14 June 2015
I Samuel 15:35-16:13, Mark 4:26-34
Seeds for Seeing
Martin Luther said, “If you truly understood a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.” Take a minute to consider yourself a grain of wheat or a seed…Consider our church a scatter of seeds…In Jesus’ kin-dom parable from Mark, the person scatters seed on the ground and goes about his or her life, sleeping and waking and does not know how it happens that the seed first becomes grass, then stands up, then becomes the full mature crop and finally is ready to be gathered. And for what? To become bread for the world, no doubt.
In the Greek rendering, the verse says something like “Automatically then, Gaia is fertile.” It is the earth itself that does the work to bring about the growth of the scattered seeds. So if we are the seeds, our life in the earth at this time is the fertile ground for our developing.
Jesus goes on to tell another kin-dom parable. Before we look at that one I want to talk about why we say kin-dom instead of kingdom, which is more familiar. The Greek word is basiliea, a word for royalty or rule or realm. So much about the story of our life with God relates to this metaphor of the realm of God that we want to take care that the words we use point to what matters here, and step away from the language of patriarchy that can be construed to give preference to male authority only. So we often say kin-dom, the realm where we are all kin in God’s domination free order.
The book of Samuel that we also heard from this morning tells about Israel’s journey from a loose confederation of tribes into a realm ruled by a single leader—first Saul, then David, then eventually Solomon. This reading tells how David was chosen as an unlikely candidate to become king.
Samuel is the prophet we are quoting when we sing “Here I am Lord, is it I Lord, I have heard you calling in the night…” His mother, Hannah, prays for him to be born and when he is, she offers him back to God to serve at the temple. He becomes an important communicator between God and Israel.
This book of Samual explores questions of human power versus divine will, usually coming to conclude that God’s will is accomplished through human events and personalities.
There is a divided opinion, however, in the text, reflecting the division in Israel at the time. Some viewed the establishing of kingship as a wrong that God indulged as the people clammored to give up their self-governance under God alone. Others saw it as an act of God’s providential grace. It seems that the development of an Israelite monarchy also had much to do with centralizing government as a mechanism for safeguarding accumulated wealth.
In our own less than engaged reliance on others to govern for us we have come to find we are facing a climate catastrophe, we have enacted “tough on crime/war on drugs” legislation that has led to a 600% increase in our prison population since the 60’s, and we have interfered with and militarized other countries for safeguarding our own market economy. But that’s another sermon. Back to David and seeds.
The stories of our faith contain superstars, like Samuel and King David, who were selected to be special leaders. But our stories also include the parables of Jesus who pushed back with the notion that the rule of God is evident when each seed is nourished and developed and becomes part of the whole, and each one is to grow up and stand up for the good of all.
In this next seed parable we heard, Jesus says the kin-dom 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.” So, here it is a single seed that grows to provide an entire community of nesting birds a shady home.
Again, we see the tension between notions: that of a single superstar seed versus scattered seeds in a Gaia grown community crop.
In this faith community we get to do both. We are each superstar seeds that can grow into an entire bush of blessing and we are also the bush together or the crop together.
At our potluck on Friday night some of our youth teased me when I said I could see a certain inevitable reconciliation and how beautiful it would be one day. And they asked, what? Did I have some special eyes like God? And yes, I think that’s what we are called to have: to see things differently: with God’s eyes, like Samuel, passing over all of Jesse’s tall grown up sons and thinking there must still be another. For as we heard, “the Holy One does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Holy One looks on the heart.”
“There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep,” says Jesse. His own father didn’t consider David to be exceptional. So Samuel says, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” Jesse sends for him and looking at the Hebrew words, the writer of Samuel describes him as maybe a ginger redhead, with a beautiful presence, and good to look at.
Then the Holy One says, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Samuel takes the horn of oil, and anoints David in the presence of his brothers; “and the spirit of the Holy One comes mightily upon David from that day forward.”
Not all kids look as promising as young David. But we can still see each with God’s eyes and imagine their lives unfolding in the most anointed way! Also at the potluck Michael shared this quote with me: “ Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” When we live in the active hope and conviction of what can be, we are bringing about the kin-dom of God.
