When my brothers and I were growing up on the San Francisco peninsula, our Grandma Maxine came all the way out from Florida to visit us. She taught us two things, how to say the Lord’s Prayer and how to spit watermelon seeds. As she was putting us to bed, she prompted us to say our prayers – but we didn’t know any. “Do you know the Lord’s Prayer?” “No.” “Well, then, I’ll teach you.”
And she did. The next afternoon we were eating watermelon – and she asked us if we knew how to spit watermelon seeds. “No.” “Well, then, I’ll teach you.” She led us over to the edge of the lawn, where my father had just dumped some new fill dirt for the garden. We all stood there, Grandma Maxine and all us boys, spitting watermelon seeds out over the edge of the lawn. Then we went away and forgot all about it. A few weeks later, however, we had watermelon vines growing at the edge of our lawn.
I think it was the start of my brother Dave’s gardening avocation. And I think it planted something in me, as the Lord’s Prayer began to establish itself in my life.
We plant seeds through small deeds – and have them planted in our lives. From simple acts of kindness – or parenting – great things can grow.
Over the years of my life many small seeds have been sown.
Chuck, a kid in my class in elementary school, invited me to come with him to the Good News Club. You got prizes if you memorized Bible verses. I still remember some of them.
In tenth grade my neighbor Adrienne hosted Young Life meetings at her house, so I went to check it out. I was greeted with a warm welcome, and there I learned that I’ve got a friend in Jesus, and I began to accept that gift.
During freshman year in college, my roommate Scott invited me along to a Bible study – and there I met Joe and Deedie, Shannon and Richard and Bruce, all of whom became important nurtures of my growing Christian faith.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed – which is so small, but grows into something great and sheltering. It grows even behind our backs, while we are not looking – and suddenly there it is looming over us, giving us shade, filled with birds.
I have a problem in my garden. I have two small plants in pots that grew from seed, in one case a volunteer, in the other carefully nurtured from the minuscule. The two little plants are a saguaro and a redwood. In a few hundred years the saguaro could be 40 feet tall and weigh 10,000 pounds. And you know what happens with redwoods.
Trees are like green explosions in slow motion – we may not notice what is really going on because it is happening at a speed and with an elegant silence we do not perceive.
When I left the publishing industry – I had been in the book business since graduating from seminary – I left South Bend Indiana in a freezing rain in February, and drove hundreds of miles across the brown dry crust of the continent until I crested Tehachapi Pass. There for the first time in 2000 miles I saw green, in the great valley spread below me as far as I could see. And when I got to the Sonoma Valley there was mustard flowering between the rows of vines.
Something had been left behind, left in the earth; something, too, had been buried, and then, weeks later, something new began to grow. I did not know what it would look like. I only knew that it was growing.
We may not like the ways things are growing. We are not called to. We are simply called to be faithful, to care for what God planted, and to spread some seeds around.
We are called to grow, not to bend ourselves to others’ liking, but holding to the truth of our making, to grow into the image and likeness of God, into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
This may be hard in today’s church – as I gave this sermon for the first time we heard of the distress of many at General Convention as our bishop-elect was interrogated in confirmation hearings. We want the kingdom to go forward, to spread the good news. As I completed the sermon our archdeacon was waiting in the wings to tell us good news things were also emerging at the convention: Bishop Katharine had just been elected Presiding Bishop.
A few weeks later, I had the chance to thank some one I had meant to thank for years. Amy was a star of Christian music – and then she got a divorce. I thanked here because she did not try to bend herself into the shape others demanded of her, for their approval, but continued to be true to herself. She is still a singer.
for 6/17/06 12.45pm at Trinity Cathedral Sacramento
And again, for preaching workshop at CDSP, July 19, 2006