Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Third Sunday after Pentecost – June 17, 2012
Last week at the early service, I explained that we have just entered into the longest season on the church calendar – the season after Pentecost – sometimes known as Ordinary Time.
With the kids, I call it “Growing Time.” The liturgical color is green and because we’re not going to be interrupted by any major holy days, we’ll have time to listen carefully to the scriptures themselves – the history of the Jewish people from the Hebrew Scriptures, some stories about Jesus and some of the stories Jesus told.
Last Sunday, in our lesson from the book of Samuel, we heard the people of Israel clamor for a king. They begged Samuel to anoint a leader that would fight their battles, end the occupation and oppression they had endured from their enemies, and raise their status among their neighbors. They wanted a king – and that’s what they got. A king named Saul.
This week’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures (appointed by the lectionary) skips the story of Saul’s reign (though you can certainly go and read the account for yourselves – it’s found in the book of Samuel, chapters 10-16) and brings us to the story of how Israel’s second king, David, was chosen following Saul’s death.
Our Gospel lesson contains two short parables – those wonderfully packed and packaged picture-stories Jesus was so fond of telling. These stories are about the Kingdom of God – the kingdom Jesus came to inaugurate.
You may remember that the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, were, like their ancestors, waiting for a king – the Messiah – the one who would change their future, turn the tide, bring them victory over their oppressors, usher in a new day of political power and establish a stable nation. This was to be the kingdom of God’s people – free and prosperous. That’s what they hoped for; that was what they expected.
But as we know, Jesus was all about something completely different. He had no intentions of being that kind of king. He chose donkeys over warhorses, poverty over wealth, humility over power, the marginalized over the insiders, peace over violence, love over hate.
The story of David’s anointing seems like a foreshadowing of the kingdom Jesus came to build. The strong, good-looking, fast-talking sons of Jesse were turned away one by one. It was David, the youngest, the most inexperienced, the seemingly simplest son of Jesse that God had chosen to lead the people of Israel as their king after Saul’s death. So, what can we learn about God from these pieces of scripture? That’s always the question I want to ask.
First, God seems partial to little things: one talent, a cup of cold water, the widow’s mite, one child with one lunch bucket, one lost coin, one tiny seed. God is partial to little things.
Secondly, God can be extreme.
There’s a story about an old man who bought a house with an overgrown garden. The weeds had long since taken over and the yard was a mess. But slowly the man began to clear the weeds, till the soil and plant seeds. Finally he had made it into a showcase garden.
One day, his pastor came to visit and when he saw the beautiful flowers and plants he observed, “Well, friend, you and God have done a marvelous job on this garden.” To which the homeowner replied, “You should have seen it when God had it by himself.”
Yep – God’s work can get out of hand. Crazy things can happen. Birds of all kinds – varying colors, shapes, sizes, feeding habits and lifestyles all end up in the same bush – sharing the branches, building nests.
Thirdly, God’s work is inside-out work. Whether it’s transformation in a snow-covered garden or transformation in a persons’ life, it often starts on the inside and works its way out. There seems to be a kind of divine vitality hidden in things that we may not pay much attention to: a recurring dream or thought pattern, a hidden hope, a hunger for light, a thirst for pure water, a twinge of guilt.
All these little seeds hold great potential. And we get to decide whether we want to keep them wrapped tightly in their shells lying dormant, or if we want to let them sprout – let them take root – and then nourish and tend the potential they contain.
Einstein once said that we see only those things that our theories permit us to see.
As we decide what to do with the seeds in our lives, it’s important to remember that the theories we hold about the world and our place in it affect how we will act.
What do we believe about God, about the world, about our place in it? Do we believe that things can change? I mean, really change? Do we believe that we are capable of being a part of building a world where justice is the law and love is the motivation? Do we believe that we can face the hard stuff of relationships – of being families and friends – of being Christ’s body – the church – in hard times and not force each other out of the bush? Or do we believe that the powerful will always win out? Do we believe that the cultural norms of nations and institutions are so ingrained that challenging them is just a waste of time?
Do we believe that God is at work in the world – scattering seeds, continuing to create wild and wonderful things of beauty and grace beyond our limited imaginations? Do we believe – or can we dare to try to believe that God is inviting us to be partners in that creation? Can we see the divine spark in our neighbor, in a stranger, even in one we have considered an adversary?
God is partial to little things – things others find insignificant. God can be a bit unruly – building the kingdom with uneven boards and cracked bricks. But it’s a grand kingdom that will flourish and it will last forever. God works in an inside-out way – planting seeds that contain potential beyond our wildest imaginations. That’s what I hear about God in today’s scripture lessons.
There’s an invitation as well. The invitation I hear is an invitation to be God’s partner in the building of God’s kingdom. We are invited to pay attention to little things; we are invited to bring our brokenness to the tool shed; and during this season in particular, we are invited to grow from the inside out.