I once had enormous collection of dinosaurs. I had all kinds of them: some that my grandmother Meme bought me at various amusement parks and toy stores, others that I received as gifts. I loved them all, and I would line them up on the shelves in my room. For years, when I was in first through, say, third grade, I knew beyond a doubt that I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up.
My third-grade teacher would even ask me to bring my dinosaurs back—years later—to her class and tell the kids there all about carnivores, herbivores, and all the little tidbits that I had picked up from years of my amateur study. I knew that I wanted to be a paleontologist, but of course I am not one today.
Later in life, I wanted to be other things. I thought for a while that I wanted to be a writer. Libraries have always been favorite places of mine, and I loved the world of books and language.
Even later, of course, I wanted to be a doctor—or maybe it was that my family wanted me to be one. Either way, I went to undergrad and majored in Biology, with plans to attend medical school. That all went well, even though I knew I was a hypochondriac and dreaded doctors’ offices. Even though I majored in Biology, being pre-med, I didn’t go to medical school…life took another course.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how life takes different courses. Now, I hear Evelyn sharing what she wants to be when she grows up. Right now, she wants to be a veterinarian. She says if the vet option doesn’t work out, she wants to be a zookeeper. She loves animals.
Maybe it’s an age-old question: What do you want to be when you grow up? We all have dreams to do something with our lives, to be someone. Part of this, of course, is a luxury, because most folks in the world don’t have options of exploring the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up.”
But, it’s a question that always seems to circle around our heads—especially for those of us who don’t consider ourselves “grown up!”
At its core, of course, I think that this question has its roots in our search for purpose. What is my purpose? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?
I’m in the camp that believes that the church—as the space and the community of believers—is the space where we can truly delve into the questions of purpose and life.
But, I have learned that the questions we ask matter greatly, when we are exploring purpose in our lives.
I have always loved today’s Gospel reading: the Parable of the Sower. Here we have these four scenarios:
- Seed falls on the path and is devoured by the birds
- Seed falls on shallow soil, sprouts, but doesn’t grow because of lack of support.
- Seed falls amid the thorns and bushes and is choked out.
- And, of course, seed falls on fertile soil and as the text says, “brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
These four scenarios offer us much to reflect on, especially as we consider that spiritual life is ultimately about the embodiment of vocation. The spiritual life is about the ways in which we embody our sense of vocation and purpose in the world today.
It may make us pause to consider that the spiritual life, ultimately, is not about personal growth—most definitely not about personal “success.” As we reflected on last week, we have more than enough of this Western sense of individualism. No, the spiritual life has as it’s heart the nurturing of one’s purpose, beyond the loaded agendas of an ego-centric mindset.
So, it matters what questions we ask ourselves—and our children. What does it mean to say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And how does it reframe our spiritual practice to ask, “I wonder what gifts God has given you that you are being invited to share in the community?” or even more intentional, “I wonder what God wants for your life.” This is the heart of what we mean by vocation, keeping in mind that vocare means “to call out,” as in vocal. It is a matter of how God is being vocal in and through us…God’s dream being made manifest through our contingent existence…God invoking God’s purpose in and through us.
These are important questions, because they point to the heart of what we “do” as the church—about what our deepest identity truly is. And “church” becomes a place where we are called to explore our deepest identity—God’s dream and purpose for us.
That’s why the words from the Prophet Isaiah are so important for us:
As the rain and snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55
It’s a challenging text—for our ego—to reflect that it is God’s word, going out from God’s mouth, accomplishing that for which God purposes and succeeding in the thing for which God sends it.
Obviously, God’s purpose did not intend for me to carry around plastic dinosaurs all my life or to pass out daily from the sight of blood…
And, this is why the Parable of the Sower is so important for the life of the Church. It is the Church’s purpose to nurture this sense of God’s call in the life of the community. It is the Church’s purpose to nurture and encourage this sense of vocation.
Think back to these four scenarios from the Parable and imagine how they describe possible realities within parishes.
- The seed falls on the path and is eaten by birds. How does the voice of God go unheard in the lives of members of the parish? How might members of the community have God-given talents and gifts that have never been invited. How is God’s voice taken for granted in the community, with the gifts God is giving us immediately devoured by other items on our agenda?
- Seed falls on shallow soil, sprouts, but doesn’t grow because of lack of support. How is our attention absorbed elsewhere as we pray? How are we called to spend more time reflecting, nurturing, encouraging others in the parish to explore their spiritual lives, to listen together for what God has in store for us? How do we use our time wisely, to enrich the soil of this community to foster greater growth and awareness, even greater embodiment of God’s gifts?
- Seed falls amid the thorns and bushes and is choked out. How are we distracted in our lives? What are those things in our common life that are choking out an even greater expression of God’s call to us, and how can we faithfully focus on our collective vocation? What are our “thorns and bushes?”
- And, of course, seed falls on fertile soil and as the text says, “brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” What do we see as the promise of God in this community? How do we see our participation in God mission? How can each one of us contribute to the spiritual life of the whole—offering our gifts and trusting that, through the fertile soil, much grain will be brought forth?
I believe—more and more—that this is the call of the parish: that every single person here counts and is loved by God. That every single person here is called to share of himself or herself, participating in God’s mission in the world. Every Single Person Counts and is called to embody their vocation, to share their gifts and strengths…. That everyone has purpose.
So, what does God want you to be when you grow up?
The Rev. Stuart Craig Higginbotham
Proper 10, Year A
Isaiah 55:10-13; St. Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 13, 2014