WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE Colleen Coughenour, liturgist
Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.
Meister Eckhart, c. 1260-1328
CALL TO WORSHIP
Earth teach me stillness
As the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth teach me suffering
As old stones suffer with memory.
Earth teach me humility
As blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth teach me caring
As the mother who secures her young.
Earth teach me courage
As the tree which stands alone.
Earth teach me limitation
As the ant which crawls on the ground.
Earth teach me freedom
As the eagle which soars in the sky.
Earth teach me resignation
As the leaves which die in the autumn.
Earth teach me regeneration
As the seed which rises in the spring.
Earth teach me to forget myself
As melted snow forgets its life.
Earth teach me to remember kindness
As dry fields weep in the rain.
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
Mark 4:1-9, 26-29, and 30-32
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
MODERN READING April Oursler Armstrong, 1928-2006
SERMON Gone to Seed Rev. Kim P. Wells
We live in a day of strategic planning. An organization or endeavor that has any kind of serious aim has a mission statement, a vision and values statement, a capacity building plan, an environmental scan and analysis, short term and long term objectives, a time line, financial targets, and more. We are masters of the Plan. The business plan. The strategic plan. The life plan.
We plan for a college education. We plan for retirement. We have a career plan. We have a fitness plan. We do family planning. We have charts and forms and calendars and apps to keep us on track with our plans. And I am by nature a planner, so I appreciate this approach.
But I remember wise words shared with me by Lloyd Conover who was part of our LUCC church family before he died. Lloyd is credited with inventing tetracycline, the first humanly engineered antibiotic. He worked in research and development for Pfizer. I asked Lloyd about what went into developing the drug. Well, one thing I remember him saying is that he worked on this largely on his own with help from only a few others because most of the people he worked did not think it would amount to anything. So they did not want to be associated with a failure — the project or the person who was spearheading it. But Lloyd wanted to see the thing through.
There is something else that I remember from the conversation with Lloyd about the developing of tetracycline. He told me that they did all the research, made all the calculations, did all the tests and trials, plotted all of the possible outcomes. They had a plan. But this involved chemicals and interactions, and so Lloyd said that when they had done all that they could do and were ready to run the final procedure to see if it all worked, they couldn’t be sure of what would happen because it involved Mother Nature. And for all that we do know, we don’t always know what nature will do. There was a reverence and a respect for nature in Lloyd’s comment.
For all of our planning, nature reminds us that we don’t know it all. There is still an element of mystery and surprise that is beyond our control.
So, Jesus is known for using nature imagery in his teachings because he is teaching about the realm of God, about life in God, the love of God, and there is always the unknown, mystery, things that we cannot account for. And people, always, and forever, remain a mystery. The person you would least suspect – commits a murder. A lowlife, ne’er do well – donates a kidney and saves a life. You. Just. Never. Know.
In the stories we heard today, Jesus uses seeds to talk about the ways of God and the commonwealth of God. And anyone who has been involved with gardening or farming knows we can do all that we know how to do but even that does not assure a certain outcome when it comes to seeds and plants. Despite all of our capabilities and our ways of controlling conditions, things happen – there is drought, or flooding, or some kind of pest infestation, or some other unexpected occurrence. And this effects the hoped for outcome.
John Reed, son of LUCC’s Wilbur and JoAnne Reed, is a farmer. And he uses all kinds of technology and science to inform his farming. He has an iPad on the tractor that analyzes the soil as he goes along and controls the amounts of seed and fertilizer that are dispersed according to the conditions of the soil, inch by inch, row by row. And still, there is no guarantee of the yield because of the many factors beyond John’s control. So Jesus tells stories involving seeds to show us the nature of faith and the nature of the spiritual life. These seed stories remind us for one thing that we don’t control things. We don’t have complete say so over everything. We can plot and plan and scan but we still don’t really know how things will go in life.
In the story about the seeds that are scattered on the rocky ground, the shallow soil, among the thorns, and on the fertile soil, we might think, why waste the seed on ground where it won’t grow? Here we see the generosity and really the profligacy of the word of God. Strewn far and wide, in all places, conditions, and circumstances. Abundance. Even waste. Plenty of seed. Not needing to be spared. That is the gospel. The good news is available for everyone. Not meted out. Not allotted. No. It is shared with abandon. That’s how it is with God’s love. With grace. With the way of Jesus. And what will come of it? In some cases, it will wither and die. But the end result, will be an amazingly abundant harvest. Far beyond the calculations of any farmer or gardener. The seed is not to be spared and the harvest will be stunning. That’s what we need to know. It very well may not go according to our plan. But the harvest will still be plentiful.
