Proper 6, 2015

Almighty God,

It seems like you want us to trust you.

You taught us, through your Son Jesus

To pray that your kingdom come

And that your will be done.

And he also told us not to worry about tomorrow,

That you give birds food,

That you make flowers beautiful,

And because of that,

we should trust that you are going to take care of us.


But God, that is hard.

And I think we’re afraid.

So, we make rules

and we hoard your gifts

and we close doors you have opened.

Forgive us. And tell us your story again.





In many ways, this week is a fairly smooth transition from last week. Last week, I offered reflections on Genesis 3 that interpreted the breakdown in the Garden as a failure to see dependence on one another as a gift.

In other words, Adam and Eve saw one another, and the Serpent for that matter, as an obstacle to greater self-fulfillment, to self-righteousness, to being “like God”. And, as I suggested, the beginning of this breakdown was their transition from walking with God, talking with God, and asking questions with God, into seeing God as an object of discussion – a concept they had to master through acrobatic argumentation with God’s Word.

They no longer saw themselves as dependent on God to know how to be like God, how to live, and how to be fully human. They could rely on themselves, and all else was obstacle. They were each other’s obstacles. And God’s gift of creation was an obstacle.

Wow. Why couldn’t I have just said that last week? That would have saved us a lot of time.

The first short parable is focusing primarily on the hidden work of God over and against our “sure-fired” attempts to bring about the Kingdom of God. The sower goes out and flings seed all over the ground, and it grows up on its own.

This is what the kingdom of God is like.

Now, I am not sure it is all that helpful to designate roles in this story. That is, I do not think we’re necessarily supposed to say that we’re the sower and the seed is the Gospel, though I suppose you could read it that way. But it seems to me that Jesus is inviting us to understand something about the Kingdom of God from the parable as a whole: “The Kingdom of God goes like this…”, and we have to discern what that means for us. It makes the parable much richer, and I think it’s what parables are for, anyway.

We have been invited to participate in the work God is doing. I think the parable is speaking to that. It is God’s work. God is not underwriting or bankrolling our agendas. God is not bound to our ideas of orderly conduct, due process, or efficient execution. When Jesus says, “Come, follow me”, we are meant to follow the call of Christ, who took up his cross in obedience to God’s will, trusting that God would bring life out of death, peace out of violence, plowshares from swords, and green shoots from the dry and barren earth.

Those things we may think are worthless – the kind word, the hug, silent presence with another, or showing up to prayer when it just doesn’t seem to do anything – here, I think Jesus is saying that God does not discriminate between those things that we think are either great or small, significant or insignificant.

But often these things too easily become the program they should never be. Or it becomes the quick fix that gives way to a sense of self-righteousness and a failure to recognize, to give all thanks and praise to, our skilled, gardening God. This thanks and praise is our meet, right, and bounden duty because, to be frank, “thanks” is all we have to give.

We are invited participants in a work that is not ours to start or finish. We are given the gift of participation. We are given the gift of bearing witness to the mighty acts of God. Indeed it is the works of mercy and justice that we often explain away. We make rules, draw lines in the sand, and our list of criteria, the list that determines who is “worthy” of our help, grows faster than the seed we hope to plant.

“They cannot bring fruit,” we say.

“This will make them dependent!” we say.

“They’ll spend it on drugs and liquor” we say.

“They have to be able to help themselves” we say.

“They should just do what they’re told,

and they won’t have so much trouble with the law” we say.

Hear me now as I say this as clearly as I can: The church has absolutely no ground to stand on when she requires people to save themselves from the “evil powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.”

We above all people ought to know that our salvation and hope does not come from self-help, self-discipline, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps, Your Best Life Now, do-it-yourself, and determination.

No, my brothers and sisters, our “selves” have been crucified with Christ, and we no longer live. Rather, Christ lives in us! And the life we now live in the flesh we live by the Faith of the Son of God” So, “May we never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to us, and us to the world” All good gifts we have, we owe to Christ.

Therefore, let us sow gifts without reservation, knowing that it is the Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, that will bring forth fruit by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

See, we are witnesses to a Kingdom that depends on God for it’s life and growth. Any attempt we make to regulate that growth is to bring the sickle to the wheat before it is ready to be harvested.

I think the text from Ezekiel makes the connection between these two parables.

Just before our text for this morning, in the beginning of chapter 17, God gives Ezekiel a vision, a “riddle” that God then explains to Ezekiel.

Two eagles appear in the vision – one represents Babylon and the other Egypt. The Eagles both try to tend to the plant that represents Israel. You see, the King of Judah, the southern part of Israel, made a covenant with Babylon. Then he went on to break that covenant by seeking help from the Pharoah of Egypt. Of course, God was not very excited about either of these covenants, and God essentially says that Judah has put its trust in two different kingdoms and neither can ultimately save God’s people.

This is where our part of the text comes in: “Thus says the Lord God, ‘I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain.’”

Here in Ezekiel, God is reminding God’s people that God is the one who will plant, grow, and flourish the people.

And this is not subject to our ideas about what is good for growing and flourishing. God says, “I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.” The dry, wilted tree flourishes and the lively, green tree dries up. In other words, God is not subject to our limited concept of power, order, and potential.

So what does this mean for us? What does this mean for St. John and St. Marks? What, then, are we to do about it? I think we can turn to the mustard seed’s example for these questions.

Jesus has told them that the Kingdom of God grows and flourishes in ways that are hidden from the sower. So, in this parable, we see the seed growing into a shrub – a mustard plant – so that birds of “all kinds” can make their nest in this shrub. As you probably noticed, this is incredibly similar to the passage from Ezekiel.

There, God also promised that, “Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.” I do not think we can escape the insinuation here, especially with Ezekiel in the background: God is creating a radical space for all kinds.

And we cannot forget that it is God who causes this growth, who creates this space for birds of “all kinds”.

But what is this space? Where is it located? I think the answer cannot be found anywhere other than in the very Body of Christ. You see, I think Christ is that tiny seed – robed in flesh and unseemly poverty. Christ is the seed that digs into the dust of the earth with us. It is Christ who is the seed that must fall to the earth and die in order to bear much fruit. And it is Christ who emerges from the dry, infertile ground and draws “all kinds” to himself – Sparrow, Crow, Eagle, Thrasher, and Robin. Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Male, Female, Rich, Poor, Young, Old. All are invited to make their nest, their dwelling place in this shrub that God alone has planted among us. Birds “of all kinds” make their nest in the great mustard shrub.

This is what the Kingdom of God is like. It is like a seed that has been planted, and it grows for the sake of all kinds of birds.

We – I mean this congregation – we are an odd community. We have all kinds of birds here. And I think our odd community begins to image the beauty of that Kingdom that houses “all kinds.”

But we are not done. Our odd community is called to draw even more, even odder birds into this branch of the Body of Christ, which has become our home.

And any time we are tempted to regulate this space, to draw the line, to deny admittance, we must repent.

Because, we are not the ones who grew this seed. No. God alone has taken the Seed, placed it in the dirt of the earth, and has grown it. God is continuing to grow it and nourish it. And we who have been invited into this Body, this dwelling of odd birds, are now called to invite “all kinds” into this place that God is tending, nourishing, and growing.

We are called to share with one another, and with all kinds, that nourishment which we have been given so abundantly. We – the Body of Christ – are called to make room for all kinds in this household of God, because we who were once far off have been brought near, have been given rest on the branches of the True Vine in the midst of our long flight.

Come, all of you who are weary from this journey. God will wash you in this water, and God will bring you to this abundant table. There is space enough for all of God’s odd birds. Amen.


Comments are closed.