Saturday, June 30, 2018
Most Merciful One,
we come to you in grateful awe and silence,
inviting your Spirit to burn bright within us,
to set us aflame with the love and mercy of Christ.
Direct our steps in the path of compassion, O God,
that we walk gently upon the Earth
and in companionship with each other.
In imitation of Jesus, our Savior,
may we live lives of integrity,
caring for each other and renouncing our divisions,
reconciling the world in His Name.
Holy and Undivided One,
place your hand upon all who call upon You,
for You know our needs before we ask them.
We pray to You especially
for your comfort and blessing upon those we now name.
Friday, June 29, 2018
Almighty God, who is making heaven and earth,
we lift our hearts to You in gratitude and praise.
Let all the round Earth sing out your glory;
let heart tell to heart the wonders of the Lord.
Plant within our hearts the strength and courage
to serve You and your Holy Church in all we do.
May we celebrate the beauty of God
in every person we encounter,
aflame with the light of Christ,
who is mother and father of us all.
Make us steadfast laborers in the fields of justice and peace,
standing with all oppressed in body, mind, or spirit.
Abide within our hearts, Blessed Jesus,
that we may sing your love into the world.
Make us healers, hearers, doers,
shepherds for the found as well as the lost,
grounded in your grace and mercy.
In humility, we lay our lives before You:
bless and hallow them to your glory, O Merciful One.
Spirit of God, rest upon us,
and extend the shade of your blessing over all for whom we pray.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
We lift our prayers to You,
O Love Above All Loves,
and place our hearts and souls within your keeping:
thanks be to God!
Teach us to walk in humility and compassion, Lord Christ,
as companions in joy and sorrow with all the earth,
which you created in unity
for the sake of love.
You gave your life as a ransom for all, O Savior:
let us dedicate ourselves
to serving God and each other
in love and faithfulness
according to your commandment.
Teach us to seek the good of others, O Redeemer,
to serve rather than be served,
that we may embody your grace and mercy.
By the path we take today, O God,
may we shine forth the love of God into darkness,
reconcile the world to your truth,
and proclaim your marvels as your witnesses.
Spirit of Hope, kindle your light within us,
and pour out your grace and peace
upon those for whom we pray.
Wednesday, June 27, 2018
Lord, the sun rises over the vineyard,
and You call us as workers into it:
may with go with joy and humility,
gathering the harvest of the kingdom:
May these be pressed into new wine within us,
that we may embody them into the world,
in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
to the glory of the Name of God.
May we rejoice when new workers join us,
embracing them and welcoming them
in the name of love in action,
in justice and charity and hope.
Lord Jesus, center us and enter us by your great mercy,
that at day's end we lie down in peace,
having served You in each person we have met and welcomed in love.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
guide our labors in your name today, O God,
and anoint these beloveds whose needs we raise before You.
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Let us rise from our beds
and sing out a song of hope:
our hope rests in God,
who is making the heavens and the Earth.
The steadfast Love of God endures forever:
God's heart encompasses us
like a cloud rests on the mountains.
You have kept faith with us when we were faithless,
and shown us the way of love,
made flesh in Jesus your Son.
You have called us to remember our true natures
as followers of Christ:
to serve each other
and the cause of justice and peace.
Holy One, place the kiss of blessing upon us
that we may be anointed with your peace,
which surpasses understanding.
Drive far from us all that leads us from light and life:
help us cast off fear, distrust, and division.
Guide us with your word of truth
that we may carry your light within us
for the joy of the world.
Place your healing hand upon all whose needs we now remember,
and grant them your peace and comfort, we pray.
Photo: Paper cranes hang in the windows of St. Augustine's Chapel at Vanderbilt University.
Monday, June 25, 2018
for your tender mercy and loving-kindness,
for your protecting arm that has shielded us.
Lord Jesus Christ,
be with all who are caught in the net of uncertainty,
who face transitions in their lives,
and grant us your healing, equanimity, and peace.
