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The Mustard Seed, Loving-kindness, and Creation Care

Image of a green stylized meadow with a full moon and stars in the background. The foreground has yellow flowers and a bee on the left and red flowers, a blue butterfly and a ladybug on the right. There is also a tree in the distance in front of the full moon.

If the realm of God is like the scattering of seeds that sprout mysteriously, I wonder if we are actually doing any of the seed scattering. Or, for that matter, receiving any of the seeds scattered by others. I don’t think we are very comfortable with mystery, let alone Mystery. Contemplating the realm of God seems a bit heady or lofty given the struggles of everyday living, right? However, if we shift our perspective just a little bit, then the realm of God and all its Mystery becomes part of everyday life, perhaps even alleviating some of the suffering.

In Mark’s gospel, the Good News is that the realm of God is at hand. It wasn’t about salvation or a “personal relationship with God.” The Good News was about the closeness of God’s realm and the invitation to join in  the work of brining God’s realm into our world. This wasn’t the task of any individual; it was the task of the community of believers. Jesus wanted his followers to repent of our lack of labor on behalf of the realm of God, repent of our self-focused ways of living in this world. God and the realm of God are near; the seeds of heaven are growing everywhere if we have the capacity and the desire to recognize what’s happening.

For the last several days in Minnesota, the temperatures have been between 90 and 100 degrees. This is exceedingly hot for early June. These high temperatures are an indication of climate shift, global warming that has resulted from human beings misusing the planet in large and small ways. We are destroying our oceans by over-fishing and dragging miles of seabed. We are destroying our forests by strip mining and excessive logging. Our water supplies dwindle because we’d rather over-supply things like almond milk than pay attention to what the earth can sustain. Our consumerism is literally destroying our planet. And as long as those with privilege have air conditioning, clean water, carbon fuels, and excessive food supplies, the harm done to the earth will continue. This is not the way of God’s realm.

Repenting from consumerism without regard to the needs of our neighbors is a good start to bringing the realm of God a little bit closer. In fact, anytime we consider the needs of those around us before making decisions about how we will live, we bring the realm of God that much closer. Seeds of loving-kindness germinate and become thriving relationships. This is how we change what is into what pleases God.

It isn’t simple. The ways of White supremacy tell White folx that we deserve the best of everything and have every right to pursue material and financial success without regard to those around us. White supremacist culture tells us that we can take what we want and not have to worry about whether or not others have what they need. Think about how Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water. Think about Enbridge’s plans to put a pipeline through tribal lands violating treaties. Think about the ways in which highways were built to destroy Black neighborhoods. The list goes on. We have the power to change all of this.

If we think about the realm of God growing from the tiniest seed (kindness or compassion or a thought about the greater good) into an enormous shrub where life is sustained, how can we not try harder? How can we not try harder to live with the larger community in mind? How can we continue to justify the way things are? How can we continue to contribute to the suffering of our neighbors and the suffering of the earth if we’ve heard Jesus’ call to repentance?

Jesus called for repentance again and again. He also invited his disciples to participate in brining the realm of God into the here and now. Today is an excellent day to scatter seeds and seek out the ones that are already germinating. The realm of God thrives on loving-kindness, and we all have the capacity to participate in its growth.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 13, 2021 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and Psalm 20  • Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15  • 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17  • Mark 4:26-34

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On Being a Vineyard Worker

Image: squash plants over growing the garden edge with two nearly ripe squashes visible

It’s no secret that I’m not much of a gardener. Last spring, like many others, I planted more than usual.  Or, at least, I tried. None of the herbs I tried to grow from seed succeeded because I started them too late and transferred them outside before they were strong enough. The tomatoes I grew from seed were also started too late and aren’t going to bear any fruit this season. The jalapeno plant gave me one pepper in the early summer and is now covered in blossoms. The zucchini plants gave one zucchini and promptly died. The cucumber has been trying all summer and only know has a one cucumber that might be ready before the first frost. The tomato, basil, thyme, oregano, and lavender plants purchased in late May have done all right. My garden is a mystery, really. I don’t understand why some things grew and others did not and still others are just growing now.

