by Lin Story-Bunce2 Cor 9. 6-15; Mark 4.26-29
June 13, 2021
The Kingdom of God is like someone planting seeds in the rich soil of Kenya.
Wangari Maathai grew up in the highlands of Kenya. When she returned from studying biology in the United States, she discovered that her homeland was being destroyed by deforestation, which caused water and food shortages, malnutrition and disappearing wildlife. In response, she formed the Green Belt Movement – empowering other women about the need to care for the land and equipping them to re-plant forests one tree at a time.
The Kingdom of God is like someone planting seeds in the loose, dark soil of Southern Georgia.
Koinonia Farm is a Christian community outside Atlanta founded 1942 in an effort to challenge systems of racism and poverty prevalent in the south. The project emphasized the sisterhood and brotherhood of all people requiring people within the community to share resources, cook and serve meals together, worship together, work together and pray together.
The Kingdom of God is like someone planting seeds in the rocky, red clay of Eastern NC.
Jason Brown is a former NFL player who, at age 29, walked away from his $35 million career mid-contract to pursue farming in rural North Carolina. Brown, who had no real farming experience, learned everything he knows about farming from watching youtube videos. He now maintains a thousand acre farm in Louisburg, NC where he grows crops to donate to local food pantries.
Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like this.
It is like someone who plants seeds in the ground not knowing how or if the crop will grow – not knowing if the ground she prepared will be fertile enough – or if her efforts will prove fruitful or plentiful – but she casts her seeds anyway because the possibility of what could come of that seed begs her to do so – whether she needs the crop for herself, to help support her family, to provide food for her community – she casts the seed out onto the ground and then waits. It is an active, anticipatory kind of waiting – night and day she watches what she cannot herself make happen – she watches as the seed sprouts green, as the seedling becomes a sturdy stalk, as the stem first produces leaves and then flower and then its fruit… She breathes a sigh of relief and of deep thanks the morning she wakes to find that the crop is ripe and the harvest more plentiful than she anticipated.
This would have been the difficult yet hopeful reality for many in this farming-centered culture. Even those who did not work the land are familiar with the challenges facing those whose livelihoods depend on the planting and harvesting of crops. Season after season these farmers plant their seeds in tilled soil not knowing if the crop will survive – is the ground well-prepared, will there be plenty of rain, will there be too much rain, will the seed be eaten by birds, will the sun scorch the plant before it matures – but despite the challenges one cannot discount the promise that lies within a seed – the potential of the seed to yield valuable fruit is worth the work so they plant their seeds anyway – sometimes carefully and methodically, other times carelessly, casting with wild abandon – because the possibility of the harvest begs them to do so.
This past week our youth partnered with the youth group from FBC-GSO and Out of the Garden Project to learn about food insecurity in our own community. Together we considered the ways that we can be part of helping to provide affordable, nutritious, and sustainable food options for all families in Guilford County. Alongside the folks at OOTGP, we sorted reclaimed foods and packaged them to go out to families in bags and the mobile markets, we weeded and turned over farm beds to prepare them for new crop, we harvested fresh produce for families and for the farm CSA, we reorganized storage and warehouse spaces to make inventory easier to find and access, and we prepped for upcoming projects – all while building new friendships and relationships with one another. And I know that none of these jobs sounds very glamorous or even all that significant on its own – but we were told often how helpful each of these projects was making the daily work OOTGP does more efficient and effective.
Though we may never fully see or comprehend the fruit of our week of labor, we were invited into the holy work of planting seeds – both literally and figuratively. And as we reflected, worked and worshipped together, we found ourselves especially challenged by this passage from Paul. Ours was not to know the harvest, ours was only to decide how we would invest ourselves in the work – in the planting. As Paul asks of those early Christ followers, what kind of planters would we be – stingy or lavish? And with what kind of spirit would we invest? In this passage, the harvest is not in question – the harvest will come as the faithful work of a God who is always laboring among and alongside us for the good of God’s world. The focus is instead on the planting – reminding us that a future harvest depends on those who will do the work of first casting the seeds.
Faced with devastated forestland, Wangari planted seedlings of trees that she hoped would provide shelter and renew the ecosystem of her village.
