Sunday, June 13, 2021

3rd Pentecost, 2021-B: Called, equipped, and sent

Lectionary: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,14-17; Mark 4:26-34 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.

I have had the privilege of experiencing being drenched in what felt like an ocean of love – not just once, but many times in different stages of my life. I remember feeling it as a child when my Puerto Rican grandmother and I would do needlework together; when my Irish grandfather walked me home from school sporting his Shillelagh stick which I believed could fend off any threat.

I remember feeling it when my husband and I exchanged our wedding vows and each time I held my newborn child for the first time or watched him hold them. I remember feeling it when my family kneeled at the communion rail to receive my blessing as a newly ordained priest.

It’s a feeling that is at once fulfilling and disorienting. My experiences of love have changed my life. They have changed my world. That’s what love does – it changes lives and it changes the world.

It continually amazes me that we have been invited by the author of all love to share this amazing, fulfilling, disorienting experience with others, to scatter it like seeds upon the ground.

In the first parable in our gospel today, Jesus describes the kingdom of God being as if someone scatters seeds upon the ground. That someone is us – the Greek word used there means “human.”

We scatter the seeds of divine love. While we sleep and while we wake, God is doing the work of bringing the seeds we scatter to stalk, then to fruit. When the fruit is ready, we are sent to harvest it.

After all of these years preaching this parable, this is the first time I was led to notice that the Greek verb in this phrase translated as: “goes in” ...with the sickle, is actually the word for apostle (apostellō). An apostle is one who is commissioned, that is, equipped and sent on a mission.

God creates seeds of love and gives them to us to scatter in the world. Then we wait while God grows those seeds to their maturity and they become a resource that can nourish and heal the world. When that happens, God sends us to collect those resources and put them to use in the world.

This has to be the most perfect description of Christian discipleship I think I’ve ever encountered - an unending cycle of love begetting love. We are the fruit of the seed someone else sowed long ago. We were nourished by God until we were ready to bear fruit for God’s kingdom. Then we were collected up and sent by our sower to become scatterers of the seeds ourselves – and the process repeats from generation to generation.

The other parable in our gospel focuses on the seed itself. The seed, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed. In God’s care, this tiny seed becomes the greatest of all herbs with large, strong branches that provide safety and comfort for other creatures and creation itself.

I learned from my Puerto Rican grandmother the importance of knowing the properties of herbs, earth medicine as she called it, and have spent time learning and studying them. The seeds and flowers of the mustard plant are bright yellow and as spicy as the color implies. We know it as prepared mustard: ground seeds mixed with vinegar, for use on hot dogs and hamburgers, but this herb has been used for centuries as an antiseptic, to boost a faltering appetite, to soothe inflammation and swelling, and as a decongestant bath for colds. 

Rich in vitamins A, B-complex, and C, mustard greens offer a variety of health benefits from immune system strengthening to heart, lung, and kidney health. Agriculturally, mustard seeds, which can grow in wastelands as well as in gardens, are planted to cleanse and restore pastures.

That’s a lot of benefit from a tiny herb – which is part of the point of the parable. In God’s love, this tiny herb can produce far-reaching fruits that benefit all that God has created: us, our animal kin, and even the earth we share. Who knew such a tiny seed could have so much to offer?

We have the benefit of scientific research that explicates exactly what the benefits of this ancient herb are, but that doesn’t help us to be any more or less faithful than those who don’t know the science behind it, because behind the science – before, after, and in the science - is the plan of God. Knowledge is helpful, but being aware of and faithful to God’s call to us, what I call our divine purpose, is what really matters.

In this parable, we are the sower and we are the seed. The divine purpose of the sower is to scatter the seeds and collect the fruit when sent. The divine purpose of the seed is to be transformed into a resource for the healing and nourishing of the world.

As we can see from our OT reading, when we stray from our divine purpose, we do harm to ourselves, to others, and to creation. After Samuel anointed Saul as king, Saul was corrupted by the power of his kingship and God’s people were suffering, so God told Samuel to go anoint another king.

As instructed, Samuel visits Jesse the Bethlehemite. As Jesse presents son after son, God cautions Samuel against making judgments from a human perspective reminding us all that our sight and knowledge are limited.

David, the youngest, least respected, least qualified son wasn’t there, so Samuel asked for him to be brought to them. When David arrives, Samuel hears the voice of God choose him and anoints David right then and there.

It would be some time before David would actually take the throne. There would be a time of waiting first, while the divine seed, who was David, could be brought to maturity so that he could bear fruit for the kingdom. As we know, David led Israel to a period of lasting prosperity, regional power, and peace.

Like David, each of us is called, equipped, and sent according to God’s plan for us. Since we know that our knowledge and understanding are limited we must not judge the value of anyone’s divine purpose – even our own – and no one is in a position to say ‘my purpose is better than yours.’ As silly and juvenile as that sounds, it pervades our human experience. Hierarchies are contrived from this notion, and it is the root of classism, racism, sexism, all the -isms.

Diversity, on the other hand, is a divine gift and Pride month offers us the perfect opportunity to remember and celebrate that. As St. Paul reminds us, we must not regard anyone from a human point of view because Christ has died and is risen. Now every one of us is a new creation in him… “for we are convinced that one has died for all.” …for all.

We are the current step in God’s action plan of love. By scattering the particular seeds of love God has given us, we also are letting go the potential outcomes we want or expect in favor of the outcomes God has in mind.

In the meantime, we trust God, scatter the seeds we are given, then wait… and watch… listening for God’s prompting to us to go harvest the fruit, then putting that fruit - the resources God has created - to work in the world for the benefit of all. 

That is how love changes lives. That is how love changes the world. Amen.

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