Sunday, June 17, 2018

4th Sunday after Pentecost

Readings for Today.

Listen to the Sermon.

* Updated 06/23/18 to reflect correct statistics re children separated from parents at US-Mexico border.

Thursday this week is the first day of summer, and the BBQs are heating up.  Bring out the hamburgers and hot dogs! Many of us have our favorite condiments for those summer treats:  ketchup, mustard, relish. Okay, so it’s a little early in the day to be thinking about BBQ. I, personally, favor mustard – and not the bright yellow kind, but something that packs more texture and flavor.  Did you know that mustard ranks somewhere around 5th in popularity of condiments in America?  Right behind mayonnaise, ketchup, barbeque sauce, and hot sauce, respectively.  Poor mustard, it has so much potential.

That’s what Jesus is saying in the gospel today, too.  Mustard has potential. Mustard seeds, to be precise. If you’ve ever seen them, they are little tiny seeds.  Mustard seeds like we use in cooking are about the size of a pencil lead. The ones from the weedy kind of mustard familiar to Jesus are about half that size.  That teeny, tiny mustard seed can grow into an 8’ tall bushy shrub! In a hot, dry climate, any shrub that creates cool, comforting shade is worth mentioning, and its sturdy branches provide a place for birds to make a home.  Insignificant, unmentionable mustard has great potential.
How is it that something so tiny as the mustard seed can grow so big and have such an important role?  As they say in seminary, that’s the mystery.
Mark says Jesus taught the crowds only in parables, stories filled with mystery.  And the people heard the word as they were able to hear it. That’s word with a capital W.  The Word of God, spoken in colloquial stories.
Parables are a way to tell people things that are difficult to hear.  And people heard the Word as they were able – as their hearts were able.  Parables are like mini time-bombs. When they have gone off in our hearts, when we ‘get it,’ even a little, we can’t see things the same way ever again.  We can’t ‘unknow’ whatever truth the parable has opened up.
Jesus used parables to teach about the kingdom of God, because the things he was saying were pretty radical for his day.  He was talking to people who were accustomed to living in an occupied land, where the gap between the peasant class and the landowners was significant and played into every interaction.  He was teaching about equal and unearned love, and forgiveness and grace. His message was one of welcome for all ages, races and classes. His message was infectious and attractive, especially to those on the edges of acceptable society – laborers, widows, beggars, tax collectors.  People came to hear him because something in his teaching beckoned to them, because he healed people no matter what their social standing, because he made sense to their hearts if not to their minds.
People flocked to Jesus, like the birds flock to the mature mustard plant.  Looking for shade from the burning sun, looking for a safe place to nest and live in community, looking for hope of life that is a little less harsh.  
The potential of seemingly insignificant things shows up in 1 Samuel today.  The people of Israel asked God for a king so they would have an earthly ruler so they could be like all their neighbors.  God hesitated, using the prophet Samuel to warn the people of how earthly kings turn their subjects into slaves and create inequities among them.  The people said, ‘We don’t care; we just want to be like everybody else.’ So they chose Saul to be their king. Saul ruled ruthlessly, like any other king of the time - just as God warned.  God and Samuel were deeply grieved by the wickedness of Saul’s kingship.

So God sent Samuel to anoint a new king of Israel, in God’s name.  Samuel goes to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, to anoint one of his sons.  Jesse parades seven of his sons before Samuel, and none of them are ‘the one.’  Finally, his youngest son, who was so unimportant that he was sent to watch the sheep, is brought to Samuel.  And so David the littlest brother, the shepherd, becomes king of Israel. God chose the one who was thought to be insignificant, and David goes on to be a great and faithful, though not infallible, king.
The very people we want to ignore or discount or push to the edges, the invisible and insignificant.  The kingdom is not just for them – it is in them. The potential to grow God’s love in the world - is in them.  And the seeds of the kingdom are in all of us as well.

The parables of the seed growing in secret and the mustard seed don’t seem too radical at first glance.  But for those who are ready for a change of heart, they point to divine energies hidden in small beginnings.  In the seemingly insignificant efforts of obscure people. In the potential of those who have been made to feel powerless.  In the power of networks formed among and around those who don’t appear to count. In the divine grace that buds and blooms even where human resources seem scant.  Dangerous and wonderful ideas. Radical and revolutionary ideas, taught in parables, waiting to explode the Word in our hearts when we are able to hear it.

As stewards of this mustard shrub, we are called to welcome everyone – no matter where they are on their journey of faith, no matter how invisible they are to ‘the world.’  People flocked to Jesus like birds to shade, and we are that shade. What kind of welcome will we offer to people looking for home, for a place to grow and learn, to be nurtured to go out and bring others back with us?  

That seed of the kingdom growing in us is about more than offering welcome and hospitality to those who come to us.  It’s also about using our voices to speak for those who have been silenced. It’s about actively living into our baptismal promises to strive for justice and respect the dignity of all people.  All people includes children, strangers and refugees - no matter where they come from, or the color of their skin, or the language they speak. By our very existence, human beings deserve respect and care.  And children, the most vulnerable, deserve strong and safe families.

On this Father’s Day, when the importance of family is all around us, I urge you, without regard for any political affiliation, to stand up, to use your voice of privilege, for the children who have been separated from their parents as a punitive measure for seeking safety, community, and hope in the United States.  More than 200 parents are detained in Sea-Tac, with no knowledge about the safety or location their children. At the southern border, more than 2,000 children were separated from their parents in the past 6 weeks alone. [1]  This is unconscionable and inhumane!  Think about your own children and grandchildren.  These are babies - many of them too young to speak or understand what is happening, and they will spend the rest of their lives recovering from the trauma of this separation!  

Please take 5 minutes to call your legislators this week.  The Episcopal Public Policy Network offers email and phone resources to help if you don’t know who to call or what to say.

The Church Council of Greater Seattle is sponsoring a letter to federal agencies in support of those held at the Sea-Tac detention center, as well as a faith vigil and community briefing for World Refugee Day on Wednesday this week.  More information about the letter and these events is on the tables in the Narthex.

Speaking up for the voiceless and persecuted, calling for humane and just treatment for all human beings, is not a political issue.  It is actively living into our baptismal promises. It is a proclamation of the good news of our faith in a God whose love knows no bounds.
God has already planted a mustard seed of possibility in our hearts.  Maybe it has even begun to grow in us. Stay open to the revelations of the time bomb of God’s mystery, they can explode at any time, breaking our hearts open in new ways.  Keep an eye on the seemingly insignificant - you never know what God is working in the world.

And when facing the condiment table:  Choose mustard!

Let us pray.
Lord of the misfit, whose prophets came like weeks to an ordered garden, shaking all that deadens your love: give us faith in your kingdom’s growth, unruly and exuberant, and let it be a shelter wide enough for all; through Jesus Christ, our teacher, Amen. [2]


[2] Shakespeare, Steven. Prayers for an Inclusive Church (New York: Church Publishing, 2009), “Collect for Proper 6B”, page 63.

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