When I think about this parable, I think about how sometimes I am that rocky soil. I don’t want to let that unconditional love sink in and take root and grow. I want to harbor my control and my hostilities and my resentments. And there are times or areas of our lives where we get all enthusiastic about how we are going to do the right thing, until something comes along and derails us. Our plans are snatched up and destroyed. And there are those times when despite our good intentions, the allure of money or power or status, or the mirage of consumer happiness, brainwash us and we abandon the gospel values of simplicity and generosity and sacrifice. The good news gets crowded out by the messages of the society around us, delivered in so many ways now – including through insidious advertising – that infect our psyches like an undetected poison.
But we can also be fertile ground, where the seeds of the gospel grow, and the harvest is a shocking surprise even to us as we find ourselves responding with generosity and compassion to the needs of the people and the world around us. Who knew we could bear such fruit? Jesus knew.
Then we heard the story of the sower who plants the seeds. Then leaves things alone and comes back into play when the harvest is ready. For all we can do, there is so much that we can’t do. That happens without us. That happens through Divine Love present and powerful in our lives and in our world. Beyond our control. Working for good. Sure we have our plans. But this story reminds us that, well, it’s not about us. The purposes and intentions of Divine Love are proceeding apace. We are needed. We have a role. But it doesn’t all depend on us.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, called the Gandhi of grain, has been a proponent of seed collectives in India. This involves village women planting their seeds and then at the end of the season, sharing their seeds with others. Through this effort, many more people in rural villages are able to have a sustainable source of food. The seed banks support an agricultural system that is not dependent on expensive seeds and additives from multinational corporations. Through relatively minimal effort, planting, harvesting, creating collectives and sharing seed, these women are significantly impacting the food supply of the country. They put in their small efforts. And the outcome far outpaces the effort. Because there are other forces at work. The earth, the life force, the incredible power within seeds, Mother Nature, the Creator, Divine Love, water, air, sun, however you want to imagine it, but added to the actions of the women is the power of grace. And the yield astounds.
Again, we make our plans, but we are not fully responsible for the result. We are all beneficiaries of grace, of Divine Love, of the sustaining power of the life force, of God. We cannot take full credit for what we enjoy or what we accomplish. There is much that is involved that we do not control or deserve. And the harvest awaits us.
Then we heard that third seed story in this fourth chapter of Mark. The image of the mustard seed. So well known. Just have faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny seed. Which grows into a great bush. That does so much good – providing shade and a home for the birds, and flavoring for food. Just from the smallest of seeds.
Those who heard this story in Jesus’ day would have been accustomed to having the power of God associated with the cedars of Lebanon. Tall, majestic, trees. Impressive and imposing. That is the kind of tree typically associated with the presence and power of the Divine. And here is Jesus talking about the tiniest of seeds, the mustard seed, and a bush. This is an image meant to challenge the perception of power made manifest through imperialism. It is meant to challenge the idea that bigger is better. How would that image of the mustard seed have captured the attention of those early followers of Jesus? Oh, you mean God can be like a, well, shrub? A bush? Something common? Something modest? Something accessible to common people? Like us? Yes. The incredible power of Divine Love wants to be present and work in the lives of everyday people, not just prestigious figures and prominent leaders. The power of Divine Love is working in all of us including the least and the lost. There is hope for all of us. It only takes an inkling, a tiny opening, the faintest softening, and the love of God can work in us, on us, through us, whoever we are.
There was a cache of date palm seeds found in the excavation of the palace of Herod the Great at Masada. The seeds were about 2,000 years old. And in 2005 some of these seeds were germinated and they continue to grow today after all of those years, dormant. And there are seeds from an arctic flower, native to Siberia, that were found in the permafrost. About 31,800 years old. Some had viable embryos and were germinated in vitro and they have continued to grow.
Seeds. A perfect image for the possibilities of Divine Love in our lives. Present, waiting to be awakened. The power is always there. Small. Dormant, maybe. But still with the capacity to live and grow in us. So that we might bear fruit in our lives.
This image of the seed is common in the teachings of ancient near eastern religions and it is not surprising that Jesus draws upon this image. It is rich with meaning and possibility. We plan and plot and measure, but like a seed, there is so much more power that is within us, to grow, to provide, to sustain, to shelter, so comfort, to feed, to flourish. There is the seed. And there is the abundant harvest. That is what we can be sure of. What we can bank on.
People from all over the world are contributing to a seed vault in Spitsbergen, Norway, in an icy mountain above the arctic circle. There are now something like 930,000 different varieties of seeds for food crops in the vault. The idea is that as the environment unravels and implodes due to climate change associated with human activity the time may come when the seeds can be used to help sustain and regenerate human life on earth. And given the power of seeds, biologically and metaphorically, there is wisdom to this investment scheme.
