Below is my sermon from Sunday, July 16. It is mostly focused on the Jesus’ parable of the sower in Matthew. This past week, I had the great joy of being with some of St. Paul’s youth on a service trip entirely focused on food justice and urban gardens, so this text was perfect! I hope you enjoy reading some of the highlights from our trip, and look for more in the future as the youth will share their own stories.
A sower went out to sow. On Thursday, after having spent the past four days working at our service projects, one of our youth said to me: I hope I never have to see another garden again. I definitely agreed with her. And then on Friday, after we came home, I looked to see what the readings were for this Sunday. And I could only shake my head. A sower went out to sow.
This week, ten of our youth, Stu Krissinger, and myself were working with fifty other youth and adults from the synod at a service project site in Philadelphia. All of the kids are going to be in high school this year and our group was made up of mostly ninth and tenth graders.
Our week of service was focused entirely on food—food availability, food justice, food sustainability. Through talking with urban farmers, food bank managers, and our nearby neighbors, we learned about how access to nutritious, affordable food is limited in Philadelphia, large parts of which qualify as a food desert.
And we worked every day with those who are actively seeking to change this. We spent one whole day with East Park Revitalization Alliance at their three-hundred bed garden in Gray’s Ferry. Thanks to our kids, work that would have taken the staff a week was accomplished in about five hours.
Stu’s group of kids then spent most of their week at the Eliza Shirley house, a Salvation Army project that provides food and shelter to mothers and children in need. My group went to two more community gardens, both in the Mount Airy section of the city. One helped residents learn about growing their own healthy food and supported the local food bank. The other was attached to a women and children’s shelter, providing that place with fresh produce.
And, as a lot of you already know, gardening is hard work. We spent our time weeding, watering, and pruning. Cutting back trees and pulling vines, spreading mulch and ripping up roots. And were we ever tired by the end of it. (Not that that helped us fall asleep at a reasonable hour.)
And so, when I came home, and I read the familiar parable of the sower again, after rolling my eyes at a garden story, my first thought this week was—this sower is really crazy. Gardening, farming, growing things out of seeds is hard enough work without this kind of reckless behavior. Sowing seed on the path? In the thorns? In rocks? Who does that? He was being wasteful and extravagant—and only making more work for himself later. I know—we spent a lot of time pulling plants up from where they didn’t belong.
Except, as we learned firsthand this week, unlikely places, and unlikely people, can be surprising places of grace and beauty. In Grays Ferry, a rough neighborhood many of us hadn’t been to before, we saw an abundant harvest, of vegetables and fruits and flowers, all lovingly cared for by a recovering drug addict. We saw a community that had come together to make a change for the better. We saw hope and redemption at a homeless shelter. We stayed at a church run school on North Broad street, doing everything it could to be a positive influence in the community.
A sower went out to sow, and scattered seed everywhere. Even in the places that didn’t seem like a good investment. Even in the places that common sense would have told you to avoid. Did it all take root? No. Will our seeds of love and service always take root? No, they won’t, not always. Will the seed of God’s love always land in receptive places in our own lives? Probably not.
If you want to look at it from a simple cost-benefit angle, it is wasteful to do what God does. To simply throw seed everywhere. But God doesn’t look at things from that angle. The seed itself is good, and God never tires of scattering it abundantly, extravagantly, and yes, even wastefully.
It might not all take root, but some of it will. And sometimes, it will take root in the places that didn’t seem like a good bet, in the places where it seemed wasteful to give it a chance to grow. And beauty will bloom out of the broken cracks that were there before.
Because when that seed takes hold, and grows roots, in my life, or your life, in the community—when it hits the right soil at the right time, we will be amazed by the results. I know that I was amazed this week—amazed at the beauty and growth and potential in the communities we were working with, but also amazed at the ways our group, our youth, was stretched and challenged and grew right before my eyes by the experiences God had placed in our path.
A sower went out to sow—and that sower sowed abundantly, extravagantly, even recklessly. The sower sowed in unlikely places, and in unlikely people. And thank God for that. Amen.