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Seeds of Lent

We are nearing the end of Lent, and it is usually a time when I reflect on the journey so far and the meaning of Holy Week in my life and in the life of the congregation in which I serve.  In New England, I might be talking about the sugaring season (that’s what the time of boiling down maple syrup is called), mud season, and the anticipation of spring peepers (yes, that is what those little frogs are actually called!) as we wait for the snow to melt and the ground to warm so we can plant our peas and delight in the crocus coming up.  

Here in the Willamette Valley, I am still adjusting to the arrival of what I know as spring in February!  Today, the crocus are on the wane, daffodils are in full bloom, the cherry blossoms are coming on, and the peepers have been peeping for weeks.  And it’s only March!

In my neighborhood, there is much work happening to prepare for the spring planting season.  Soil has been delivered.  Beds are being renovated. Gardens and yards are being cleaned.  The orchard has been pruned.  And the seed starts are waiting for the weather to turn so they can be planted in their permanent homes in anticipation of the harvest that will come this summer and fall.  

As a kid, my sisters and I took part in the young gardener's program at the local garden center.  In March we would go to the greenhouse, listen as the ladies shared their wisdom about starting seeds, designing a garden layout, and preparing the soil.  It was this last piece that I have retained more than any other over the years.  Ph, temperature, manure, and drainage - the un-sexy work of getting the right conditions for the plants so that the buds of June and blossoms of July can produce beans and tomatoes, zucchini and corn, marigolds and nasturtiums, well into September if the frost doesn’t come early.

My older sister, a professional gardener, has a mantra for this season - prepare, prepare, prepare. This is my mantra as well when I join a congregation as their Intentional Interim minister. And it is also the mantra of the Gospel’s, particularly in Advent and Lent.  

Jesus, in his great parable of the “Seeds and the Soil” (the Sower) in Matthew 13, tells us why this mantra matters.  It is a story about death and life, a story about what is necessary for the seeds to produce new life, healthy life, sustainable life.  There are many points of agency in this story.  Places that can help us see what needs to be prepared for a new settled pastor who has the right stuff to share ministry in the garden that you are creating now.

And yes, I know there are many who are tired of this “prepare, prepare, prepare” mantra.  But the journey through Lent, and events of Holy Week, invite us to take stock of the soil conditions, the planning and design of the beds, as well as the seeds we have so we can prepare for the harvest that requires all three to be just right.  

And there is another element this palpable invites us to ponder.  It is the truth that nothing is ever wasted in God’s economy, or I might say garden.

We know about the seeds that fell on the path and the birds ate them.  These are the long-trodden trails that no longer support life but that allow these seeds to become food for the birds who are also in need of food!  

We know about the seeds that fell on rocky soil and died.  While they didn’t have the conditions to sustain a harvest, I bet they gave the rabbits and mice some nourishment and fed the soil as compost toward a future where a seed could grow!

We know about the seeds that fell in the thorns and were choked.  But I wonder if it is an unrealistic expectation of the seeds to flourish in a place where blackberries grow.  Maybe we need to enjoy the berries instead?

And we know about the good soil, and the seeds that “produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  The soil had been prepared.  The seeds were able to germinate, not only because of the soil, but because they were the right kinds of seeds for that soil.  These seeds were fresh enough to die and be reborn because the conditions were right.  AND the Sower had to wait for them to germinate, grow, bloom and create the fruit that would sustain life and bear the seeds for the next season.  And the next season would require the process to start all over.  Prepare the soil, plant the seeds, wait, and wait some more.  Celebrate the harvest.  

Eric Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute calls this the Cycle of Gospel Living.  It is a model that helps us remember that we, as people and as communities who follow Jesus, live in the cycle of birth, life, death, and resurrection.  And living in this cycle requires us to pay attention to where we are in the cycle.  To get to the resurrection we must be willing to die.  And in our death, we must live in hope that the resurrection will come!  

Can you imagine facing Holy Week with no hope in the resurrection?  That would simply be a cruel and sadistic ritual creating untold trauma for generations!  The hope in the resurrection is only possible when we understand, practice, and believe in the cyclical nature of things.  Embracing the Cycle of Gospel Living helps us to not get stuck in any one season where the only outcomes are birds eating the seeds, the sun killing the sprouts, or the thorns choking the plants.  

We “prepare, prepare, prepare” so that on Easter Sunday we are ready to receive that resurrection hope and trust that, with water, sun, and some TLC, the harvest will be filled with life, and life in abundance.  And come the harvest, we will be asked to save the seeds for the next season, knowing we may not be the ones to prepare, plant, wait, and harvest.  

I pray that the Seeds of Lent might be germinating in you.  And may they be the seeds that sprout in the good, rich, soil we are creating together during this interim season.  

Happy Gardening!

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