Readings for this Sunday:
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 | Psalm 20 | 2 Corinthians 5:6-17| Mark 4:26-34
The seed in Mark’s gospel is the word of God, the revelation, the action of God amongst us. Jesus gives us this definition in the parable that is told right before the one we read today. Today’s parables (or folklore was a description of parables that I heard this week: common tales, tales of the people that help us understand, bring down to earth, things mysterious and important). Well, today’s parables are part of a series that Jesus tells about seeds; seeds and the way they are sown and what they do and how they can help us understand a little more fully and a trust a little more deeply the nature of God’s word amongst us and within us.
So in the previous parable, the one right before those we read today the seed is sown and it is sown on all sorts of ground – fertile ground, hardened ground, weedy ground, rocky ground – and as we might imagine, or if you have gardened you will know - that under such a method only some will thrive. The seed needs the right conditions to grow. But the aspect of this tale that strikes me as especially important and that I think gives greater dimension to the parables we read today is that this seed, this word of God, is thrown everywhere. It’s not just here in this book – the use of that word takes us there, but the word or the action, the revelation, the presence of God is everywhere. The Sower of the seed, the one who plants the word of God—God’s own self - does not discriminate in terms of where God’s word will be planted. This word from God, it is planted everywhere – everywhere. All over the place. Everywhere. Absolutely no place is out of bounds.
And then there are today’s tales –
And then there are today’s tales – tales that tell us a little more about the nature of this word. It is small and fragile, small as a mustard seed – small as David. It will oftentimes be stomped upon, choked, left without water. It will be the case that many of the chances it might have had to flourishing and bear fruit will be missed. But it also resilient and mysterious. And its design and intent as something that will bear breathtaking life is not rooted in anything man made but is the work of the creator. And if it’s allowed to do what it’s meant to do – if it’s not choked or stomped out then we will be astonished by the kind of fruit it can bear – the kind of life it can offer. The surprising quality and the depth of the riches of the yield from this seed is illustrated by the huge and sheltering shrub this tiny mustard seed produces. And even more startling, if we look about at the previous parable we will see that the seed that is the word, the revelation, the action of God amongst us will produce a crop – not 7 fold – or even 10 fold – yields which would make up a bumper crop but actually up to 100 fold. A ridiculous almost incomprehensible return and a return that would provide more than enough for the exploited tenant farmers of Mark’s time to buy the land they are forced to farm for another. The word of God amongst us, if allowed to grow and bear fruit brings liberation from things that oppress and deny full and whole life. This word these parable tells us, well it’s everywhere. It is small and fragile, but it’s also mysterious and resilient, of God’s own creation and for Gods purposes not ours and when nurtured, when given the space it needs it provides a yield that is liberating and nourishing beyond all measure.
So if it’s not just contained in this book, if the word of God is already everywhere – what does it look like? – how do we know it when we see it? Well if the life of Jesus, the living word, is anything to go by then the word of God is about resistance to the things that take away life: non-violent, hopeful resistance. It’s about naming truth, the things that are good and true. It’s our heart’s desire – the things we know most wholly to be what we need. It’s about reminding ourselves and the world that God intended for all to be loved, all to be cherished, all to have what they need. Its about trusting that there are powers of love and care that will prevail even in the darkest times over horror and death.
I heard the word of God this week. It came out of the mouth of a veteran. A young man maybe in his 30s. Severe PTSD. A car alarm set him on edge last weekend and he got into a loud argument with a woman who has her own form of suffering with untreated mental illness. She was upset by him – yelled at him, he yelled back. Finally she pointed at him and whispered, ‘you’re dead.” He stood there, this 30 year old, and declared arms outstretched, defiant, unwavering, but sad, “I am already dead. Dead to the military, dead to the government – already dead.” Defiant – asking anyone who would listen to look at him and know there was nothing else anyone could possible take from him. He stood there unwavering, but sad – seeing no way out but stating what’s real to him anyway – still breathing, still hurting, still here and honestly really what are you going to do about it he wanted to know. Later I stood with him and remarked to him “it’s been a tough night huh?” He can’t really look at people straight on so as we stood side by side he looked ahead and said, “They’re all tough – it’s a fight every day.” But then turned to me, caught my eye, just for a second and said in a softer but no less unwavering and sad way, “just don’t trespass me from here.”
