First Congregational Church
June 13, 2021
Third Sunday after Pentecost
“The Kingdom Life"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Ole was driving his John Deere tractor along the road with a trailer load of fertilizer. Little Sven, a boy of eight, was playing in his yard when he saw Ole and asked, 'What've you got in your trailer?' 'Manure,' Ole replied. 'What are you going to do with it?' asked Little Sven. 'Put it on my strawberries,' answered Ole. Little Sven replied, 'You ought to come and eat with us. We put ice-cream on our strawberries.’
Today’s scripture passage continues along the life of Jesus as he taught, and healed and preached radical things to the people in the area of Capernaum, which is on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. It’s the lowest fresh-water sea - lake - on the earth, over four times deeper than Crystal Lake and if Crystal is 20 square miles, then Galilee is 273 square miles. Not having homes built up around the lake, there were probably large swaths of land that hosted crops and herds, and allowed people to come together to hear a revolutionary individual tell stories about life.
Word had it that this radical taught and healed on the Sabbath and was accumulating quite the collection of followers - from fishermen to regular people, even a tax collector. In the passage right before the one for today, Jesus was again at the lakeside, in a boat on the water, while people sat on the hillside, undoubtedly near a field of grain, since he just told the parable about the four different soils - a hard path, rocky and shallow ground, thorns that choke out life and good, fertile soil.
The Parable of the Growing Seed
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Thank you, Dave. Lena takes a run down a country road and is startled when a horse yells at her, ‘Hey, ma’am. Come over here.' Lena is stunned, but still, runs over to the fence where the horse is standing and asks, 'Were you talking to me?' The horse replies, 'Sure was. Lady, I've got a problem. I won the Kentucky Derby a few years ago and this farmer bought me and now all I do is pull a plough and I'm sick of it. Why don't you run up to the house and offer him $5,000 to buy me. I'll make you some money because I can still run.'
Lena thought to herself, 'Wow, a talking horse.' Dollar signs started appearing in her head. So she ran to the house and the old rancher was sitting on the porch. Lena tells the farmer, ‘Sir, I'll give you $5,000 for that old broken down nag you've got in the field.' The farmer replies, ‘Lady, you can't believe anything that horse says. He's never even been to Kentucky.’
For the rural-raised, this time of year isn’t exactly walking on eggshells, but it not like the down-time of winter’s restoration, either. Will there be enough rain, too much rain? In Minnesota, everyone keeps an eye to the sky for those times it turns green, because tornadoes can twirl up a field so badly, the only thing left to do is burn it since a cultivator can’t get through the soy bean tangle.
And then there’s all the different times to be in the field, plowing, seeding, spraying, and the other times, standing near or in the field, feeling the leaves, checking the dryness of the soil, looking for bugs. Harvest is not an easy day in the park either, because you want the produce in perfect condition - but you run a risk with attempted perfection, i.e., greatest yield, and possibilities of rain that can lay down the wheat or hail that can tear up the corn.
And yet, there is that miracle part, the magic part, that happens over and over and over. Just as Robert Fulghum says, "The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.”
We do know how germination happens, and a whole lot more about crops and farming, much of which is lost on the average individual. Even so, if there is nothing else in this day, it is one for appreciating the very basic part of life that goes on for us - and the appreciation of that life - of seeds and growth and life.
For whatever reason, I’ve been fascinated by articles in the paper that brought back what happened 100 years ago. Every week, the Litchfield Independent Review would have a corner of such events, and I’m hoping that I wasn’t the only pest that got our Record Patriot to take up the practice.
For those who missed it, from the June 9, 1921 paper:
1. “From most every part of Benzie County comes reports that the grasshoppers have been appearing this week, and the county agent has seen them; lots of them. As soon as they begin to eat is the time to spread the poison so they will not get large enough to hurt the crops. Don't forget the formula: 1 bushel of sawdust, 1 pound arsenic, 1 pound salt, 1 cup molasses, and enough water to make a stiff mash. Spread this broadcast over the territory where the grasshoppers are feeding, being careful not to put it in piles. If any stock should find this material in piles and eat it the chances are that the stock will die.
