Good morning, Friends!
I hope you’re all safe and healthy this week. There’s certainly been a lot going on!
The news this past week has been very frightening. All over the country, there have been protests against racial injustice. The injustice is very real, and the protests need to be heard.
Many of the protests have been peaceful, but some have been met with violence. I hate to see this kind of thing happening, in city after city. Some of our leaders have tried to help, but others have just made it worse.
The amount of hatred that has been let loose and encouraged is completely irresponsible. It goes against everything we stand for, and everything so many of us have worked for.
There’s also been looting and vandalism in many cities. We’ve been under curfew here for most of the week. We all hope that order and safety will be quickly restored, without any increase of the kind of violent response which helped to cause a lot of the protests.
As Quakers, we know that violence breeds more violence. Hatred creates more hatred. Injustice, if it’s allowed to continue, always sets the stage for more unrest. We know these things.
In the mean time, we’ve still got an epidemic going on. It’s caused more than 110,000 deaths here in our country, terrible economic hardship, strain on all our families, and problems in every part of life.
What are we supposed to do?
I’ll tell you honestly — by the end of this week, I didn’t want to preach. Like so many of you, I’m exhausted, physically, spiritually and emotionally.
I usually consider it an honor to be able to preach. This week, for day after day, I asked myself, “What can I possibly say?”
The answer came from the Bible. Friday morning I was reading and praying, and I came across the story of one of Jesus’ very first sermons.
It wasn’t in a church. Jesus didn’t preach in churches or in synagogues very much. It was out in the open air. But people were hungry for Jesus’ message, and crowds had come to hear him. Here’s what he said.
That day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.
Then he told them many things in parables, saying:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”Matthew 13:1-9
This year as the lock-down was beginning, my wife and I planted a little garden. We were feeling so cooped up. We needed to get outside. We’re only going to the store every two weeks. Just the idea of a fresh tomato was more than we could stand!
This was back in early March. So we set up a little garden. The soil wasn’t too good, so we dug it up, ran it through a sieve, and added fresh topsoil, fertilizer and compost.
We started a bunch of seeds indoors in little pots and yogurt containers, and put them on all the window sills.
Some of them got knocked over by the cat, and some of them got too wet, or too dry. Seeds in our house have a really rough time!
But a lot of them grew, and now they’re all planted, and we’re starting to get a few things. I figure the tomatoes aren’t going to cost but about five dollars each by the time we’re done.
It’s been fun. But of course Jesus isn’t just talking about ordinary seeds. He’s not just talking about radishes and lettuce. In today’s reading, Jesus is talking about something else.
The seeds Jesus is talking about, are what God plants in every one of us. God plants what God wants to see grow up. And that made me think about what else I’ve been doing, during this long lock-down we’re all going through.
It’s been really frustrating, not being able to get together for worship every week. But it’s forced us to plant seeds in some new places.
When I was training to be a minister, the internet hadn’t even been invented. (We used two cans and a long string, and duct-taped them to our typewriters.) Nobody taught us how to share messages online. I’ve had to learn all kinds of new skills in the past few months. But now every week, we’re doing messages and Bible studies online.
Normal times, my working day is filled with interruptions. People coming by, things being delivered, people wanting tours of the cemetery or asking questions about all kinds of random things.
That’s all good. People are the whole reason that I’m a minister. But when we can’t get together face-to-face, there’s been time to plant some different seeds.
Some day, this whole virus thing will be over. The doors will all be open again. When that day comes, we want to be ready and inviting. So, during the lock-down, part of the time, about one day a week, we’ve been fixing a few things up.
We’ve been repairing doors, scraping and painting. It’s hard to do that, when people are coming in and going out all the time.
We want big meals to be served at Springfield again, so we painted the kitchen. It’ll be ready and waiting when the doors open again.
See, when you plant seeds, you don’t get the results today. You have to prepare the soil, and plant, and water, and weed. Then by and by, with care, comes the harvest.
So, we’re using this time, to plant all the seeds we can. We’re fixing things up. We’re learning new kinds of outreach. We’re staying in touch with everyone, by every means possible. We don’t want anyone to be lost or forgotten.
I like having good neighbors, who I know and who know me. So as often as I can, I talk over the fence with my next-door neighbors.
