As you sow...

You reap whatever you sow.  Or, from an older translation: As you sow, so shall you reap.  (Gal 6:7)

This simple teaching from Saint Paul used to be a familiar aphorism in American culture; a statement whose meaning is so clear and so concise that it became a cliché, the type of thing you’d see cross-stitched into a sampler.  But then who cross-stitches samplers anymore?  And who worries about reaping what he or she sows any more?

Fifteen years ago, the great chef, Alice Waters, may or may not have been motivated by this rule of life – that as you sow, so shall you reap – when she helped turn an acre of asphalt-covered land into a vegetable garden at a middle school in Berkeley, California.  That garden and the movement it began is called the Edible Schoolyard.  “When children are encouraged to grow and cook and enjoy wholesome, delicious food all together, from the seed to the table and back again, in an atmosphere of caring and beauty, they fall in love with its lessons,” she wrote.  “It’s a way of making sure that children grow up feeling the soil with their own fingers, harvesting its bounty in the American sunshine, and watching their own hands make the kind of beautiful, inexpensive food that can nourish the body and the spirit.”

Waters tells the story of a small boy who one day came into the kitchen classroom connected to the garden.    “[He] was hungry – truly hungry, as in badly needing food.  So when class was over, [Esther, the teacher,] asked him very quietly what he’d had for breakfast that day.  He hadn’t eaten breakfast; he never ate breakfast.  Esther taught him right then and there to take eggs from the refrigerator and cook them for himself.  She told him to do this every single day before school, without ever asking.  Just come and do it.”  As you sow, so shall you reap.

All last week middle school children, and kids a little older and a little younger, ran around our mission parish during City Camp.  Many of you were there to help them and their high-school counselors.  For the second year of City Camp, once again Saint Mark’s volunteers were a major force in bringing this urban camp to life for kids who often do not have enough.  Bible stories were taught each day, songs were sung, prayers were said, meals were served, games were played, scrapes were bandaged, noses were blown, a few tears were shed, and a garden was even planted out back, behind the Rectory, where, before the church was abandoned the rector’s wife had tended vegetables and flowers.  I saw basil and some other herbs, some squash, and maybe even zucchini getting a late start, and lettuce of some variety.  It is late in the summer to be planting a garden, but better late than never.  As you sow, so shall you reap.

Here at Saint Mark’s, it is a blessing that our founders had the sense to leave green space around this urban church.  Thousands of commuters pass by here every day, and I know from chatting with enough of them that the beauty of our gardens is a gift to them and to this city.  I think of the roses silently singing the Gospel to all those people on their way to work.  And the garden here thrives because of Libby and Todd and Bob and Claire and Ed and Aaron and Isabelle and Aileen, and a few others who care to sow in it.  As you sow, so shall you reap.

In the church at large, you have to wonder whether or not we have remembered this lesson.  We are obsessed with squabbles over property and sexuality, and the place of women in the church.  As we battle for power amongst Anglicans, we see the pathetic slow-motion drama of our Roman brothers trying to come to terms with a history of sin that is glaringly obvious to the rest of the world, not least to other churches who have our own fair share of sins to own up to.  We see churches emptying and struggling to stay open, at least in part for failure, I contend, to teach and to learn this basic calculus: as you sow, so shall you reap.

On our national birthday we might do well to reclaim this cliché, this little aphorism of Saint Paul’s.

What are we sowing, as a nation, in the vast monoculture fields of industrialized agriculture?  And if it is so good for us, why is it making us fat, sick, and unhappy?

What are we sowing in the too-big, under-funded public schools of our cities where children are falling behind rather than catching up?

What are we sowing for the lives of immigrants who came to this country, like our own ancestors, in search of a better life, and who sustain our way of life by doing the work no one with a green card or better would deign to do in America?

What are we sowing in the villages of Afghanistan, and the cities of Iraq as our still ill-defined mission there drags on an on?

What are we sowing in the lives of our service men and women who suffer the consequences of those wars on our behalf, at the expense of their lives, their limbs, and their happiness?

What are we sowing behind the barbed wire of Guantanamo Bay?

What are we sowing when we allow our justice system to take an eye for an eye, as it were, in the execution chambers of our states?

What are we sowing in the Gulf of Mexico, and on the oil-stained shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida?

What are we sowing as the argument about abortion enters a new decade of shouting and posturing, and we remain so ineffective at helping prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place?

What are we sowing with the gun violence that takes so many lives in this city and across our nation?

As you sow, so shall you reap.

And still Jesus reminds us that the harvest is plentiful.

As Americans, even in tough years, like this one, we do well to remember that the harvest is plentiful.  But it cannot be taken for granted, and the laborers are few.

As you sow, so shall you reap.  It is a double-sided truth that allows for either bounty or famine, strength or starvation.  And it lays out for us choices to make every day.

The Fourth of July would be a good day for making resolutions.  And this Fourth of July would be a good day for resolving to remember that as we sow, so shall we reap.

If we cross-stitched that motto onto our hearts what would we sow in our lives, in the church, and in the world?

In our own lives, would we pray more fervently and carefully and frequently?  Would we practice forgiveness more and better?  Would we learn how to offer hospitality at the drop of a hat even when it is inconvenient?  My life would be improved by those choices, I know.

In the church, would we learn from the edible schoolyard that a diversified farm is healthier than a monoculture.  The one is self-sustaining precisely because of its diversity, and the other requires scads of artificial chemical fertilizer just to revive the depleted soil every year?  And one resembles the kind of garden God first planted far more than the other, anyway.

In the world, would we learn that peace is not accomplished when the Nobel committee hands out an award, but by sowing the seeds of peace; and that very few people in uniform seem to have been adept at that task since General Marshall; and perhaps we should be looking for other avenues to peace, particularly in areas of the world that have proven themselves resistant to the armed intervention of supposedly superior powers?

As you sow, so shall you reap.

I dearly hope and pray that as a community, we at Saint Mark’s will hold fast to this little motto, that as we sow, so shall we reap.  I hope we learn as individuals and as a community to make choices on the basis of this small cliché,

And on this Fourth of July, I hope it might be helpful to us to reflect on words written by one of the sixth-graders who learned in the Edible Schoolyard garden in California; words that seem to show the results of reaping what you sow: “The bees, the spiders, the ants, the rolly-pollies, the bugs, the sound, the sky, the birds, the clouds, the yellow leaves… the leaves rustle with hidden secrets that even the laziest man would be dying to know.  And the bees gracefully floating from flower to flower, sing of flowers and gnomes and fairies who never seem to show themselves to anything but the bees, the birds, and the trees.  I smell fresh air… I see beautiful white flowers… and figs.  I wonder, when are the figs ready to eat?”*

Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen

4 July 2010

Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia


* All quotations from Alice Waters, Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea, San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 2008

Posted on July 6, 2010 .