Midweek Message

LABC Update – Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Jim Hopkins

June 4, 2024

Seed – From The Reverend Greg Ledbetter


It was an epic journey of three generations of my family traveling from our homes in the West to my father’s birthplace in Tennessee. Somewhere along the way, I plucked from the red earth a dirty boll of cotton that contained the promise of future generations. I carried the seed and its protective shroud back to our home in the Pacific Northwest and carefully planted it in soil I’d scooped from the backyard. Sitting on the sill above the kitchen sink in the morning sun, a week passed before a fragment of bright green began to push its way through the dark soil, thrilling the heart of this fledgling gardener. Day by day, the bit of green evolved, put out leaves and began to reach for the sky. I had never seen a cotton plant grow and was fascinated by the tall, slender stalk that crept slowly upward—so much so that a stake was added to keep the young plant from toppling over. At last a bud appeared, bloomed and a single fruit was set. With fascination, I watched a tiny green object appear that grew larger each day. It grew to about the size of a marble and then … stopped. Puzzled, I continued to watch as the green object slowly turned orange and then a deep red. There is a faded family photo of me posing with my spindly “cotton” plant and its solitary offspring that turned out to be a delicious cherry tomato. Where the cotton seed had failed to sprout and grow, an errant tomato seed had taken advantage of the conditions and the opportunity and done what we’d otherwise wish for a tomato seed to do.

Over several decades of pastoral ministry, I can remember with a wry smile a number of times that a planted seed of good intent yielded something other than the carefully plotted out plan for that seed’s growth, maturation and fruition. The church building expansion program that sprouted and grew, but sadly never bloomed or set fruit. But out of that “failure” came financial resources that allowed us to bolster ongoing ministries and make long needed improvements to existing structures. Or my own long and reasonably successful pastoral vocation that simply ceased, suddenly dead on the vine, well short of the “harvest of abundance” that I’d anticipated for the autumn of my career. And yet a new, tender shoot, growing oh so slowly, continues to flirt with fruition, something new and meaningful rising out of the “compost” of an earlier time.

Early last summer we upcycled the front lawn where we were living into a vegetable and flower garden. Soon after our tractor shattered the lush calm of a New England morning, we pounced upon the newly tilled earth plugging in seedlings we had nourished in trays since winter while adding seeds of vegetables, flowers and herbs. A pop-up garden. So promising and lovely to behold. Until. Until a week later a flash flood raged across the property leveling nearly everything in its path. Our lovely little garden scoured away leaving gravel and stones and a few bedraggled plants. It was heartrending. Once the floodwaters had receded and our gardening despair lightened, we returned to the beds, took stock and set to work uncovering the remaining plants and adding new seeds to replace the ones now sprouting a half mile downstream. The new growing conditions were not great. Shades of the parable of the sower and some of the unpromising strata on which his seeds were cast. But life is an earnest thing and pretty single-minded in its determination to fulfill its latency, its potential and promise. It was an odd little garden that took the place of the lovely one, but it thrived in its own way. The sudden abundance of small stones helped define paths, rows and growing circles. And in due time tomatoes set and ripened, the kale, cabbage and bok choi grew and matured and found their way into salads and soups, the thyme was a delight to crush and smell, zinnias and dahlias graced our table, and sugar peas and bush beans, just plucked from the plants, received just right amount of steaming before being buttered, salted and devoured. Even when it appears that all is lost, all may not be lost. Life is an earnest thing.

“Whither now?” was Frodo’s existential question in The Hobbit and a fair question for weary gardeners. Whither now for our own seeds that have failed to thrive or simply washed into another dimension. Whither now when the rotted planting medium is too deep or strong for anything to remain and survive? Whither now when even the best of plans and dreams fade to dust? Perhaps the best we can do is break out some poetry for a shot of inspiration. And who better than Mary Oliver, whose gentle words and poetic artistry inspired and graced a dozen or more of my final sermons? Poems as seed and substance. And honestly, who among us hasn’t planted this amazing snippet into a sermon or three?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
In each seed is bound up life that is wild and precious: the seeds of plants that we thrust into the ground and the seeds of being that have been thrust into our hearts. The life bound up in these seeds will not, while this good earth survives and while we have breath, be denied.

I write these words in a foreign country, watching the morning light dance on the canal outside my window and marvel at how even this simple act of reflecting on both the mundane flops and acute failings of my life and calling is itself a new seed of a fashion, a promise of future growth and fruition. Even when it appears that all is lost, all may not be lost. Life is an earnest thing.



Today on LABC Zoom –  Bible Study with Pastor Jim 10:30. We will be reading the Revised Common Lectionary texts for the coming Sunday.

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