There is a wisdom story about a pilgrim who set out on a long journey in search of peace, joy and love. The pilgrim walked for many weary miles, and time passed.
Gradually, the young, lively steps became slower and more laboured. The pilgrim’s journey passed through landscapes that were not always happy ones. Through war. Through sickness. Through quarrels and rejections and separations. …
But one morning, the pilgrim came to a little cottage at the wayside. Something about this little cottage attracted the pilgrim. It was as if it were lit up from the inside. Full of curiosity, the pilgrim went inside. And inside the cottage was a little shop, and behind the counter stood a shopkeeper. It was hard to judge the age – hard to even say for sure whether it was a man or a woman. There was an air of timelessness about the place.
‘What would you like?’ asked the shopkeeper in a kindly voice.
‘What do you stock here?’ asked the pilgrim.
‘Oh, we have all the things here that you most long for,’ replied the shopkeeper. ‘Just tell me what you desire.’ The pilgrim hardly knew where to begin. So many desires came rushing to mind.
‘I want peace – in my own family, in my native land and in all the whole world.
I want to make something good of my life.
I want those who are sick to be well again and those who are lonely to have friends.
I want those who are hungry to have enough to eat.
I want every child born on this planet today to have a chance to be educated.
I want everyone on earth to live in freedom.
I want this world to be a commonwealth of love.’
There was a pause, while the pilgrim reviewed his shopping list. Gently, the shopkeeper broke in. ‘I’m sorry’, came the quiet reply. ‘I should have explained. We don’t supply the fruits here.
We only supply the seeds. The rest is up to you.’
(Wisdom Stories from Around the World, compiled by Margaret Silf, page 158)
Seeds of hope, peace, love, faith, justice – the potential for each person to be guided by God’s law of love and justice and make a difference in this world, that’s really what our scripture passages today are all about. At least that is what I’ve gleaned from the passages this week.
The passage from Jeremiah speaks of a new covenant with God and humanity. This covenant is different from the stories of ancestral covenants with Noah, Moses, and Abraham in which God’s people got a second chance to live up to their potential as followers of God’s way of love and justice. Here, the new covenant that Jeremiah describes, is a promise that God’s law of love and justice will be written on the heart of each individual human being. Each person will have the potential to know God personally and to respond to God’s call for faith-based love and justice. Each person will have the potential within them to internalize God’s way and to proclaim their knowledge of God through the faith-filled actions of their lives.
Similar to the wisdom story I just told, Jeremiah’s community had witnessed the most difficult experiences that life can offer: war, occupation, violence, grief, being dispossessed and sent to live in exile in a foreign land. The prophet, Jeremiah, is often associated with gloom and doom, being a prophet that warned the Hebrew people of impending destruction. Jeremiah’s worst fears were realized when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and the people of the Kingdom of Judah were exiled to Babylon. His warnings then turned to rebukes and condemnation for his people whom he believed had brought disaster upon themselves because they had turned away from God in their daily lives and practices. Jeremiah was not just a prophet that chastised the foolish and unfaithful people of Judah, he also proclaimed there was hope and new life if the people would return again to God. In the few lines before today’s reading, Jeremiah uses the metaphor of sowing seeds to declare that God will, “sow the house of… Judah with the seed of humans…[and] watch over them to build and to plant…” (Jeremiah 31:27-28) Jeremiah not only describes this renewal of the people of Judah in terms of a physical transplanting, from their existence in exile back to their homeland, but also that God will sow the seeds of potential into each person’s heart. Jeremiah refers to the covenants of old and describes a new covenant where each person will embody God’s ways of love and justice. Each person will not just know about God, each person will know God for themselves and be guided by the essence of God; the seed, if you will, that God planted within them.
Today’s scripture reading from John’s Gospel utilizes the metaphor of a grain of wheat that when planted has the potential to bear much fruit to explain something about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Following in Jesus’ footsteps in that time and place was risky. The political conditions were ripe for violence for anyone who was bothersome to the Roman Imperial rule. Thousands of people had gathered for the Passover celebrations. In the passage immediately before the scripture reading we heard today, is the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem that we’ll focus on next week. The crowds that gathered around Jesus as he entered Jerusalem had drawn the attention of the extra forces of Roman soldiers deployed to Jerusalem at that time of the year to keep the crowds contained. The metaphor of a grain of wheat dying and then rising to new life, in this particular place in John’s Gospel, is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is also a lesson for Jesus’ followers about the sacrifice of giving up one’s own individualistic needs for the greater good of the community. Being a follower of Jesus, at that moment in time, was fraught with personal risk but there was strength and unity in their communal sense of purpose and mission.
Jesus often used agricultural metaphors to teach about the Kingdom of God and to illuminate the special qualities of genuinely living with total commitment to a life devoted to community. Seeds and growth, mystery and surprise, hidden potential and reversal of the understanding of the natural order of things are the grist for the stories that Jesus told his followers in order to illustrate the presence of God in their midst.
A single seed lays dormant until the right conditions cause it to spring to life. Inside the seed is the gift of potential, the promise of abundant life. In order for this new life to come to fruition, the seed needs to change, in essence to die to an old way of being and be transformed to a new and different life. As Christians, we are people of potential, our faith and our commitment to live and work as a community provides fertile ground for growth. As the prophet Jeremiah suggests, God has planted within each one of us the gifts we need to know God not only with our minds but with our entire being. God has planted, has written on our hearts, the promise of God’s steadfast love and presence, and the expectation that we will listen deep within ourselves, and to each other, for God’s guidance and direction for us as a community of faith.
If we know God, in the way that Jeremiah suggests, and follow Jesus’ example of living creatively and with commitment in Christian community then I believe we, as a church, have much to offer. We have much to offer with our theology of hope in the face of adversity, persistent commitment to working for peace and justice, dedication to inclusivity and community, celebration of God’s presence in all of creation, and respect for the diversity of religious traditions and practices. In the fertile soil of our faith we can sow seeds of love, faith, hope, reconciliation, peace, and compassion in a world that desperately needs to experience God’s loving presence.
In all the challenges that we face as people of faith today, I am always encouraged by words of wisdom from the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, which I leave with you to ponder:
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view…
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete…No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water the seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise…
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for… [God’s] grace to enter and do the rest.