Sermon by The Rev. Lisa Caine
July 27, 2014
Psalms 77:11-14, Matthew 13:31-33
This past week has been busy here at church. Vacation Bible School was a great success, thanks to all those who worked so hard to make the Workshop of Wonders the place to be. From decorating, to stories, to crafts, to experiments, to games, to singing, to snacks – it was all happening right here. And I have to say, it was wonderful to be doing it here at home.
One of my favorite sayings over the years has been “Little is much when God is in it.” Our little church is having significant influence in the lives of these children through our ministry to them in Sunday School every Sunday, in Vacation Bible School each summer, and in the way each of you has taken on the responsibility you accepted in the baptismal vow you pledged at the baptisms of so many of these little ones. Do you remember what you said? “With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that these children, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.”
Truly, little is much when God is in it, and this is borne out in our gospel reading this morning and in the lessons learned this week during VBS. The parable of the mustard seed tells us, among many other things, that sometimes something seemingly insignificant, something that is small, or is considered a weed or a pest, can actually become beautiful and useful in the kingdom of God when understood in the right way. Or as Sandy Paper put it on the very first day: “When we imagine with God, we don’t just see things for how they look. We see what they can be. Even the ordinary can be extraordinary!”
And this was immediately proven during the assembly time by the appearance of Rivet, whom you can see resting over there by the piano. You might think that Rivet is an insignificant little ant, maybe even a pest, an invader at our picnics, but with the power of Wonder Goggles, he became visible as a smart, daring, and endearing three-segmented side kick for Sandy. He is catching up now with a little nap before he sets off on more adventures. He’s such a busy little ant—he has places to go, people to meet, and things to see.
I loved the theme for this week, because with all that has gone on over the last couple of weeks, we are badly in need of Wonder Goggles. There have been three plane crashes, the most prominent and deadly being the Malaysian 17 plane shot down over Ukraine; then there is the increasing and horrifying violence between the Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. And on the southern border of our country, children, some of them unaccompanied are entering Texas with a very mixed welcome – there are officials, who round them up, some angry, fearful US citizens who scream at them to go home, and some other kind and compassionate citizens who offer encouragement and welcome, along with food, clothing, or hygiene items. Add to these situations, a Congress that will probably go home, some with the audacity to run for public office again, without having done anything towards resolving the immigration crisis or undertaking ways and means to improve the intolerable conditions in the VA Health system for our Veterans, who were good enough to die or be injured for our country apparently, but not good enough to spend government money on to help them heal and return to productive life. As you can hear – I am more than ready for the Wonder Vision provided when we see the world through our Wonder goggles.
Wonder Googles help us to see the world as God sees it. They help us to examine carefully the great variety and diversity of God’s world, to see the things that God values that are undervalued or ignored and invisible in our everyday world, to recognize the tasks that God would like to partner with us in, and to find the paths that allow us to walk with God confidently in a world that seems to have lost its way.
In this parable of the mustard seed, you can see that Jesus has a sense of humor. He says the kingdom of heaven is like the mustard seed that is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown, it is the greatest of shrubs!” A shrub is not a towering redwood tree, not a big oak, just a squatty, small bush. His listeners would have known that Ezekiel had described God’s kingdom as a great cedar, about the biggest tree known of in those parts of the ancient Middle East and whose branches would give a home to every winged creature. But a shrub? People had to be chuckling when they heard it the outlandish comparison.
But in his humor, Jesus is reminding us of what God’s way looks like and how it acts. In our world today, as in the ancient world – power and spectacle, flying banners, beating drums, clanging armor, shouting and yelling are the actions that garner our attention. But God’s way is the mustard seed and the small bush it produces, which is low to the ground, and also highly invasive, persistent, and hard to get rid of. Some have compared the mustard bush to kudzu, which as you know can take over vast areas in very little time. Without Wonder vision, it would be easy to question as Jesus’ first listeners did, what possible good could come from a mustard seed.
But God’s way is like that – quiet, small, persistent, unrelenting, enduring, never giving up, coming back again and again, just when it seems it has been rooted up and cast out. We saw that in some of the Bible stories this week. The one I participated in was the story of Zerubabel, who helped to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple after its complete destruction by the Persians. It was a story about persistence and endurance, and of thinking beyond the individual stones that had to be hauled into place, cut, and shaped, to envision the Temple of which each stone would be an integral part. Despite delays, despite opposition, Zerubabel and his workmen were patient as the Temple was slowly rebuilt stone by stone to its former glory. It was an inspiring story, made even better by the actual rebuilding of our very own place of worship outside while we were meeting inside. All the children got to go outside on the “observation deck” to see concrete being poured and workmen building the foundations of our church, which also is being built stone by stone, little bit by little bit, but with patience and perseverance, we can envision now that next year Vacation Bible School will be able to use that building as well as this one.
This kind of slow, humble, unglamorous diligence is not particularly appealing in our world today where money talks, might makes right, and nice guys finish last; where humility means weakness, mercy means being taken advantage of, and self-sacrifice means being a doormat. Our kids learned this week that we have to gear up, get ready, open our eyes and minds to find God at work. Discipleship doesn’t come overnight; it doesn’t come without work and conscious effort, dedication, and commitment. It doesn’t come without making choices, and being courageous when the times require it.
What is most important is being able to imagine God’s kingdom, and look for its presence all around us. It can be as close as our own back yard, as close as the ordinary circumstances of our everyday lives; it can be found in the smile of a child, the honesty of a friend, the beauty of music, the sound of rain, the activities of Vacation Bible School.
The Kingdom of heaven is all around us, right here, right now, in all the ordinary people and places and activities of our lives. And it can be revealed to us by using those wonder words that we started our worship service with: Imagining with God – being mindful and aware, not taking things for granted, not putting our brains on automatic pilot so that we’re unaware of what is before us.
Build with God and work with God – more often than not God requires partners for God’s work on earth to be done. Of course, what we want is for God to do all the work for us so that we can just sit back and watch! We wonder why things have to be the way they are and what is taking God so long! Why isn’t God acting to bring about peace, justice, and equality. Well, God could ask the same things of us; what are we doing to bring God’s kingdom just a bit closer to being on earth as it is in heaven? And the things God wants us to do together are not most often huge, earth shattering things; they are the small, unnoticed, unobserved things that make life worth living; the small, unremembered acts of kindness and of love, that have been called the best portion of our lives. It’s the mustard seed moments that can make all the difference.
And final words to remember are grow with God and walk with God. The life of discipleship isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. And it isn’t for weekend warriors. It’s an everyday affair; not just taking Jesus off the shelf on Sunday to say a few nice words about him before putting him away – out of sight and out of mind on Monday. It is making his example the center of everything we do and the model for our lives every moment of every day. As long as we live we are called to grow with God and walk with God.
In speaking of God’s kingdom, the prophet Isaiah said that a little child would lead the way. So it has been this week, as our children have reminded us that with vision, we can see things as God sees them, and work to make them visible to the world. Thanks be to God for our children who have once again shown us the way. Amen.