Monday, June 29, 2009

Within himself he reconciles all things, even quantum physics

To me, the abiding mystery of God is how Jesus reconciles all things within himself.  Within Jesus meet all things, all people, all places, all of everything.  S. Paul and all succeeding theologians speak of this mystery--an unfolding truth.  We still do not fully understand all that Jesus is and all that Jesus does.  We know him from his teachings, from his sacramental presence at the Altar and in the Tabernacle, from his love expressed through others, but we don't really know him fully any more than we fully understand anything or anyone--even ourselves. 
 
To fully understand (or to stand within) Christ is to understand all things, all probabilities.  I am intrigued by the witness of quantum physics, which teaches us that at a molecular level, all things, including the essential nucleus of atoms, cannot be fully observed--that we can only talk of their presence in the universe in terms of probabilities. 
 
Try this.  Turn your head to the side and listen.  Do you hear a noise?  You know the noise, but can you tell exactly where it is?  No.  Your mind can approximate it as a wave of possible distances from you, but when you observe it directly, it becomes for you a particle.  You see it, you can measure the length to within a certain distance, but even that is only by relationship to you and other externals.  We are hurdling through space, the earth is constantly spinning at 24 hours a revolution.  Here is not here!  Here is everywhere all at once! 
 
There is nothing to suggest that you are not wherever you want to be, because everywhere is always in motion.  It is only through probabilities that the atoms that make up you continue to align as they do, hence aging, progression of illness or healing....life!  Life is everywhere, all at once.
 
So to say that we understand Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, or indeed ANYTHING is to say that we understand the source, the creation, the Creator, and can have a mind that truly fathoms the infinite possibilities and probabilities of all things. 
 
 

Proper 8B. 28 June 2009.


          I started seminary ten years ago.  It's hard for me to believe that.  A lot has happened in those ten years for me personally, and for our country as a whole.  When you go to seminary you learn a lot of things.  I wouldn't call anything I learned a secret, but there are little teachings that help you out that might seem like secrets. 

 

          Never eat a big dinner before an evening liturgy.  You don't want indigestion when you're preaching.  That's a good one.  Always take a nap on Christmas Eve Day so that you have energy for the Midnight Mass. 

 

          You learn that not everyone who asks for help really wants help—often they just want to talk.  You learn that there is a difference between friendly advice and gossip.  But most of these little teachings are pretty basic stuff.  The one that is taught in homiletics that is absolutely sacrosanct is: Never preach on more than one topic. 

 

          If you get up in the pulpit and talk about more than one thing, the walls will cave in, the ceiling will fall.  The founding Rector of the parish will rise from the grave.  The egg salad at coffee hour will go bad; your family will never respect you again.  You will serve the remainder of your days in a tiny church that can't afford to pay more than quarter time, and you will live off peanut butter in a rusty old trailer next to the dump.  That's what they teach you. 

 

          Well…  Okay.  Not really.  But if you preach a sermon that is about more than just one thing, people, typically won't really get it—and the whole point of the sermon is to explain the text.  You want people to feel like they have just a little more understanding of who God is, how God works—but if you try to do too much, you'll lose their attention.  Some of you are already drifting off.

 

          So here's the problem.  The Gospel lesson for today, Mark 6:21-43, has two stories in it.  And Mark has written those stories in such a way that you have to tell both of them, because they have a lot in common.  But what makes it frustrating for the preacher is that they also seem like mirror images of themselves. 

 

          Let me start with what they have in common.  They are both healing stories.  They both take place on the western side of the Sea of Galilee in the same town.  Both stories are about Jewish females.  They both had incurable health issues that left them ritually unclean.  And, again, both stories are told together—the woman with the hemorrhage is book-ended by the story of Jairus's daughter. 

 

          Now, let's look at how they are different.  The woman with the issue of blood is a full grown woman, Jairus' daughter is twelve years old.  The woman is just some woman in the crowd, Jairus is a leader of the synagogue, so his daughter is a member of a ruling family.  The daughter has her father to plead Jesus to come; the woman has no one to care for her or ask Jesus to help for her. 
 

          So in one story the sick person comes to Jesus, in the other, Jesus comes to the sick person.  The woman comes up to Jesus secretly; Jesus comes to the daughter publicly.  The woman "takes" healing; to the girl, Jesus "administers" healing.  Jesus explains to the woman that her faith has made her well; but the girl is dead and cannot express any faith.  The woman was alive, but suffering for many years.  The girl was probably not suffering over many years, but died. 