2. Mrs. G.M Harris one day the first of the week killed five groundhogs and drew the bounty on them.
3. A grocery route has been started through the county. A truck comes from Thompsonville each Monday along The County Line to Charley Lindgren's corner, north to State Rd. to Town Hall, then east through Dair’s Mill back to Thompsonville again. They are buying eggs and selling or exchanging groceries.
Funny how things change and stay the same. There’s a corn field, on the left hand side as you drive north out of Beulah, where there’s a big bill-board for John Marshall Insurance. Every year there is the plowing and the planting and then - will it be knee-high by the Fourth of July - that is the gold standard for corn - that week of summer. Perhaps, with these July days in June, maybe the harvest will happen in October and farmers might be able to enjoy a bit of respite that doesn’t happen all that often.
There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year, a news reporter interviewed him and discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. "How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?" the reporter asked.
"Why sir," said the farmer, "didn't you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
I had two heart-wrenching conversations with business owners this week, wondering if they will be able to continue with the blood, sweat and tears - literally - that they’ve put their hope in - because the help they need isn’t being helpful, if they can find it, because they don’t show up for interviews or shifts. Or the possibility of getting someone to work is determined by the ability of workers to find child care or housing.
This is not a political statement here at all, but thinking aloud about trying to figure out how we can help the farmer/workers/community members, by making sure they have good corn/seed/life for this kingdom of God in which we all live. How can our smallest of grains/gestures/gifts/help - grow shelter/safety/security for all of us birds in the bush?
It’s been much on my heart these last months, that we might take a look at how we view other people and perhaps make an extra effort to change our responses to individuals and situations. I regretfully admit that I’ve not given enough credit to the people who check us out at the store, or put in the boat lift, or stock the shelves, mostly because my brain is somewhere else at that moment.
I wonder if - some days - we look through those individuals - if we see them at all. What was their night like last night? Did they get descent sleep? Is their family and loved ones okay or is there some large burden that they carry around with them as they smile and ask how they can help you? Are they mourning the loss of their marriage, or is it on the way to dying? What has happened in your life, that you keep under wraps, that perhaps the person across the gas pump is also hiding?
Maybe with our new life after the lessening of restrictions, in our excitement, we might forget to be mindful of the seeds that we plant, especially as the days go along, and the doctors and nurses continue with the added pressures they’ve had the past 18 months, because they took a position to care about us - and keeping us safe - whether it’s in a surgery room or an emergency room or an exam room. Maybe being a member of this Kingdom Life is seeing each person, situation, visitor, winter resident, as important as some of those for whom you have the deepest admiration and respect.
We get to waltz into stores without masks, but the help in some places, like pharmacies, still mask to protect compromised immune systems picking up medications. Not because they are being overcautious, but because they 1. care about keeping their jobs, and 2. because the people that come to them with such immune systems appreciate the extension of kindness and concern. And any of us are just one disease away from becoming immune deficient, if not already.
I don’t mean for this to be a doom or gloom message, but truly, one of hope and appreciation, not only for where we get to live or visit, not only for our friends and family, but for the very working of life - seeds of gestures that grow - with or without our help - into living vessels of life and wonder and even delight.
You will all have noticed the seed taped to your bulletin this morning. I can tell you that it’s a flower seed, but that is all I can tell you, because they are all mixed up. It’s either a calendula or a zinnia. Do the dorky thing this week and plant it. And work to keep it alive, talk to it, to sprout and grow and maybe, if you’re super fortunate, to bloom. As you tend this one little seed, let it remind you, throughout this season of emergence, of the importance of care, of anticipation and of joy. Let it remind you of the wonder and marvel of this Kingdom Life. So let us pray.
Ever Marvelous God, thank you for the cycles of seed-time and harvest, of growing and resting and all that pertains to life. Thank you for the simple reminders of treating one another as we would be treated, of the miracle of growth of all kinds, and of the grace of water and food and care. This morning we offer our seeds of effort and willingness and pray that you will bless them and make them fruitful beyond our knowing or anticipation. Hone our gardening skills within your kingdom, that as we give our best to others, we are then able to offer our best to you. For the faith you have in each of us, that you planted long before time began, each of your seeded people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.