Seeds of Faith

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I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
—Eph. 1:15-16
Not too long ago, airplane passengers flying into a small airport located in Northern Ireland began to notice something beneath them in the forest. There was an outline of something in the trees. It wasn’t always so striking, because the colors didn’t always stand out. But this year, when October rolled around, there was no denying it. In a woodland otherwise made up almost entirely of spruce trees, a different kind of tree (thousands of them!) had been planted. But the planting wasn’t done haphazardly. It was done very intentionally in the shape of an almost perfectly formed Celtic cross. The scale of the cross—over 300 feet long and over 70 feet wide—is so enormous that it cannot be perceived from the ground. Only from the air is it now visible. And because it’s autumn, the difference between the dark green spruce and the golden larch is breathtaking.

But you know what’s really weird? Nobody knew it was even there until just recently.

The cross was planted by a forester named Liam Emmery on the Irish Republic side of the border. But soon after he finished his work, he died at just 51 years of age. And though his wife knew something of the project, it had slipped her mind—understandable when one’s spouse is involved in a horrible accident. But nobody else had really heard anything about it. And so it wasn’t really until the cross appeared in all its glory, and people began noticing it, that his widow, Norma, realized what her husband had done. “Liam was in an accident,” she told a TV reporter, “and he was unwell for two years, and he had suffered brain damage; so that’s why, I suppose, I had forgotten about the plantation, because if he was here, we’d all have heard about it, because he would’ve been so proud.” [1]

Mr. Emmery created something made of living seedlings that will grow for generations. It will be seen specifically as a cross by people looking down on it from above. They will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was an intentionally created Christian symbol. But the people who experience it from the ground: they’re going to walk among the trees growing in the forest; and though they may note that in one area spruces are growing while in another area there are larches, they’ll know nothing of the cross that they’ve suddenly become a part of—that’s surrounding them and shading them and providing them with a peace that is beyond their understanding. [2]

Could there be a better metaphor Christian discipleship? And could there possibly be a better story to call us to the Table on All Saints Sunday?

I think about Dick and Betty and Carrol and Sary this morning—the saints who once worship with us and worked by our side, but have joined the church triumphant since this same day last year—and I think of all the seeds they sowed: Betty as a nurse who literally never saw a stranger; Dick an educator and a genuinely funny man; Carrol who worked her whole life for the YWCA and wouldn’t coöperate with one of their camps that wanted to stay segregated; and Sary who gifted the world with music and volunteered for CCSA. In every case, we’re talking about some serious seed-sowing. But you know what? None of them lived to see what happened to all the seeds they planted.

None of us will, either. We may see an occasional change here and there. But often, even then, we’re not entirely sure if the transition is real, because it’s so slow. Like the cross in the forest, it may only be from above that we’ll able to see the beauty of what was planted, and the lasting change that came about because of a lifetime of planting seeds.

And so our invitation to the Table today is a bit different. As Christians, we believe in the communion of the saints. This means that all believers around the world gather at the same table at the same time. And not just around the world, but the saints of the past and the saints yet to be born are all present with us, too. Most of us remembered to set our clocks back an hour last night, but here, now, our clocks no longer work, for the Lord’s Table exists outside of time, and it cannot be confined by space.

So come today in thanksgiving for seeds that have been planted, filled with faith in what those seeds will become, hope that we may be part of their growth, and love for those who in the strength of God did the planting. For when a follower of the Crucified One plants a seed, it may look like healing or giving or justice or love or teaching or praise or preaching, but in reality, what we are sharing with the world is the cross of Christ. I may sow one kind of seed and you may sow another. Sary and Carrol and Betty and Dick each had their own gifts to share. And so do all Christians around the world.

Down here it may seem like chaos sometimes. It may seem futile. It may seem to lead to little or nothing. Or we may see others planting seed that bears fruit almost immediately, while ours only grow in God’s time. But when we finally see it from above, we’ll see the glorious story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus being told in each act of giving, in every instance of pain, and in every victory—great or small. And that in every life and in every death, it is the cross that is being lifted up.

In a few minutes, we will give thanks for the cross and for those who pointed us toward it. But first let us admit to God that even the saints are not perfect, and that all of us need the forgiveness offered not only by God, but also by one another.
—©2016 Sam L. Greening, Jr.
  1. Mysterious Celtic cross discovered in Donegal forest, ITV website, 24 October 2016. 
  2. See Philippians 4:7.