“We Do Not Know How”

My friends, God’s new world is growing among us, we do not know how.

On a Saturday afternoon a few months ago, I traveled to the Dar al Farooq Mosque in Bloomington for a faith delegate training. I sat down next to a Muslim woman and we began to get to know each other. We talked about our families a bit. I avoided mentioning my spouse, Jen. It wasn’t exactly that I felt unsafe, but simply that I didn’t see the point of bringing it up. I assumed she wouldn’t approve or understand.  In the course of the training, we discussed a variety of issues that would be coming up in the political campaigns. She gave the rest of us a summary of how the candidates had voted on immigration issues, and how she felt about each person’s way of relating to immigrant communities such as her own. A few minutes later, as our discussion turned to LGBTQ concerns, she said “I’m for gay marriage.”

My friends, God’s new world is growing among us, we do not know how.

On Wednesday, a group of us watched the film Wonder here at the church as part of our inclusive movie series. The main character, August, or Auggie, was born with a condition that causes facial deformities. After being homeschooled for most of elementary school, Auggie is about to begin fifth grade at a regular school. Julian is one of the students chosen to welcome August. But instead, Julian tortures him—cracking mean jokes, leaving threatening notes, and turning most of the school against him. After many months, Julian finally gets in trouble for photoshopping August out of the class picture and posting it with a note saying he wishes August were dead. Julian sits between his mom and dad while the principal, Mr. Tushman, pulls out all the evidence of his crimes. Mr. Tushman decides that Julian will face a suspension from school. His parents argue with the principal and make excuses for their son’s behavior, while Julian himself stays silent. As his parents storm out of the office, Julian breaks free of them for a moment, and whispers to the principal: “I’m sorry, Mr. Tushman.” Freed from Julian’s bullying, August flourishes. On a class trip to a nature center, some older boys from another school attack Auggie. Kids who had formerly bullied him step up to defend him. At the end of the year assembly, August receives an award from the principal, and a standing ovation from the whole school for his kindness and his courage.

My friends, God’s new world is growing among us, we do not know how.

Last Sunday, an incredible event unfolded under the sunny blue sky of a remote Nebraska field. Farmers Helen and Art Tanderup signed a deed gifting a piece of their land back to the Ponca Tribe. This land lies on the historic Ponca “Trail of Tears,” the path the people walked into exile after their homeland was taken from them. This land is also located along the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Art spoke in a voice filled with emotion, describing a years-long process of conversation and relationship building between the Ponca people and his family. He recalled sitting in a teepee with tribal leaders hearing their dream: to restore even a portion of their homeland, where they could once again plant the sacred Ponca corn that would nourish and heal their people. Art spoke about how the Ponca are the rightful stewards of the land, the people who know best how to take care of it. And finally, he expressed his confidence that together, they would fight to ensure the pipeline (the “black snake”) would never be constructed. Ponca Councilwoman Casey Camp-Horinek offered these words:

God is good. This day the sun rose and gave us the opportunity to make this day as God would have us make it. This day our mother the earth sustained us and gave us reason to live. This day the wind is blessing us. The spirits are moving on it. And allowing us to become one in spirit. This day the course of the black snake has changed. There was a time that I was coming down this way from Standing Rock . . .  and I saw this large black snake in my thoughts, my understanding. And it was cut in half. And I knew at that moment that the battle was already won. We were ready to go through the steps to finish this process. And that is what we are doing today, my relatives. My deepest sincerest prayers to the ancestors of my people. My children back here, they’re all named for those who walked the spirit trail. . . . And when we call their names, we’re calling those spirits and they’re here with us this day.

After the ceremony returning the land, those assembled—Ponca people and white settlers—knelt together, shoulder to shoulder over the furrowed earth and planted the sacred corn together; the seeds of resistance.[1]

My friends, do you know a story like this, a story about God’s new world growing among us? Will you share a word or a phrase about where and how you perceive God at work?

My friends, God’s new world is growing among us like a plant, any ordinary plant. We sleep and rise, sleep and rise . . . and organically, mysteriously, with a hidden and uncontrollable energy, God’s transformation takes root. Seed, soil and water bring to birth tender green shoots. Thin stems strengthen and tiny leaves multiply. Buds emerge, flowers burst forth, bees do their part. The fruit ripens and the seed scatters, spreading the life-force of the plant, multiplying its influence.

God’s new world is, more specifically, like the mustard plant.

Mustard is an invasive species. It’s not tall or majestic. It is scrappy, persistent, assertive. Its tough foliage and bright yellow flowers quickly take over vast areas, crowding out other plants. Mustard is a metaphor for how God works—upsetting established norms, reversing expected outcomes, reconfiguring power dynamics. And though mustard is a weed, its seeds are useful—spicy and medicinal. The zest of mustard, its bite, is a visceral reminder that God’s new world is a shock to our senses. And mustard’s healing properties remind us that when God is at work, the change we see in ourselves and our world is real and deep and systemic.

My friends, God’s new world is growing among us, we do not know how. We can’t own or control this process. It’s not up to us to initiate it or bring it to completion. Again and again, it surprises us in the ways that it shows up. It invades our thinking, turning it upside down and inside out. It awakens us to see and know differently. It fills us with a counterintuitive hope, joy and possibility. Our part is simply to receive what comes as a gift. And to open ourselves as partners and co-conspirators in its unfolding growth.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] (https://www.facebook.com/BoldNebraska/videos/1724933890888557/)