Let me tell you about the squash, though. Butternut squash to be exact. I saved the seeds from a squash we ate in late March when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go to the store to buy any seeds and most places were already sold out of seeds. I ended up planting six seeds. Four in large containers and two in my small garden. It turns out that the large containers were not large enough and the squash has done little more than produce small leafy vines with a few blossoms all summer. However, the two I planted in what had been a small herb garden just went wild. I’ve never seen anything grow like this squash. It managed to hold it’s own against the mint that has been slowly taking over my entire yard. Not only have these two plants produced amazing vines, they have also produced actual squash. I’ve picked four already and there are many more that will be ready soon. Who would have guessed that these squash would grow so abundantly with virtually no help from me?

Image of fall squash leaves with two young squash visible

I wish working in God’s vineyard was more like growing squash. I wish it was as easy as saving some seeds, planting them, watching them grow, and then harvesting the results. Working in God’s vineyard is more like my failed container garden where only the basil was truly happy. The basil and the one pepper and the late cucumber. This vineyard work is not for the selfish of the faint of heart. Some days the hours are long with no noticeable difference. Some days the labor is heartbreaking and full of grief. Yet, there are the days of joy when seeds take root and begin to grow.

We are meant to be the caretakers, the gardeners. We are meant to be the ones who make way for the mysteries of new life and growth and fruit-bearing. The vineyard is not ours. The results of our labors are not ours. It can be so hard not to claim ownership when one has worked so long and so hard. This vineyard tending is tough because it isn’t really about us at all and whose ego wants to hear that? As soon as we start thinking it’s about us, we put everything in jeopardy.

Some days I’m afraid that I am no better tending God’s vineyard than I am at gardening. What I think will grow doesn’t. What I think will flourish withers in the sun. And then I’m surprised by what blooms later than expected and what bears fruit when it appeared to have no life left in it. Sometimes I over water and other times I don’t water enough and I still haven’t sorted that out after decades of this work. Some days I’m like the worker who promises to show up and never does. Other days I’m like the one who said they weren’t going to be there and then showed up late in the day. And, you know, I’ll confess that I can’t always tell a weed from what’s supposed to be growing.

I’ll also confess that there are days when I wonder if all the labor, the time, the heartache is worth the harvest that will one day be. It can take me a while to remember that it isn’t about me, this work I’ve been called to do. Then I remember that this vineyard is cultivated for the sake of my neighbors, particularly those who have been ignored, dismissed, or devalued. The vineyard is cultivated with justice and love, grace and forgiveness. It’s meant to be a glimpse of the abundance that is to come. I am just a caretaker. I do not have to understand all the mysteries of growth, of failure, of flourishing, of dying, of new seeds sprouting, and of old ones bearing fruit.

I will keep working in this vineyard, trusting that I am not alone and this work will bring more life than I can know. I pray for the strength, courage, and wisdom to keep tending these strong and fragile vines. I pray everyone at work in this vineyard. We are not the first tenders and we will not be the last. The best news, though, is that we are not alone in this sacred, mysterious, awe-filled work we have been called into.

Image of late season cucumber surrounded by green leaves with hints of brown

RCL – Year A – Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 with
Psalm 19 or
Isaiah 5:1-7 with Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46

Photo: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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Rethinking the Kingdom

Image is a close up with an oyster shell with a pearl inside

Jesus gave the disciples several images of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” Then he asked them if they understood and they said they did. I think they lied. Maybe they didn’t lie intentionally. Maybe they just got caught up in the moment and thought they understood. They didn’t, though. Why do I say this? Because if they understood 2000+ years ago what Jesus said about the Realm of God, then we wouldn’t be so confused by it today.

We, like those first disciples, get it all mixed up. We think it’s a later kind of thing, like after we die we go to Heaven. We continue to believe that we go to Heaven after the final reckoning in which God rewards the good and casts out the evil, as if it were that simple when it comes to human beings. We still miss, almost willfully, that the Kingdom of Heaven is right now, or can be if we make room for it to grow in us, in our daily lives, and in the world around us.

Think about it. That tiny mustard seed growing into a bush large enough to house birds. One tiny drop of the Kingdom, preferably sown with intent, grows and flourishes and becomes home for many. Not later. Right now.

If the mustard seed image falls flat for you, think about the woman with her flour and yeast. Such a small about of yeast to make bread rise. Making bread is an intentional act. Adding yeast doesn’t happen by accident and it only takes a spoonful or two which is not much given the amount of flour. Then the bread rises, more than once even.

