I didn’t grow up around cottonwood trees. My only experience of them until recently has been when I’ve traveled to other places, such as Wyoming.
In June, while sitting on the back porch in Rafter J, I was astounded by the number of cottonwood seeds in the air. I don't believe anyone could have described it to me, any more than I can find words to describe it here. You just had to have been there.
As I watched in wonder, I realized that all the seeds that were attached to the trees just a few minutes before, have begun taking to the air. All seedpods, the warmth of the sun, the wind, and the rising of the sap, are instruments the Creator has provided for the continuation of this species of tree. I know it's about the same for other trees, but observing the cottonwood seeds in their provided me with an epiphany on that June day.
The seeds of trees speak of abundance in nature. Trees produce far more seeds than are needed to ensure the continuation of the species. Probably only one in several million seeds finds the soil, light, water, and other conditions to germinate and become a mature, seed producing tree. That's the way it is with the natural world. The Creator has provided more than enough!
The psalmist celebrated God's providence in these words, which many people learned to use as a prayer before meals, “The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature” (Psalm 145:16, 17).
A couple of years ago, I visited Ft. Wayne, Indiana and the burial site of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. The inscription on his headstone reads, “He lived for others.” This humble nurseryman went around sowing seeds, planting nurseries and orchards, and preaching. He sowed a lot of seed in his lifetime. His life had meaning and hope because he relied on the principle that “Anybody can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed.” He had a theology of abundance. He also understood that stewardship is not primarily about keeping and saving, but about investing and multiplying.
Our Christian teaching tells us that God created an amazing universe that is chock full of everything a creature could ever need. Then, God created the human being and gave the human being something that has been given to no other creature, the vocation of stewardship. Loosely translated, God said, “Welcome to my world! Everything you'll ever need is here. It will sustain your life and give you joy. I've created you with godlike qualities so that you can be partners with me in the ongoing process of creation. Now use your special gifts and your unique place as my personal representatives to care for it, manage it, and be sure that nobody is ever deprived of the life-giving abundance of my creation.”
One of my favorite movies of all time is “Oh God.” In one of the final scenes, God, who is carica-tured by George Burns, and Jerry, the assistant supermarket manager to whom God is revealed, played by John Denver, are discussing the success of their mission in the world. Nobody seemed to listen to the message God told Jerry to deliver. Jerry thinks they failed. “We blew it,” he says. But God doesn’t see it that way. “Oh, I don’t think so,” God says. “You never know; a seed here, a seed there, something will catch hold and grow.”
In the Parable of the Sower (Mt. 13:1-9), Jesus likens this botanical process of a seed that is taking root, growing, and maturing, to the Kingdom of God. The principle involved is that our job is to sow the seeds. God’s job is to cause them to grow.
I thought about this principle and those cottonwood seeds last week when I read an article about a man named Joe Tolin who lives in Beaumont, Texas. Joe had a cheek swab when he enrolled in a donor program known as Be The Match. Just a few weeks later, he received word that he was a perfect match for a little girl dying from leukemia in Utah. Joe is one of eleven million people on that registry and the only perfect match to save this little girl’s life. The bone marrow transplant accomplished its purpose and the little girl, Cami Carver, is cancer free and enjoying life.
Joe, whose gift provided a one-in-eleven-million chance of saving a life, told reporters, “Even an average Joe can make a difference or save a life.” And so can the gift we offer make a difference or transform a life. Even a little bit of faith or a little bit of generosity can transform the world.
In a meeting I attended with Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief and Development, he told about a program in which a farmer borrows a bag of seeds, plants them, and returns two bags of seed after the harvest. Obviously, the crop produces so many more seeds that the farmer is able to pay 100% interest and still have more than enough for food and market. Only God can figure out the equation!
Equipped with an abundance of seeds, human intelligence and ingenuity, a theology of abundance, and the vocation to be stewards of everything God has provided, just imagine what God can accomplish through us!
Where is the abundance in your life? Where are the seeds God wants to place in your hands so you can steward them to fruition? Do you have a fear of scarcity that needs to be healed so your eyes can be opened to see how generously God has provided?
“God, who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor. 9:10).
A seed here, a seed there, something will catch hold and grow!
I’ll see you in Church!