 

          Here's an interesting one:  When Jesus speaks to the woman he calls her "daughter," when he speaks to the little girl, he calls her "Little girl."  Is that meaningful?  I don't know.  But it's interesting. 

 

          It's also very interesting that the girl dies by the time Jesus gets to her.  You can see the crowds, and Jairus thinking, "Jesus, if you hadn't stopped to talk with that woman, we might have gotten here before the girl died. 

 

          Here's one that kind of blows my mind:  When Jesus heals the woman, it's out in the open, but no one sees it happening.  When Jesus heals the girl, everyone knows what is happening, but Jesus only lets the father and mother see it.

 

          You can't tell these two stories separately.  I am sure that's why Mark put them together.  They certainly could have happened together just as he writes it.  But the similarities between the two make that seem improbable.

  

          You can certainly preach on just one or the other—and usually the preacher will want to talk about the woman in the crowd.  I'll admit that I'm inclined to do that.  The woman is easier to preach.  She takes initiative, she's little audacious.  We're pulling for her because of that, and because she's got no one to help her.

 

          The daughter is sick.  Our heart goes out to her.  If you're a parent, you can't help but feeling sympathy for Jairus.  He's being a good daddy.  If you are rushing your daughter into the emergency room, you want a doctor right now.  And if you see one bandaging up a sprained ankle while your little girl is breathing slower and slower, it would be everything you could do to keep from physically grabbing the doctor and pulling him over to see her. 

 

          I have a theory about these two stories.  I'm not sure if it's anything, so I'm just going to throw it out there.  I wonder if Mark is trying to explain that Jesus is willing to heal us whether we ask for it or not.  It's an uncomfortable idea, quite frankly. 

 

          We like the woman.  We would probably actually prefer the woman to the girl because she is—quite literally—a go-getter.  And we also really like the idea that you can take something from God.  A lot of people really like that idea. 

 

           It's almost as popular as the great unwritten, unspoken belief of most Christians that the relationship with God is transactional.  Do you know what I mean by transactional?  A lot of folks believe that God gives blessings, healing, forgiveness, based on our faith or our prayers. 

 

          The idea—and you'll find this everywhere—is that prayer and faith is a kind of divine currency.  And if you spend enough time in prayer…notice I said "spend" …then God will give you what you want.  It's a transaction.  A lot of people think that that's how God works.  If you confess your sins, God will forgive you.  But forgiveness is given freely by God.  Confession is really for our benefit for the same reason that a little child is given a punishment.  Confession is being honest with yourself in the presence of God so that hopefully you won't go back and do what you did.  You see that?  It's not that God needs your confession to offer forgiveness. 

 

          I have seen this countless times.  A person lying in a hospital bed will look up at the family and say, "I wonder what I did…that God is punishing me."  It breaks your heart, because these folks will lie there going over everything they've done or thought about for the last however many years and their image of God gets smaller and smaller, and angrier, and petty. 

 

          I recall, when I was a teenager and all those hormones were just coursing through my veins.  I remember thinking that every little stray thought about girls was going to land me in hell; and I would plead and plead with God for forgiveness. 

 

          Never mind that you go a little crazy when you're a teenager—I never gave myself the grace to believe that.  I just saw God up there in heaven with a pocketknife in one hand and a long stick in the other, making little notches whenever I sinned. 

 

          And one day I'd stand before God and he would show me the sticks and the notches, and I would ask forgiveness and he'd say, "Nope.  Sorry.  I could forgive at first, but you just kept going.  Jesus and I both decided that you're just not heaven-material."  I was a tortured soul back then. 

 

          I still have moments when I regress back to those days.  I have tapes that play in my head.  Do you have tapes in your head?  Maybe I should say "sound files"…no one plays tapes anymore.  I have little sound files that say things like:  "Don't buy that thing…put the money in the plate on Sunday."  Sometimes they say, "You didn't really pray that prayer, Alexander.  You said the words, but you didn't really pray them."  That recording is one of my least favourite.  You want to hear my absolute least favourite?  Here it is:  "Alexander, you didn't do enough."  It just kills me.

 

          Do you have these recordings—little self-critical recordings that are true, but not very nice?  A little of that is good for you, of course, but too much can erode your confidence and your faith in the goodness of God.