Mustard seeds and yeast only point to the intention with which we can grow the Realm of God. Now we have the treasure in the field that causes someone to joyfully sell everything to obtain that field. So, too, with the merchant and the pearls. One “pearl of great value” is worth giving up everything else to have that pearl. Living in the Kingdom of Heaven and the joy therein is worth radically changing our lives for. It might mean that we start a whole new way of living, letting go of everything we once thought important. Imagine that…

Now it gets complicated because we focus on the either/or part of the next image, and not the whole story. The dragnet is thrown out and brought back full. What is wanted is kept and what is unwanted is tossed out. The Kingdom separates good from evil. Those who are cast out are angry, perhaps self-righteously so. Yet, if there is breath, there is hope. Unlike the fish in the net, when we fall short of the Realm of God, there is grace and mercy if we stop gnashing our teeth long enough to repent and receive forgiveness, we can try again.

The disciples claim to have understood all of this. They didn’t. Nor do we. The Realm of God is now. Our job is to work to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. One tiny seed of grace can grow and flourish and become home to many. Small acts of kindness can raise friends, neighbors, or strangers out of the depths of hopelessness and despair. Every life is a treasure, a pearl of great value. Every life is a place where the Kingdom can take root and grow and flourish. Who are we to say otherwise?

We are human, of course. We have such a hard time believing that God’s love isn’t pie; there is enough for all. God’s Realm would be more evident if we trusted that there was enough for the whole of Creation. We also, at least in progressive Protestant circles, are reluctant to consider that there is sin, evil, or badness of any kind within us. God is gracious enough to see us as without sin, to see our wholeness. However, that does not mean that we don’t need to continually separate out from ourselves sins that if unchecked could cause harm to ourselves or our neighbors.

In this time of pandemic, instead of focusing on all that can divide us one from another, perhaps we can focus on growing the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps we can foster compassion instead of judgement, hope in place of fear, love where anger tends to grow… Maybe we can do the weird thing of sowing mustard seeds in our lives so that the Realm of God grows and flourishes right now, right where we are. Imagine how different the world could be if we sow seeds of Divine Love with intention, with hope, with grace enough to trust and believe that Spirit can bring new life where we see only division, destruction, and death.

It’s likely that those first disciples got distracted by the good vs. evil stuff that continues to distract us. It’s time to focus on sowing the seeds of the Kingdom rather than trying to sort out who is good and who is evil. If all of us sought to bring more Love into the world with our words and our deeds, evil would diminish in us and around us.

Let’s bring out our treasure – what is old and what is new.

RCL – Year A – Eighth Sunday after Pentecost – July 26, 2020
Genesis 29:15–28 with Psalm 105:1–11, 45b or Psalm 128
1 Kings 3:5-12 with Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26–39
Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52

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Life Choices

Choosing life is not simple, easy, or natural for most of us. Well, there is the drive to stay alive. However, that is not the same as choosing life. Moses was pretty clear that choosing life often means choosing the hard road, the way that is not self-focused. On the brink of entering into the Promised Land, Moses implores the people of God to choose life so that they and their children may continue to live in abundance.

These people who stood looking across the Jordan River into the land they had been promised are the wilderness wanderers, the calf worshipers, the complainers, and the whiners. The journey from captivity to freedom was longer and more difficult than they bargained for. They weren’t happy with Moses. They were tired of manna and quail. They had expected a shorter journey, one that was less taxing on their bodies and on their spirits. If Moses wasn’t around, they were pretty certain that God wasn’t around either. They survived the desert, surely life wasn’t a choice they had to make. They were alive and staring at the Promised Land. Life had already been granted them, hadn’t it?

That’s the funny thing with life. It’s easy to take it for granted. We are alive. We are breathing and moving through the world. What choice is there? Moses could have elaborated more than he did. Choose life that will enable your neighbor to live as you live. Choose life that will be gentle on the planet. Choose life that facilitates justice for all people. Choose life that always moves from captivity to liberation. Choose life that honors the Creator. Choose life in a way that blesses those around you. Choose life, not just as individuals, but also as sacred community.

There it is. Choosing life in response to God’s call isn’t about us as individual human beings. It is about us as sacred community, the Body of Christ, the church. Nearly every church I have ever been a part of has been primarily concerned with its own life. Are the pews full? Is the budget balanced? Are the programs attended? Is the Sunday School full? How about the youth program, are we ensuring the church of the future? These concerns that have absorbed so much of our churches’ attention, are not questions that support choosing life.

