Psalm 126 and Matthew 13:31-32
This is a holy moment.
We come to this place, each of us carrying our own faith tradition. We gather at this moment to express gratitude for our lives, for our blessings, and for the hope that is in us even when trouble befalls us, even when trouble befalls the world.
However we name or understand holiness, we gather in united gratitude for the holy.My path to this historic place tonight was a short one, from St. John’s just down Main Street. But my life journey to this place was a longer path. Before coming to Hingham, I lived near San Francisco for more than twenty years. San Francisco is a wonderful place to explore—and you never know what you will find. Wandering around San Francisco, you can easily enter into a parable. Once upon a time I walked in the old Mission district, and stopped in front of a storefront covered with a brilliantly colorful graffiti mural—a painting of people, houses, birds, trees, stars and a rainbow. As in a dream, even after I entered the place and looked around, I wasn’t sure what kind of a place it was. What was it selling. Maybe it was an art gallery? There were big photographs on the walls, and I walked around looking at them. They were fantastic. Beautiful! I noticed that each of the photos had a caption underneath. The captions said things like:
Clean Water in Mexico
Literacy for Girls in Pakistan
Safe Houses after Hurricanes in New York
Home visits for young parents
Warm clothing in Boston Common
House repair in Appalachia
Some were close-ups of joyful people, some were pristine landscapes, and the last one was a photo of the earth seen from space, with the caption:
Peace on earth
The gallery was empty except for a guy standing over by a table, who was busy doing… something. I didn’t see any price tags on the pictures, so I went over the guy. He had long hair and could have used a shave. “Do you have a price list?” I asked. He didn’t really answer me. “Hi,” he said. “Thanks for coming in. What are you interested in?”
“I like them all. Did you take these pictures?” I asked, wondering how he would get that picture from space. “How much are you selling them for?”
“The pictures aren’t for sale.”
“Okay. So this isn’t a gallery?”
“Not exactly. Those photos are the catalogue. You tell me what you want, and I’ll get you the seeds.”
“Seeds,” he said. “This is a seed store.
“And if you plant the seeds, something will grow… that will look like these pictures?”
“The pictures are just to give the general idea. Everybody who plants them gets a slightly different result.”
“Hmmm. How long does it take for the seeds to grow?”
“Sometimes it takes a long time,” he said. “And usually more than one person has to plant the seeds for the result to look like the photos. Sometimes it takes hundreds or thousands of people planting, nurturing, digging, harvesting and planting some more.”
“These must be some amazing seeds. Can I see them?”
“Sure.” He opened a drawer and handed me a clear packet with a few tiny, tiny seeds in them.
“These are just specks! If I plant these seeds what will I get?”
“Those are Tree of Life seeds. They are very good seeds to start with. You plant them and they grow like wildfire—well, like wild mustard really. First the birds nest in the plant, and then a whole ecosystem forms. With results like that, people are really encouraged to try some of the slow-growing seeds—like peace, justice, healing… Those are my favorites, but they take a while to get to a really impressive size.
“So you are a gardener?”
“Sure. Everybody is. And each person has to decide what kinds of seeds to plant, by thinking about what kind of harvest they want.”
“How much do they cost?”
“I’ll give them to you for free,” he said. “But you have to promise to plant them.”
I promised I would, and took the Tree of Life seeds and wandered back out onto Mission Street, not sure what to do next. It was a good thing they were fast-growing seeds, I thought. My personal history of gardening has not always been marked by patience. When I was a little girl, my mother planted carrots. I was fascinated—not least because I liked to eat carrots. I couldn’t wait to see them grow. Would they really get to be big? How long would that take? My solution was to keep an eye on them. Every few days I would carefully pull out a carrot to see how it was doing, and then pat it back in the soil for it to grow some more. I intentionally checked different ones. It took a while for my mother to catch on, and to realize that the reason the carrots weren’t growing was that I had pulled up all of them, disturbing tiny roots I didn’t even know were there.
So what to do with these mysterious seeds? I didn’t do anything with them for a while. I knew I was moving to Hingham, so I put them in a safe place until I had a place to plant them. Last summer I began to create my garden. I pulled up the weeds and bought a shovel. I dug into the soil—clink! Who put all those rocks there? I was beginning to learn about gardening in New England!
After the beds were ready, and some plants from the nursery tucked in for instant gratification, I began to think about those tiny seeds. The Tree of Life sounded too big for my little garden, so I decided to plant the seeds in the wild area on the hill. I planted them, watered them a few times, and then pretty much forgot about them. Suddenly, summer came upon the garden and everything began to bloom. I had planted lots of flowers and shrubs that were supposed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies—and amazingly enough, I began to see hummingbirds and butterflies every day. But they weren’t coming to the planned garden, but to the wild sprawling shrub growing on the hill. That Tree of Life was attracting all kinds of life—and it reminded me of what the guy who gave me the seeds said. My garden didn’t look like the photo in his gallery, but it was well on its way to being a joyful ecosystem.
All summer I watched the hummingbirds and butterflies that bring my heart joy, and I reflected on what I learned about gardening with those seeds. There was a certain amount of faith required in even planting them—you could call it trust—faith that it was worth doing, that there would be some outcome that was worth the effort, no matter how small the seed and how big the picture.
It took some patience, which in my case was a mix of nurturing care and benign neglect over time. And there was some work involved—the necessary drudgery and humility of gardening in unyielding soil spread thin over many hidden and uncooperative rocks. Each garden has different soil and sun patterns, and I have been delighted to encounter so many gardeners here in Hingham who know about such things. I think I’m going to get in touch with that seed guy again, and see if I can get some of those slow-growing seeds. I’ll bet I can even get a few other people to help. I know some of you have planted the “Home visits for young parents” seeds. This weekend a few people I know are planting the “Warm clothing in Boston Common” seeds. This summer there will be a lot of “House repair in Appalachia” seeds planted, right on schedule in early July.
If you want to plant some of these seeds yourself, I encourage you. You can get what you need in every faith community in the area—including some fellow gardeners to help you. As I’ve learned more about this, I have figured out what the name of that gallery/seed store in the Mission must be. It was probably painted into that mural on the front of the building, but in Hebrew so I couldn’t read it. The name just must be Tikkun Olam—a phrase from the rabbis which means “healing and restoring the world”.
We know the world needs healing, and much in our own lives does as well. So plant these seeds—water them with tears if you have to, and have faith. Trust in goodness and Grace. Find friends to help you. And remember the words of the Psalm:
Those who sowed with tears * will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, * will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
We are gathered here with hope for the healing of the world, and all the seeds we plant will help it to be. That is the gift of the Holy One, and that is why we gather to give thanks. While we all tend separate gardens in this town, the harvest we long for looks remarkably the same. May we find much in this commonality for which to offer thanks, this day and always. May you find much in your life to give thanks for, and may you celebrate the harvest with joy.