Well, I think that most of you know that before I was a pastor, I was a high school English teacher. And I loved teaching high school English. And one of the things I loved the most about teaching English was reading poems aloud to the class. I loved reading a poem and then asking the students how they made meaning of it.
It was always so fascinating to me to hear all the many different interpretations and perspectives of the same poem. But after our time of sharing, there was always that one student who would raise his hand and say, “But, but, but Mr. Sapienza! What is the real meaning of the poem?”
He wanted an answer. He wanted THE answer, the definitive answer. But that's not how it works, is it? You know, I've shared with you before, that the Latin word for education educare, means to bring forth that which is within you. That's what education is – to bring forth that which is within you. And that should be true, my friends of our spiritual education as well.
When I first came to this church, I loved that the church's mission statement, printed in our bulletin every Sunday, is “We the People of Douglas UCC, are a church that's more about the questions than the answers.”
I love that. And I love that our United Church of Christ symbol is the comma, not the period. But you know, a lot of people coming to a church are looking for the period, for the definitive answer. They come to church hoping the pastor will give it to them.
Now, there are a lot of churches in West Michigan where you can go and get definitive answers. But I told you many times before, I don't have your answers.
I don't, because your answers are within you. That's why I am always stressing the importance of contemplation, of meditation, of prayer, of going within.
Now, some of you came with me a few years ago, when we went just down the road to Fennville to an ashram that's there, called Mother's Trust. It's an interfaith Ashram. And if you go inside, you'll see up on the ceiling, the symbols of all of the world's major faith traditions. And as our group was learning about all the different faiths, one thing became clear, that all of the teachers of the world's major faith traditions, including Jesus, often answered their students' questions with questions.
They didn't give them the answers.
We learned that Buddhist teachers for example, taught in koans, which are like riddles. So they would say things to their students like, What is the color of the wind? Or, What is the sound of one hand clapping? There are no definitive answers to this. But that's the point.
Now Jesus, of course, was a great spiritual teacher. His students called him Rabbi, which means teacher. Jesus didn't teach in koans, but in parables. That was his teaching method. Parables ae made-up stories. They aren’t real. So there really wasn't a good Samaritan or a prodigal son. These aren't literal stories. They're invented by Jesus to illustrate a point to his students.
One of the leading progressive Christian theologians today, his name is John Dominic Crossan, has written a really wonderful book called The Power of the Parable. If you want to know more about Jesus's parables, how he came up with them and why he gave them, I really recommend this book. In it, John Dominic Crossan says the purpose of the parable is to discuss and debate, to ponder and to question, and to above all, he said, to practice the gift of the human spirit, known as thinking.
What a concept!
Jesus wanted his students – wanted us – to think for ourselves, not to give us the answers, but so we could think – go to a place of higher consciousness, a higher perspective. When we read scripture from a literal, surface level, we don't really get a depth of spiritual understanding. And so Jesus used parables.
Now today, we hear one of those parables, the parable of the sower. It appears in three of the four gospels in the Bible, and it also appears in the Gospel of Thomas, which I've told you about before – one of the gospels that wasn't included in the Bible.
I think the reason we hear the parable of the sower so much from the gospel writers, is because it points to a very important spiritual principle of sowing and reaping. Very, very important principle.
So again, in this story, which we just heard, a sower is out sowing seeds. Some fall on rocky ground, so they don't grow. Others get withered with weeds and thorns. But the seed that's planted in good soil, of course, grows and produces. So how can we make meaning of this? How can we understand this?
Jesus spoke often of seeds. If you were with us a few months ago, we were hearing about the mustard seed. Remember, how Jesus said it's the smallest of the seeds, but it grows into the greatest of bushes? He was trying to get across that there's so much potential inside that little seed.
Small seeds demonstrate potential.
The seed of God is within each and every one of you. You didn't have to do anything to earn it. You already have God's DNA within you. So why are some people able to manifest that seed? How come they live such abundant lives where others don't?