 

          I think the most corrosive recording is the one that plays on a level so low that you can't really hear it.  And it says, "God is punishing you.  You haven't done enough.  God is adding up your sins, and you're getting what you deserve."

 

          I wonder if these stories of healing aren't meant to combat this notion that God uses sickness to punish us.  I could be wrong.  There are certainly many good lessons that can be made from this text—but taking the whole thing together it seems as if Jesus is willing to heal regardless of external factors.  Whether you are old or young, dead or alive, public or private, rich or poor, suffering many years or not very long, come to Jesus or Jesus comes to you…either way, all of the above, God still offers healing.

 

          The woman seems to just "take" healing, and Jesus doesn't criticize.  He understands that it's an act of faith to sneak up and touch the hem of his garment.  He even calls her "daughter"—she doesn't have anyone around her and he calls her "daughter."  And then he goes to the little girl, and she gets up and begins to walk around.  Wow!

 

          And no transactions!  No one makes any messy confessions.[1]  No one begs or pleads for anything.  It's just healing.  Healing because healing is needed. Old or young, rich or poor, public or private, either way, all of the above…

 

          I'm telling you…if you think about this long enough, you will fall in love with God.



[1] Well, okay…there is the "messy confession" of the woman who comes in fear and trembling, but what I'm saying is that there is no messy confession given before healing occurs.  There is no transactional confession and consequent healing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Proper 7B. 21 June 2009.

 

 

 

          Some time ago I heard a wonderful sermon about Jesus walking on the water.  I'm sure you remember that story.  Jesus sends his disciples in the boat the go across the Sea of Galilee, and they set off and journey overnight.  As they are making their way across, late at night, Jesus comes walking on the water to meet them.  At first they think it's a ghost. 

 

          I had that sermon in my mind when I read the text for this morning, because the preacher is a seminary professor, and he said that the story of Jesus walking on the water might not be historical, but rather one of the first Christian sermons.[1]  It is an interesting idea.  We are permitted to look at the biblical texts with some suspicion about their historical accuracy, because—the Gospels especially—are reconstructed histories from years after the Ascension of Jesus. 

 

          If you sat down and tried to write your memoirs, you probably wouldn't give as much space to your teenage years as you probably thought they deserved at the time.  And it's likely that you would add elements of your story that you didn't actually live—stories about other people—you understand.  What I'm trying to say is that the text for this morning about Jesus calming the storm might be another early church sermon.  Or, alternatively—and I like this idea better—it might be a parable, a story that teases our imagination.
 

            One reason why it seems like a parable is that Jesus is sleeping in the boat.  Jesus is at peace; the disciples are worried.  The storm gets worse and Jesus is still sleeping.  The boat begins to take on water; Jesus is still sleeping.  Finally, they wake him up.  "Do you not care that we are dying out here?"  And Jesus tells the wind to stop, and says to the sea, "Peace!  Be still!"  and everything calms down.  Then he turns to the disciples and asks, "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"

 

          Now, if you've been in church all your life, you know this story, and you don't think that what Jesus says to the disciples is offensive.  Even if you were a little offended, the little church voice in the back of your head says, "Jesus is right, you are wrong—you can't be offended at Jesus, he's God." 

 

          But see take that little voice away.  How would you feel if you were in a tight spot and Jesus turned to you and said, "What's wrong with you?  Where's your faith?"  You might get a little upset.  I think I would be crushed.  Doesn't God want us to rely on him?

 

          I remember how the Sunday school teacher taught this story when I was a child.  We sang the song, "With Jesus in the boat you can smile in the storm / when your sailing home."  And the message was that if you have Jesus in the boat then he'll take care of you, and you can be happy.  That's the children's version:  Jesus is your friend, he'll protect you, if you believe in him.  But that's not how the story goes. 

 

 

          The story is that Jesus is asleep, and when he wakes up and takes care of the problem, he actually scolds the disciples for not taking care of the problem themselves.  That version of the story doesn't go over so well with children—but you aren't children anymore.

 

          That's why I think this is a parable, because it reads more like a teaching to the early Church that they needed to grow up, and own the faith that Jesus had given them.  "Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?"

 

          It reads to me very much like a parable.  Jesus is asleep.  In other words, he's here with you—he's present—but he's not actively managing things.  And then some craziness starts to take place—life seems to get unmanageable.  It starts off with a couple waves, and then some wind, and then the waves toss the boat a little higher and the boat begins to take on water.  Jesus is there—he will never leave or forsake us—he's just not doing anything.  Now we already know how Jesus wants us to handle this, right?  Don't be afraid.  Have faith.  So what does that mean?  (Pause.)