In response to racial and economic injustice, the Koinonia Community planted seeds that it hoped would nurture just and fair community.
Knowing nothing about how to grow large crops, Jason Brown planted seeds that he hoped would nourish people in his community who do not have access to affordable, healthy food.
We may not be planting literal seeds, but our words and actions and everyday living are sowing seeds nonetheless – and It is up to us to decide how we will labor to plant seeds that share God’s mercy with the world and to meet the needs of those around us.
The Kingdom of God needs us to be people who can hold fragile seeds of hope in our hands and who will cast them boldly out into a waiting, hurting world. It is challenging work but it is also necessary.
We need teachers who sow seeds of welcome and belonging for all students.
We need poets and musicians whose words sow seeds of unrest in the face of social injustice.
We need politicians and world leaders whose policies sow seeds of fair legislation and equal opportunities for all God’s children.
We need children whose purer views of the world sow seeds of understanding and acceptance for people we may not know.
We need students who sow seeds of ideals and bigger dreams when we limit possibilities.
We need neighbors who sow seeds of hospitality and friendship in the midst of adversity.
We need churches who, in the face of those yelling loudly their messages of hate, can remain unmoved in our message of love, sowing seeds of God’s greater grace.
The Kingdom of God needs us to be people who can look into the difficult, challenging parts of our world and sow seeds of hope and light – not because we know what will come of it – but because the possibility and the promise that lie in planting these seeds begs us to do so.
Both of our texts this morning – the parable from Mark and the letter from Paul – are addressing one of the earliest churches who needs to hear that the community of faith matters – that the Kingdom of God is growing among them even if they cannot yet see the fruits of their labor.
That time between the planting and harvesting can be long and discouraging. But these passages encourage us not to lose hope – but to remember all the times before when God has proven to be faithful in our waiting – where in our waiting God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. We were people wandering in the wilderness waiting to enter the promised land – God provided food. We were people in exile waiting to go home – God found us a way. When we were grieving outside a closed tomb on Saturday, God met us on Sunday with resurrection and new life.
It is a reminder the early church desperately needed and one that we need, too. In a world that sometimes feels overwhelming …
Where we grow impatient in our waiting …
We need to be reminded that God is faithful in our laboring – that the work of this community matters –
that the work of God’s greater church matters –
that the seeds that we cast here and outside these walls matter do actually matter.
In 2009, while Kristy and Don Milholin’s children were still in elementary school, they noticed several children experiencing food insecurity. Kristy and Don felt called to help make a difference in the lives of these families – so they started the Out of the Garden Project in their home around the kitchen table. The Milholins began personally supplying 6-10 families with a small bag of food each Friday so that those children and their families would have something to eat over the weekend. Now, what began in 2009 as a seed – helping 6-10 families with a small bag of food each weekend – has grown to the largest organization of its kind in the Piedmont Triad. OOTGP operates 6 major programs including: operation backpack, fresh mobile markets, an urban teaching farm, food reclamation initiative, shared-use kitchen to help neighbors start small businesses, and summer meal program, to help address food insecurity throughout Guilford County – which is currently ranked 9th worst in the nation.
The fruit of God’s Kingdom comes quietly, unexpectedly, inevitably like the growth of a seed.
In 2004, Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to earn the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
The Koinonia Community went on to found Habitat for Humanity International in an effort to provide affordable housing.
Jason Brown’s non-profit, First Fruits Farm, donates more than 100,000 pounds of food per year to the local food bank.
Our faith in an ever-present, ever-loving God encourages us to believe that we do not labor in vain, but that the seeds we plant will indeed bring a fruitful harvest for God’s Kingdom and all God’s creation. Seeds of love and acceptance, of grace and forgiveness, of openness and welcome, seeds that bring healing and wholeness – through the grace of a faithful God might become fruit that nourishes, fruit that provides refuge, fruit that grows community.
We are not tasked with the harvest – instead, we are those casting out the seeds. And we give thanks for the God who always proves to be faithful, who does not forsake us in our laboring, but who labors alongside us, and who is with us in the waiting as the the fruits of God’s Kingdom are ever growing among us.