Some gardeners carefully space seeds out in straight rows in their vegetable gardens. That had long been my method, but this year I got interested in the idea of polyculture (see Hope: Planting and Prayer 4/11/11) which involves a method of sowing that is closer to that described in the Gospel lesson for this Sunday (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). While scattering seeds instead of placing them took some adjustment on my part, it was worth it; the garden has done well so far this summer. I have lost fewer plants than usual to bunnies, there are fewer weeds to pull, and there’s an abundance of produce in my small garden space.
This Sunday’s Gospel lesson touches on the work of environmental stewardship in a couple of ways. The passage begins with Jesus leaving the house where he had been and sitting beside the sea; when he speaks, he tells a story about seeds and thorns and different types of soil. In our theological wanderings, we may sometimes drift into the sort of dualistic thinking that divides spiritual things from physical things (and then almost always goes on to state that the spiritual things are superior to the physical things). Jesus comes along, though, goes outside and walks down to the sea, and speaks about seeds and soil, or fig trees, or birds and lilies. It’s hard to be convinced of this sort of dualism when Jesus goes down to the sea or up a mountain or into a garden, and when Jesus speaks so frequently about the created physical world, the world that God so loves.
Then we have the example of the sower. The sower sows generously, flinging seed around so profligately that some of it lands in places where it can’t grow. This method assures, however, that any place where there is deep, fertile soil will have a seed planted. The sower in the parable isn’t concerned with holding onto the seed (which will have a lower germination rate anyway if it’s saved for another growing season) but with growing as much as possible. If the sower focused on the seed that doesn’t grow, discouragement might set in; there would be a temptation to quit sowing so much seed, maybe to give up the whole task.
Our efforts as individuals and parishes to conserve energy and water, to reduce waste and recycle the waste we do produce, to advocate for the environment can begin to seem insignificant and futile when we look at the enormity of the task of restoring a healthy, sustainable environment and at the weak response from most governments. In a week in which oil spilled into the Yellowstone River, an unusually big dust storm swallowed up Phoenix, a report came out about the amount of plastic debris found in fish in the North Pacific, and the implications of the State of the Climate report continued to be realized (e.g. every month since 1985 has been warmer than the twentieth century average for that month), it’s difficult to see how or whether our efforts will make any difference.
But each effort we make is like planting a seed. Some efforts may not make a difference and some may. We usually won’t know one from the other. That doesn’t mean that our efforts are futile, though; it simply means that our job is similar to the sower’s job. God calls us to be faithful, to keep making the effort, as generous and extravagant an effort as we possibly can. Not every effort will take root and make a huge difference, but this method does ensure that a variety of efforts will be made in a variety of ways. If anything is going to take root and give results in the long run, the faithful efforts of God’s people to care for creation can plant the seeds, make the initial efforts, for the sorts of initiatives that take hold and help heal and sustain our environment.