Parables. As we heard in the introduction to today’s text, “Parables use conventional images to disturb complacent existence. They are meant to shake up our world view.” Today we have the parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed is very small, as evidenced by the picture on the cover of the bulletin. However, it is not the smallest seed in the world. There is an orchid—the seeds are like dust. The mustard bush isn’t very large; in fact, an average-size bird could not build its nest in a mustard bush. So, Jesus is comparing the kingdom of God to a rather small seed that becomes a rather small bush. It’s like commenting that someone roars like a huge mouse. What is Jesus’ point? I believe this is a lesson in faithfulness, that life is about being faithful, that our success as individuals and as a community of faith is about faithfulness. Faithfulness is about being open to and following God’s influence and guidance.
That faithfulness is what life is all about turns our world upside down when those with the right car, the right job, who married the right person, whose children go to the right schools, the ones who dress right, those who have the right amount of money—which is never enough—they are the ones who are considered “successful.” Successful churches are those with the most members. The first question I’m asked about a church is, how many members does it have? Not what are they doing for ministry, how are they being faithful, how do they reach out to those who are hurting—but how many members.
If Jesus was talking about the kind of success that permeates our world, don’t you think he might have used a better example, for instance, a really huge tree? So what is he saying?
I heard about a person, a woman in her 80s, who bakes oatmeal cookies twice a week in batches of 30 or more cookies, then takes them to the local youth prison camp. The person telling the story thought it was a charming gesture. “It’s so nice for an older person to occupy herself baking cookies,” the person thought.
The superintendent of the prison camp told the storyteller, “Those cookies have transformed this whole place. Some of the young men who are incarcerated here have never in their whole lives received a gift from anybody until they got a bag of those cookies. They stand there at the door, behind the bars, eagerly awaiting those cookies, as if they were a bunch of little boys on Christmas Day, rather than a group of convicted criminals. Those cookies have changed them.” Faithfulness.
Darla came to a rummage sale at the UCC church in Wadena where Orv, my husband was the pastor. She attended another church closer to her home, but she liked the feel of this UCC church. She began coming to church. She was a bit of a mess. HIV-positive, very poor, a number of illnesses including diabetes. She was a rather coarse person; she spoke too loud sometimes and couldn’t afford nice clothes. In the short time she was part of this community of faith she moved several times and each time folks from the church would help her move. Every Sunday she had something to put in the offering plate and she became a vital part of this church. She died, and at her funeral her mother thanked the congregation for the gift the church had been to Darla in the last couple years of her life—how the members had surrounded her with their love. The members who knew her exclaimed numerous times that she was the one who had been the gift—that she had changed their lives. Faithfulness
You have changed people’s lives in ways you don’t know. Sara teaches at UTS and is involved with Re-Imagining. She’s involved with Bethel, an amazing bridge person. She is a member of a Covenant church, more conservative than the UCC. She worshipped here for a while before finding the downtown Covenant church. Your use of inclusive language because of your faithfulness to God’s inclusive love, inclusive valuing of all people, fed Sara’s soul, lightened her spirit and gave her hope. The heaviness of the misogyny and the patriarchy found in the Bible and in the life of so many churches was weighing her down. She invited her husband to worship with her. As they left the church he commented that now he got what she was talking about—that he could really appreciate the difference the use of inclusive language made. Faithfulness
On April 30 (it seems like yesterday) you voted to be a sanctuary supporting church. Because of your faithfulness lives have been changed and more will be changed. Several of us have been to deportation hearings. At the two I have been to the judge said that the presence of people at these hearings, the number of people, and the presence of clergy wearing collars or stoles made a difference in his rulings, which were in favor of the person in detention. One was the young man asked by the transit cop if he was a illegal or not and this story has received good coverage. The second was Sam, a thirty-something Cambodian man who has never lived in Cambodia. Sam was born in a Thai refugee camp and came to this country when he was three. He has been in detention since last August. Fortunately, he can go back to his $80,000 manufacturing job, but he and his wife and three children have lost their rental home, are living with her parents with four of them sharing one bedroom. It has put stress on the family. In 2002 he was convicted for aggravated assault because he held a knife to his then girl friend to stop her from taking the car keys because she was drunk. He does not speak Cambodian, has few relatives there, and yet the government attorney insisted it would not be a hardship for him to be deported to Cambodia. Fortunately the judge disagreed and he was set free to begin the process for a particular kind of visa.
Each time I was humbled by the experience—that something as simple as sitting through a court hearing could make such a difference in another person’s life. I will take what I’ve learned and the connections I’ve made with me to Plymouth Church, which is in the discernment process concerning sanctuary. Your pastoral staff and your Immigration Ministry Team, along with others, are very committed to this work. Your faithfulness has and is making a difference.
Mustard seeds have to be planted. Great pearls have to be harvested. Yeast for the bread dough has to be mixed into the dough. A treasure has to be found. And the fish have to be caught. The kingdom of God comes into our world through the grace of God and the works of God’s people. The kingdom of God isn’t about grandiose, splashy events or about numbers, or about who wins, or about power, or about who’s the biggest. It’s simply about our relationship with God and with each other. And the kingdom of God certainly doesn’t receive very much attention. These humble efforts, these everyday activities, certainly do not receive world-wide attention that the horrific violence throughout the world, or the battle over health care in this country, or political tweets do. Yet, small efforts, small activities, change the world for the better and, if done by enough people, can change the world.
So, we bake cookies and share them with incarcerated youth and the youth and the baker build relationships with each other. Through the cookies lives are changed. We welcome all people regardless of who you are or where you are on life’s journey—and lives are changed. We teach Sunday school and usually do not know the impact we’ve had but these children learn the stories of our faith, they learn about God and our relationship with God and God’s love for each of us and lives are changed. We provide meals for funerals and God’s hospitality and love are shared, and lives are changed. We provide music, and in the sharing of our gifts we grow and lives are changed. We use inclusive language and lives are changed. These opportunities to change the world are a gift from God, it is God working within and through us that transforms the seed into a bush, the speck of sand into a pearl, the flour and yeast into bread. Our efforts work with God to create the kingdom of God here on earth. It isn’t about earning a place in God’s realm, for we don’t need to worry about that. It is about being faithful to working with God and others to change God’s world. Do not get me wrong—being faithful can be difficult. It can and usually does involve some kind of sacrifice, and we know there have always been those who have died because of their faithfulness; Jesus for example.
Our greatest treasure is found in our hearts, our minds, and our souls as we give and receive through our relationships with God and with all people throughout God’s creation. We receive God’s blessings every day. We can be—we are—a part of sharing God’s blessings with others. Let us eagerly seek the opportunities, the possibilities to be faithful, to be that blessing.