By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
June 14, 2009
Read: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 and Mark 4:26-34
Today we are hearing in our scripture stories about how appearances can be deceiving—that what we see on the outside may not necessarily be what lies within. We heard “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And, “We walk by faith and not by sight”. And then there is the mustard seed, a very tiny seed that contrasts with the size of the shrub when it is given the opportunity for growth.
And with regard to the mustard seed, John Crossan makes a good point about the interpretation:
[The point] is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet, or even higher, it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses. If you could control it.
Jesus said that the kingdom of God is so small and inconspicuous that we are unlikely even to notice its presence in our midst. It’s like a mustard seed — almost invisible. Would you notice a mustard seed on the sidewalk as you walked down the street? Probably not! Would you notice a mustard seed if a bird happened to drop one in your garden? Probably not!
But Jesus warns, “Look out! That little seed — tiniest of seeds — is going to take root. At first, you will hardly notice the little sprig of green
in the corner of your garden, but the mustard shrub will soon be several feet tall. The bird that dropped that seed into your garden will come and sit in the shade of the mustard shrub’s branches.
Jesus was telling us that, just as there is unbelievable power in the workings of a simple mustard seed, so also there is unbelievable power in the workings of the kingdom of God.
Can we open ourselves up to see the presence of the Kingdom of God in our midst? Can we see beyond the exterior, the obvious, to what lies within, beneath, behind or beyond? We hear in 2 Corinthians that “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”
How does that transformation occur? Like the growth of the mustard plant, perhaps slowly and mysteriously, with God’s great grace. We are not removed from the real, everyday world as Christians, we are called to transform our worlds, to see our reality in a different light; in a new light. Stephen Covey writes of the 90/10 principle. That 10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react. We have no control over 10% of what happens to us. How we react, how we see ourselves in the midst of those unforeseen, uncontrollable events is important. It is a matter of experiencing life through the eyes of faith.
Parker Palmer writes on matters of faith and life and how the two intersect. In his book The Active Life he describes going on an Outward Bound course:
“I took the course in my early forties, and in the middle of that course I was asked to confront the thing I had fears about since I had first heard about Outward Bound: a gossamer strand was hooked to a harness around my body. I was backed up to the top of a 110-foot cliff, and I was told to lean out over God’s own emptiness and walk down the face of that cliff to the ground eleven stories below.
I remember the cliff all too well. It started with a five-foot drop to a small ledge, then a ten-foot drop to another ledge, then a third and final drop all the way down. I tried to negotiate the first drop; but my feet instantly went out from under me, and I fell heavily to the first ledge. “I don’t think you quite have it yet,” the instructor observed astutely. “You are leaning too close to the rock face. You need to lean much farther back so your feet will grip the wall.” That advice went against my every instinct. Surely one should hug the wall, not lean out over the void! But on the second drop I tried to lean back; better, but not far enough, and I hit the second ledge with a thud not unlike the first. “You still don’t have it,” said the ever-observant instructor. “Try again.”
Since my next try would be the last one, her counsel was not especially comforting. But try I did, and much to my amazement I found myself moving slowly down the rock wall. Step-by-step I made my way with growing confidence until, about halfway down, I suddenly realized that I was heading toward a very large hole in the rock, and—not knowing anything better to do—I froze. The instructor waited a small eternity for me to thaw out, and when she realized that I was showing no signs of life she yelled up, “Is anything wrong, Parker?” as if she needed to ask. To this day I do not know the source of my childlike voice that came up from within me, but my response is a matter of public record. I said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
The instructor yelled back. “Then I think it’s time you learned the Outward Bound Motto.” Wonderful, I thought. I am about to die, and she is feeding me a pithy saying. But then she spoke words I have never forgotten, words so true that they empowered me to negotiate the rest of that cliff without incident: “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” Bone-deep I knew that there was no way out of this situation except to go deeper into it, and with that knowledge my feet began to move”.
Author Brennan Manning has made the observation that in everyone’s spiritual journey there is that first moment when we believe, when we stand before a congregation, or privately before God, and profess our faith. But that is only the first step, says Manning, because in the spiritual life there is always a second step, when we come to trust God walks beside us through all the peaks and valleys of our lives. This is where the journey of subtraction will end, as Meister Eckhart suggests, when we are able to lean upon a God as near to us as our very breath, dwelling inside us, waiting to be discovered so that the work of re-creation and transformation can begin.
Jesus lets us in on an astonishing secret. God has chosen to change the world through the lowly, the unassuming and the imperceptible …. That has always been God’s strategy — changing the world through the conspiracy of the insignificant. He chose a ragged bunch of Semite slaves to become the insurgents of His new order…. And, who would have ever dreamed that God would choose to work through a baby in a cow stall to turn the world right side up? It is still God’s policy to work through the embarrassingly insignificant to change his world and create his future.
In Christ we are a new creation. So, lean back, knowing that your feet are on solid ground, on rock – a firm foundation is Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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