Friday, July 14, 2017

waiting for rain

Ted Ramirez from Tubac has a song about the time of year just past - about waiting for rain. It is a cheerful song, sung in June, waiting for the monsoon. The rains will come - haven’t they always? And all this dry ground will moisten. Rivers will run, green will show among the brown. Mosquitoes will hover; termites take wing. The birds are happy. And there is the smell of creosote after the rain. Hope.

Hope. Scattered seeds. Scientifically and practically, as Joann Lee from San Francisco observes, we place our seeds cautiously in the garden, in neat rows, tilled carefully. Soil prepared, supplements added, nurture required.

It seems almost farcical to suggest a sower throwing arms wide, seed scattering here and there… indiscriminately? We don’t do it it this way -- usually.

Though as we speak a counter-example sits on my mantelpiece: mesquite pods of a rare variety. I’ve been encouraged by the giver to toss them into a wash just as the monsoon starts… And here where some oaks used to grow, cattle have unconsciously spread mesquite pods of a common variety wherever they sense moisture and shade enough to pause in…

Some gardener, huh? Rocks, weeds, thorns - and good soil.

Wherever that might be. Cracks in the pavement. There are towns where I lived once, San Francisco for example, where there seemed to be no green thing for miles, except in parks - just concrete. Before the urban tree movement. And Brooklyn -- you wouldn’t know it, looking at brownstone buildings lined up in closed ranks, but behind and between the stone facades are gardens, green things, and occasionally now a community garden in a vacant lot.

But that is not enough, not what it’s all about. Sure, there are farms, big and small, organic gardeners and agrichemical giants.

The seed that grows between, behind, among, and inside the buildings -- the Word of God -- falls more indiscriminately, apparently. A seed lies dormant in a human soul for years and miles. One day something brings it moisture and nurture, and it grows. May be concerns, bitterness, indifference can stop the process - or can it?

Is grace inexorable? Does it miss us sometimes?

This story seems not to be about gardening. It’s a simpler, stranger story, a challenge to be worked out. Parable itself seems to mean, literally, to throw alongside, to scatter about. Jesus the punster. And sower - for he himself throws out to us this story.

To scatter, broadcast: that’s what we do. For all our niche marketing and careful planning, it’s the seeds of hope that we drop unconsciously or unconcernedly, without an agenda, that may lodge, grow, and lead to fruitful life.

There is a story about an old Scottish minister looking back at the end of his life, over the course of his career, and a question came. Did you ever convert anybody? Did you ever bring the gospel into anyone’s heart? No, I don’t think so -- unless it was that little Davey Livingstone…

David Livingstone, who went on to a life of missionary service in Africa.

Now such things are less fashionable. But the people -- the descendants of the people who heard the Word from such as David Livingstone -- are grateful.

For the missions, indiscriminate as they may have been, left behind some seeds to grow.

Material benefits -- clean water, epidemic diseases eradicated, healthier food, educated children -- but notably all this came from a greater good, that ordered them and made sense of them all: to reconcile our souls to God in Christ.

This is still the mission of Christian service, underlying all our efforts and activities, and to be reaffirmed … as it was this last week by my wife’s relief and development organization, refocusing their efforts in light of the greater mission, for all is done in the name of Christ.

And so those seemingly random efforts have behind them a hope and a promise, that under God’s grace and with his assurance, his word will not return to him empty.

And the rains will come and water the earth.

May it be with us as you have purposed. Amen.

Psalm 65: 9-14
Romans 8:1-11

The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Oxford. 231.

Joann H. Lee, “Living the Word”, The Christian Century, June 21, 2017, 19.

Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, Nourishing News, July 2017.

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