We open ourselves to the Presence of the Eternal One
and place ourselves within your hand,
pressing upon us behind and before,
for we trust in You, Lord,
our companion in joy and sorrow,
our friend in all the seasons of our lives.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
guard and comfort all those who call upon You,
especially those whom we now name.
Sunday, June 24, 2018
Today we get the story of Jesus stilling the storm on the sea (and don't try to say that three times fast). Our story today occurs on the same “day” as the parables we heard last week which are all directed at explaining the kingdom of God. Could it be that this story is directed at the same topic, but perhaps about keeping the faith when our progress toward God’s kingdom encounters turmoil or difficulties?
In our story today, the storm rages all around Jesus, but he sleeps on peacefully in the back of the boat, until the terrified disciples awaken him. Jesus then demonstrates his mastery over even nature, and rebukes them for their lack of faith.
The verses we heard last week made it clear that while Jesus may seem to be teaching the crowds in riddles, he has been explaining them to the disciples who are close to him. They’ve been getting extra tutoring, as it were—and yet they STILL don’t get who exactly Jesus is as is clear when they ask at the end of our reading today, “Who then IS this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Now, in the Jewish imagination, the wind and sea were uncontrollable, signs of the chaos God conquered in the act of creation. It was one thing to the disciples that Jesus healed lepers and people suffering from possession by evil forces. But for Jesus to command obedience from the storm and the sea? THAT filled them with possibly as much fear as the storm itself had.
My friend Maria and I were discussing this gospel, and she reminded me that there are other boats around the disciples’ boat, out there on the sea, in the midst of the storm. I think this is a vital reminder for us today.
With so much going crazy all around us right now, it is important to remember that others are just as swept up in turmoil and strife. Wednesday was World Refugee Day. Some of us may have missed that, even while there’s been widespread turmoil regarding the effects of the zero-tolerance policy on our southern border here in the US. Thousands of children are being held apart from their parents, some of whom are infants and toddlers, and I’m not sure anyone knows how or when they will be reunited.
And as horrible as that situation is, when we consider that this is part of a larger refugee crisis, it seems worse. Hundreds of thousands of people in South Sudan have been driven from their homes during the civil war that has raged there since independence, including many in our companion diocese of Lui. Earlier this month, Spain finally agreed to accept a boat filled with 600 refugees who had been denied entry in Italy despite maritime law.
Friends, we are all out at sea in boats that are being tossed about in the waves. Jesus has urged us to cross to the other side, no matter how much that going out across the water may scare us. There are always going to be times when our boat begins to take on water, and the first reaction we often have is “Where are you, God?” But God is always right there with us in the storm.
As Christians, we are called to cross barriers all the time, between “us” and “them”—to realize that there IS no “us” and “them.” For we are all, no matter where we come from or what we look like or what we have or have not done, children of God, bearing God’s image. And that means we are specifically called to embody God’s kingdom values of faith and community—community that acknowledges no borders or boundaries, but is one in the love of Christ.
The storm is a symbol for all that keeps us fearful, reactive, vengeful, and centered on the slights and wounds that have been inflicted on us. The storms prevent us from exercising perspective and reason, and instead call us to lash out from a sense of despair and fear: “Do you not care that we are perishing, Jesus?”
We live in a world beset by fear: fear of strangers and refugees, fear of guns, fear of being without a gun, fear of government power, fear that government is not powerful enough, and on and on it goes. We tell children about “stranger danger,” yet often the persons most abusive to children are friends or loved ones. Statistically and realistically speaking, a gun in the home “for protection” is often far more dangerous to the persons living there than useful against intruders. In other words, we often misunderstand the direction our fear and anxiety comes from, and although fear and anxiety are different conditions, they are related closely to a general sense of being reactive rather than rational and deliberate in our actions.
When any of us is anxious or fearful, our perspective often narrows to focus on ourselves, rather than be able to have perspective about the world around us. We can see this demonstrated in the disciples’ question: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” There are other boats out there on that sea—but the disciples are worried about themselves. And that’s how we are programmed to be by instinct. But those of us who claim the name of Jesus as part of who we are must NOT forget the other boats out there at sea.
