Things We Do Not Understand
Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Mark 4:26-34
June 13, 2021
By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan
This week, just before taking a walk through our awesome church garden, I received a prayer that was pleasing to me, I hope to you, and to God. It was written by Rev. Teri Peterson. Teri is a minister in the Church of Scotland. She based her prayer on the passage we just heard from the Gospel According to Mark. Have a listen now to how one pastor in Scotland is pondering this message:
“The kingdom of God is like. . . things we do not understand. More than thatThe kingdom of God is like things that are impossible.Starting with ordinary and moving to extraordinary with a breath, with a word. Mustard seeds do not grow into trees. And yet. Farmers do not scatter seed recklessly. And yet. The kingdom of God is like. . . things we cannot control. More than that, the kingdom of God is impossible to control. Starting with ordinary, and moving to extraordinary with a word, a breath. Day and night, things happen beneath the surface, hidden from our sight. Night and day, we work, and we watch for the moment it breaks through. The kingdom of God is like. . .a story that opens more every time, with room for all in its branches, feeding whoever will come. Starting with ordinary and moving to extraordinary with a breath, with a word.”
Here we are, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, listening to words that were first spoken out loud thousands of years ago in the Middle East and are now pondered on by a minister across the pond in Scotland. What we are hearing this morning is some of what we have been experiencing these past 15 months.
Fifteen months ago it seemed impossible that we would be worshipping from home. Now it seems impossible that we are back inside. How did that all happen? It still seems impossible to me that a virus, much smaller than a mustard seed or a cedar tree, could spread across the world and infect so many of us. It seems impossible that the spirit of God and of humanity has not been wiped off the planet.
And yet, all these things are true. Here we all are, with prayers of comfort and consolation arising for those who did not survive the virus.
The reading from the Prophet Ezekiel is much older that the Gospel according to Mark. It comes from the time when the Israelites were exiled to Babylon and their beloved and holy temple was destroyed. Talk about living in a time of upheaval and lack of control.
When the disciples closest to Jesus heard about the mustard seed parable, they must have laughed out loud because for them as students of Ezekiel, they thought, “Are you kidding me? A mustard bush is so much smaller than the noble cedar. Mustard is an invasive species! Too common to be compared to God!”
And yet here is Rabbi Jesus, speaking in parables, a typical Rabbinic way of teaching and reminding them of the God they knew. When they heard him speak, they recognized that the same God that nurtured a slip of a cedar tree on a high mountain can also take a wild tiny mustard seed of faith and plant it in our hearts. Impossible and true.
Reverend Peterson said, “The kingdom of God is like a story that opens more every time, with room for all in its branches, feeding whoever will come. Starting with the ordinary and moving to the extraordinary with a breath, a word.”
Some things we understand and most things we do not. We are earth-bound creatures, bound as well to a cosmic Christ, which may be why the prophets and rabbis — including Jesus — spoke in parables and poems and metaphors about life on Earth. Seeds. Gardens. Trees. Fields. Birds. Farming. Weeds. People of all ages gathering in ordinary times while facing extraordinary circumstances. . . like pandemics.
Jesus is bent on preaching the Kingdom of God. So we will laugh at our own disbeliefs while taking comfort in being citizens of this wild and glorious kingdom under the reign of God.
The Kingdom of God is not a place. It is not heaven. It is ordinary and extraordinary experiences of life entwined with God’s very self, which spreads everywhere and governs in love. A God who cares deeply about abundance and freedom and growth. No wonder it is that during Pride month and the season of Pentecost, this is God we cling to.
This week I read a meditation on congregational life. The theme was church as a “School of Love.” I passed it along to our Leadership Team so that we might reflect together on how our church can school us to be more loving, more tender, more like Jesus and his first students.
Life at Trinity Church is like a tiny mustard seed or a lofty cedar tree, or a story retold, or a people gathering in all kinds of ways. Simply because we are caught up in God’s love for the world – an over-the-top grace that is impossibly large and amazingly small. Like us. Feeding whoever comes along. How can it get any better than that?