By The Rev. Sherry Deets
3 Pentecost – June 17, 2012
What are you excited about today? What gives your life energy and enthusiasm?
The unfortunate fact is that a great many people are not excited about much of anything. In fact, many people are living lives that are crippled by cynicism, despair and depression. You would not believe me if I said there is nothing in the world to be depressed about today. There is much that can seriously undercut our enthusiasm and dampen the joy of living. Just listen to the news. There is much in the world to be troubled about. But it is not just the international scene that can lead to despair about life and self.
An illness that you thought was minor turns out to be life threatening. A parent that you thought was in good health is suddenly struck with a serious illness. A good friend dies in the prime of life while uncaring, mean people all seem to live to be 100. A letter comes in the mail or you receive a phone call that brings news that disrupts your whole life. You reach out to those around you and not one reaches back, and you feel alone and disconnected. You do what you can to help others, and the very people you seek to help turn on you with judgment and rejection.
It is not hard to find a lot of evidence to justify being cynical, bitter and depressed about life. In fact if you start looking for all the things that you can find to justify a negative view about the world, about self, about others, then you will soon have more data than you will know what to do with.
At the beginning of a workshop for consultants working with organizations to help them discover their strengths and potential, the leader asked them to finish this sentence: “The thing that is wrong with most organizations is…” Then he said, “The answer that you have just given to this sentence is what you will be looking for before you begin to work with a group. That is your perceptual screen. If you are not careful, you will simply spend your time looking for evidence to justify the conclusion that you have already reached about most organizations.”
That is an important lesson. Not only are we likely to find what we are looking for in organizations, but we are also likely to find what we are looking for in life. If I believe that people are “no damn good”, I can find ample evidence for that. If I believe that nobody should be trusted, I can find lots of data to justify that position.
And it is true, some people are “no damn good.” There are people in the world who cannot be trusted. The future will contain some surprises that are not good. But if you believe that this is all there is, then that perspective becomes a prison that limits your energy and restrains your enthusiasm for the future. It is a perspective that leads to cynicism, bitterness and depression. lt is a perspective that cuts the nerve of energy and joy in your life and keeps you from achieving your God¬-given potential.
Jesus lived His life with a perspective that was markedly different from most of the folk with whom He came in contact. The thrust of His gospel was an invitation to view self, others and the world in the light of God’s love, power and justice.
One of the things that characterized the ministry of Jesus was His ability to see beyond the appearance to the possibility. He viewed others, not so much in terms of what they were, but in terms of what they would become as a result of the liberating power of God’s love. An ordinary fisherman became the rock on which the church would be built. A dishonest tax collector becomes a trusted friend and disciple. Outsiders are invited to be leaders. The unclean are restored to fellowship. The hopelessly ill are made well again. An angry Pharisee who is a persecutor of the church becomes the apostle to the gentiles.
People who heard and believed the good news of the gospel were liberated from the prison of a negative perspective and given instead a perspective of possibility through the transforming power and liberating love of God. Good things are possible not because of our own efforts, but because of the redemptive power of God.
When Jesus tells His listeners that the Kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed which is the smallest seed on earth but which becomes the greatest of all shrubs, He is inviting us to look at the world with new eyes.
The point, in other words, 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, [more] like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses-if you could control it. (Crossan, The Historical Jesus).
And so, is this the sideways truth of this parable: the kingdom Jesus proclaims isn’t something we can control. It’s not something we’d even want, at least if we’re even minimally satisfied with the way things are. Rather, the kingdom comes to overturn, to take over, to transform the kingdoms of this world. Which is why, of course, Jesus’ preaching and teaching stir things up, both then and now. “Look out, get ready, those who have ears listen,” Jesus seems to be saying, “for here comes the kingdom.”
If you believe that this is how God does things, then what will you do? You will begin to look for the mustard seeds. You will look for the first signs of this kingdom with faith and optimism. You will not be too quick to dismiss the small and insignificant. You will not give up on yourself, on others, on the church, or even on the world just because you see many signs of sin and brokenness. Rather, you will believe in God’s possibilities even if the evidence is as tiny as a mustard seed.
To believe this is to receive the gift of a new perspective. You can do great things for God if you are willing to offer yourself to one who has planted in you the tiny seeds of love, generosity, mercy, justice and kindness.
When you became a member of the church through baptism, God recognized and blessed you. That sacrament should remind you that you are somebody. You are special. You are a child of God. This is not only a new vision of yourself, but also a new vision of the future. To believe that you are a child of God will lead you to believe what Paul did when he wrote to the Philippian Christians and said, “I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, began her orphanage with such a vision. She told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream From God to build an orphanage.”
A dream and three pennies represented resources as small as a mustard seed. “Mother Teresa,” her superiors chided gently, “you cannot build an orphanage with three pennies…with three pennies you can’t do anything.”
“I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.” Amen.
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