We must not forget that Jesus’s words, “Peace! Be still!” are directed not just at the storm, but at us, because Jesus calls us to the embodiment of faithfulness and peacefulness, especially in the times of the storm. After the storm within and without has been calmed, Jesus doesn’t ask, “Why were you afraid?” Instead, Jesus asks, “Why did you have no faith?” Jesus was right there with them all along—but they, in their fear, forgot that, and lost their hold on the faith they had. All during this day, in the stories we heard last week and this week, Jesus has been talking about faith, about being faith-ful—and the lesson we are meant to learn is that faith is the antidote to fear.
The foundation of the kingdom of God is faith. That may sound obvious, but living in a time of anxiety and fear, I am convinced this cannot be repeated enough. Through faith and grace, the kingdom of God grows within us from a mustard seed into the fullest expression of who we are meant to be— open, loving, generous, members of an open, loving, generous community that provides abundant welcome and acceptance for all, just as the mustard tree provides homes for all the birds of the air. The kingdom of God grows through the power and grace of God, and we don’t know how. All of this happens through faith and trust—counter-cultural values in our world today.
When I was ten years old, a terrible set of tornados—four in all-- struck Tulsa, part of a massive super-storm. My mom, my sister, and my brother all laid under mattresses in the central hallway of our house, because they don’t have basements in Tulsa—yes, it’s crazy! We watched that storm moving closer and closer. My dad was sitting in our 1967 silver Lincoln Continental with the suicide doors out in the garage with the radio on, with our dog and some liquid courage of the Jack Daniels variety, chain smoking AND chewing tobacco at the same time, because if he was going to go, he was going to go on his OWN terms.
As I peered around the hallway wall, I saw—and heard-- two sparrows driven by the wind into the glass of our sliding doors. I can’t imagine they were flying in that mess—I can only guess that they’d gotten blown out of one of the trees bent double by the wind behind our house. I watched those sparrows thud against the window, slide to the ground, then shake themselves off and huddle in a corner of the back patio of our house. At that point, I remembered that we are assured in Matthew 10:29-31 that God loves us and cares for us as much as God cares for sparrows, sold in the marketplace at two for a penny. I remembered that if a penny’s-worth of sparrows could find shelter in that storm, so would my family and myself. As my mom led us in prayer, the first tornado passed overhead and landed the next block over, damaging and even leveling houses—but I knew, no matter what happened, God was there with us, in the midst of that storm, and I knew we rested in God’s arms, come what may.
The next morning, and in the days that followed, our neighborhood pulled together. We peered at sodden photographs we found scattered up against fence-lines and on the edge of ditches, and went around the neighborhood trying to return them to their rightful owners. We barbecued all the meat in our freezers before it went bad as we lived without power for two weeks, and spread out tables in the back of the elementary school and gave thanks for what we had. The storm made our community stronger, and our faith in God’s love stronger, even in the midst of chaos.
When storms and tempests rage around us, that is when we are most called to practice a life of faith, and ironically, that is when our faith gives us the most comfort. Religious faith is a great paradox: it is the times that test our faith in which our faith is the most use for us, as long as we understand that having faith does not protect us from trials, tragedies, illness, and even death. Faith is not a talisman. Faith fortifies us and comforts us, in good times as well as bad.
It is that same faith that was displayed in Charleston on three years ago this week, when Dylann Roof was arraigned for the murder of nine worshippers at “Mother” Emanuel AME Church, as mentioned above. Many times, people ask “Where was God?” when unspeakably evil things happen. As Christians, we are pointed to the answer in this gospel: God is right there with us in the storm-tossed boat. God was also most emphatically there when the some of the relatives of Dylann Roof’s victims voiced their forgiveness to him at his sentencing.
When Jesus says, “Peace! Be still!” he is speaking to us in our anxiety and fear as much as to the storm, because the storm is as much inside us (and inside our communities, which the boat can signify) as outside of ourselves. When storms inevitably rage on the outside, we, through faith which is the opposite of fear, can seek to be peaceful, still, and faithful on the inside. For we know that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm, and we can rely on him to never abandon us or not to care.
