Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In God's Garden

Rev. Katelyn Macrae
July 13, 2014

Text: Isaiah 55:10- 13 and Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

We had a kid once who came to camp. He was a city kid, and this was his first time in nature, his first time with bugs and grass and lots of trees, and swimming in the lake. It was all new to him.

We also had camp pigs that summer on loan from the Heifer Project. He loved to walk by the pig pen, any chance he could get.

Which was great, except for two things -

One, he could have spent all day at the pig pen, which made it hard when the campers were supposed to be doing other things.

Two, the pigs weren’t so good at staying in the pen.

No matter how much reinforcement was put in the fencing, the pigs, mysteriously, found a way out. They would run around camp and then the staff would have to go chase the pigs and put them back in the pen.

Have you ever chased a pig?

Pigs do not want to be caught, let me tell you that!

I think that God’s love is kind of like the pigs escaping from the pen, no matter how much reinforcement is put on the pen – God’s love wants to escape, it can’t be contained. Or maybe God’s love is a versatile, grow anywhere, GMO-free seed.


Our story today comes from a series of parables in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus used everyday objects - mustard seeds, coins, fish nets, seeds and soil – in his parables to illustrate his lessons. Today there were so many people gathered to hear Jesus’ that he had to go out in a boat in the middle of the lake just to be able to see everyone and teach them. Jesus was attracting a lot of attention.

Writer Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that Jesus used these everyday images in his parables to stand in for other things so that he would not get arrested while teaching. He taught in such a way that he people who knew what he was talking about would get his point, and those who were out of the know would just shake their heads in confusion.

Today’s parable is one of the most recognizable – it’s called the Parable of the Sower.

This is the title, but yet so much of the focus of the story seems to be on the ground that the Sower visits – a well trod path, rocky ground, thorny ground, and finally, fertile soil.

As I hear this story, I can’t help but wonder – how do I get to be the good soil? Am I the rocky soil? Am I full of thorns?

In fact, I was going to bring in some compost today for the children’s sermon and have a conversation about what makes for good soil. I was going to have mix all of this stuff up together and see what happens as the compost decomposes. However, I didn’t think that the Trustees would be too keen on having a compost bin in the Sanctuary!

In her book Seeds of Heaven, Barbara Brown Taylor, writes that we have a 1:4 chance of getting to be the right kind of soil. Who doesn’t want to be the good, fertile soil?

But if we keep our eyes on the dirt, we’re likely to get lost in the weeds, and miss the greater point of Jesus’ parable.

It’s called the Parable of the Sower, not the Parable of the Soil, for a reason. Notice that the sower sows seeds everywhere, not caring where they will land, how evenly spaced apart they are, or what kind of fruit they are predicted to yield. Imagine God as the sower, sowing seeds extravagantly, indiscriminately.

Season after season, God sows seeds in fertile fields, and war zones, and well trod paths. God sows seeds through the shopping malls and parking lots, and hospital rooms, and even pig pens at camp. God sows seeds of God’s word, and when these seeds take root, they bear the Fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, patience, self control, generosity, and faithfulness.

They bear the fruits of the spirit in sometimes unexpected places.


 It was not an easy week at camp for our city kid. He had to go home a bit earlier than the other campers. As a staff we wondered, did we fail him because he didn’t make it through the full week? We had to ask ourselves, how do we define “success” at camp? Is staying through the whole week the most important thing? In the days that the camper was here – what kind of community did he experience?

When we started to think about it this way, we realized that whether or not he stayed until Saturday, he still got to come to camp, and discover new things, play outside, and be a part of a community who loved and cared and supported him the best ways that we could.

Our job as camp staff was to help create experiences where our campers might be recipients of some of God’s seeds. We showed this camper God’s love – and maybe, maybe, something took root in him.


Yesterday I attended the 25th anniversary celebration at Covenant Hills Christian Camp near Cabot, VT. Covenant Hills is a camp co-founded by the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ and United Methodist Conference. Former Richmond Congregational Church Member Fran Walker sold some land to the camp to help make it possible.

It was my first time at Covenant Hills, but as I listened to people speak about the power and the importance of this camp and its impact on their lives, I was continually impressed with the similarities with my own experience at UCC camps in Maine and Connecticut.

One of the statistics that Jeff, the camp co-director, highlighted is that if a child attends Sunday School every Sunday for a year, they get about 52 hours of faith formation. But, if a kid attends camp for one week – they get about 130 hours of hands-on faith formation, learning how to be a part of a community, experiencing nature, and learning about the connections between Creation and our Creator. That is more than double what a child will get if they attend Sunday school every Sunday. As a local church is so important to support this camping ministry, encourage our kids to go to camp, and support them with scholarships.

As demographics shift, and people, especially our families, have more and more choices about where and how to spend their summers, and their Sunday mornings, we must also be open to new ways of being church, so that our camps, and our churches, will have a future 25, 50, 100 years from now.

Jim Thomas, a staff member at the Vermont Conference, came and preached here at Richmond Congregational Church in March. One of the challenges he issued from this pulpit, is that we need to be out and visible in the community. We need to go where the people are, and be out and visible in the community. Similarly, one of the goals of the new directors at Covenant Hills is to make their programming more accessible and open to people of all ages by offering more opportunities for retreats, intergenerational camping, and possibly a series of Confirmation retreats for churches across the state.

It sounds like a Sower approach!  Taking seeds out and sowing them about joyfully all the while knowing that some will land in rocky places, some will land among the thorns, and some will land in the fertile soil and take root.

Only God knows what the soil composition is. There’s not a special way to measure success in the Kingdom of God. Even the parable says that the yields will be different, some thirty, some sixty, some hundredfold. Likewise, we can’t necessarily measure success with predicted yields or only look for the most fertile soil.

In Tielhard de Chardin’s poem The Slow Work of God he writes, “We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability— and that it may take a very long time.”

De Chardin encourages us to trust in God working in our lives in God’s time, and to
remain open to the process.

As we move together as a faith community in this new relationship together, and dream and vision how God is calling us,  let us be sowers, casting about God’s seeds of love – freely, indiscriminately, joyfully – wherever we go.

May it be so.