MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Good seed, the hard work of gardening

Lander Bethel
Special to the Herald Democrat
Lander Bethel

You’ve seen it before, good seed go to waste - thrown onto some dirt where it doesn’t have a chance. It’s too dry, the soil isn’t deep enough, it never takes root. The same seed is thrown in a little different direction and it lands just right. It takes hold. It starts growing roots that will hold it in place and nourish it. It’s just going to do well. Sometimes we forget what a privilege it can be to land in a good spot.

Other seed gets tossed in a direction where there are so many weeds that come up with it, it will never have a chance. The weeds will suck all the life out of it before it bears anything worthwhile.

If you’re talking about seeds or people, even if you haven’t done any gardening, you can relate to this story Jesus tells in the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.

I had an older friend, a retired schoolteacher and faithful member of the church who would listen intently to stories told by new parents about the amazing progress their children were making. And occasionally, with a playful smile, and wisened by years in the classroom, she would say, “Oh yes, every child is a genius.., until they start to school.”

It wasn’t intended as a put down. Just a little reality check on the enthusiasm and pride of parents that were easily impressed by the achievements of their offspring. “Every child is a genius..., until they start to school.”

We hear it in different ways still. You can do anything you want to do if you just put your mind to it. Work hard enough and you’ll be able accomplish anything, fulfill all your dreams, make the world a better place. It’s an American ideal, like, “Anyone can be the President if the United States.”

It’s all a way of saying every child is good seed. Every kid is a genius. You can be anything you want to be. Aim high. There’s some truth to that. I know people who have done it. I’ve seen and known some incredibly accomplished people. Had they not had high ambitions, a good work ethic, and strong determination, they would never have succeeded.

Good soil can make a big difference.

Jesus likes telling parables. Some think of parables as extended metaphors. Want to know about the Kingdom of Heaven? There once was a sower who sowed seeds. Want to know about how people respond to being called as disciples? Seeds may be scattered on good soil or bad soil. Jesus uses lots of examples like this. Sometimes he offers an explanation about their meaning. Most times he doesn’t. He leaves it to us to figure out, like many good teachers.

When we think about our current situation and possible parallels, these extended metaphors may point toward other things, too.

In Jesus’ story about someone sowing seeds, the presumption is that all the seeds are good. They all have the same potential. But what happens when some of those seeds land in rough and rocky places, or end up among the weeds? Even if all seeds are good, if they’re sown in places where there isn’t much nourishment they don’t do as well. They may not even survive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds getting planted or sown, what gives them the best chances of growing, and what happens to the seeds that land in the weeds. Some don’t have much of a chance.

Since the death of George Floyd and several other African Americans relationships across dividing lines of race and ethnicity have caught our attention in ways that they perhaps have not since the 1960s. What is it like to hope that you have the same potential as everyone else, only to figure out that you were cast as seed into an economic and educational thicket of weeds because of the color of your skin? There are some who will succeed, but many will see their chances choked out for lack of financial sunlight or the nourishment of educational opportunities. Some may show great potential and begin with some flare, but then fade without the rootedness and guidance of a mentor who can help someone become established.

Maybe this is a point in time that calls us to evaluate how the seeds have been distributed on good and not so good soil. That’s not to take away good soil from anyone, but to honestly search for how we can more evenly distribute all of the seeds on good soil . Maybe it will mean we’ll have to do some weeding to get rid of as many of the things that choke the growth out good seeds. Bringing in some topsoil to cover the rocky places would help.

Gardening can be hard work. Weeding is no fun. The results don’t come right away. But if we’re willing to make the effort, the whole garden can flourish. We may all have a more fruitful future when we’re willing to see that more and more of the seeds are sown on good soil and the promise of God’s new heaven and new earth comes closer to us.

Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.