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Monday, November 15, 2010


Sometimes, when I'm at a low point in ministry or feeling that my field of ministry is fallow, I've always been uplifted by reading the Parable of the Sower.

It's one that can be found in all of the Synoptic Gospels (at Mark 4:1-20, Matthew 13:1-23, and Luke 8:1-15) as well as in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (Thomas 9). In the parable, a sower dropped seed on the path, on rocky ground, and among thorns, and the seed was lost; but when seed fell on good earth, it grew, yielding thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.

I've taken heart that the Jesus Seminar rated the parable as probably authentic ("pink"). Like authentic sayings of Jesus, it uses simple imagery and an oral (rather than written) style. The seminar, however, rejected the allegorical interpretation in Mark as an elaboration originating not with Jesus, despite it being restated in Matthew.

Jesus explains the parable to his disciples in this way:
* The sower sows the Word
* The seeds falling on the road represent those who hear the word but dismiss it straight away - the synoptics state that the wicked one (Matthew's wording)/Satan (Mark's wording) is what takes the word away
* The seeds falling on the rocks represent those who hear the word, but only accept it shallowly - the synoptics state that these sorts of people reject the word as soon as it causes them affliction or persecution
* The seeds falling on thorns represent those who hear the word, and take it to heart, but allow worldly concerns, such as money, to choke it.
* The seeds falling on good soil represents those who hear the word, and truly understand it, causing it to bear fruit.
The problem with the ministry of being a Sower of the Word is that you can't always tell where the seeds are going to scatter or what will happen when it finally takes root.

Some seeds may land on a path or on rocks or thorns, only to be blown away by the wind, later embedding themselves in good soil where they my flourish and bear fruit.

The pathway of life has many twists and turns. Hearts of some may be hardened or made jagged by grief or pain, only to be later softened and the seed of the Word, which had been waiting, and can now be implanted.

More often than not, the Sower of the Word may never see the fruits of her hard work. That's part of the job description written in invisible ink. You only get to see it after you've been at it for awhile - often after you've hit a low point of frustration or fallowness in your ministry.

But, sometimes . . . sometimes . . . there comes a glorious moment when you are blessed to see some of the fruit of the seeds you have scattered. It can come at any moment - high or low or when you think you are fallow. And then. . .and then . . . the blessings abound.

Well, that moment came for me just the other day.

I received a package in the mail which contained a CD and some sheet music and a handwritten note with the picture of a Wild Larkspur on the front. It was from a young woman who has been a parishioner of mine for the last eight and a half years.

She's a musician - composition is her passion - but she is quite an accomplished pianist. She used to perform some of her pieces at St. Paul's when she was home from college. She's won quite a few awards, including the top prize in NJ for one of her compositions when she was a senior in high school. Indeed, the choir performed that piece in church one Sunday before she went off to college.

Her name is Dale Trumbore and she's presently in grad school at USC, majoring, of course, in music.

This piece is called "Blessings" and it is written to be performed by an a cappella choir. The words are adapted from a poem by Henri-Frédéric Amiel and the Doxology.

Actually, I adapted the words and used them in the Benediction I gave at the end of the Eucharistic Service. Every Sunday, Sunday after Sunday, I would say the words to this Blessing.

The words are:
Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make this earthly pilgrimage with us. So, be swift to love, and make haste to do kindness. And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you this day, and always. Amen.
Dale took these words and set them to music, writing in her note:
"Thank you for bringing this text - and all of the good work that you did at St. Paul's - into my life. I'm working on getting this piece performed - your piece, because it's dedicated to you! - but for now I'm including a computer-generated version of the piece so you can hear it."
Wait. Wait. Wait. MY piece? Dedicated to me?

I can barely write these words without my hands trembling. Careful where you step. That puddle on the floor would be me - still weeping.

So, now follow me on this so you'll see how this parable works.

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, a Swiss philosopher, poet and critic, penned these words sometime during his life (28 September 1821 – 11 May 1881). I don't know what exactly inspired him to write these words, but I hear an echo of the words written in Colossians (3:14-15):
"Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful."
Amiel's words were scattered around for centuries, finding their way onto all sorts of terrain.

The words found their way into my heart years and years ago when I first heard Marcus Borg use them (or a version of them) as part of his benediction at a Eucharist he celebrated at the conclusion of one of his presentations at a Jesus Seminar I attended while a young priest in Baltimore, MD.

Over the ensuing years, I have often used them, but most recently as the benediction at St. Paul's, Chatham. There, they found their way into the heart of one quiet, shy young woman who sat in the pew - or in the choir loft - with her mother. Every Sunday. Sunday after Sunday.

The words have now found their way into music which will find their way through human voices. The seeds of these words have become notes scattered on a page, seeking to be implanted in other terrain.

Oh, but wait! There's more!

