|June 17, 2012|
|Written by Rev. Sarah Stephens|
Sermon by Rev. Sarah Stephens.
One of the many things I respect very much about this congregation is that we are a community of doers. We travel around the world encouraging Christian communities, nurturing good practices in economic empowerment, managing global enterprises. We labor in the halls of the United Nations to further global peace and justice. We spend hours making sure our children are able to participate in school, sports activities, music lessons, and confirmation classes. We give up Saturday mornings to prepare and serve lunch to Geneva’s homeless.
Those from our congregation who are attending the Rio+ 20 world environmental conference this week are admirable examples of this. I know that Pastor Lusmarina will be there. Who else from our congregation is attending? Each one of them is attending this conference as a servant of the Lord of Creation. They are in Rio to help shape international policy that will be consistent with our Lord’s call to careful stewardship of God’s creation and to promote justice for the oppressed, marginalized and impoverished.
It is true that our servant Lord, Jesus, teaches us to manifest our faith by caring for the other – caring for this fragile earth and for all those in need of justice, love and peace. But our readings this morning do not call us so much to be doers. Instead, they invite us to enter into the realm of God, to join with every kind of bird, nesting in the unruly branches of a mustard tree or shaded under the towering canopy of a mighty cedar. We are invited to partake of God’s labor, the one who scatters seed on the ground, sleeping and rising day and night so that the seed will sprout and grow.
In this city of beautifully manicured parks and in this land of rich agricultural fields that bring forth such a wealth of grains, fruits and vegetables, it can become easy to think that God’s creation thrives better when we lend a hand. But have you walked in the wild forests of France? I ask about the forest in France, because my memories from walking in the forested lands below St. Cergue is that actually they were pretty carefully organized – you have to love the Swiss!
But come take a walk through the marvelously teeming, chaotic forest in the French Jura. Or for that matter, just come and walk through the jungle that immediately surrounds my home. Earlier this week, I was out in that garden trying to reclaim the walkway to my front door from the ivy and creeping blackberry vines that seem to grow a meter a day. As I tugged away at unwanted plants rooted in the soft soil, I had no doubt about the literal truth of our texts this morning! There are ferns, bushes, trees, and creeping vines in abundance – all naturally springing forth from the verdant earth without help of human hand. And yes – the creatures of the earth take refuge and nest there – birds, cats, dogs, moles, mice, snails, snakes, and othercreatures I probably don’t even want to know about - all spontaneous gifts of God’s creation.
Isn’t that what Mark says the kingdom - the realm - of God is like? Seed is scattered on the ground and then left to the care of the earth. The Greek word that describes this process is “automatic”. In other words, the earth produces by itself and can be trusted to produce the plant without any anxiety or manure or extraordinary care or even a course in gardening. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is that we might even dare to not worry about our tomatoes or our roses or our squash. Might we dare to trust the earth to take care of them for us?
And what about our own lives? It seems as though we are bound up in trying to manage them -- we fuss about them, we plan them, and, of course, we worry about them. We fear that we will fail and end up unsatisfied. We fear that our existence will not yield good fruit. We live in an age of anxiety - in the time between the planting and the reaping - which is a time of great uncertainty. We really want to believe that God will act on our behalf the way God does in the automatic earth, but the skeptical side of our human nature has this burning urge to help God out - just in case. And in our anxiety we spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy seeking to take control of the garden, even forcing the harvest any way we can.
Anxiety can consume us – sometimes agitating us to over do it, sometimes paralyzing us into inaction. It is so much a part of our everyday life that it seems inevitable. It can make us isolated from others and cause us retreat into an unhealthy dark place where nothing good grows.
But we are called into God’s realm and there, we are invited to abandon our anxiety. Abandoning anxiety does not mean that we are no longer responsible for our lives or concerned about where they are heading. Nor does it mean that we becoming uncaring about the direction of our world, or resigned to the forces of greed and power. But it does mean that we make a conscious effort to give up incessant, relentless worrying about things over which we have little or no control and getting past the illusion that, unless we worry about everything at every waking moment, our lives will disintegrate.
The good news is that you and I can scatter our seeds - both in our gardens and in the day to day affairs of life – precisely because the growth of God’s realm is in God’s hands, not ours. The anxious part of us would dictate that we just keep those seeds in their envelopes or plant them in tiny pots where we can dig them up everyday to monitor their growth.
Yet faith allows us to open our hands and scatter the seeds as wide and far as the wind blows, trusting them to the automatic earth. The Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor beautifully describes what happens next. She says, “There in the dark, where we cannot see and do not know how, the automatic earth turns the death of our seeds into life, pushing up through layers of dirt, through asphalt, through concrete if necessary, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. Then it is our turn. We have watched and waited faithfully, knowing we cannot make the seed grow, and knowing who can. Then it is our time to harvest the crop, and let our tables be
We live not so much in an optimism that thinks we can fix everything but out of the hope born of confidence that God is in charge of everything, and we are simply called to participate in what God is doing in the world. So come faithful doers – take a moment – come join with all the birds of the air sheltered in that mustard tree. Take pause; draw a deep breath. Come be, just be, in the realm of God.