Full Human Flourishing

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God’s ways are mysterious, it’s true, and our Gospel reading for this Sunday inspires a sense of wonder in these parable illustrations of God’s power to take small things and make them great.  Jesus offers parables in the Gospel reading from Mark as he compares the reign of God with the mysterious ways in which seeds grow. It’s like that, Jesus says, the kingdom of God is like that: hidden and mysterious, and a very real wonder all the same.   This morning, we can think about the wonder of a small seed growing into something so great as a large tree, so amazing to behold.  And we think about what is needed for that seed to flourish.  Faith is like that; it can begin with just a spark of belief, a notion of the Holy, and then, if we nurture it and feed and water it, it may yield amazing things.  What do we need as human beings to flourish?  What do we need for our Spirits to expand and grow?  Let us pray, Mighty God, to you belong the mysteries of the universe. You transform shepherds into kings, the smallest seeds into magnificent trees, and hardened hearts into loving ones. Bless us with your life-giving Spirit, re-create us in your image, and shape us into your purposes, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

These two seed stories remind us that Jesus was a teacher who used creative lessons to communicate the essence of God’s Kin’dom by using parables and the “hidden power of the seed”  parable is found only in Mark. For a teacher who sat on a hillside and taught crowds of learned and unlearned, rich and poor, downtrodden and powerful, using the power of story was an effective way to preach something as hard to describe, let alone define, as the kingdom of God. The novelist Reynolds Price once noted  that “next to food and drink, our most basic human need is story.” Jesus used parables,  commentator Henry Brinton says, “to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the people who crowded around him, aching for insight and inspiration.”

Even today, we seek stories which resonate with our lives, expand our wisdom and touch our hearts…whether through the written word or through films. What we have perhaps lost in many places is the ability to still tell great stories in person and to listen carefully for the hidden but powerful truths which they contain.  In Jesus’ time, stories were absolutely central to his message.

In July and August, I am planning to offer a summer Worship Series that is based on a book entitled, Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart.  Jesus was a great storyteller; so too are other amazing prophets and poets, teachers and writers of all faith traditions. 

            As we know parables were meant to work on many levels.  For the listeners of Jesus’s time, the story would represent something familiar to them and the idea that from a tiny seed, something large may grow was a wonderful idea.  He is also speaking to them, and yes, to us about the image of the Kingdom…which seems mysterious and hard to grasp.  What is it? Where is it?  Who is it?

One of the important takeaways from this parable is the idea that from something so tiny, great things can come…  the spark of faith which can grow and expand and implant itself in our hearts. The spark of hope in a time when it is most needed that can be nurtured into something that gets you through the day. The spark of love  within a community that may become  something rather amazing when people learn to love boldly and expansively and openly.  And, it is the spark of faith in something much bigger than ourselves, informed by our faith and nurtured in community, which can lead us to be co-creators of God’s Reign here on earth.  If we can nurture that tiny hope, that heartfelt belief of the vision Jesus shared, we too can live it and experience it; we too can make it possible in our own little corner of the world.

            Our prayer this morning for Pride month is an important one because, even as we live in a time when more people have been able to feel that they could live fully and openly for who they are and how they love; there are still too many places where fear and judgement and hatred continue to expand, communities where people do not feel respected or welcomed.  Too many churches who have turned their backs on God’s beloved children. 

            We know that as human beings, we too come from something as tiny as a poppy seed.  (I looked it up) and we understand that for any human being to flourish and grow, we need love, we need acceptance, we need physical, emotional, and yes spiritual soil from which to discover who we are and what gifts we might offer to our world.  This is true for all of us.  And yet, too many people feel they must hide precious and vulnerable parts of themselves from their families or their communities.  We still have very far to go in learning how to love others as God loves us.

Of course, while words–and stories–cannot describe God fully, Fred Craddock observes that the meaning of parables is more readily grasped by those who have a personal investment in Jesus and in the reign of God. In the contemporary translation of this passage by Eugene Peterson, we may hear an image that’s more familiar to us: He translates, “‘What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.’ With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots” (The Message). The parables, like everything Jesus said, are about God, not about a place but about what God’s greatest hopes are for creation. 

When we think about our hopes for ourselves, for our nation, for our world, what we might ask is, “What are we hoping for? What occupies our thoughts, and of what do we dare dream?” And, we might ask whether our dreams themselves are big enough.  

Where are the glimpses of the Kin’dom in our lives?  We hope and pray that God indeed has a plan for us, a dream yet for who we might be in community and in family.    And if we pay attention, we can still see flashes of brilliant hope and the promise of a greater day to come. In the midst of our lives, we often see miracles…reconciliation within families and among friends, healing from illness and grief,  decisions by a community that places its most vulnerable members at the top of its agenda rather than at the bottom, in acts of great and unexpected generosity, in the end of war and the seeking of peace, in the breaking of bread and the nourishment of our souls and our bodies, in giving voice to the voiceless and lifting up the hopes of those in despair…in all of this and in other small but spectacular moments in our own lives,  we see the mysterious ways of God.

It may begin, or seem to persist, in smallness, in little steps and small hopes, but the path, Jesus says, leads to greatness, a greatness we cannot see or even imagine today. God can see it, and God can imagine it, and most of all, God intends it. The tiny little seed grows into the greatest of all, the mustard tree, strong and great enough to offer shelter and goodness and the stuff of life for those who need to find a home.  How can you be the mustard seed that grows and provides shelter and refuge and sustenance to God’s creation, and to the people of God?

Martin Luther, 16th century

If you truly understood a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder

Emil Gudmundson, 20th century

ay 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 reality.

Anne Frank, 20th century

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!