God has set before us the ways of life and death. The church is on the edges of something new, something exciting, something transformative. We are close enough to see that something different is coming, but not close enough to know precisely what it is. However, we can look around at our declining numbers and the building closures and know that life isn’t exactly what we have chosen. Perhaps it is time to make different choices.

Choose life so that we and those who will come after us might live in God’s love, honoring God’s commandments. Choose life so that we will stop being lured away by the false gods of individualism and independence. Choose life so that we will realize that our neighbors are our responsibility, that the way of Christ is the way from captivity to liberation.

First choose life for yourself in response to God’s unconditional love for you as an individual. Then choose life for the Body of Christ in response to God’s abundant love for the whole of Creation. No, it is not easy. Yes, we will continue to be tempted by lesser gods. No, it is not too late for us to change and embrace God’s call to the fullness of life. Yes, there are many who will think our efforts on behalf of life, love, and liberation are futile and foolish. Isn’t it time we stopped wandering in the wilderness and complaining about all that is not as we want it or expected it to be? By choosing life, we are choosing the Promised Land, a land where all are welcomed, wanted, seen, heard, and valued. Is there a better way to be the Body of Christ?

Choose life when considering the plight of refugees. Choose life when confronted with those who are homeless. Choose life when the government cuts funding for food subsidies, access to health care, or acts to promote only the white, cis, wealthy, able-bodied, educated, and male people. Choose life, interdependence and sacred community, in every moment and in every decision or the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, will never come any closer. Generations yet to come deserve better than captivity and oppression, don’t they?

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 16, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

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Delightfully Gifted

“Fear not,” God said to Abram just before drowning him in Grace. “Fear not,” said Jesus to the disciples right before walloping them with a truth beyond their capacity to receive it. When these words appear in scripture, it’s often too late to prevent fear from grabbing hold, like when angels show up and fear steals the breath from the unsuspecting human. Yet, when God says these words to Abram or Jesus says them to the disciples, it isn’t because the hearers are so afraid they cannot breath. It’s just the opposite. It’s a warning to take a breath because some sacred gift is going to temporarily paralyze your lungs and you might not know why.

In Abram’s case, God was preparing him to receive a promise so enormous Abram couldn’t really comprehend it. Of course, Abram believed that God would give him children so that the promise would be fulfilled, but how could he begin to fathom the enormity of the promise. At any rate, it was that belief, that faith, that made Abram righteous. I wonder at what point he resumed breathing at a normal rate. I mean, seriously, how daunting would it be to know that God had plans to make your descendants more numerous than the stars?

Generations and generations later, Jesus does something similar to his disciples. “Fear not,” he says. I hope they took a deep breath in that moment because what comes next is startling to say the very least. Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t be afraid because God delighted in giving them the Kingdom*. Yes, it had already happened and it continues to happen. God has already bestowed the Kingdom on God’s people and continues to delight in doing so. The action is past, or so the use of the aorist active indicative tense (eudokesen) implies in the Greek. It also means there is significance in the action. I take this to mean that the Kingdom has been given, continues to be given, and God’s delight has no end. I don’t think the disciples heard this when Jesus said it any better than we hear it now. When it hits you, the truth is enough to stop your heart and your lungs from functioning, at least for a moment or two.

God created a covenant with Abram and wrapped it in grace. Abram trusted God and Abram was righteous. Then Jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the Kingdom and God delighted in the giving. This truth is blanketed with so many layers of grace that you and I are included. It has to be, because unlike Abram, the disciples missed the message. They didn’t hear it or trust it; they didn’t reach Abram’s level of righteousness. Sadly, neither do we.

This delightful gift of the Kingdom to the people of God is one that we human beings have tried to put so many limits and conditions on who gets in. How have we missed the fact that the Realm is God’s to give as God sees fit. And, at least according to Luke, it’s a done deal. It’s been given. Maybe the delighted giving was part of the covenant God made with Abram. Maybe it was just expanded in Jesus. When will we figure out that God delights in us, especially when we try to live in Love (which is what the Kingdom of God is all about).

