June 14, 2009

Sowing Seeds of Kindness

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Mark 4: 26-32

The creative mind tends to wander, often. I have wondered – especially during church services – if I have adult attention deficit disorder. While the familiar liturgy is comforting and meaningful, and the special music draws me in, I often find that during the sermon I’m somewhere else. Note : horrible pun ahead. I wonder as I wander.

This is no reflection on the learned men and women who have been my pastor. In fact – my last three pastors– Pastor L, Pastor V, and Pastor G– are all gifted speakers. No, it is me who drifts off into the ether.

In junior high, my parents deemed me old enough to sit up in the church balcony with my friends C and G during Sunday morning services. Needless to say, I was not a good influence on the other two. In addition to the roving 7th mind (which most people would tell you is still my modus operandi), I could not stop talking. One steamy August Sunday, the white-robed, red-sashed Pastor P. looked up from the pulpit and told me directly – right in the middle of the sermon – to “be quiet.” My parents were so proud!

Not since that day in 1970 have a Pastor’s words so profoundly grabbed me as did Pastor L’s sermon this morning about Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed.
For me this parable operates on so many levels. Jesus chose the image of a growing plant – which plays in Peoria today. Pastor talked about how various small acts reflect the love of God in us and can be life-changing. Rosa Parks, bone-tired after a long day of work, chooses to sit in the front of the bus. From such a tiny mustard seed the battle for civil rights sprang forth. The tiniest act can be the biggest opportunity.

In Indiana we watch the seasons closely. May found deluges of rain, and farmers worried about planting corn too late. Most corn is now planted and will be “knee high by the fourth of July.” In growth, the plant is tested by the elements. More rain, bugs, heat of the sun, lack of rain, and after the harvest, the cycle begins anew.

Our spiritual lives are like this. A tiny mustard seed of faith, of love, of kindness, is planted in us often as children. Do we provide the nurturing for that seed in ourselves? Do we have the courage to plant the seed in others? As adults, do we just walk by the opportunity to plant seeds of love, faith, and kindness?
The seasons of my spiritual life have waxed and waned – as they do for most. While my family and community planted seeds of faith and love and kindness with many unselfish acts, I often chose to ignore my own growth and let it go to weed. Yet others sowed random seeds to me, possibly when I wasn’t even aware of it. As I remember that loud-mouthed 13-year-old in the church balcony, I know she was nurtured and cared for by that family of faith.

There was nothing fancy about the white-brick country church, six miles from the nearest small town. Going there required travel on at least two, dusty, unpaved country roads off the main highway. Manufacturing’s initial demise in the 1970s in a nearby city caused economic hardship to many families in that church community. Meals, money, harvesting, babysitting, and other random kindnesses were the mustard seeds of this congregation.

As an adult who has been richly blessed, I am touched by the example set by these fine people who providing nurturing in this community of faith. All of my life I have been surrounded by these strong adults who, by example, share that mustard seed. My mother and I, who grew up in the same church community, had the same woman teach us in Sunday School. As the self-righteous all-knowing teenager, I used to make fun of the fact that this woman often wore the same blue dress to church. I failed to notice then that she was always present for Sunday School or Vacation Bible School or other religious education. She was also present in the kitchen washing dishes after a Mission Festival or a Men’s Club Fish fry. And she was one of many adults in that tiny church who lived a life of faith through quiet example.
In the children’s sermon this morning, Pastor L. showed the children a tiny mustard seed. Then he stretched out his measuring tape to three feet, then four, then five, then ten, and finally fourteen feet. He told the children who the tiny mustard seed can grow to an amazing fourteen feet high.

Now in my own church I take on a new role and I know I am just a tiny mustard seed. What can I plant? What is God challenging me to do? What can you do on a daily basis, in a small and quiet way, to share your mustard seeds? Quoth the raven.