natural (yet miraculous) growth of the seed, quite apart from the work of the sower. It’s as if the kingdom sprouts — not by the labor of the farmer — but by the marvelous and frankly mysterious hand of God.
… the fragile violet popping up through a crack in the sidewalk; the vines that make their way up the south wall of the church from soil that’s mostly rocks; wild strawberries on a dusty dirt trail high in the mountains; volunteer tomatoes from plants that haven’t been tended in a year. Seems there’s always evidence of growth and fruit where we are not looking; in places we have not cultivated. I wonder if Jesus meant that the Kingdom of God is here, under our noses yet outside our control. Waiting to be discovered, appreciated and from which we may learn the meaning of God’s generosity and abundant grace.
We won’t let anything deter us -- not fear that we don’t have enough, or that we’re not enough to grow and stretch and make a significant difference in our community and the world.
This past week a number of Central volunteers and staff served at Hope in Our City’s kids club, serving the Sunnyside neighborhood, one of Denver’s most economically impoverished. There are games and crafts, a hot lunch, and lessons around a theme — ours was music. Many Sunnyside families are immigrants from Somalia and Mexico and Ethiopia, and some are Muslim. I was surprised during the volunteer training when Ben, the enthusiastic director of Hope in Our City (one of Central’s mission partners), cautioned us. Please don’t come with an agenda. Don’t think you’re here to “save” the children, to tell them about Jesus and get them to come to your church. Your mission is to build relationships with them; to get to know them and learn from them. And something else surprising: at least a third of the kids were the children of the volunteers, who came from more affluent neighborhoods and better schools, Christian churches, and stable homes. You couldn’t always tell who was who. And as the week progressed, I stopped missing the Johnny Appleseed song before meals and talking about how Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. BECAUSE something else was happening. In a society increasingly polarized around socio-economic and political divides, we were actually embodying the beloved community from east and west and north and south who eat together in the Kingdom of God. Ben challenged us: Could God be calling you to make cross-cultural and interfaith relationships a normal part of your life?
The seeds were planted, and God surprised me when the tender young sprouts broke through the surface, wreathed in impish grins, mischievous behavior, and impromptu hugs.
The Chinese have a saying: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now. Friends, Central planted a lot of trees way back then and we enjoy the fruits of New Genesis and Central Visitation Program as those vibrant ministries help us serve the needs of our neighbors. The Community Engagement focus—where we will move outside our building to throw seeds in every corner of our city — represents the next planting season. We’ll let ‘em fly without worrying about theological boundaries or guaranteed outcomes, because that’s not how the Kingdom works. We’re simply called to plant … and to see what God is doing beyond the walls of our sanctuary. I hope you’ll come to worship next Sunday when we’ll get a taste of this as we take to the streets and practice some get-to-know-you neighboring. Some of us will walk down to Civic Center Park; others will hit the 16th Street mall. A group will check out the apartment and condo buildings right around the church; a few will enjoy brunch along with the mostly-millennial crowd at a popular restaurant; one group will price the cost of common grocery items in this downtown “food desert.” There will also be opportunity to stay right in our building and have conversation with some of the staff and residents of New Genesis. What’s up with this? Think of it as urban farming in the prolific, surprising way of God’s Kingdom.
For some of us, that will not be wholly comfortable. Not long ago I heard a presentation by Regan Linton, daughter of Central member Paul Linton, who is the artistic director of Phamaly, a professional theater company that inspires people to re-envision disability. Phamaly’s on-stage and behind-the-scene opportunities are open to all skill levels of actors with a disability—be it physical, cognitive, emotional or developmental. You’re missing out if you haven’t seen one of their outstanding performances. Regan told how even the dog actor who played Little Orphan Annie’s beloved pet “Sandy” had been blind from birth. That was one fearless pup, she said admiringly, and added, because he never knew what size he was, or how he compared to others. I want to throw that alongside a description of the Church in search of the Kingdom of God. We won’t let anything deter us — not fear that we don’t have enough, or that we’re not enough to grow and stretch and make a significant difference in our community and the world.
We’re only called to scatter seed wherever we are. Not to leave them safe and protected in their little packet but to tear it open, and let the seeds begin their descent into the quiet dark; into that great “letting go” where we forego our agenda, relinquish control, and let the creative power of the universe labor in love for the life of the world. For our lives. For theirs. The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground … the Kingdom of God is like the smallest seed of all, but when sown becomes the greatest of all shrubs …
You know, a packet of seeds is not unlike a pack of … well, baseball cards. Full of potential. Who knows which rookie is destined for the Hall of Fame? But you don’t know what you’ve got in your hands until …