Now the problem is, of course, that if all faithful people are supposed to have been gifted with the Kingdom, why isn’t the world in better shape? Bottom line? We don’t believe it. We don’t trust it. It’s like it was too easy. God just handed over the Kingdom without strings attached? Nope, that can’t be it, can it? Surely we have to be good and perfect and follow all the rules? Only a few people are good enough to inherit the Realm, right?

If only we were all more like Abram. God keeps trying to make of us a holy people and we resist. God keeps telling us to love one another with the same love God has for us, and we don’t trust that. That’s why Jesus went on to tell the disciples to be careful what they valued and to keep serving those in need around them. It’s too easy to mistake material things and creature comforts as a sign of God’s blessing. The real blessing is that we were made to love and be loved. The real blessing comes when our gratitude informs our daily living. When we serve those whose needs are greater than our own, we catch glimpses of a Realm created and sustained by Love.

Many people have asked why the world seems so filled with violence and hatred these days. The answer is multi-layered. However, a significant piece of the answer is that people do not know that the Kingdom of God has already been gifted to us. People have a hard time finding a place where they belong, where they feel valued and known, where they have a sense of purpose. When we are so stingy with God’s Love as we often are, other things flood in to fill the gaps. Hopelessness, fear, anger, hatred, desperation… to name a few. Communities, identities built around these things have no trouble with injustice and oppression.

What will it take for you and me to trust God’s Love, to trust that we have already been given the Realm and God delighted in the giving and will continue to do so in every generation? What will it take for us to live rightly with God, as Abram did? What will it take for us to love as we are loved by God? The sooner we figure this out, the more possibilities we have in truly building the Kingdom here on earth…

*Fun fact for those interested in such: “Kingdom” in Greek is Basileia which is feminine in form.

RCL – Year C – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost – August 11, 2019
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 with Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 or
Genesis 15:1-6 with Psalm 33:12-22 and
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
Luke 12:32-40

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Hope is at Hand

christmas-eve-436138_1280

Tear gas used on toddlers at the Mexican border. War and violent conflicts continuing in more than twenty-five countries. A national climate report with dire implications. These things are inconsistent with Advent. How is it possible to focus on the ancient story of love and promise when the world seems bent on hatred and destruction? We are, as were Isaiah’s people, a “people who walk in darkness.” When might we “see a great light”?

Despair blankets much of the earth. Where do we find hope when all things point to destruction? What hope is there for a country whose government sanctions tear gas on children and tries to erase Trans* people? Where is the hope for countries who turn away refugees and asylum seekers and make it illegal to be queer? Where is the hope for cities with significant racial disparities? Where is the hope for the neighborhoods of unknown people and varying traditions? Where is the hope for households divided by politics, religion, fear, or hatred? What can possibly chase away the heavy, clinging despair?

Jeremiah told the ancient Israelites that the days of God’s righteousness and justice are surely coming. This was good news when Jeremiah first proclaimed it. It’s good news now, but I’m not sure people hear it or believe it. It’s hard to get excited about making the spiritual journey to Bethlehem when the world seems so focused on destruction. The nights are endless and cold and there is no sign of dawn on the horizon. And, yet, the seasons change and the liturgical seasons change. We are called to seek light even in the midst of the most oblique depths.

Jesus knew how easily we can lose hope for the world, for our country, for our communities, for our families, and for ourselves. He demonstrated how to keep hope alive by empowering the powerless and challenging those who claimed authority but did nothing to help those in need. Even in his last days, Jesus kept trying to tell the disciples that they could continue the work he had begun.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus paints a very vivid picture of what will happen before his return. Most of what he describes is happening in the world right now, without question. There are signs of the earth’s distress and there is confusion among the nations as to how to deal with it. People live in fear of what is coming next. On the other hand, not very many of us are looking for clouds bearing the Christ who will bring redemption. Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t stop here. Signs of doom and gloom have always been around and people haven’t really paid them much heed.

Lest we get distracted by the very human ways of death and destruction, Jesus continues. The seasons will continue to change. Summer will gave way to fall. Fall will yield to winter. Winter will melt into spring. Spring will brighten into summer. Plants and trees will bloom, grow, and die. When these things happen, according to Luke, we will know that the Realm of God is near. And we should pay attention.