We do our planning. We have our charts and timelines. And this may facilitate our accomplishing what we believe is important. But these seed stories along with the other teachings of Jesus remind us that the gospel is not a self help book. It is not a quick fix. Seven steps to a happier, healthier you. Ten things to do to maximize the love in your life. The gospel is not a guarantee of comfort. It is not about the immediate success of our plans but about the ultimate yield of the purposes of God: The realm of God in which every person has the opportunity to live, grow, thrive and make a contribution. And creation is healthy and thriving as well. The seeds are sown. And the harvest will come. We close with a folktale:
Once upon a time, a pilgrim set out on a long journey in search of peace, joy and love. The pilgrim walked for many weary miles, and time passed. Gradually, the young lively steps became slower and more laboured. The pilgrim’s journey passed through landscapes that were not always happy ones. Through wars. Through sickness. Through quarrels and rejections and separations. A land where, it seemed, the more people possessed the more warlike they became – the more they had to defend, the more they needed to attack each other. Longing for peace, they prepared for war. Longing for love, they surrounded themselves with walls of distrust and barriers of fear. Longing for life, they were walking deeper into death.
But one morning, the pilgrim came to a little cottage at the wayside. Something about this little cottage attracted the pilgrim. It was as though it was lit up from the inside. Full of curiosity, the pilgrim went inside. And inside the cottage was a little shop, and behind the counter stood a shopkeeper. It was hard to judge the age. There was an air of timelessness about the place.
“What would you like?” asked the shopkeeper in a kindly voice.
“What do you stock here?” asked the pilgrim.
“Oh, we have all the things here that you most long for,” replied the shopkeeper. “Just tell me what you desire.” The pilgrim hardly knew where to begin. So many desires came rushing to mind.
“I want peace — in my own family, in my native land, in the whole world.
“I want to make something good of my life.
“I want those who are sick to be well again and those who are lonely to have friends.
“I want those who are hungry to have enough to eat.
“I want every child born on this planet today to have a chance to be educated.
“I want everyone on earth to live in freedom.
“I want this world to be a kingdom of love.”
There was a pause while the pilgrim reviewed this shopping list. Gently, the shopkeeper broke in. “I’m sorry,” came the quiet reply. “I should have explained. We don’t supply the fruits here. We only supply the seed.” [In One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World by Margaret Silf, pp. 157-158]
The seeds. Strewn on the rocks. The shallow soil. Among the thorns. On the fertile ground. The seeds. Offered to the earth which grow because of the water and sunshine from above. The seeds. Which even when tiny grow to provide shelter and comfort and food. The seeds are enough. We are enough. God is enough. More than enough. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.
Charles Singer and Albert Hari, 20th c., adapted
Sower of living hearts,
sower of tenderness,
sower of courage,
sower of service,
sower of prayer,
sower of light.
sow within us!
Sower of gifts,
sower of forgiveness,
sower of faith,
sower of joy,
sower of life,
sower of the Beatitudes,
in the hearts of all people!
Even if we are hard
be patient with us!
Your Good News
will manage to slip
between the tight cracks
in our rock and will
grow into giant sheaves
of Good News!
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world.
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Prayer of Dedication Dorothy Stewart, adapted
God of yesterday, today and tomorrow,
God of seedtime and harvest,
bless us and strengthen us
to live and blossom and bear good fruit
to your praise and glory. Amen.
PREPARATION FOR PRAYER
You are invited to write your prayer requests on the sheets provided in the bulletin and bring them forward and place them in the basket on the altar. Please observe physical distancing.
MORNING PRAYER-SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that ever shall be,
Father and Mother of all people, Loving God in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by all peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and
come on earth!
With the bread that we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever.
For the safety and comfort of all, please wear a mask. Thank you!
Circle of Concern: Earl Waters, Mae Wiggins, Sherry Santana, William Owen-Cowan, Jen Degroot, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, Janet Hall
Facebook Live The 9:30 a.m. service is being streamed on Facebook Live.
New Members The church would like to officially welcome as members those who are finding a spiritual ‘home’ at LUCC. For those who are interested in considering church membership, please be in contact with Rev. Wells
The Labyrinth For those who walk the labyrinth at the church, please know that the labyrinth has been raked and weeded this week. Also, the readings and prayers used on Wednesdays at the guided walk are put in the mailbox by the labyrinth each week for use during the week.
The guided walk is held weekly on Wednesdays at 9:00 a.m. This provides an opportunity to be aware and deepen your spiritual journey. If it is raining, the walk is held on Thursday at 9:00 a.m.
Drivers Needed Neighborly Services is now providing Meals on Wheels from the church. Additional drivers are needed. Please call Angela at 727-612-1791 for more information