Over the last few months, I have had the honor of leading a small but devoted group of people in regular morning worship. You can find the service for yourself HERE. Our process for engaging with scripture is to use ELCA Book of Faith Initiative devotional reflection questions. We take a couple minutes to reflect on each question silently and then join together for discussion. This has been a wonderful opportunity to receive the wisdom of others and to be in relationship with the Word of God on a regular basis. Occasionally you come across something that just wants you to wrestle with it and see what it has to offer if you will engage in the struggle it brings up within you.
For me, I came across just such a “word” as we read from the third chapter of James earlier this week:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
What caught my attention was what it means to “sow in peace.”
As a gardener, I can tell you the act of sowing seed is not one where there is a large amount of struggle. You buy a packet of seed, you keep the weeds out of a certain area, you wait like Goldilocks for the soil to be not to wet and not too dry, and then you run a finger down the row to make a shallow furrow, put the seeds in at the right spacing, gently cover up the seed, water gently, keep the weeds at bay and wait. This is, overall, not a difficult thing to do. And certainly not worthy of an existential crisis. And yet, if we will dare to leave the world of neatly packaged garden seeds, and enter the world of First Century CE agrarianism, we will begin to see that there is indeed a crisis taking place when it comes to planting seeds,.Further, if we are bolder yet to leave the literal world of seeds behind and enter the world of metaphor, this crisis once again becomes our own and we have much to reflect on with what it means to “sow in peace.”
Several years ago, we tried growing dry beans in our garden one year. We planted a whole packet of seed, tended the plants all summer, let them dry out in the fall, and then harvested them. Granted this was not the most productive garden I’ve ever seen, but we yielded about 2 cups of dry beans. Two whole meals worth. So, the crisis for folks in the first century was this: To get enough to fill your stores with enough to sustain you through a year, you have to part with a substantial amount of food that might otherwise feed and sustain you now. You have to put that good food in the ground where it will either grow or rot. Then you have to hope that the weather will bring you a crop that will allow you to do this all over again the next year. For folks in the first century, for folks in some places of the world today, planning is a very literal existential crisis.
What James is talking about, though, and what most of us experience is more in the figurative realm. We sow the seeds of new relationships, we enter into new endeavors at work, we bring a child into the world, we engage in the creative work of a hobby, we start a new business, or work to make the world a better place through some volunteer work, we make a resolution about our health. All of these things and more are about seed planting, and when it comes to sowing seed, we can either sow in peace, or we can sow with a great struggle.
To sow in peace, to me means, coming to terms with what must be given up in order to plant a given seed. Starting a new hobby means making space for the equipment that is involved, engaging in new work, paid or unpaid, means taking time from somewhere else, sowing the seeds of a new relationship means opening a space in your heart that is big enough to accept the things about this person that you do not know about them quite yet. This is often something we do after the fact, and truthfully, we can never know fully what a particular seed will ultimately ask us to give up. However, to the extent that it is possible, the more we can come to terms with what must be given up to plant a given seed, the more we will be able to sow in peace.
Second, to sow in peace, we must recognize that the harvest we desire is never assured. I cannot think of anyone that I know that in the last six months has not had some seed or another that they have planted either rot, or give a lack luster yield, or turn into something completely different than they had expected. Life happens, as the saying goes. We cannot foresee storms, droughts, or other phenomena that will affect the seeds we plant. At the same time, we cannot plant in peace, without recognizing and coming to terms with this reality.
Finally, to sow in peace, we must recognize that what does come of our seed planting is from God, and is ultimately for God’s purposes. This does not negate our need to work at watering and weeding and doing what is necessary to help the seeds we plant produce a yield. Nor does it mean nothing of our yield is ours to enjoy, God’s gift to us is that we are sustained as much as those around us by the yield we bring in, and I believe God celebrates with us in the midst of the bounty of harvest, even a meager one. What is truly astonishing though, is that by recognizing the harvest as coming from God and being for God’s purposes, our labor becomes sanctified. It is set apart and made holy by God which makes it wholly other from seeds that we might just toss in the ground and see what happens.
As you go about your seed planting, as plans begin to take shape from what might be next in your life, take time to consider how you might better sow in peace, by recognizing the cost, recognizing that things are not assured, and recognizing how your harvest is of and for God.