Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 11)
Sunday, June 13, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, MA
Watch here: TLC Worship Service 06/13/2021
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Preaching on last Sunday’s scriptures, Dr. Jackson acknowledged that while it is the Devil’s work to break apart relationships, to sow divisions, and to divide a house against itself, it is the power of Christ to heal and to restore relationships. Dr. Jackson proclaimed our hope, not in our ability to heal our relationships, repair our divisions, and to get our house in order, but our hope is in Christ – our hope in the power of Christ who has defeated sin and death.
(The Rev. Dr. Deborah Jackson, Dean of the Foisie Business School of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, was the guest preacher at Trinity on Sunday, June 6, 2021. Watch her sermon here: TLC Worship Service 06/06/2021)
Dr. Jackson preached in the best of African American tradition, and it reminded me of the Preaching with Power series back at the Philadelphia Seminary where every day for a week once a year a different Black preacher preached in a congregation around Philadelphia. But for me, the power in Dr. Jackson’s sermon was not in its style, but in its substance. Christ indeed is our hope who heals our divisions, and that healing work of Christ is sometimes found in ways that challenge & disrupt us, and even seem controversial.
In last Sunday’s scriptures we read that as Jesus was doing God’s work, the complainers said “He (Jesus!) was of the devil!” Imagine that, they pointed at Jesus and said: “He has a demon and is doing the devil’s work!” Dr. Jackson reminded us, that to heal our divisions, to lead us more fully into the kingdom of God, Christ is found in the work of racial justice, gender justice, economic and environmental justice, in the work not just of charity, but of advocacy. In this work, that can seem politically divisive – Christ is found healing society.
Today, as we continue to experience where Christ is found healing our divisions, our Gospel reading comes from the 4th Chapter of Mark.
In the 4th Chapter of Mark, Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like the mustard seed. The mustard seed when “sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth,” said Jesus. “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.” Mark 4:31-32
But the story of the mustard seed is not about the end result. This is not a lesson about size matters. The gospel story is held in tension with the reading from Ezekiel this morning. In Ezekiel we hear the voice of the Lord saying: “I bring low the high tree, and I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.” Ezekiel 17:24“I” will do these things, says the Lord.
The point of the mustard seed, is not to turn us inward to find within ourselves some hidden ability to become the highest, mightiest, and greenest of trees. The point of the mustard seed, is to turn our attention outward to God’s work among us and in us. By considering the transformation of the mustard seed, and the prophecy from Ezekiel of the work that the Lord will do, we are called in faith to experience God’s transformational work today.
The parable of the mustard seed, follows what my Bible calls, the “parable of the growing seed.” In the parable immediately before the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how!” Mark 4:26-27
In the heatwave of last weekend and earlier this week, I went into the basement looking for fans. As I looked I noticed a round black barrel-sized planter with almost a fluorescent green spear sticking out of it. Was it plastic? What was it? Impossibly, and improbably, what had happened was that a forgotten amaryllis bulb laying sideways in the bottom of the planter in the basement sprouted. A stalk emerged from that bulb laying on its side that turned 90 degrees and grew up the side of the planter until it poked out above the planter. Just like the farmer in the Gospel story today, I was left scratching my head at how it happened. How it sprouted and grew, unplanted like it was, I don’t know.
The bulb didn’t, and the seed doesn’t, need the farmer to tell it what to do. The bulb didn’t, and the seed doesn’t, need the farmer to provide an instruction manual. Rather, in a mystery, the seed, like the kingdom of God, sprouts and grows on its own.
These two parables today lead us out of reliance on ourselves, and into the mystery of faith in Christ’s power to work in our lives. The call of faith is not to summon us to drag a tree out of the mustard seed or to pull a plant out of the seeds sown. Rather, in the mystery of faith, we are invited to believe that the kingdom of God brings forth fruit in overlooked and impossible place, despite our active resistance, passive indifference, or clumsy cooperation.
Today, we find Christ’s healing power, working miracles, in that which is overlooked, forgotten, rejected, abandoned, ignored. Today we enter the mystery of God at work in Christ in all the places we say it can’t be so …
- The kingdom of God sprouting in a neighbor, in a coworker, in another member or ministry of Trinity overlooked … ignored … isolated. What seed of the kingdom of God has been planted in that person, that is sprouting and growing in spite of what you think about that person or that person’s ideas?
- The kingdom of God sprouting in the Voters Rights Lawsuit in the City of Worcester? What seed has been planted in this effort, that is sprouting and growing to ensure representation on the Worcester School Committee for communities of color in this City? You have an opportunity to learn more by attending a Zoom presentation this Tuesday night at 6:30pm.
- The kingdom of God sprouting in our ministry with families … in a simple Children’s Message in our Liturgy, in family areas in the back of the church, in our continued use of wearing masks for the sake of the littlest and most vulnerable among us, and in our call of a Youth/Family/Outreach Minister? What seed that has been planted is sprouting and growing, even though we do not know how, and cannot see it, and maybe will never see it? The parables today teach us that disciples sow in faith and deal in mustard seeds, and trust the power of God to work.
- The kingdom of God sprouting you donations for Necessities for Neighbors, ELCA World Hunger, Carty Cupboard Food Panty, your financial donations to the Good Samaritan Fund. These are seeds of the kingdom given away, and we most likely will never know the sprouts and harvest from these seeds. But in them, we trust the kingdom of God is working in ways that will bring real blessing.
For theologian Fredrick Niedner, the parable of the mustard seed suggests that in the end, all that God cares about, is “shrubs just big enough for birds to nest in their branches – that the birds (and other little ones) have shelter … Niedner suggests we might find ourselves in this parable as birds … birds nesting in the blessings and promises of God. “As birds,” Niedner writes, “thankfully we have found each other here, in one of God’s shrubs, part of the new creation God waters to life in baptism.”
There is the kingdom of God at work! In disciples committed, not to claiming more than we need, but actively working through charity and advocacy to make sure that everyone has enough. The kingdom of God is at work NOT in building the biggest monuments and temples to God, but in filling the hungriest stomachs, in loving the most hurting hearts, in welcoming the most afraid, in caring for the sickest, and tending to those most in need.
The Good News today, is that the power of God, is indeed the power of God to work new life in places of death.
We give thanks that the wood of the cross was transformed by God’s power into the tree of life. We give thanks that in the rejection and crucifixion of a preacher proclaimed a heretic, is God’s promise of forgiveness, salvation, and new life. We give thanks for the living Christ among us now, the mustard seed planted in our hearts and minds, leading us to sprouts and harvests of blessings.
May the Holy Spirit fill you with faith today. With the eyes, ears, and imagination of faith, may you experience God’s transformational power restoring relationships, healing the earth, and making all things news in places you would least expect.
Thanks be to God!