You see I have power over him. The job I do means I can ban him from the program he was at when this happened. There are some who say we should. He was disruptive – contributing to a less than peaceful atmosphere – probably frightening people. But could the word of God be in this man. Isn’t it everywhere and could it be here, small, resilient, resistant? Is it what gives fuel to his protest – this seed that says this is not as it should be and was it in that request – just don’t trespass me from her – I need this place. I need somewhere to be.
This man has been brutalized by the systems of our time. He is a veteran with severe mental illness. He self-medicates with whatever drugs he can get his hands on. Every day is a struggle for him. He has been in and out of jail and we respond to what we see on the surface – we move him along – insist that he keep his voice down – blame him for his troubles. The Word that is in him that knows he is worth more is choking and being left to die. But this same spirit, this word that is in him is resilient and mysterious. It is placed there by our creator and it is the very thing that causes him to protests – can’t you see I am dead but breathing standing right here he shouts, don’t you see that this is not right, that I am worth more than this and then in softer moments. Just don’t trespass me from here. I need to be here – don’t know why – maybe the food – maybe the company – maybe a sense that I am cared for – that I have a chance of being listened to. Let me stay. I think this is the word of God. The word of God. In that man, small resilient asking for justice, refusing to be snuffed out.
And this collected word here in this book tells us over and over that if we listen and respond to these small voices we will be astonished by what they can become – we will find life for ourselves and see life for so many others. Who knows where this man’s voice could lead if we really nurtured it– maybe it’ll be the thing that’ll really give us the energy and imagination to somehow find a much needed new building for our program, maybe it will help us to never stop trying to hire chaplains and to support volunteers as they take steps to be even more present to others. Maybe it’ll lead to a relationship that will just give him a sense of worth for a little while and let him know a little more deeply that he is worth it. But it’s there – it’s the word of God and if we don’t choke it – if we find a way to water and tend to it we will find a home for all of us that is safe and true.
So I wonder what are the small voices, the seed of the Spirit, the word of God here in this place at St Andrew and in the things we do together? What do you need? What do you know that is true and good? What is your heart’s desire? What do you hope for? What injustices do you know? Where do you resist and what do you want to protest? These voices are needed. They bring the word of God to our life together and we must give them space both in ourselves and in each other.
You might have noticed that we are developing the deacon role. The deacon is the one who provides leadership in connecting the church to the world and vice versa. We have a board of deacons – folks you have been led to ordain from this congregation who do this work every day. But we are also being led to make this work – the work of the whole church - even more visible in our worship. If we are not about connecting this place, this worship, this life together to our own lives and the lives of the world then for goodness sake what is it all for? So there is a deacon in worship. One of the staff who highlights a little more the connection and operates out of our conviction that God is at work in the world. What we do here has something to say to the world and God’s action in the world. God’s presence in the small voices of protest and passion and hope in you and those you know and love have something to tell us about what God needs from us here in this place.
So the deacon collects the prayers at the beginning of worship. The cares and joys that we bring into this place. The deacon brings these prayers to the table. The deacon prays to the Holy Spirit to unite the people as Christ’s Body and offers our prayers for each other and for the world. And in recent weeks you will see that the deacon is sitting in the assembly. The deacon will be closer to the people paying attention for small voices – the word of God. Paying attention for what this assembly needs, helping us attend to each other, reaching out gently if needed to those who might need some help, some company. Who come here with pain or passion and need to know that they are in exactly the right place. That Deacon’s role, that call to connect this life together here in this place with the reality of the world, the spirit of God that is planted everywhere, well it belongs to all of us. And you do it with such grace and hope, but perhaps some weeks you are tired and need to be taken care of a little bit. The presence of the deacon is there to help remind us that we each bring the voice of God and that this voice is important and will get us where we need to go.
It is in spending time beside each other – listening, looking for the word of God – the small voice that says – please tell me I can stay – that you will make room for me that we will get to know a little more deeply the kingdom of God. And God tells us when we do this we will ultimately know structures of justice and peace – momentarily and in the long run. Places that provide a home and that undercut systems of oppression and despair.
Thanks be to God.
St. Andrew Sermons