I love words. I am not a professional wordsmith but the study of words has always drawn me. I try to learn and use new words every day. I thus subscribe to several online sites that introduce me to words daily.
Recently, on the site “The Word of a Day,” a word resonated with my vision of the future. The word is “seedtime.” The obvious meaning of the word is, well, obvious. Seedtime is a time for “planting seeds, or the proper season for sowing.” But the less obvious meaning is what struck me about this word. This second, and newer, meaning reveals the development of the word in modern English. (One of the things that makes English so unique is how words continue to develop through both popular and technical usage.)
Seedtime remains a noun in all forms. But it has now taken on a second meaning. Seedtime is “the time when a cultural or political movement is beginning to develop.” Simply put, “it is a time for new development.” This meaning captured my mind. It has danced about in my thoughts in recent days. Why?
I conceive of my life, based on the teaching of Jesus and the whole of the Biblical witness, as a time of “seed sowing.” The seed is the Word of God. The sower, in the Gospels, is Jesus. The Gospels make plain that Jesus entrusted this mission of sowing to us, men and women who are his disciples. We are all, like good farmers, called to follow the patterns and seasons, thus to know how and when to sow the Word of God. Sometimes this work is broadly spread over a big field. More often than not it involves the more precise work of sowing seed into one or two hearts, thus small fields of labor. This type of work requires a careful determination of things like soil condition, weather patterns and other agricultural and environmental factors. But the spiritual sower always prays and sows with clear purpose.
A recent experience with seed also speaks to me in this metaphor. In the early spring my yard look like a disaster. I am not a professional about lawn care but I knew something was wrong. I began to ask, “What can I do about getting my grass to be thicker and greener?” I was introduced to the concept called “over seeding.” This week I began to see the first evidence of my “over seeding” work. In time I hope this seedtime work will thicken and improve my spotty lawn. The challenge came when I first seeded. I watched every day for a few blades of new grass. I was way too attentive to growth and not to the process. Again, I think I see a truth in this metaphor what fits with Jesus’ use of the image of seed in the Gospels. We sow but God alone gives the increase.
It is thus this second use of seedtime that fascinates me. A new cultural or political movement that is “beginning to develop” is seedtime. Seedtime can can also be a new spiritual and religious movement. I believe such a spiritual movement began in 1906 at the Edinburgh Mission Conference in Scotland. This particular movement, almost unrecognized by most Christians, has continued until the present. Christian leaders asked, in 1906, “How can we do the mission of Christ much more productively by becoming one in our relationships and shared, common mission?” This answer is what I call missional-ecumenism.
I believe the political, social, cultural and religious movements of the early twenty-first century indicate that we entered a new season; a kairos to use a New Testament word. This new movement is one in which oneness among Christians is starting to gain serious traction and spread out into the highways and byways of ordinary daily social and cultural life. (I think this especially true as we see civility and unity eroding in political and social ways.) Could we even think of this present season as a time of “over seeding” since the first wave of this seedtime movement began over a hundred years ago? What do I mean?
God has been developing a movement of oneness for more than a hundred years now. In the wake of Christian brother rising up against Christian brother, in the eleventh and sixteenth centuries in particular, a time for healing began early in the last century. This healing began to develop when missionaries met one another in far away places and realized the divisions among Christians hindered their work of seed sowing in non-Christian soil. This awareness prompted these visionary and serious missionaries to convene a conference to discuss what was wrong and to seek answers. What followed was a century of ecumenical history and movements, often producing some of the finest theological writing in centuries. As Christians listened and learned from one another hard ground was broken up. We learned how to seek unity while we better understood our diversity. We saw new theological paradigms that gave us hope for the modern era. We did not see union of our diverse churches as our end, though some efforts led to unions. (An example can be seen in the work of Lesslie Newbigin in South India in bringing several Protestant churches together into the new Church of South India.) Rather we longed to end the Christian conflicts and find new ways to love and embrace one another in the one Lord Jesus Christ. If union then came it was the result of this movement of unity.
Now, in the twenty-first century, seedtime is dawning. Some feel that we entered an “ecumenical winter” over the last several decades of the previous century. Maybe. Maybe not. I think, whatever happened, our “new” reality is more powerful than the old. No longer are theologians and leaders doing the real lifting in the call to unity. This work is now happening among the laos, the whole people of God. Such people movements are powerful and bring about real change if nurtured and understood.
I believe this people movement began toward the end of the last century. During this time the Holy Spirit spoke to me about what God was doing in the world. In 1998 I first clearly saw what I still cannot explain. But I knew God was calling me, and many others as I followed and listened, to lay down everything else for the sake of unity among brothers and sisters. My life has thus become a single seed sown in God’s field. I once desired fame, all for the kingdom of God I told myself. I now realize that such desire was entirely carnal, if not destructive. What I was made for was God’s glory, and his glory in me is to encourage a movement that is in seedtime. I can do this for the rest of my life and die a happy and satisfied person.
Today my life is singularly focused on sowing divine seed into a movement of the Spirit that is only beginning to develop. Most still do not see this movement as a powerful force for deep and abiding change. I see it as such and will continue to attempt some explanations and ideas about it. But I have no doubt that this is “seedtime” for missional-ecumenism. I humbly invite you to join me in any way that you are called to embrace this movement. Come join me and give your life over to sowing the seed of love and oneness everywhere (Ephesians 4:4-6, Galatians 3:26-29; John 17:21-24).