This is good news of truly biblical proportions. As long as we have life and breath and earth continues its journey around the sun, the Realm of God is near. When the world is shrouded in despair and the light of hope is not visible, followers of Christ are called to do as Christ taught. It is our job to bring the Realm of God into the here and now. We are the bearers of hope for those who live in the gloomy depths. We who embody Christ are the lamplighters and the hope igniters. In this there is redemption and the glory and power of Christ.
As we embark on this Advent journey and light the candle of hope, let us remember that human ways are not God’s ways. We can do better. We can denounce violence in all its forms and challenge those with authority who glory in fear and oppression. We can learn ways to live gently on this earth and heal the damage we have done. We who embody Christ can ensure that no one is erased or outcast or unseen. We can demonstrate the Love Jesus taught. We can do this here and now because the Realm of God is at hand. Let us all repent and make it manifest. This is hope. This is real. This is now.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year C – First Sunday in Advent -December 2, 2018
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Photo: CC0 image by Gerd Altmann

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Envisioning a Holy Balance

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Several years ago, I had a vision of a self-sustaining community that I often think about. On the Tuesday of Holy Week that year, I was alone in my room, praying, or trying to pray. It was a particularly difficult time in my life after my second marriage ended. I struggled with depression, a sense of hopelessness, and an overwhelming sense of failure. The vision I had that day gave me hope for a future different from my past.

The vision itself was powerful. In it, I had created a community of people committed to living together, pooling resources, and serving God. There was a working farm, an outdoor chapel, dormitory-style rooms, small cabins, indoor meeting space, and a steady flow of people. Some came for short periods of time for retreats, spiritual direction, and healing. Others stayed for months or years, finding peace and wholeness in the community. There was a balance of giving and receiving of resources, time, talent, visitors, residents, income, and expenses. The community was a place of peace, of healing, of wholeness. When the vision ended, I yearned for it to be real–a place I could go and belong and be welcomed.

It’s been years since I had the vision, and it has not come to be in quite the way it was in the vision. However, pieces of it have. I have found healing and wholeness. I have found a community where I belong and can use the fullness of my gifts. Maybe someday, the vision will come to be in a more literal way. But it doesn’t matter as much as it once did, because the lessons of that vision have stayed with me. I am often reminded that balance is necessary in all things. As Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians, our abundance should be shared to meet our neighbors’ need, not to create inequity but to ensure all have enough.

This is why I’m having trouble getting excited over celebrating Independence Day this year. Our forebearers might have ensured our independence from Great Britain, but they did nothing to prevent us from replicating the destructive ways of colonialism. We have done nothing to ensure any kind of balance. All our social systems tend to empower those who already have power and prevent those who are oppressed and marginalized from attaining justice or freedom.

I’m horrified by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Travel Ban. Xenophobia should have no place in U.S. policy and practice. Outside of First Nations peoples, all our ancestors (recent or distant) came to this country bringing with them foreign weapons, strange gods, devastating diseases, new languages, or odd customs. Now, after we have claimed land that wasn’t ours to claim, all but destroyed native cultures, and enslaved others, we think it’s okay to discriminate against people who may not have white skin, may not speak English, may not be Christian, and may not live as we do? How is it that so many people have bought into the social myth of a white, Christian United States? Where is the justice and liberty for all people that we claim to value?

As human beings, we tend to be self-protective to the point of often being egocentric. We often react to fear by hunkering down and protecting what is ours. However, if we are Christians (if we follow any religious tradition at all), we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means we have a mandate to care for the widow, the poor, the orphan, the stranger, the vulnerable among us. We are called to share our abundance so that the needs of our neighbors are met. You know, it’s all about the Golden Rule–treat others as you wish to be treated.

We aren’t meant to be independent. Left to our devises we tend to be fearful, stubborn, self-serving creatures. God invites us to be interdependent, giving and receiving according to abundance and need to create systems of balance. In God’s Realm all are whole, all are valued, all have purpose, and all share in God’s abundance. Love, not fear or scarcity, rules the day. Imagine how much better off the world would be if each country shared resources to balance abundance and need. How about each city and town doing the same? Each faith community? Each person? Our idolatrous worship of independence would come to an end as would our enslavement to the false gods of our social mythology. Xenophobia would end. Fear-mongering politicians would have no power. Immigrants and refugees would be welcomed and encouraged. There would be no hunger or poverty. No racism or corrupt systems of power.