My next-door neighbors are from China. The younger ones speak pretty good English, and we talk about things. Their mother only speaks a few words, but she has a huge garden – ten times the size of mine. She’s very proud of it, and she works hard on it every day.
We talk with gestures, and she understands that I like her family. We’ve traded vegetable and flower seeds, and now she smiles at me, where at first she was afraid. Planting seeds of friendship. Planting seeds of trust. That’s a different kind of seed.
During this lock-down time, I’ve been very concerned that the children of our meeting will grow away from us. These are very hard times for kids, too, and I don’t want them to forget all that we’ve tried to share with them growing up.
Parents are working so hard, with the kids at home all the time. So, just for fun, we started a series of little story books for the kids, all with the stories about Springfield.
Some of them are silly books, to bring some laughter into their homes. Laughter is like sunshine. Everybody needs it! If you haven’t laughed recently, there’s a reason why you feel so bad.
So the silly books are about church mice, and teddy bears taking over the meetinghouse. We’re also making story books, to tell about some of the famous people who’ve been leaders here.
We’ve got enough stories to last for a long time – as long as the lock-down lasts, and beyond. Stories are seeds, too.
It’s been a big disappointment for our high school seniors, to miss out on all the celebration and graduation times they’ve worked so hard to earn. So, we’ve been planting seeds of encouragement.
Last week, our youth minister, Tanna Shipwash, organized a wonderful online celebration for these fine young people. We also arranged for all of our high school graduates to get financial scholarships to help them as they start college later this year.
We hope that these young people will remember the things they’ve learned here – both the Bible lessons, but also the lessons of love and care from all their teachers, and from all the people at Springfield who’ve looked out for them and encouraged them.
Even though it seems to us grownups that things have been frozen for the last 3 months, I want to remind you that life goes on, no matter what. We’ve had two babies born in our meeting in the last month – one just this week!
When we all come back together again, I guarantee that you’re going to be astonished by how much some of the kids in our meeting have grown. One of them came by the office a week ago with his grandfather, and I think that little boy had grown three inches since I last saw him.
When you plant seeds, be ready to be astonished. They grow when you’re not looking. I’m sure that our kids are going to have lots of things to tell us when we get back together again!
This has been such a challenging time. We’ve had to learn things we never dreamed about, such as:
- going to work without having an office
- shopping without going to the store
- going to school, without any classrooms
- going to church, without any gathering
There’s a reason we feel to uprooted and dislocated. Everything’s changed, for all of us.
Some of those changes are temporary. We don’t know how long it will take for it to be safe to have large gatherings again.
Some changes will probably be with us for a long time. We’re looking forward to worshiping together, but we’re reaching so many more people online, that we’re going to have to continue that ministry, even when the lock-down is lifted.
The thing to remember is that we’re planting seeds. God is planting seeds all the time, and that’s what we need to be doing, too.
Seeds of hope and encouragement. Seeds of truth and justice. Seeds of invitation and community. Seeds for our young people, because they need to be firmly planted and spiritually grounded.
We’re all gardeners. That’s a ministry Jesus gave to us. We plant seeds, every day, wherever we go.
It’s not just church on Sunday. It’s every day. It’s not just the pastor. Every Christian is a gardener.
The times are tough, and we need to plant seeds today, for what we want to see here tomorrow and down the road.
I want all of you to be stronger, and more filled with faith. I want all of you to have stories to share, of how well God treated you during this time.
I want every one of you to learn more – about the Bible, about our faith, and about the great saints of our past.
I want you all to be able to recognize for yourself the seeds of hatred and division, and dig them out and reject them. If we want a better world, we have to work for it, and teach for it, and build for it.
And we have to plant seeds, as Jesus says, every day. That’s our job. That’s our ministry.
Thank you for listening today. I hope you have a great week!
Please support Springfield Friends if you can, or whatever fellowship you belong to. We have bills to pay, too, and we appreciate your support.
I pray for your good health and safety. I pray that you will grow in faith, hope and love this week.
It’s easy to be afraid. It’s easy to be discouraged. But remember that Jesus is your friend. He cares for you. He knows your problems. He hears your prayers.
Plant at least one seed, every day. Do what you can, and ask God to help.
Until we meet again, in Jesus’ name. Amen.