 

          Faith is a complicated word.  It has a lot of meanings.  Most people use it as a synonym for hope; and hope is a weaker word, because it's rarely used in a positive way.  "I hope it doesn't rain this afternoon."  What does that mean?  It means, "We're having friends over and I'd really like to use the grill, but the sky will probably unzip just as I touch the match to charcoal."  

 

 

          Hope.  "Well, we'll just have to hope for the best."  Which means, "He doesn't stand a chance."  Faith can be misused just as easily.  "Well, we'll just have to have faith that it's going to be all right."  Translation:  This is going to get worse. 

 

          See, it seems to me that being told you have to have faith is like being told that you have to regress to childhood, and take your spiritual guidance from the Rev. Mickey Mouse:  "When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.  When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true."  That's the problem.  You've become so cynical.  You've lost that child-like faith.  Go back and relearn how to be naïve and Pollyanna, and all misty-eyed. 

 

          Or, no, here's the problem.  You didn't believe hard enough.  You prayed the prayers all right, but you didn't really believe.  And God looked into your heart and saw those traces of doubt, and said, "Humph…well, there are children out there who eat their vegetables and say their pleases and thank yous and they don't doubt when they say their prayers."  Please. 

 

          Faith, hope.  They're such good words, but they've been so corrupted.  Or maybe the words themselves haven't been corrupted, but the tone of voice we use to say them gives away our cynicism.  It's like you know what you know; and you control what you can control; but you just naturally assume that what you can't control is going to fail.      

 

 

 

          You can row the boat.  There is Jesus.  It's a nice day.  Beautiful sun.  Jesus saves, so if things get bad, he'll take care of it.  You can row the boat just fine.  You can manage this depth of water, these conditions, and then suddenly the conditions change, you're not in control.  And because you have more real faith in yourself than you do in God, and because life has taught us that God doesn't send rescue boats to every dangerous situation, "Well…I sure hope things get better."  Translation:  We are done for.

 

          The problem is that word: faith.  What are we going to do with that word?  We can't get rid of it.  We need it.  It's just hard to get a hold of.  Is there a quantity to faith?  Some people seem to have more, but how can you measure it?   "He has five quarts of faith."  "She has two teaspoons of faith."  "I have…well, I don't know…I believe in God.  I say I believe in God."

 

          I think the problem is that when people say the word faith they are really using the weaker synonym: hope.  And they do that because they are scared of the stronger synonym: trust. 

 

          It's a whole different story if Jesus calms the waters and then says, "Why are you afraid?  Are you still unable to trust?"  Do you see how scary that word is?  Trust.  "I trust you."  How many people could you really say that to?  "I trust you."

 

          You catch the vulnerability in it?  You have to take your fists out of the air.   You have to put the sword back in its sheath.  You have to breathe a little more deeply, and look at the person square in the eye. 

 

          I don't think it's even possible to say the words, "I trust you," without looking them in the eye.    Men have a horrible time with those three words.  My guess is that a man would rather say "I love you" than "I trust you." 

 

          Love is gooey word—it is like chocolate; it changes shapes and it can be a solid or a liquid.  You can almost melt love down and pour it into molds and make it look like this or that.  You can't do that with "trust."   Trust is always a solid word, and it doesn't change shape. 

 

          Trust is a brick building, built on a foundation of cinder block and rebar enforced concrete.  Love can be light as a feather; it can be carried on the wind; you can take it out of your pocket and leave it somewhere and someone else comes along and takes it.  But you can't carry off trust.  Trust is a lead paperweight.  Do you see what I'm saying?

 

          The parable is this:  You can calm the storm just as easily as Jesus did.  You don't have to wake him up.  The only thing he did differently is that he trusted that the Father loved him and things would get better.  Now don't complain that he's God and you're just you—Jesus all but said, "If you had trust in God, then you could've handled this."  That's the sermon.  That's the parable.

 

          We're not supposed to have some pie-eyed, naïve faith—we're suppose to trust that we are in God's hands.  Things will get bad.  Being in God's hands does not mean that we get rescued at the moment of crisis.  Jesus taught that on the Cross.  But Resurrection always follows Crucifixion.            No matter how bad things get, God is always able to redeem, it's in his nature to redeem.  