God is with us in times of pain and loss and unspeakable tragedy. And in the end, may we find comfort in that, and open ourselves to the presence of divine love, even in the face of storms of terrible power.
We are all called to cross through the barriers that divide us, and to have courage to face the forces of chaos that seek to impede our way. Jesus leads us, through faith, to renounce the power of storms in our lives, to ultimately acknowledge our part sometimes in creating them, and to denounce the powers that benefit from the raging of these storms around us. May we ever remember the other boats around us, and work together for justice and real peace to flourish as a sign of our faith in Christ.
Preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in the St. Louis Hills, St. Louis, MO, at 8 and 10 am on June 24, 2018.
Psalm 107: 1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
1. Rembrandt van Rijn, "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,"
2. Photo from USAToday for World Refugee Day, June 20, 2018, at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/06/20/world-refugee-day-record-number-people-displaced-2016/412566001/
3. South Sudanese refugee, from https://editorials.voa.gov/a/world-refugee-day-2018/4445724.html.
4. He Qi, Chinese, "Peace! Be Still!"
5. One of the June 8 tornados after it passed our house and headed west across Garnett Road.
6. The TG&Y just outside our subdivision underwent major damage. Photo from the Tulsa World.
7. Icon: Jesus stills the storm.
Almighty God, we gather within your courts
and rejoice before your altars,
grateful to worship you in faith and hope:
we offer our praises and our prayers,
our hearts and minds and bodies,
that they may serve you in holiness.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Master of every storm--
those that rage within us,
and those that rage without.
May we put aside our fears,
and instead put on the armor of faith,
that we grow fully into our lives as your disciples
and testify to your wondrous love in the world.
May we have the faith to embody your peace
in faithful witness to your power of compassion
and renounce the fears and anxieties that divide us.
Spirit of Hope and Healing,
pour out your abundant blessing upon us,
and upon all whose cares and concerns we offer before you.
Saturday, June 23, 2018
O God our Refuge, we find our home in You,
Who welcomes all who wander,
all who seek shelter and protection.
O Merciful One, you bring us under the shadow of your wing,
and turn away no one who seeks You:
may we embody your mercy and lovingkindness,
humbly giving thanks for your salvation and love.
Lord God, forgive us our faithlessness and cynicism,
our consumption without concern for tomorrow
or the needs of those around us:
set our hearts again within your law of love,
and strengthen us in integrity and communion.
Teach us to number our days, O Spirit of Wisdom,
that we may apply the time you have given us
to growing in compassion and discernment,
pursuing justice and reconciliation
with hearts grateful for your saving grace.
In the name of Jesus, grant your comfort and rest
to those whose needs we now lift before You, as we pray.
Friday, June 22, 2018
Most Merciful God,
we thank you for the gift of this new day.
Let us spend this day in joyful service
to the coming of your kingdom on earth:
may we make your will for justice and true peace our own.
Remembering how often we ourselves have been forgiven,
let us be forgiving and loving in all our ways,
reconciling and healing in the name of Jesus,
and welcoming all in his name.
Holy One, sanctify us and strengthen us today,
to courageously witness to your generous gospel of love,
that all may have life and have it abundantly.
We also ask your blessing and comfort
upon all who are in anxiety, distress, or pain,
especially those whose needs we lift before You.
Thursday, June 21, 2018
O God, Shepherd of Our Souls,
you love us and watch over us with a never-sleeping eye,
and your hand holds us fast.
You have set your angels over us to encompass us all,
interceding for us before your throne:
deliver us, we pray, in our troubles and trials,
and forgive us our manifold offenses.
All we like sheep have gone astray:
yet when we wander from your paths,
You seek us out and find us, O Holy One,
rejoicing at redemption and turning away from wrath.
Teach us to likewise seek the lost,
to serve the outcast,
to be merciful and forgiving in all our ways,
to the glory of your name.
Help us turn from evil and do good,
help us to seek peace and pursue it in word and deed,
remembering your justice is ever grounded in mercy and love.
For you sent your Son into world
in the name of salvation, not condemnation,
and we as your disciples are called to do likewise,
testifying to and embodying your great mercy and love.