Maybe this Independence Day you will join me in dreaming ways of making us independent from fear and interdependent on each other. Maybe this Independence Day we can work toward making manifest the Realm of God where our abundance will meet our neighbors’ need, creating a holy balance…

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year B – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2018
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 with Psalm 130 or
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 or Lamentations 3:23-33 with Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

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Green, Growing Things

RCL – June 17, 2012 – Third Sunday after Pentecost

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 with Psalm 20 or
Ezekiel 17:22-24 with Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 or 2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

We are in the midst of the season of growing things. It seems that everything is green and blooming. Lots of people talk about gardening and how much they love it or how gardening is a spiritual practice. There is nothing spiritual in the doing of it for me. Moreover, I have to say that I do not love gardening but, rather, the idea of it. I love flowers and imagine my yard with flower beds and herb gardens and, maybe, a small vegetable garden. But, I can assure you that it will never happen. As much as I would like to say otherwise, I am a horrible gardener. I am allergic to most things that grow – the prettier they are, the harder I sneeze and the greener they are, the greater the need for benadryl. This wouldn’t necessarily stop me from planting bulbs and seeds and such if it were just allergies that got in the way of my horticultural dreams. However, I have an irrational fear of touching bugs unexpectedly (worms included) and an even less rational fear of snakes (even the harmless kind). So, instead of the glorious flower beds of my day dreams, I content myself with a few perennials, a few annuals, and an attempt at a wildflower bed.

The wildflowers are the problem at the moment. I probably planted the seeds too soon (early May) and now that things are about four inches tall, I cannot tell the flowers from the weeds (yes, I do know that wildflowers are weeds, also). There is the added problem of a creature or two (or more) living in the small, would-be flower bed. There are holes (snake size) and footprints (very fat groundhog size) that complicate my willingness to closely examine the little plants for the purpose of weeding out the unwanted ones.

So I have come to accept that I am a truly lousy gardener. But this does not get in the way of things growing. It amazes me where plants take root, sometimes. Leave a pile of dirt alone long enough, and plants spring up out of seemingly nowhere. Deep in the woods without a lot of sunlight, the surprising patch of violets adds a touch of purple to the greenery. How about the cracks in city side walks that sprout very large dandelions? Or the vines that cover buildings with lush green? I like these things growing in unexpected places with such tenacity. I find them all mysterious and hopeful, really. No matter what happens with weather – too much snow or not enough, too much rain or not enough, too cold or too hot, severe weather or mundane – the earth puts forth a huge effort to grow things.

These are the kind of thoughts I’ve been thinking lately as I go through my daily life. When I am appalled by what human beings can do to the planet and to each other, I appreciate the mysteries of this growing season. These small mysteries (or maybe they are big ones) also give me hope in a bigger way. I think there is something in the human spirit that is as tenacious as any plant that sprouts in unexpected places, or a weed that reveals magnificent blossoms just as I contemplate pulling it out.

In 1 Samuel the anointing of David reveals something about God doing the unexpected with the most ordinary of people. Both Ezekiel and Psalm refer to God making things “flourish,” even “the dry tree.” 2 Corinthians talks about everything  being made new in Christ. And, of course, the Gospel reading is about seeds growing and ripening – the tiny mustard seed that grows into a bush large enough for birds to nest in. If these seeds growing in such surprising plants symbolize the Kingdom of God, then I think this is the “seed” we all carry within us.

The Kingdom of God is evident when a community rebuilds after disaster and new life emerges from the rubble. The Kingdom of God is revealed in the voice of a Libyan singer who continued to sing his songs of rebellion even after he was imprisoned. The Kingdom of God is revealed when a people return to their homes after they are destroyed by war and begin the arduous task of rebuilding. The Kingdom of God shines in the eyes of a woman who experiences freedom after 15 years of confinement. The Kingdom of God is built and rebuilt in unexpected places by very ordinary people. And I am almost always surprised.

In this growing season, I am content to be amazed by the capacity of the earth to push out green, growing things in spite of my own limited, reluctant efforts. But, more importantly, I am honored to witness the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of destruction, war, and illness. In spite of all the challenges the world faces, I am still hopeful. God’s steadfast love endures and God’s Kingdom is surely growing.

Perhaps I will have the courage to dig a little more and see what will grow in spite of the worms and bugs and snakes (and big fat groundhogs)…