 

          I think people would say they have faith in God, meaning they hope; but it's a very mature Christian who can say they have faith in God, and what they really mean is trust.  And I'll go ahead and confess to you that it's something I wrestle with.  You can't go through this life without having your trust in God shaken from time to time.  And I think that's a little message of grace in this text—so I'm not going to let you go until I tell you that. 

 

          I think that Jesus would have preferred the disciples to take care of the storm—I think that's the parable's true meaning.  But the grace is that when he woke up, he didn't just say, "Where is your faith?"  No.  The first thing he did was to make things better.  (Pause.)

 

          I never realized how much I would learn when Peter was born.  Parenthood is like taking a test for which you can never study enough.  I watch Peter and Maggie get frustrated with the tiniest things and it's as if the entire world has ended. 

 

          And I try to explain that a little patience, a little creativity, a little trust that things will be okay…but that's not really what they want.  They want Daddy to make it better.  And the grace is, that I do. 

 

 

 

 

          Anyone of you who has had a child knows what I mean.  You know that they could have headed this off.  You know that if they had had a little more confidence, a little more foresight, it would have been fine. 

 

          But when the crying starts, no matter how much we know that this too shall pass, now is not the time to say, "Why didn't you do it this way?" Now is the time to wash the knee and get out the band aids.  Now is the time to kiss and hold, and love.  Trust will come.  It's all part of growing up. 



[1] Craddock, F.B.  Cherry Log Sermons.  Faith and Fear. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

L

ORD, enthroned in heavenly splendour,

            First-begotten from the dead,

Thou alone, our strong Defender,

            Liftest up thy people's head.

Alleluya, Alleluya,

            Jesu, true and living Bread!

 

Here our humblest homage pay we;

            Here in loving reverence bow;
Here for faith's discernment pray we,
            Lest we fail to know thee now.
Alleluya, Alleluya,
            Thou art here, we ask not how.

Though the lowliest form doth veil thee
            As of old in
Bethlehem,
Here as there thine angels hail thee,
            Branch and flower of Jesse's stem.
Alleluya, Alleluya,
            We in worship join with them.

Paschal Lamb, thine offering, finished
            Once for all when thou was slain,
In its fullness undiminished
            Shall for evermore remain.
Alleluya, Alleluya,
            Cleansing souls from every stain.

Life-imparting heavenly Manna,
            Stricken Rock with streaming side,
Heaven and earth with loud hosanna
            Worship thee, the Lamb who died.
Alleluya, Alleluya,
            Risen, ascended, glorified!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Proper 6B. 14 June 2009.

          A couple weeks ago, Karin and I heard that the New Market branch of the Shenandoah Public Library system wanted to provide movies for people to check out, and since we had bundle of movies that we don't really watch anymore, we decided to pull out them and go through them.  VHS tapes are a rather quaint thing now that most movies are watched on DVD. 

 

          Of course, the only movies they'll receive are professionally printed, but we had a lot of old homemade tapes from the days when the only way you could capture anything on TV was to set the VCR to record it.  Nowadays that's old fashioned technology.  You can rent almost anything you see on TV from Netflix or Blockbuster, or you can even go on the internet and watch old TV shows, movies.  Why would you ever dig through the tapes to find something you recorded years ago?—have to fast forward and reverse to get to the right spot. 

 

          Well, this of course got me thinking about the days before VCRs, and even the days before there were more than twelve stations on the dial.  And yes, I am old enough to remember "the dial."  I am sure many of you can remember the days before television; but I know that none of us are old enough to remember the days before radio and photographs. 

 

 

          All of these means of communicating images and sound and information have made life so much richer.  Obviously, there's a lot of dreadful stuff out there, too, but you and I cannot imagine what it was like to be literally unable to communicate something we've seen. 

 

          If you take a trip to a distant place, you take a camera with you to take pictures of places and people, so you can remember what you've seen, and be able to share the experiences with others.  Even the most banal places can be interesting when you're traveling. 

 

          I was listening to NPR and heard a scientist explain that when you travel you use your brain in ways that you almost never do at home.  For instance, if you're traveling to a foreign country, even the most basic need of getting shaving cream can be its own task.  You don't think anything about it at home—you know the store, you know the aisle, you know the brand, you know the cost, you might even know the store clerk.  But you go to a foreign country, and where's the store?  Where's the aisle?  Is this shaving cream or hand soap?  If the country speaks a language other than English, you've got another set of challenges.

