Treasures in the Ground

Mary Magdala Community

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time,  June 13, 2021

Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community

Rev. Jim Ryan, M.Div.,Ph.D.


Since we live so much of our spiritual lives inspired by images I thought I would pick up on the image of ground this morning.  We just heard about the seeds sown in the ground.  Paul Tillich created an entire field in theology in the middle of the last century with his image that the Divine is the ground of being.  This means that our lives, and really all creation, are surrounded by and are at One with the life source that nurtures and makes to thrive the whole of existence.  It’s a point we can take, for example, from this Gospel parable of the seed germinating in good ground.

So, the first thing I would like to say is parables have a shelf life.  Some hold up better than others.  Take the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  This tale is about as close as one can get to what it means to live by and apply the Golden Rule.  Every line of it reveals truths about who does and who does not live by the standard of doing for others as one would have done to oneself.  The Good Samaritan parable has had a great shelf life.

Now, as revealing as is the first parable which we heard this morning – the one about seed growing and thriving unbeknownst to the sower as to how that happens – well, it’s shelf is a little dated.  It is no longer true – as it seems to have been true when Jesus presented this parable – that sowers don’t know how it happens that seeds sprout and grow.

Last week I had a conversation with the man who has farmed on Jean’s family farm for at least 60 years.  He started with Jean’s Dad and took over when Ed retired.  We were talking about the condition of the corn plants now in the ground during the early hot and dry spell of a couple weeks ago.  He informed me that while such conditions are concerning – they actually make it possible for the plants to grow deeper roots looking for moisture.  And deeper roots prepare the plants for potentially worse conditions later in the season.  In light of this parable it occurs to me that these days, thanks to agricultural science, the farmer knows exactly what’s going on in the ground with the plants that are sown.  The parable has lost a little of its shelf life.

Why is this important spiritually and how does it affect daily living?  Well, I have heard this parable used to teach that all that matters is one plants the seed in terms of good acts and God will take care of the rest.  While that’s a nice thought it does not give credit to the sower who knows exactly the condition of the ground and the development of the seed that is planted.

Our actions, in other words, must address and be knowledgeable of the systems and the life conditions of the society, or the ground, in which we live.  To speak in parable fashion, to sow the seed these days comes with the responsibility of knowing the ground.  To give a cup of water to a person who is a racist  or who is a homophobe in no way relieves me from the responsibility of changing the racist or homophobic conditions of the ground in which such evils exist.

To have the depth of commitment to do this brings me to Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Relic of Memory.”  And let’s go directly to the spiritual point.  If one is to enjoy seeing the seed grow and thrive, one must commit to the ground – because the ground of being is the source of depth and long-term growth.

Heaney’s poem celebrates the Boglands of Ireland, which are the source of peat.  Do you know peat?  It’s the dried result of the interaction of water, land, and dead vegetation over very long periods of time.  Peat is a fuel for heating and cooking in homes.  These days, due to its being a fossil fuel, of sorts, it is used less and less.  Owners of Bed and Breakfast establishments in the west of Ireland will put on a peat fire with its distinctive smell so their guests can go home to tell one and all they had the real rural Irish experience.  The  owners do this as an amenity anymore since they actually heat their homes and cook their food with other fuel sources.

Peat is formed into objects of art and religion. This crucifix is made of peat.  It was a gift from a friend who just couldn’t pass it up.  I guess he figured if the winters got too harsh I could always burn it to keep warm.

Back to Heaney’s poem.  One of his points is that the Bog is a great preserver, creating petrified relics out of oars and posts.  The bog is a ground of depth and preservation.  In one bog they found centuries old butter that, once cleaned up, was still butter.  Heaney calls the discovering of depth and holding hidden treasures, “the lure of the relic stored.”

This idea of ancient interactions of water, land, and vegetation – of them being the ground of depth and preservation, I think, is a spiritual guide for us this morning.  If poem is parable I would suggest that this preserved depth of hidden treasures is a companion to the seed that sprouts, grows, nourishes, and is gone.

Our spiritual life requires both the seed that does good and the memory that is the ground of depth for one’s soul.  This relic is not just “a piece of stone on a school shelf – oatmeal coloured.”

When it comes to our ground of being – the seed of God’s Word that nourishes us and the memory that equips and strengthens us for life’s conditions – these are treasures for which we may be thankful this morning.

A Prayer   (JR)

             As always before , so now and evermore.   Amen.       In the ground seeds come to life and treasures are made.  Direct us,  Holy One, in knowledge as well as in the excitement of celebrating your gifts – those that sprout roots and thrive as well as those that live deeper and become spiritual treasure in our life’s journey.  As we experience both the thriving and the treasuring we pray to be always walking the path which you, O Christ, promise to be the way, the truth, and the life.  As always before, so now and evermore.   Amen.

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