Sowing Seeds

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 13:2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 13:3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. 13:4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 13:5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 13:6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 13:7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 13:8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 13:9 Let anyone with ears listen!" 13:18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 13:19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 13:21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 13:22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 13:23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

https://charterforcompassion.org/images/SocialJustice/birmingham.pdf …”I am cognizant of the interconnectedness of all communities and states. … Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with that narrow “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can ever be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

… my friends I say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentedly, it is a historic fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. … We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

… I must make two confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess, over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the inevitable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than justice; who constantly says: I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

…We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitablility; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God …”

Community United Church of Christ stands with Pride

Community United Church of Christ is a progressive, Christian fellowship of spiritual seekers who believe there are many paths to God. We are an Open and Affirming, Peace with Justice, accessible church. We have worked together to open our worship services and workshops to all through our on-line offerings through the pandemic.

This past Sunday, June 28, 2020, we celebrated and affirmed our commitment to our beloved LGBTQ+ community. Pastor Nicole’s insightful sermon, “Loving One Another,” focused on how all of our varied groups of “us” are tied together and how we miss being together in this “time in between.” We then shared deeply in our community offering prayers. Following this inclusive and meaningful worship, and our Story for All Ages which featured Harvey Milk and the origins of the rainbow flag, we were Zoom Bombed. This included sinister name calling speech, threats of killing, and intimidation of LGBTQ+ people and our leaders and members.

We consider this to be a hate crime and have forwarded the transcripts, recordings, links and other material to the Boulder Police Department and the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. We will not be silenced or intimidated. In fact, this incident has united us in condemnation of acts of intolerance.

CUCC leaders are meeting with security experts and reviewing emergency protocols to work to keep our community safe.

For some this may have been the first time to experience such an attack, for others the hate was familiar and reminiscent of similar occurrences. Our Caring Ministry Team is reaching out, the Tech Team is reviewing protocols and our CUCC Council will meet to review options and resources to support our community. We will continue to hold in the forefront, our mission as a loving, Open and Affirming, Peace with Justice, accessible church.

Janet Hoaglund Moderator, Community United Church of Christ

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I have been reflecting a lot this week about sowing seeds and various types of soil. The lectionary never ceases to amaze me in its timely messages and relevance to what is happening in the moment, and the story speaks as well today as it did to first century listeners. Today’s reading from Matthew, the Parable of the Sower is well known to some of you and possibly new to others.

My father was a farmer and I watched him sow many seeds. Some directly into the ground, some started in little jiffy pots in a homemade greenhouse. He made it look so easy and his acres of fields produced tons of vegetables each year. I’ve sowed seeds in my own gardens as well. This spring some friends and I decided to plant our own community garden. We planted seeds in early spring time – spinach, lettuce, peas and carrots. I’m not sure why, but none of those seeds sprouted. We tried again – maybe 40% of what we planted came up. Is that because of the sower (me), the weather, the soil, the seeds, did birds eat them? We will never know. Rather than dwelling on the 60% that didn’t produce anything, we have enjoyed the bounty of peas and chard that did produce.

When I moved to Colorado and still today, I marvel at trees and flowers I see growing and thriving in unlikely places. In cracks of rocks – how does that happen? In sandy and rocky soil. In wet areas along creeks and river beds. Above treeline. It’s all amazing to me.

And what are we to make of this parable Jesus told those gathered? I suppose as most things, what we make of it changes over time and the circumstances of our lives and the happenings of the day. Barbara Brown Taylor, a renowned writer, theologian, priest and tender of gardens and farm animals, offers a thought that really resonates with me in her book The Seeds of Heaven. She asks, what if the parable is "not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon…confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes in at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?"

I mean, what if that were true? What seeds would we throw so extravagantly and trust that something will happen so amazing, so beautiful, so abundant? What if there was enough to go around and no one was left behind or left out and everyone received what they need to thrive and be fully human?

And then I wonder, what kind of seeds are we sowing? Are they seeds that hurt or seeds that help others flourish?

This week I read the entire Letter from Birmingham Jail for the first time since seminary. It was required reading in one of my classes. I was struck by the letter in a new way given the events of the last few weeks. His calling out of “good” and “moderate” white people then is reminiscent of what continues by well meaning, well-intentioned white people today. His words are so powerful and prophetic: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

…We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitablility; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God …” Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr https://charterforcompassion.org/images/SocialJustice/birmingham.pdf

Today Dr King likely would say the tireless efforts of people willing to be co-workers. Judy, Sarah Dawn & Robb shared personal stories last week of “waking up to racism.” In all their stories, seeds were sown by parents, neighbors, ministers and others. Some were plentiful and abundant. Some took hold on fertile ground. Some came up and they weeded the plant out. Some were healthy. Some were not. Isn’t that how sowing and caring for seeds goes?

I learned a new term this week: Oppression Olympics. I was so struck by it I started going down the rabbit hole to research it and gain some clarity around its history and implications. According to Mary Pender Greene, “Oppression Olympics is a term used when two or more groups compete to prove themselves more oppressed than each other. Contestants may include: Women. People of color. People with disabilities. LGBTQIAP+ people.

… We … must recognize that using the Oppression Olympics to determine who is truly oppressed contributes towards the maintenance of structures that prevent us from collectively working together to create a world where we can all flourish, it only serves to build walls between us when we should be tearing them down.” https://marypendergreene.com/bookshelf/oppression-olympics/

And now that I know about Oppression Olympics, I want to be very clear that I am not trying to compete with the oppression that people of color have experienced for hundreds of years to my own experience of oppression as a Lesbian. I acknowledge that both are horrific and serve to dehumanize.

