Message for the third Sunday in Pentecost
Based on Mark 4: 26-34 Parables: Seeds and Growth
This morning, with Part III of our annual congregational meeting to follow immediately after worship, I have the distinct challenge of offering a short reflection on one of my most favourite readings from scripture, the parables of seeds and growth.
This morning I have three dilemmas.
1. How to be succinct about the mystery of how God’s powerful presence works relentlessly behind the scenes and just below the surface of things.
2. How to be succinct about God’s mysterious and powerful presence ever working within and through us, always for our greatest good and for the well-being of the whole of Creation
3. How to offer a word of testimony or witness to how I see that dynamic being lived out in our life as a church
The short answer? I’ll give it my best try, knowing that there is always room for more another Sunday. Let us begin then with a prayer.
Holy, gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings in our hearts and minds and bodies be acceptable in your sight as we begin our time of shared reflection on your word for us this day. Amen.
If I were to sum up the underlying message in our readings this morning it would be this: God’s holy spirit is tirelessly and relentlessly working away behind the scenes and just under the surface of our interactions, always longing for our greatest good, actively engaging in setting the stage for the well-being of the whole of Creation, and being present to us as we go about the business of striving to be the church in this time and in this place.
Like the tiniest and the most uncontrollable of seeds, the mustard seed, God is ever at work in our hearts and in our shared life together nudging and nurturing us to be about the business of creating communities where God’s vision of Shalom, God’s in-breaking kingdom, or God’s coming realm can be realized.
And, like the mustard seed which is tenacious, disorderly, and uncontrollable in its growing pattern, once seeded, God’s in breaking realm needs our witness and our attention.
To begin with let’s talk about what I mean by God’s in breaking realm, God’s vision of Shalom, God’s coming reign, or God’s peaceable kingdom.
Some of you, like, me, may have developed an almost naïve sense of what God’s peaceable kingdom might look like. For example, it might look like one where everyone knows and lives by rules of conduct that keep everyone safe; say, where everyone pulls their weight. It might look like a dynamic where the needs of the many are judged as more important than the needs of the few. Some of you like me, may have thought that God’s in breaking kingdom is only be found where things are going well, where life is flourishing, and where conflict seems to be at a low ebb.
Lately, however, I am starting to recognize that more often than not, we live and move in a postmodern context where we our diverse experiences and understandings about God, faith, privilege, wealth and poverty, power, and vulnerability are the norm; where things don’t always go well; and where we often feel uncomfortable with those we encounter. Oftentimes life is drab and discouraging, discouraging, and overwhelming, and for those reasons very challenging.
With that in mind, I find it helpful to remember for example, how in Jesus’ day, life was highly challenged, challenging, even threatening for his most committed followers who were (for the most part) not educated, not privileged, not recognized, nor influential, nor powerful. In fact, it seems that in Jesus’ day, it was the very opposite-his most committed followers were numbered among the despised, the shunned, the powerless, and the vulnerable. Scripture tells us that it was through just such as these, that God’s in breaking realm was made real. God’s vision of Shalom was being played out even in the midst of the chaos and terror that shaped life for those first followers in the Way of the Holy One.
Could it be then that we have the same opportunity here in our postmodern context where less than 3% of people even attend church or express interest in scripture? Could it be that our work as followers in the way needs to look different? Could it be that we are being called into finding new opportunities to learn from the less privileged in whose midst we find ourselves more and more often than not?
This brings me back to where I have seen God actively at work in our midst particularly this last week.
In our ministry of hospitality and hope we offer through our monthly community lunch we serve food to the hungry, I am sensing that as we break bread together, God’s vision of Shalom is real. This seemed particularly so this last Wednesday morning on the occasion of our 90th birthday of the United Church of Canada when we invited friends, neighbours, and community lunch participants to come together.
Noisy, messy, confusing, and at times chaotic, God’s presence was evident to me as people gathered on our front lawn for the ringing of the bells part of the celebration.
I saw God’s kingdom coming near as the little ones from our preschool showed by their body language that though they were not sure if the bigger ‘show’ was to be experienced in their observations of the many congregants sitting behind them gathered to hear the organ recital or from watching and learning from our organist!
I sense God’s kingdom had come near when their teacher, Alexandra, marvelled that, in eight years of working in our Little People preschool, she had never been inside our sanctuary. Watching her sparkle as she described her first viewing of our stained glass window, I was aware that a seed of faith was being nurtured in her even as we chatted briefly together.
I observed God’s kingdom in our midst as two of our own went about the business of tidying up the memorial garden sharing stories of what called them into that spontaneous work together.
Following on from the concert, I noticed God’s kingdom continue to come near as we mixed and mingled together serving and sharing lunch with 100 others, multiple generations of folks-some hungrier than others, some cleaner than others, some more able bodied and some less, some more vulnerable than others and some less but, nonetheless, all gathered together for the common purpose of breaking bread together and sharing our stories.
These are but a few of examples of God’s vision of Shalom being made real on that occasion. You, too, may have your own observations to share but for today, I want to leave you with this thought: God’s kingdom comes of its own accord and it comes for each of us alone and together. God’s kingdom comes in the middle of all our risks, fears, and doubts. God’s kingdom calls us into taking that leap of faith into the unknown all the while trusting that God’s surprising and disruptive grace is alive and well here and now in all the messiness of being the church in this time and in this place.
Let us pray: Amazing God, to you belong the mysteries of the Universe. You transform tender twigs into mighty cedar trees, the smallest of seeds into magnificent bushes, and sometimes even closed and discouraged hearts into open and hope-filled ones. Bless us with your life giving spirit, recreate us in your image, and shape us into your purposes through Jesus, the Christ.
May it be so.