Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is a very different Sunday. Last week you welcomed me back, with applause; this Sunday is the first of the last ones remaining before my call ends in August. It is whiplash, I know, surprise, maybe confusion, sadness.
The senior pastor retired, and now what little is left, will also be taken away.
What do we do now, what do you do now?
Our human inclination is to jump into action, go solve the problem. And we have. Tomorrow the council will announce the senior interim pastor who, I know, will provide the best leadership you could wish for.
When I put my ear to the Word of God for today, I hear very wise advice for us, for you now. It’s all about trees and growing. Trees and grain grow by themselves, following clearly laid out processes.
Our role is to acknowledge that God is the active one in all instances, the planting, the grafting, the sowing. It is good, says the psalmist, during your morning and evening prayers to acknowledge God’s doing: “It is good to declare God’s steadfast love in the morning and God’s faithfulness by night, …, for you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work.” (Ps 92:2, 4)
Ezekiel describes a cosmic tree, boughs bearing fruit, a noble, beautiful cedar tree, inviting all living creatures to find shelter and shade. A vision familiar to us also from the last chapter in the book of Revelation, the tree of life with leaves for the healing of the nations. We don’t live quite yet in the shade and shelter of this tree, but we get the idea. God’s promise already now infuses our hope, our bones, our souls.
The welcome beckoning of the cosmic tree makes us plant trees in turn, create living spaces for people to find shelter and shade in the travails of life. God grows trees with a clear bias: “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.”
God is at work, Christ is here, dear congregation, also today, still today, in the growing, changing seasons of our time.
Things take time. Farewells and good-byes take time, memories take time; new hope, new vision takes time to germinate, grow, tended to. Green thumbs are needed to care for the new growth, create conditions for thriving. And if you are a gardener, you know that gardens are full of surprises, plans can fail or turn out very different.
The parable of the self-growing seed, the first of the two that Jesus tells, appears to have no message. The reign of God: someone scatters seed, goes to bed, gets up, the seed sprouts and grows by itself. Then this uninteresting detail of first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. We know that?! What’s cool about that?
What if this were a way of Jesus telling us, “Hey, the reign of God is not yours to bring about, don’t solve the problems in the kingdom of God, there is process, things develop step by step, they take time, God’s own time by the way, not yours.”
“And in the meantime,” the parable advises us, “be responsible. Cooperate, adjust yourself to this way of growing, evolving, revealing. Ask of yourselves questions and attune yourself to God’s rhythms and God’s time. The harvest will come. – And don’t forget, you are part of the vision of the cosmic tree under which eventually all find their place.”
The church, this church, feels low now, vulnerable, and the question, what’s next is only natural. But biblical hope knows that God makes high the low tree, just as the high tree can be brought low. Mary sings the same in her Magnificat, she knows that dynamic as well.
The mustard seed parable gives us yet another perspective on growing, unstoppable growth, joining the biblical vision of the cosmic tree under which all is well and will be well.
In its original context the mustard seed parable is a satire and therefore fun. As to be expected in a satire, there’s also a dig.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a little Godly Play show and tell now, and have Marie Monroe put up a large yellow underlay on a flannel board, showing you the invisibly small mustard seed, then unrolling out of her fist the shrub, filling the underlay to the edge to show the humungous growth. But, alas, let that be our imagination.
Jesus first asks the listeners two questions: “With what can we compare the reign of God, or, what parable will we use for it?” Meaning, Jesus invites our active participation in the discernment, continually, even now, in our time and context.
Answer: When a mustard seed is sown in the ground.
That’s the first joke, – mustard seeds of the Palestinian kind, brassica negra, were not sown. The seeds were so small, they were carried by the wind; they stuck to your feet and shoes, so people inadvertently spread these things everywhere. There were no cultivated mustard tree groves in Galilee!
No one sows a mustard seed.
Second joke, it grows and becomes the greatest of all plantings, large branches in which the birds of the air make their living. As you can already guess, a mustard shrub cannot be compared to the majestic cedar tree that God plants on Israel’s mountain, or the tree of life from Rev 22. The branches of a mustard shrub would be laughable compared to the tree for the end of times. And yet, birds come and make nests in the mustard shrub, it provides shade from the heat of the day for all kinds of creatures and people.
Dear ones, God’s reign simply shows up, like a mustard shrub. It shows up very likely in unexpected places, it may be perceived as a pest, still it’s welcomed by the birds and many others; it just grows, – again, without much of our doing, but thriving with cooperation.
And, just like Jesus does not ride into Jerusalem before his crucifixion on a powerful horse but on a donkey colt, this tree shrub is not majestic by any standard. But God’s reign grows, out of a cross that became the tree of life, providing joy, hope, promise, shelter and shade.
So now, back to us.
Christ the King Church has high standards. Look at our building, appreciate this incredible organ, the liturgy, the music. We like to do things well, very well. That is commendable, and as far as I am concerned highly enjoyable.
But we know that for matters of the reign of God, the intentions of our hearts are what counts, our disposition in faith, our honesty, and our attitude. It is easy when we strive to excel, to slip into an attitude of being extra special. Then suffers our hearing, our listening to God’s word, to Jesus’ questions, listening to each other; and the wondering, the drilling deep what the reign of God might mean gets the short end.
So, let us take the tree and seed parables today to build up our hope, to rely on God’s doing and promises, be guided by the wisdom of process. Let’s make time and room for things to grow. I plan to hang out in the shade under the tree. I’ll see you there. Amen.