 

          Your brain goes in all sorts of calculations as it experiences new sights and smells; different food, different customs and expressions, different driving patterns. 

 

 

 

          Even if you only go a short distance you can experience different customs than you will find the good `ole Shenandoah Valley.  Get in your car and drive up 66, and once you get to Manassas, suddenly, things start to get a little hairy. 

 

          The turn signal is such a beautiful thing.  My turn signal, if I could give it a voice, would talk like this:  "Excuse me, hi.  Yeah, it's nice a day, isn't it?  That really is a nice car you have.  Uhm, I hope this isn't a problem, but I would very much like go left in a couple seconds.  I hope that won't be a problem for you.  If you'll just maintain your speed, and understand that I'll be moving over, that would be just super.  Okay?  Thank you!"

 

          It's such a pure thing.  I'm just letting you know.  And because you're also on the road and occasionally have to make turns, I just sort of expect that you'll give me the room I need to execute the manoeuvre.  And that's because I'm a native of the Shenandoah Valley.  I learned that that's what a turn signal says.  I learned that the horn is there for emergencies, but if you use it for anything other than that, then you'll go straight to hell. 

 

          But now, see, if you are anywhere within an hour of Washington, DC, the use of a turn signal is a sign of weakness.  The other drivers see that you're about to get in their lane, and they want to drive past you as fast as they can, because they can't stand the idea that someone stupid enough to show weakness is in front them. 

 

 

          We can laugh about this because you know what I'm talking about, but I got on to all of this as a way of talking about communication.  See, you know that it's crazy in northern Virginia, you've been there.  And you've been to Washington and other places and you know that foods are different, language is a little different, customs.  But even if you've never been to, say, New York City, there are parts of it that can be very familiar to because you see it regularly on TV. 

 

          Imagine if you couldn't go to those places, and there were no pictures, or video, or audio clips.  The whole world just shrinks down into the most basic communication—in fact, the purest communication that there is—a person talking.  What I'm doing right now.  And if I've been to some distant place, and you haven't, then you are completely dependent on my words to draw pictures in your mind of what I've seen, and heard.  I can't communicate any other way.

 

          But let's add another layer of complexity to it.  If I have something to describe to you, chances are that it will have enough in common with your experience that it isn't too difficult for you to envision it.  But let's say that what I have to teach you is that you already know the fundamentals of how God works, it's just that you have to imagine it at a more exaggerated level.  How can I communicate that?  I can see it so clearly in my mind; but to communicate it to you without photos, and video, and with enough stuff that you already understand—well, for that I have to make comparisons.  It's like this.  It's like that.

 

          That's how Jesus speaks in our lesson this morning.  "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the grown, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain.  But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."

 

          Now, on the surface, there is absolutely nothing to this text.  It's like a description of how to use your turn signal.  "A man plants seeds, and days go by, and the seeds sprout, and grow—he doesn't know exactly how.  He doesn't know why some seeds grow and others don't. 

 

          Did you know that that is still to some extent a mystery about seeds?  Talk to Mal Sarna, our Senior Warden (at Emmanuel) who was an agronomist—he studied seeds.  Seeds have three parts.  There is an embryo, the nutrients that keep that dormant embryo nourished, and a shell.  When dormancy passes and the seed soaks up enough water, the embryo sprouts, but sometimes, even the healthiest looking seeds don't grow.  We don't always know why.

 

          But some seeds grow, and time passes—days, nights, days, nights—and finally a flower, grain, corn, whatever.  And because experience teaches us when things are at their peak, we go in and get the harvest.  Now, Jesus doesn't explain any further, but the implication is that this whole process is bigger than just corn, and flowers, and grain. 

 

          We go around all the time sowing seeds: some of the them grow, some of them don't.  I try to sow good seeds.  I try to say things about God that will drop into people's lives, and hopefully, one day I'll see those people again and something beautiful will be growing inside them.  But what scares me silly is that I also sow bad seeds.  I don't mean to do it, but we human beings are very fallible and we sometimes say things that we don't even know will take root.  How else can you describe it? 

 

          A couple months ago a very distant friend got in touch with me and said, "Alexander, you changed my life."  I thought "Uh-oh."  He said, "You said X Y and Z, and you were right, and I'll always be grateful."  I'm so glad it was a good story, because I really do worry that a bad seed will slip out of my mouth—maybe even without knowing it—and someone will show up years down the road with an overgrown vine that I accidentally planted. 