I do want to address what happened in our zoom worship service a couple of weeks ago when we were interrupted by racist, homophobic invaders. If you were there, you remember that hateful words and threats were directed at LGBTQ+ folks, people of color, and to Nicole, Erika and Penny. This week I participated in a gathering, a trauma debriefing, for those of us directly impacted by the threats and hate crime. Many were invited and a handful of us were able to gather on zoom to talk and process. I will not divulge anything confidential, but I do want to say that for each of us on that call, this experience was not the first time we experienced a hate crime. Some shared personal stories of previous traumas re-triggered because of this event. The truth is living as a LGBTQ+ person makes us targets of hate speech and violence.

I’m sure this isn’t surprising to you. What might be surprising to you is this. For many, as bad as it was to hear those words and read them on the screen after a beautiful, inclusive service, what was harder to experience was the sharing after the service by our own people. I know we see ourselves as evolved, progressive, welcoming, affirming people of faith. And sometimes we make mistakes and make hurtful comments, likely without intending to. It brings to mind Dr King’s words in his letter, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

These words might sting or shock you and I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad or guilty about the responses that day. I also don’t want anyone to start being defensive or justify what was said and not said. That won’t help. I do want you to hear that some of the words were hurtful. Jumping to fixing or problem solving without listening to those targeted first who were hurting, not helpful. Words matter, actions matter. These are examples of microaggressions and they do need to be explored. They are seeds sown in the hearts and souls of everyone around.

Microaggression is a term defined by Derald Wing Sue Ph.D. in an article in Psychology Today as: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. He goes on to say: The most detrimental forms of microaggressions are usually delivered by well-intentioned individuals unaware that they have engaged in harmful conduct toward a socially devalued group. These everyday occurrences may on the surface appear quite harmless or trivial, or be described as "small slights," but research indicates they have a powerful impact upon the psychological well-being of marginalized groups … Microaggressions reflect the active manifestation of oppressive worldviews that create, foster, and enforce marginalization.

Because most of us consciously experience ourselves as good, moral, and decent human beings, the realization that we hold a biased worldview is very disturbing; thus we prefer to deny, diminish, or avoid looking at ourselves honestly. Yet, research suggests that none of us are immune from inheriting the racial, gender, and sexual orientation biases of our society. We have been socialized into racist, sexist and heterosexist attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Much of this is outside the level of conscious awareness, thus we engage in actions that unintentionally oppress and discriminate against others.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race)

Here is another example, a personal one. and perhaps it is more than a microaggression but you’ll hear the microaggressions in the story. 24 years ago. I was a seminary student and about to graduate. At the time I was United Methodist and had recently “come out” as a lesbian. I grew up in the church and had been affirmed for my gifts for listening, offering pastoral care, teaching, leading and yes, even preaching. The denomination paid for most of my seminary education. I received awards for my service and leadership. I was in the ordination track. And then, because I came out as a lesbian, well meaning church leaders who proclaimed to me privately that they supported me and saw my gifts for ministry advised me to either be closeted or choose another career path because my conference would not ordain me. Seeds were sown in my heart and soul. Seeds that said, “you aren’t welcome” “you don’t fit in” “you have to hide” “you aren’t good enough.”

I felt bewildered, hurt, anger, grief. I could not believe that the God who I knew, loved and served would allow this to happen. I couldn’t believe that these leaders who I trusted were saying the words they said. I left the United Methodist Church and church in general.

A friend, who I trusted, suggested ever so gently that I try attending his UCC congregation. It will be different he promised. It took every bit of courage I had to go the first time. It was different, I felt welcomed. I visited again. And then again and eventually joined and changed denominations. I felt safe again. And then something happened in that church that drove most of the Lesbians out and I was once again disenfranchised and felt betrayed. This time I left the church for good feeling like God and the Church did not have a place for me. Seeds of resentment were sown that time. How could I be so foolish?

And then an invitation to speak about the non profit organization I worked for at the time by a friend who attended a different UCC Church in Denver. I went because it was my job. I didn’t go looking for a new church. I had my guard up. I knew the minister so figured at least he was a good guy and I trusted my friend. What I wasn’t expecting was the extravagant welcome I received when I walked in the door. You might know the greeters, Jan & Robb Lapp. I don’t think I’ve ever told Robb how much this greeting changed me and my relationship to Church. Could I trust that this church really welcomed me? Could I feel safe again? For many LGBTQ people, like me, when we walk into a church, it might be the churches last chance to prove that we are welcome and included in the beloved community. Jan & Robb and my other friends at Park Hill Congregational sowed seeds – seeds of inclusion, extravagant welcome and showed me that I did indeed belong in God’s beloved community. Clearly it worked because I am here today.

And so Beloved of God, what seeds are you sowing in the world? What seeds that have been planted within you are you willing to explore and weed out because they no longer fit and/or are hurtful and exclusionary? What if we throw seeds in unexpected places and something sprouts and grows – what might be possible? For you, for people of color, for LGBTQ+ folks, for the differently abled, for whoever shows up? What seeds, now planted, need to be nurtured so that they thrive, no matter what kind of ground they are planted in? What if we truly believed in “the extravagance of a sower who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon…confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes in at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?" That’s the God I know.

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