So, this morning, I'm having an "IM" conversation on FaceBook with a young man named Jonathon Moyers-Bradford. Jonathan is a seminarian - quite brilliantly creative with a heart filled with passion for Jesus and the church. He and I have never met, face-to-face, but we've chatted a great deal over the past year or so. He has become very dear to my heart.

I was telling him about this piece and asking him how I might be able to post it here, on my blog or on FaceBook. I told him that Dale's mom had sent me an Mp3 version of the piece. He asked me to email him the Mp3 version, along with the text, which I did.

Less than thirty minutes later, he had put the music together with some of his own pictures and the words and sent me the link to YouTube.

I am absolutely in awe. And, here it is. Ta da!

The church is the Methodist Church where he grew up in the faith and preached his first sermon at age 15. The rock is in the State Park outside his home in Charleston, West Virginia. The picture of the water was taken outside Des Moines, IA, and the field is in Meppen, IL... on the peninsula where the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers come together.

Oh, wait. Remember the Larkspur? On the front of the note written to me by Dale? It grows especially abundant in central and western Illinois. More on this later.

So, are you following this parable, now? How the words scattered by a Swiss philosopher and poet penned in the late 1800's, found their way into a benediction, which found their way into the heart of this priest, then living in Baltimore, MD, which found their way into the heart of a young musician from Chatham, New Jersey, now living in Los Angelus, CA, which found their way into the heart of a young seminarian in Charleston, West Virginia, which now will find their way into the ears (and hearts, please God) of many, many more.

If I've done nothing else in 24 years of ministry as a Sower of the Word, this blesses all the rest.

Oh, a final word about the Wild Larkspur. Oddly enough, a number of plants in this family are named for birds, such as crowfoot, yet the larkspur's Latin name, Delphinium, comes from the fact that the Greeks thought the nectar of the flowers resembled a dolphin, and because of a myth about a dolphin facing death in spite of its good deeds, was rescued by the gods by being turned into this plant.

Resurrection. Redemption. Salvation.

There are no coincidences. Or, as they say in 12 Step Programs, "Coincidence" is one of the names God uses when S/he wants to remain anonymous."

Jesus tells another parable about seeds - the Mustard Seed - just a few chapters before talking about the Parable of the Sower:
He set another parable before them, saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds. But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches." (Matthew 13:31-32)
Just a small seed. Just one. Scattered in faith.

You may not see it grow, much less taste of the fruit it might bear.

But, when you do, the blessings will abound. Full measure. Pressed down. And, overflowing.

And then, continue to scatter where it will grow, yielding thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.

And, I say to you, you will not see a more glorious moment.


whiteycat said...

Quite an awesome story! this is a real blessing for you. This is a message for all who preach and/or teach. You just never know where the seeds are falling.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You never know where the seeds are falling, where they will be scattered, and what fruit they will bear.

It's an awesome responsibility.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Wonderful story. Wonderful video! What a blessing to be remembered and honored in such a way!

Lisa Fox said...

I had not heard this benediction before, Elizabeth, but I love it. And I'm sending it on to some of my clergy friends. And so the sowing of seeds goes ever wider. What a marvelous story you told here. Deep thanks!

Anonymous said...

What a fabulous story and a lovely piece of music. How thrilling to have this come back to you.
Did you tell Jonathon the link with the parable? Because I love the way he bracketed the words with growing vines. It really makes the "seeds sprouting" such a part of the video!

Thanks also for crediting this wonderful blessing, which I've heard used before, but never knew the origin.

Peace, chrissie

Fr Craig said...

'planting seeds' is what I refer to as my ministry. But LORD I would love a sign that one of them had actually taken root...

Holly said...

Thanks be to God!

Hutch said...

And for more - I grew up in Charleston, WV and have many pictures of myself, my parents and my daughter on that rock - it was our favorite family gathering place for picnics. And the dolphin is my "spirit animal" - so I have a tattoo on my ankle. Life is so circular - like arms wrapped around us.

Lisa Fox said...

Fr. Craig, you might enjoy this essay, "Magical Mystery Tour," by Fr. David Fly. Here's a snippet from early in the piece:

Over forty years ago, on the eve of my graduation from seminary, I got the jitters. Was I doing something God wanted me to do? How would I know? When would I know? I took my questions to my liturgics professor, Tom Talley. “How often do you know that the Holy Spirit is working in your life?” I asked. Father Talley was quiet for a moment. Then he smiled and said, “Oh, I figure about every ten years.”
I was stunned. This wasn’t the answer I had been looking for.

I think you might appreciate where David goes from there in the essay.

Anonymous said...

I believe the church in your piece is St Joseph's Catholic Church in Meppen Il. I visited my great-great grandfather's homestead this past summer in Meppen. My vacation pictures of the church that my grandfather built matches your video. If you look it says St Joseph's Catholic Church on the front of the church. Just an FYI.