 

          But see that's how things work.  How else can you describe it?  You see Jesus wrestle with that question a little bit.  He says, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

 

          Now, the mustard seed is small, but it's not the smallest of all the seeds; and when the mustard seed is full grown, it can be large, but it does not produce large branches.  No, no, no.  But see, that's not the point. 

          The first parable is trying to get us to see seeds as a metaphor; but the second parable builds on that message.  It shows us that big things can come from little beginnings.

 

          In other words, you never can tell when the smallest kind word can ripple out and become something wonderful; and you never can tell when the smallest ugly comment can ripple out and become a curse in someone's life. 

 

          Well, how else can you say it?  How else can Jesus describe the power we have to bring about good and evil?  If he says it plainly, he limits your imagination.  He cuts off the meaning of all these ideas at A equals B, and B equals A, and you don't have to use your imagination.  But once you do use your imagination, these teachings become seeds of their own.

 

          That's really the mystery of the seed parables—they are seeds of themselves.  And when you plant these parables inside you, they grow, and they begin to show you that this is how it works. 

 

          The seed in the ground; the baby in the mother's womb; the kind word whispered in the child's ear; the insult hurled in a moment of fury; the teenage girl who is told that she's pretty; the young man who is told that he's funny; the grandson who tells the grandfather, "I love you;" the man who asks the woman, "Will you marry me?" 

 

 

          The conservative who shouts at the liberal; the liberal who shouts at the conservative.  The American who scoffs at the Mid-Eastern; the Asian who scoffs at the African; the missionary who starts a school; the priest who offers a blessing; the woman who bandages up the man.  Seeds.  Seeds.  Small beginnings, greater ends.  How else can you describe it?  Would a video show it?  Maybe a photograph?  (Pause.) 

 

          I love to plant seeds.  I wish that all the seeds I sow could be good seeds, because I'd like to retire one day and know that what I've contributed has been good, and honest, and healthy.  If I ever seem to be planting bad seeds, please don't let them grow in you.

 

          But let me plant the good ones.  Let me plant within you the Body of Jesus.  Let me press him into your hands, and then you take him into your souls and bodies.  Let me tell you as best I can about this kingdom that Jesus wants us to live in. 

 

          I suppose, if I could only sow one good seed, I would want to sow this one: that God loves you.  Now, don't brush that seed away.  I mean, God loves you.  He really loves you.  You'll see that seed for sale at Food Lion, and Wal-Mart, Valley Heritage.  It wouldn't surprise me if you saw it in the Burpee catalogue—they've got everything.

 

          But folks, there are people all over, and I mean even Christians, who have never really planted that seed in themselves.  And I don't know why.  It could be that they think it won't grow.  It could be that they planted that seed when they were kids, and the seed died.  I have known that to happen. 

          A little boy or girl is brought to church by mommy and daddy, and they grow up, and get confirmed and you almost never see them again.  Until one day, they show up at the door.  Did you know it can be a fearful thing for people to come back to church?  People want to know why they left and then why they came back.  Prodigal sons and daughters don't want to talk about that.  They just want to come back; and they're worried that they'll lose face.  Sometimes that worry is enough to make them go to a different church, just to get a clean slate.  They don't want to be criticized, you see?  But they come back feeling very unsure if the Church will take them back, not sure if they deserve more seeds. 

 

          And there's the seed, sitting right on top of the Altar: "God loves you," it says.  I have even known people to come back to church, attend regularly, serve on the vestry, work on the altar guild, cut the grass, usher at funerals, serve at coffee hour, you name it, and they'll never let that seed get planted.  Maybe they don't believe it's real.  Maybe they think it will just stay dormant. 

 

          It could be that they are scared that when "God loves you" begins to grow that it will mean that they have to believe it.  And if they believe it, it might change them.  They might have to start not only believing that God loves them, they might have to start loving themselves, too.  And that's not easy for some people.  If it's easy for you, you are a very fortunate person, because a lot of people struggle with that.

 

 

          But I'm still going to try to plant the "God loves you" seeds.  Because I know that they do grow.  When planted in good soil, they germinate pretty quickly.  They almost never go dormant, unless they are planted by false prophets or get trampled by abuse or neglect.  But even then, these are strong seeds; and I love planting them.  I am hoping that maybe you will join me.