Let’s open our hearts together in prayer. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, we are like seeds planted in your garden. Nurture us and help us to understand how much you love to watch us grow. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
A man walked into a flower shop and asked for some potted geraniums. “I’m sorry,” said the clerk in the flower shop, “we’re completely sold out of all our potted geraniums. But I’d be more than happy to get you something else. Would you like African violets instead?” The customer replied sadly, “No, it was geranium seeds my wife told me to water while she was away.”
In our gospel reading today, Mark stitches together two puzzling parables about seeds that have puzzled people from the beginning. Mark says that Jesus “explained everything in private to his disciples,” but he doesn’t include the explanation in his gospel.
Just before this puzzling passage, Jesus tells us about a sower of seeds who scatters some seeds on the path, some seeds on rocky ground, some seeds among thorns, and some seeds are “sown on the good soil: they bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundred fold.” The sower sows the seeds, like the disciples spread the word of God, but their effectiveness depends on how fertile the soil is that the Word falls upon.
In the second seed parable, the sower sleeps and rises, doing nothing while “the earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” There’s no cultivation, no fertilizing, no weeding, watering, or worrying; the sower is not responsible for the growth of the seeds; God is.
Then third, there’s the parable of the mustard seed. This is the climax in the special grouping of three parables. The mustard seed is tiny but grows to become the greatest of all shrubs, providing shelter for birds who make nests in its shade. They’re often so small that we don’t notice the seeds of faith; we only notice when faith matures and nurtures others. Interestingly, Jesus says that mature faith is like a large bush rather than a mighty and majestic tree. Unlike human aspirations of great glory, God’s nurturing doesn’t dominate, but provides comforting shade and a place to nest for God’s creatures.
Taken together, the three seed parables tell us to share the Word of God, which sometimes falls upon fertile hearts; then God nurtures the growth of faith from almost invisible beginnings to benefit others. It seems straight forward, but still, it’s puzzling. What’s our role – to be sowers sowing seeds?
Author Ken Canfield, President of the National Center for Fathering, wrote in New Man that “Some 20 years ago, I was a ‘Big Brother’ to a boy named Brian … Brian and I spent many Saturdays together, and I’ll never forget the way he watched me and listened closely to everything I said. We never did anything extravagant – usually just hung out together. Then one experience helped me realize that it’s on God’s heart to provide a male role model for the fatherless. One day I sat down and wrote Brian a short one-paragraph letter. It wasn’t anything profound or heartwarming but said something like: ‘Dear Brian, I’m looking forward to getting together again with you this Saturday. I’ve enjoyed our time together, and I just want you to know that you’re a great guy to be around. Your Big Brother, Ken.’ Nothing life-changing from my perspective. But the next time I visited Brian, I noticed my letter was proudly displayed on his wall and surrounded by posters of sports heroes. When I saw that, I realized the impact I could have on Brian’s life.”
Ken planted a seed in Brian’s life that would grow into something wonderful, even though none of us fully understand how.
Some time ago, Reader’s Digest magazine told a story about a company who mailed out some special advertising business postcards. Glued to the postcard was a mustard seed, with the words: “If you have faith as small as this mustard seed in our [particular product], you are guaranteed to get excellent results and be totally satisfied. Signed, The Management.” A few months later a person who received this promotional postcard wrote back to the company, “You will be very interested to know that I planted the mustard seed that you sent on your advertising card, and it has grown into a very healthy bush producing wonderful tomatoes!”
When we plant seeds, we not only don’t know how they grow, we also may not know what fruit they will bear!
I’d like to plant a little seed into everyone’s heart this Fathers’ Day. It’s from a true story that appeared in Guideposts magazine. Sue Kidd, a registered nurse, wrote: “The hospital was unusually quiet that bleak January evening, quiet and still like the air before a storm. I stood in the nurses’ station on the 7th floor and glanced at the clock. It was 9 p.m. I threw a stethoscope around my neck and headed for room 712, last room on the hall. Room 712 had a new patient. Mr. Williams. A man all alone. A man strangely silent about his family. As I entered the room, Mr. Williams looked up eagerly, but dropped his eyes when he saw it was only me, his nurse. I pressed the stethoscope over his chest and listened. Strong, slow, even beating. Just what I wanted to hear. There seemed little indication he had suffered a slight heart attack a few hours earlier. He looked up from his starched white bed. ‘Nurse, would you,’ he hesitated, tears filling his eyes. Once before he had started to ask me a question, but had changed his mind. I touched his hand, waiting. He brushed away a tear. ‘Would you call my daughter? Tell her I’ve had a heart attack. A slight one. You see, I live alone and she is the only family I have.’ … ‘I’ll call her the very first thing,’ I said, patting his shoulder. I flipped off the light. He closed his eyes, such young blue eyes in his 50-year-old face … [then] ‘Nurse,’ he called, ‘could you get me a pencil and paper?’ I dug a scrap of yellow paper and a pen from my pocket and set it on the bedside table … I got her number from information and dialed. Her soft voice answered. ‘Janie, this is Sue Kidd, a registered nurse at the hospital. I’m calling about your father. He was admitted tonight with a slight heart attack and -’ ‘No!’ she screamed into the phone, startling me … ‘My daddy and I haven’t spoken in almost a year. We had a terrible argument on my 21st birthday, over my boyfriend. I ran out of the house. I – I haven’t been back. All these months I’ve wanted to go to him for forgiveness. The last thing I said to him was, ‘I hate you.’’ … ‘I’m coming. Now! I’ll be there in 30 minutes,’ she said … I knew I had to get back to 712. I hurried down the hall nearly in a run. I opened the door. Mr. Williams lay unmoving. I reached for his pulse. There was none … ‘O God,’ I prayed. ‘His daughter is coming. Don’t let it end this way.’ The door burst open. Doctors and nurses poured into the room pushing emergency equipment … Over and over we tried. But nothing. No response. Mr. Williams was dead … When I left the room, I saw her against the wall by a water fountain. A doctor who had been inside 712 only moments before, stood at her side, talking to her, gripping her elbow. Then he moved on, leaving her slumped against the wall … ‘Janie, I’m so sorry,’ I said. It was pitifully inadequate. ‘I never hated him, you know. I loved him,’ she said. God, please help her, I thought. Suddenly she whirled toward me. ‘I want to see him.’ … She pushed open the door. We moved to the bed, huddled together, taking small steps in unison. Janie leaned over the bed and buried her face in the sheets. I tried not to look at her, at this sad, sad good-bye. I backed against the bedside table. My hand fell upon a scrap of yellow paper. I picked it up. It read: ‘My dearest Janie, I forgive you. I pray you will also forgive me. I know that you love me. I love you too. Daddy’ The note was shaking in my hands as I thrust it toward Janie. She read it once. Then twice. Her tormented face grew radiant. Peace began to glisten in her eyes. She hugged the scrap of paper to her breast … I crept from the room and hurried to the phone. I would call my father. I would say, ‘I love you.’”
Plant a seed of love today that God will nurture and grow into something wonderful. In person, on the phone, or in a prayer, tell your father, “I love you.” Amen.