June 13, 2021 – Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings for the day: Ezekiel 17:22-24 / 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 / Mark 4:26-34
The following is a homily I delivered in 2018 on these same readings: (Note: In 2018, these readings fell on Father’s Day…which is not the case this year):
I have the privilege this year of preaching on both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekend. Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there!
If you were here on Mother’s Day, you might remember that I gave a brief tribute to my wife, and all mothers, by sharing some of the heartfelt and valuable advice Carol had given our children as they grew up. I asked the kids via e-mail to supply me with some of the wisdom she had offered them over the years. They responded with beautiful examples such as, “The best advice I ever got from mom was that everyone has a story to tell, and one of the best things we can do is listen to their story.”
I remember looking out at the congregation as I spoke. People were overwhelmed with emotion hearing the life-changing words of a mother to her children. I also remember your confused looks as you thought, “That Carol is amazing. How did she end up with him?”
Putting humility aside, I thought it would be appropriate to ask my children the same question about me. So, I sent the four of them another e-mail, this time asking what advice I had given them over the years.
I hit ‘send’ on the e-mail and waited for their responses…and waited. When I sent the e-mail about Carol, all four kids responded within the hour. Two days after sending the e-mail about me, I received two responses. Each of the responses began the same way, “I remember some advice that you gave me, but I didn’t really follow it…”
My oldest daughter said, “You told me to stop trying to fix people.” She went on to get a PhD in Psychology and now spends her entire professional career trying to fix people.
My youngest son said, “You told me to stop spending so much time in front of the computer.” He is now a software engineer and spends his entire professional career in front of a computer.
Both of their responses ended the same way as well, each saying, “…but I’m sure you meant well when you said it.”
We have readings that tie in beautifully with Father’s Day. From Ezekiel we heard, “It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar. Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it…”
From the Gospel of Mark, we heard, “It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
Two powerful visual images of a father – the majestic cedar and the large mustard tree, each supplying ample shade and a safe dwelling place in its branches, bearing fruit and planting seeds of wisdom of his own to continue the cycle of life. The confident and proud father, certain of his purpose and direction – or so we’d like to believe.
While this is a powerful image of a father, or of parents in general, the reality is that most of the time we are just doing what we can and hoping for the best – giving advice and planting seeds we hope will produce fruit. As St. Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, “…we walk by faith…”
We must walk by faith, as the germination rates for our seeds are not that promising. Agriculturally speaking, the chances of a seed germinating once it has been planted ranges between 40-80% and depends on a number of variables.
Likewise, parents learn that a certain percentage of our words of wisdom won’t stick. Some advice we offer may not be received, or – like my kids – may be ignored altogether.
The same can be said about planting seeds of faith. We do our very best to plant the seeds of faith in those we care about – not only our children, but family, friends, or those we see as lost and searching for purpose.
We plant the seeds of faith by being intentional disciples – spreading the gospel message, sharing our beliefs and values openly, loving God and others, and acting as feet-washing servants. Even then we don’t know if or when we will see results.
I am not a farmer by trade, but I know enough about planting seeds to know there are things we can do to make germination more likely, to increase our chances of bearing fruit.
First, we must use a high-quality seed. Our seeds of faith must be authentic. The soil in which we are planting will be more receptive if the message is genuine. When we sow seeds of faith for show or for personal gain, they will likely fall on rocky soil.
Second, we need to sow the seeds under the right conditions. We must plant the seeds of faith with love and out of love.
Third, we need persistence. Why not play the odds? If germination rates are only 40-80%, why not increase our odds by sowing the seeds of faith more often? Yield will increase with the number of seeds planted.
Fourth, we need patience. Germination will not likely occur overnight, or perhaps even for years.
In researching the germination of seeds, I came across the word quiescence. Seeds are living organisms. Although a seed may appear to be dead, it is actually in a state of quiescence. Quiescence means that the seed is at rest until desirable conditions trigger germination; the point is, the seed of faith we planted is still alive.
That should provide some level of comfort to those of us who are praying for loved ones that have lost their way on their faith journey. We have planted the seeds. We must be be patient – those seeds may not be dead, but rather in a state of quiescence. Germination is still possible.
If we use high quality seeds and sow them with love, and are persistent and patient, then all there is left to do is walk by faith, trusting that those seeds will germinate.
And when they do germinate, the possibilities are limitless. Remember the mustard seed from today’s gospel – the smallest of all the seeds on the earth that becomes the largest of plants after germination.
Planting seeds is an act of faith.
The following is a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s work, Faith in a Seed: “Though I do not believe a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
Please continue to plant the seeds of faith.