I have been enjoying a book this week by Terri Gregory called the Identity Crisis of Parenting. I recognized several of the mistakes I made with my own kids and am glad to see them working their way through their unfinished business. Gregory shares the story of a single mother named Geri, whose 17 year-old son had been truant from high school. The judge gave her a choice between paying a large fine or taking a course from Ms. Gregory, a Behavior Resource Specialist. Gregory writes:
“A sinewy little stick of a woman, she blew into the room that first night, eyes wide and round like her hair was on fire. At first I thought someone was chasing her. She found a seat while vociferously letting the rest of the group know that she did not want to be there at all. There was no help for her son; she was waiting for his 18th birthday when the school officials would stop plaguing her about his attendance which she had no control over. It was a hopeless cause. She didn’t understand why they couldn’t see that.
The first assignment I give to parents, at the end of our first session, is to cease doing their kid’s laundry. It’s an admittedly simple assignment, although often difficult to implement. The cultural assumption has been that the more I do for my kid, the better parent I am. Truthfully however, the reverse is true: less is more. “Do less,” I tell parents. Be present more.
At the conclusion of Geri’s first session, upon hearing the assignment, her outrage was uncontainable. “I did not come here to teach my kid how to do laundry. I came here so he’d go to school!”
“Right,” I agreed.
“I cook his meals and clean his room and do his laundry; all I ask of him is that he go to school. That’s it! That’s all he has to concentrate on!”…
“So, how’s that working for you?” I ask…
She returned the second week to convey her shock as she watched her son throw a tantrum like a two- year- old upon hearing that he’d be responsible for his own clothes. Not surprising really as he’d not ever been expected to do anything at home. Geri’s self-imposed guilt for being a single parent and recovering addict affected her outlook profoundly…
Geri stuck to her guns though and followed through with her promise to teach him how to operate the machine if he needed help. By the third week, she beamed as she told me and the other parents, “He not only does his laundry, he does mine as well.” It was the beginning of her son’s realization that he could do more than just play video games. Geri completed the workshop where she filled her parenting bag with more tools and, with the help of a diligent school employee, saw her son complete high school.”
Using Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, Gregory goes on to describe the powerful period of adolescence when young people may be unprepared for the inherent freedoms and life-altering choices they are faced with even as they discover their gifts and talents.
If they had difficulties in previous stages of development, this is also a time for insight for resolving some of that as they recognize their agency in making their own choices. And it can be a time of growth for us, their care-givers, as they help us in our own developmental journeys. This is work we can all keep doing at any age.
So each of us is a seed and we are the nest where our seeds get to grow into fullness. We get to show up for each other and for all our children to support every one in discovering their own paths:
Like when Conney and Jim and Becky and Bob find time to tutor our young people in math, Spanish, or writing.
Like when we say thanks to our kids for singing for us, for playing their hearts out in sports, and doing countless hours of volunteering in the community.
Like when Tege and Brad get all excited about Victoria’s amazing first cheese cake and Chris and Kaylan make sure she has a fan for her new apartment.
Like when we show up at football games and Hawaiian Night to see Nate lead the Haka or when Dave and Aleli offer him a ride home from church every Sunday.
Like when we train for climate activism to support and take direction from Hannah and Josephine.
Like when Linda and Richard and Lavonne and Jim and David bring their grandchildren and young friends to potlucks and game nights just for fun and to watch Caliope take her first steps.
Like when we listen to each other’s life journey stories like Wendy’s later today.
Like when we gather this coming Saturday to celebrate the life of Gail Price and be sure her family gets a glimpse of how she contributed to creating the nurturing nest that is this faith community.
These are ways we knit our community together and train for lives of active engagement and citizen power. Anne Frank wrote. “Everyone has inside of [them] a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
Jesus invites us to be more than a nuclear family where we just look out for our own. This is a family of welcome beyond blood ties, where we see one another with the grace of God’s vision and where there is a place for each one. Each of us, young and older, is on our own journey of healing from what has harmed us. We are each anointed ones, preparing to be a blessing for all the nations as we make use of what has been invested in us to truly become liberating bread for the world.
Emil Gudmundson, 20th century: “May we have faith in life to do wise planting that the generations to come may reap even more abundantly than we. May we be bold in bringing to fruition the golden dreams of human kinship and justice. This we ask that the fields of promise become the fields of