Our Gospel reading for this morning is the very first parable Jesus told in any of the Gospels: the Parable of the Sower.
We just heard it. A sower spreads seed on different kinds of soil: on a path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. As might be expected, only the seed that falls on good soil produces much fruit.
Predictably, the disciples don’t understand what the parable means, so Jesus lays it out for them. The different soil types represent different ways of hearing and responding to the Gospel. The good soil is people who absorb what they hear, people in whom the Gospel really takes root, people who “bear fruit” by living out the good news in their lives.
The other three options stand for people who, for one reason or another, don’t respond to the good news of Jesus Christ in a sustained and faithful way.
Mostly I worry about the problem of thorns; that is, the problem of cares and distractions that choke our ability to focus on God.
But the problem that hit me this week was symbolized by the rocky soil. That, Jesus tells us, is people who initially respond to his preaching with joy, but who have no roots and so fall away when trouble or persecution arises.
I am especially focused on roots this week because our son Benjamin is in the process of uprooting and moving to Chicago. We’re proud of him and happy for him. But watching him head west has not been perfectly easy for Carrie and me.
Benjamin’s move far from home has me thinking back to my own experience of being transplanted, of being uprooted, and of putting down new roots. I pray for Benjamin that his experience of being transplanted turns out as well as mine has.
For my first four decades, I was rooted on Georgia. My family had been there a long time. There were Hills as well as other branches of our extended family across the state. Georgia was home for me. And Georgia was my home whether or not I happened to be living there at any given time.
During those forty years, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about my Georgia roots. Then we moved here. And, unlike my previous moves, this one was permanent.
Only after we got here, only after I was no longer rooted in Georgia, did I appreciate how much my Georgia roots had meant to me. My roots were part of my identity, part of how I understood who I was. Now, in one sense, those roots were severed.
I don’t want to make a bigger deal out of this than it was. But, especially at first, I experienced a kind of rootlessness.
After we arrived, I set out, in an intentional way, to create new roots here. I tried to learn about the natural environment by hiking and paddling. I tried to learn about the human environment by reading everything I could find on local history—more than twenty-five books at this point, including Edith LaFrancis’s 387-page history of Agawam.
Most importantly of all, of course, I began getting to know people, including here at Saint David’s. And now, a little more than a decade after we arrived, I have, and I value, my Massachusetts roots.
That experience taught me to value roots, the ones we inherit and the ones we put down. Roots matter.
When we are deeply rooted, as I know many of you are here in western Massachusetts, it is easy to take our roots for granted. But Jesus was right. When we don’t have deep roots, the troubles and persecutions that come to all of us eventually can really beat us down.
I think that is one of the problems with our society today. Many of us have lost a sense of connection to the place we live and to the people we live with. Along come a whole host of social and economic problems, and what happens? Communities fray. Mutual animosity increases. And, for the people hardest hit, mortality from so-called “deaths of despair”—deaths from alcohol, drug overdose, or suicide—goes up.
Fixing those problems is WAY above my pay grade. But staying connected, staying rooted, can help.
And the most important roots are those that connect us to God, roots that open us to the good news of God’s love and forgiveness, God’s commitment to the flourishing of all creation, God’s mission to bring about an everlasting kingdom of justice and peace.
Of course, we are all rooted in God all the time. In case we forget, Paul reminds us in Romans that we “are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells is [us].” That is something we can rely on.
But for most of us, we sometimes need help. Our roots need a little fertilizer, so to speak.
And that’s where Church comes in.
A little later in his letter to the Romans, Paul compares the Church to an olive tree, and Gentiles—that’s us—to wild shoots grafted into the tree in order “to share [the tree’s] rich root” (11:17).
Paul is getting deep. But I had an experience of the kind of grafting Paul describes here, at Saint David’s.
I arrived in western Massachusetts rootless, disconnected from the communities I knew and without a Church home. But you welcomed me, a middle-aged priest who was still wet around the ears as far as ordination goes. I found myself welcomed, grafted into this particular community of faith.
And through Saint David’s, I was connected to the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, to the Episcopal Church, to the worldwide Anglican Communion. Through the Anglican Communion, I was connected to our partners in ministry around the world.
Through Saint David’s, I was also connected backwards in time, to all the Christian denominations before our various splits divided us, and ultimately back to Christ and the first band of apostles.
Through Saint David’s, I benefitted from the rich root of Christ.
What is true for me is true for all of us. No matter how new we are to the team, we are all connected in the body of Christ. We all share the same roots. And those roots run deep.
The tragedy is that we so often live as if we were disconnected.
And so we practice connection. We join together in worship, and in service, and in projects like our tag sale. We pray for each other. And Christ is present with us, and the Holy Spirit swirls around, and we feel our rootedness in God, the rootedness that is always there but that we may not have been feeling so clearly.
Over time, our roots in God transform us, nourish us, fill us with new life so that we resemble a little more closely the people God calls us to be. Those are the roots that can sustain us even in hard times. Those are the roots that produce good fruit in our lives.
I thank God for sowing seeds of love and grace. I thank Christ for giving us roots in God. I thank the Holy Spirit for filling us with the life that Christ makes possible. I thank God for this Church, which constantly reminds us of our divine roots. And I pray that we can continue to draw rich nourishment from our roots in Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan