HOMILY FOR JUNE 17, 2018 – THE REV. STEPHANIE SHEPARD
Pentecost 4, June 17, 2018
St. John the Apostle
“Realizing God’s Potential”
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
On Friday, I interviewed a cat. I’m still not sure how this all came about. The seeds for the conversation were planted last fall, when my younger daughter and I covenanted together to get allergy desensitization shots. The long-term goal was to see if we could get to the point of having an animal in our household without severe reactions. Six months, sore and itchy arms, several outbreaks of hives, and weekly doctor visits later, we were cautiously optimistic about the process. The plan was to wait until my elder daughter came home from working in Sorrento for the summer, and going down to the S.P.C.A. to match up with an adorable kitten. And then last week my husband was contacted by a long-time friend who is downsizing. She has to be out of her house in August, and most rentals do not allow pets. Did we know anyone who might take Oli, her 11 year old gray cat?
Ideas are all very well, but until one moves beyond talking to taking a concrete action, they are only possibilities. “Yes”, says my spouse. “Yes,” say my children. “How about a one week trial?”, says I, “to see if we can all cope with each other”. Out of a small beginning- .01 ml of an allergy serum a week- God is now bringing something new into our lives. The kingdom of God is like that.
Jesus told stories about how God works. His parables often start out “the kingdom of God is like this…” He uses everyday images and situations, simple things like seeds. Even us modern urban people know what a seed represents. It is possibility, potentiality. Put it in the ground and, given the right conditions, it will grow into a seedling, then a plant, and finally reproduce more seeds and fruit to share. We don’t have to understand genetics or agriculture. It’s enough to follow the instructions on the packet.
That is, of course, if your seeds come in a packet. One of the joys of having a garden and a gardener for a husband is the collection and sharing of seeds with neighbours. Sometimes they come carefully labeled, but sometimes not. There are times when we have sowed what we hoped were a kind of vegetables or flowers but had to wait until maturity to confirm. There is always uncertainty about how to tell the seedlings from all the other wild things that like the garden soil as well, and don’t pull them out as weeds. I have grown fine crops of weeds to maturity, believing that they were actually something else I had planted.
In the two parables about seeds from Mark’s gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to both domestic and wild seeds. In the first, there is someone who is scattering seed on the ground. Presumably, it is seed of something that person wants to sow, like grain. But he or she has no control over how it germinates and matures. The farmer reaps the benefits of God’s creation at harvest. In the second parable, Jesus is comparing how God works to a weed in the wilderness. Nobody would lay claim to planting mustard seeds, because the kind that Jesus is talking about grows wild in the Middle East as a scraggly bush up to 6 meters tall. Even though a farmer would pull it out as unwanted, it serves a purpose as a protective roost for the wild birds. In both parables, it is what God does that is important. Our response is to recognize that God is at work. And to join in.
God’s kingdom is a creative force that happens outside of human understanding. As it evolves, it can sometimes be recognized within a community’s labours. Within the Church, we are listening for the direction of the Holy Spirit and engaging in ministry. In the ways that we try to reach out in faith and share the good news, we can experience the growth of the Kingdom. But it is not for us to simply sit back and wait for God to bring it to fruition. Each of us has a part in caring and encouraging what is at work among us. That is not the same as trying to domesticate what God is doing. We have often been guilty of when we have sacrificed the Church to the State. And the Christian institution is not meant to be like Monsanto- breeding stronger and more resistant strains at the expense of the diversity of human experience of the Divine. There is a great and necessary humility in acknowledging that it is not what we do, but what God does through us, that brings about the fullness of the Kingdom of peace, joy, and plenty.
The parable of the mustard seed is often used as an illustration as to how God can work from a small beginning in us to do great things. But there is another aspect to this parable. God doesn’t stick to domestic seeds- those tamed by human civilization or the Church. All creation is the Lord’s, and every living thing has a place in the web of relationships that nourish and protect each other. Jesus is not talking about a field of mustard planted in nice neat rows. The wild mustard bush grew in the desert, and offers protection and shade to the birds. This may have been the same bush that grew up to give shade to the prophet Jonah, as he grumpily waited for God to destroy Nineveh. Instead, God cared enough about him that he was protected from sunstroke. It is a reminder to pay attention to the things that God grows up beside us without our help or intervention. Look for evidence of the kingdom of God beyond the Church, in those willing to partner with the Christian community for the common good. Seeds planted elsewhere are used by God for a Kingdom that goes beyond the borders we draw.
There are seeds that have been planted here at St. Johns in the last year and a half. Some started out as vague ideas for growth. Others had been talked about but now have begun to be carried forward into action. God has been doing all sorts of wonderful work in your midst, and it is the job of this congregation to tend to the seedlings and young plants that have resulted.
- parish visiting ministry and distribution of holy sacrament
- clearer understandings of roles and volunteer positions and renewal of leadership
- engagement and learning with First Nations
- discernment around property issues and green light for sale of Napier property
- awareness of changing demographics and community in Port Moody
- working with Re-Sponse refugee ministry
- further support of children’s ministry and Godly Play
- moving towards new incumbent
You don’t know where some of these ventures will lead, or what God still has in store for you. But you can trust that out of small beginnings, in this community and through your relationships with the wider community, God is inviting you to take next steps.
I wonder what other things are growing here. Are there seeds that have been recently planted in your heart? How will you help them grow, with God’s help? When will you know it is time to take action?
For you fathers in the congregation: think back to the moment when that small and demanding child came into your life. With God’s help, you began a part in the nurturing of a new human being. And from that time forward, that little thing has been growing and changing in wonderful and terrifying and unexpected ways. Like me, you probably don’t understand most of it. But your role in your son or daughter’s life is infinitely precious. We can’t control what he or she will choose as they get older. But we can be alongside in the moments they allow. No matter how difficult or close a relationship you have, there are always possibilities, if we have the courage to keep reaching out in love.
God our Heavenly Father wants to be involved in each of our lives. Even when we don’t see or understand, He is working in the gardens and deserts of our lives. It is up to us to seize the opportunities that come to us to help with the Kingdom, even in the times when we don’t feel ready for the responsibility. Now I have to go home and arrange for a week’s home visit for Oli. Pray I don’t sneeze at the opportunity. Amen.
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018