I gave blood the other day. As I was laying on the cot with a needle in my arm, I tried to get acquainted with the young woman who was tending me. First I asked how long she had been doing this. “Three years,” she replied. Then I asked where she had gone to school. And she said, “For phlebotomy?” It’s what I meant, of course, but Omauria had another story altogether. She said she had gone to Columbia School of Fine Arts in Chicago where she had studied film. Apparently, this job is just to make ends meet until she gets to do what she wants to do most of all. She went on to tell me about a screenplay she is working on. She’s calling it “The Heart of a Lion” and described it as being about a young man from the inner city who is going to college and trying to take care of two young siblings at the same time. When asked if it was a true story, she said “Yes and no. Its based on several people I know.” A few minutes later she went on to say, “Right now I’m saving lives. Later I’ll get to tell stories.” And I said, “Oh, I don’t know. I think that telling stories can also save lives.”
Actually, I’m not sure I knew I fully believed that until the words came out of my mouth. And yet, along with so many of you, I’ve given my life to this: to the telling of stories. That being said, it is also so that along with the Sower in today’s parable, I often can’t help but wonder what difference these stories make.
For it’s not like what young Omauria is doing to make money until she gets her big break. She reminded me that for every pint of blood that is drawn, potentially three lives are saved. It is concrete. It is measurable. It is easily proven. And it goes without saying, of course that this is not normally the case with the seeds that you and I are called to scatter. And yet we trust, we know, that these words save. That when they land on good soil, and take root, they can flourish and multiply and change lives, save lives even.
Indeed, I wonder if that’s not just what Jesus intended when he sat in the boat and spoke to the crowds on the beach so long ago. I wonder if his goal was to encourage his listeners to not only be receptive to what God would have for them, but also to not be discouraged should they — should we — seek to share it and the harvest is slow in coming. For the harvest, when it comes, is also made up of seeds. And seeds are meant to be planted all over again.
In the midst of the conversation I had with Omauria the other day I shared with her a story I’ve been pursuing of late. The seeds for this one were planted twenty years ago and more — the first time I drove down ‘Widows Road’ when I was serving as pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Wilmington, Illinois. Now perhaps she was just being kind to this stranger on her gurney, but she nodded and said she thought it sounded like a story worth pursuing.
Now I surely don’t know why my imagination wasn’t piqued by the name of that road the first time or the hundredth time I drove down it. It was only a shortcut to the highway for me — a help in getting me to my destination, but never a destination in and of itself. I never thought to ask about it, but still the ‘seed’ must somehow have been planted, for I also never forgot it.
Fast forward some sixteen years. Last month I took a trip to Springfield, Illinois. We had visited the Lincoln Museum, which is a must-see should you ever go that way. The skies were threatening to open up when we ducked into the Lincoln Library. It was almost an after thought, but I was curious. The man who welcomed us reminded us that this was not a normal library — but we were welcome to look around. I wandered into the reading room where there were all sorts of books on Illinois history. I pulled off the shelf a volume which had been published in 1900. On its pages you can find small descriptions of every town in Illinois. Now I’ve called a number of towns and cities home by now so it was fun to page through and see what was said about them more than a century ago. I turned to Wilmington and there I read that in 1895 there had opened there a Soldiers’ Widows Home for widows and daughters of Civil War veterans. At the time, it claimed to be the only one of its kind in the country.
I was transfixed. I had no idea. And yet, immediately I began to wonder about the stories of the women who lived there.
It turns out the home had existed until 1963 and that it stood empty at the time it burned to the ground in 1972. At one time it served as home to 112 women. Today in its place stands a water treatment plant. I understand the old laundry house still exists — although unfortunately, it has fallen into disrepair, and its future is in question.
After I got home, I sent an email to a local historian in that community. She sent me her notes and a few photographs and offered to give me more if I wanted to drive back to Wilmington. In one of our email exchanges she commented at how my curiosity made her smile. Apparently, she’s been scattering these ‘seeds’ for some time now, and apparently, no one had shown any interest before.
I understand the Illinois State Archives have admission records on all the women who lived there. As you can imagine, I’ll be making a trip to Springfield again soon as I try to unearth the stories of hundreds of women who lived out their lives at the Soldiers’ Widows Home in Wilmington.
I offer this example now even though it fleshes out a possibility which is not exactly reflected in the parable before us now. For nowhere does Jesus talk about seed which waits sixteen years to sprout and grow. But that is how it works sometimes. Some seeds are carried away by birds. Others find no depth of soil and look promising for a while and then fail. Still others get choked by thorns. Some find good soil and sprout and grow and yield. And for some, it just takes a long time.
It’s a wonderful parable Jesus offers now for it does, in fact, capture something important about our lives of faith. You and I, of course, are called to be ‘good soil.’ And you and I, all of us — whether we are pastors or not — we are also called to scatter ‘seeds.’ Sometimes they are ‘seeds’ of kindness and compassion and generosity. Other times they are ‘seeds’ shown in acts of courage. And yes, at other times, we scatter ‘seeds’ as we tell stories — especially this Story of how Jesus has changed and shaped our own life stories. And yes, I believe that all these ‘seeds’ save lives. It may take a long time. In fact, you and I may not be around to see the harvest. But the promise is that when we scatter seeds such as these, some will take root and yield as Jesus says, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty…”
I hope that Omauria, the fledgling screenwriter who took my blood the other day, will one day also know this to be so. For ‘stories do save lives.’ Indeed, even as she told me her own story she encouraged me in my own seeking out and telling stories. Or at least one in particular. And I expect she doesn’t even know it. In that way, she’s a part of making possible a harvest she probably won’t even know to anticipate.
And yes, this also is so with all of us. One of the ‘seeds’ we are called to sow is that of our encouragement of one another — all these other ‘sowers of seeds’ as we scatter those seeds in so many ways but perhaps most especially in and through in the telling of our stories — most especially as they point to the Story of Jesus. We may never know how much it matters. But it does. Part of the promise Jesus offers now is that it does matter. And from time to time, if we are so blessed, like a certain historian in Wilmington, we get to see the ‘seeds’ we have scattered begin to take root and grow.
- How do you hear the familiar parable Jesus offers now? Where have ‘seeds’ taken root and grown and flourished in you, in others, in your community?
- Like me, do you have an example of a ‘seed’ which took a long time to take root and grow in you? In your life of faith?
- Jesus offers a number of reasons why the seed might not take root and grow. Above I offered another way to think about it (that sometimes it just takes a long time.) Do you think that ‘works’ with this parable? Why or why not?
- Do you ever wonder at how the sower before us now kept at it — even knowing that many of the seeds he scattered didn’t actually take root and grow as he hoped they might? What, do you suppose, kept him going? What keeps you going in such times?