Sunday, June 18, 2006

It's Sunday ( Father's Day and my mother's birthday! )

Verona United Methodist Church, Verona NJ

I was the "pastor" at church today. My message was from Mark 4:, verses 22-23 and 26-34. I ad-libbed a bit more than I had written down, but I'll give the written portion of it here.

I thought the Gospel lesson included verse 22 and 23 -
"For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested: neither was any thing kept secret except to come to light. If any man has ears to hear, let him hear."
Now I had such a good analogy for this right off, so I titled my message "Ears to Hear". So, having said that, I will tell you that my husband teaches in a high school. He teaches geometry , high school proficiency assessment test prep and SAT prep. He presents the facts that will be on tests, tells them to take good notes, goes over the material over and over again, telling them exactly what will be on the test. And over half of them will fail it. Why? Because they may hear him, but they don't pay attention! Jesus' parables are like his lectures and if we pay attention - have ears to hear- we should all pass the final.
Now, let's look at the parable that was the Gospel lesson. The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground. The window portrays the basic idea
(there's a large stained glass window as you enter our sanctuary that shows Jesus - or the basic WASP version of Him- scattering seed from an apron full of seed) . In Jesus' time as well as now involved plowing although the seeds were planted by hand. Most of the seed went where it was intended to go and sank into the soil, being as how the earth would just close over the seeds.
Most people around here set out plants, rather than seeds, so it isn't as easy to see the analogy in this parable. I plants seeds, water them and occasionally pray over them, because I'm never sure what's going to come up. But I do expect them to. Last year I planted some pumpkin seeds in big pots, figuring they would grow too much and they'd die back pretty quick. To my astonishment, they grew right out of the pots with lavish blooms and long vines.
(I didn't get to use the visuals that I can here...This is one of the original plants.)
I replanted one or two by the front porch in a little garden plot not much bigger than the pulpit. It took off and grew every which way, to the end of the plot, up on the porch, out in the driveway, across the sidewalk. We kept it trimmed back and let it take over the plot. I had no real hope of pumpkins, but I kept it watered and enjoyed the display of blossoms. Now in October, I went to clear out the dead stuff out of the patch, digging up the violets, cutting back the daffodils and taking out the dried up pumpkin vines. And what was there? A full grown pumpkin! I was surprised, even though that was what was supposed to happen! (Another visual - the violets that I pull up are right behind and around the pumpkin)
The real point of the parable that Jesus said about the seed growing and the man (and me, too, for that matter) not knowing how is not the gradualness of the seed growing, but the certainty of the growth, due to the nature of the earth. When Jesus told the listener this is was a great word of encouragement and hope, an answer to impatience and discouragement.
There's always a temptation to the short cuts of force and violence- we see that now with the minority of Islamic militants with bombs and shouting trying to make the world conform to their message. But instead, Jesus calls for us to depend on the sure forces of God. God brings forth fruit of Himself. The nourishing, redeeming power in in the very composition of the world. Mankind cannot create or block it. But he can depend on it and work with it. There isn't any automatic progress, any sure growth without God. God is involved in everyone's growth, whether they acknowledge it or not.
The gradual growth told of by the parable is a true symbol of the fact that life grows by stages. That truth is a standard tenet of our religious education. It's a basis of faith and hope. We always train ourselves for the next stage both of belief and life. Patience needs to be taken and each stage needs an education that meets its needs. You can't push someone to be an ear of grain if they are only enabled to be a blade. Some people try to push children too hard, to make them into something they aren't prepared to be. They need to be given time to grow.
When the parable turns to the mustard seed, the point isn't gradual growth either. The point is more the difference between the tiny beginnings and the inevitable largeness of the result, even though a mustard seed doesn't make that big of plant- it's more a shrub than a tree - the difference between the seed and the size of the plant is big.
(this is from one of those internet pages - the seed inside the charm is actual size - during the message I made the inevitable fingers this close to show how small the seed would be)
Jesus probably used this to perk up the disciples, to let them know that small results aren't a way to judge how big the Kingdom is, which is built on all those small results. The growth is God's business.
Gods' tools have always been an inventive minority. There are no limits to the creativity of a small bunch of people who've accepted the idea if the Kingdom of God into their lives and been infused with the Holy Spirit.
These parables warn against confusing size with merit. As our church motto says,"We are a church large enough to serve and small enough to care." The fact that we care and it shows without a big neon sign saying "I'm a Christian" makes a difference. Feeding people who are hungry, like in Irvington, helping someone out, just caring makes a difference that we may not see. But like the tiny mustard seed, or the even smaller orchid seed, we can trust in the sureness of growth when we care. When we tend to the church and the Kingdom, God will bring forth fruit, acceptable to Him. Size does not matter - Jesus spoke of quality, not quantity.
Those of you who have gone through many of the stages of growth probably have some memories of things you learned a long time ago. And, in remembering this is Father's Day, a friend of mine said, "You know, it's funny but sometimes I suddenly remember things my father taught me 46 years ago." There are things Jesus taught thousands of years ago that we all still remember and have used to grow.
And now let us close by joining in the prayer to the Father that Jesus taught his disciples -
"Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespassed and we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."
The message went pretty quick, but even the smallest seed will grow.
By the way, Happy Father's Day and Happy Birthday, Mom!!!!!

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