Well, in this parable of the sower, it isn't really so much about the seed. It's more about the ground, the soil. So, think about it for yourself – that seed of God, that potential that is within you…
Is it being choked in your garden by weeds and rocks?
Within you, Jesus said, is God's dwelling place, I often say the Garden of Eden, the entrance to the garden is within you. But you see, you have to be a gardener. You have to till the soil of your inner garden. If your mind is filled with rocks – rocks of negative thinking – how is the seed going to grow? If your heart is filled with weeds – weeds of worry and fear and resentment, thoughts of lack and limitation – how's the seed going to grow?
The purpose of our spiritual practice my friends, the reason why almost every Sunday, I'm talking to you about the importance of prayer and contemplation and going within is because that's what we're doing in prayer and meditation, we’re tilling the soil. We’re pulling out those weeds, we're removing those rocks. We're watering our soil in prayer and meditation with positive thoughts, with affirmations of truth so that that seed, that God potential within us can grow. You may have heard this saying which I love: “Your mind is a garden. Your thoughts are seeds. You can grow flowers, or you can grow weeds.”
It's up to you.
You reap what you sow. If you're sowing thoughts of worry, fear, lack and limitation, then that's what you're gonna get. You reap what you sow. If you want to start experiencing life to the full, the life that God has planned for you, start planting different seeds, remove those rocks and weeds.
I love to study Meister Eckhart, who was a medieval Christian mystic, one of my favorite spiritual writers. And I shared one of his quotes with you this week in our churche’s E-Pistle newsletter. He said – in the 13th century, “Just as pear seeds become pear trees, and apple seeds become apple trees, God seeds become God.”
Do you understand? The seed of God, the divine potential is within you. Your purpose for being is to grow that seed, to live that life that God has intended for you. But you have to do the work. You've got to be that gardener, you've got to get your hands dirty. You've got to do the work.
And so that's what I'm inviting you to do this week. I'm inviting you to find time, each and every day, to till that inner garden in prayer and meditation. Get rid of those negative rocks and weeds. Water that soil with positive thoughts and affirmations. And as we heard from Reverend Bessey, in our words of integration and guidance this morning, let us look to the soil. Let us develop the soil. So, when the seed of God is sown there, it can take root and spring forth and bear much fruit. Even a hundredfold.
May it be so. Namaste.
Words of Integration and Guidance
Rev. Pat Bessey
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus teaches the parable of the sower. “A sower went out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil. When the sun rose, they were scorched and withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns and were choked. Other seeds, however, fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold.” If we look at this metaphysically, we can see that the “seeds” are Divine ideas. The “sower” is God. Seeds are always being sown as divine ideas or potential, however, if they do not land in fertile soil they will die. The seed is always the same; however, the soil of our mind can be very different. Jesus is telling us there are four kinds of minds, illustrated by the four different types of soil. 1) The seed that fell by the path represents the negative mind. This seed had no chance to take root. 2) The seed that fell on rocky soil represents the mind that responds favorably at first but can’t follow through. 3) The seed that fell among thorns represents the undisciplined mind. Divine ideas get choked out by negative thoughts. 4) The seed that fell on good soil represents the open and responsive mind. What does that mind look like? It must be loose and pliable. We must be willing to be broken up, let go of old thoughts and beliefs. We must be willing to change, to do some work, to get our hands dirty in order to have an abundant harvest. Jesus calls us in this parable to a new level of living where our mind is no longer responsive to the negative things of life but is open and receptive to the higher truths. Irvin Seale, author of Learn to Live: The Meaning of the Parables, writes, “Let us develop the soil, and the seeds which are in it will sprout and grow. Cultivate a healthy and vibrant expectancy. Condition your mind with the thought of the highest truths. Then, having made your soil ready, when the word of God falls upon your soil, it will spring up and bear fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundredfold.”
What did you think?