Remembering your faithfulness in always hearing us,
in being alongside us whether lost or found,
we ask your blessing upon all those cry out to You,
O Spirit of Reconciliation and Healing,
especially those whose needs we now lift before You as we pray.
(Psalm 34 and Matthew 18:10-14)
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Almighty God, our Abba and Protector,
we awaken knowing your angels have watched over us,
feeling your protecting hand cradle our heads,
and we have rested securely in your embrace:
we thank you and bless your holy name.
Our Savior, you place a child before us
as an exemplar of your love and devotion:
make us likewise humble and innocent,
and give us welcoming hearts for all who come to us.
Strengthen us, we pray, in kindness and wonder,
in reverence and awe at the beauty of this world,
which is your gift and your charge to us.
As your disciples, Lord Christ,
may we embody charity and faithfulness,
working for justice and mercy,
protecting the vulnerable and comforting the refugee,
renouncing the forces of cruelty and contempt
at loose among us.
Spirit of the Living God,
kindle within us the fire of mercy and compassion,
and set our feet upon the holy path of reconciliation
that all we do may glorify the name of Jesus,
and testify to the lovingkindness of our God.
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of our souls--
sanctify us to your service this day,
and gather into your arms those for whom we pray.
Photo: Child playing in a park in Paris, Square Rene-Viviani in the V Arrondissement, Quai de Montebello, 2012. The fountain he rests his hand upon is dedicated to St. Julian the Hospitaller, who is sometimes depicted as carrying a leper through a river (the image the child's hand rests upon).
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Almighty God, we give you thanks
for your abiding love and presence with us.
We ask your forgiveness
for any wrongs we have committed,
determined to rededicate ourselves to your holy path.
Through your Holy Spirit,
guide the minds and the hearts
of the doctors, nurses, and other healing hands
who seek to bring rest and comfort.
You, O God, are the Great Physician,
who has given us reason and skill
to use to help each other.
We ask that your blessing rest especially
on all who are ill, anxious, forsaken, or in pain.
May they continue to persevere,
and know always Your healing presence in their lives.
Resting in the assurance of Your divine mercy,
we ask a blessing in Jesus’s name on those we now name.
Photo: Our granddog Luna relaxing among the plants in my garden this spring.
Monday, June 18, 2018
who is making the heavens and the earth,
who watches over all that dwells therein,
we draw our hearts open before You,
and center ourselves within your presence,
upheld by your Spirit of Love.
The marvels of creation,
the works of your loving hand within our lives,
remind us of your unfailing love for all that is, O God,
and we sing out your praise with joy.
give us a mustard-seed faith,
that spreads its branches out for the benefit of your little ones,
that welcomes and shades and shelters
all who turn to us for refuge.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
awaken within us a spirit of charity and faithfulness,
that we may walk beside you, O Savior, in integrity.
Let us sink our roots deeply into your gospel, Lord Christ,
to be strengthened to embody your compassion and healing
as testimony to your truth
that love and reconciliation are why we are here.
extend the hand of blessing and relief over all who seek you,
and grant your peace and reassurance
to those for whom we pray, O Lover of Souls.
Sunday, June 17, 2018
A few years ago, my friendly garden-center lady talked me into planting a plant called “painter’s palette” in the rain garden I built at the bottom of the denuded hill in my backyard that had become a mud pit. It had colorful, oval shaped, variegated green leaves with splashes of white and drops of red on it. Do you know this plant? It was so harmless looking, and so pretty in its little pot when I bought six of them.
But its innocent looks were deceiving. And if anyone wants any, I have about six thousand of them looking for a good home.
This plant doesn’t care that the soil in my backyard is clay—it just sees this as a challenge. The instructions about it needing water or real dirt or any sort of light were all lies, lies, and damned lies. Within a short time it had taken over not just the rain garden but the entire hillside like Marines taking back the Pacific in World War II. This plant and its descendants have even spread to the front yard. And their seed is so tiny, it wedges itself between the layers of gravel on pathways. It grows UNDER my hostas. It crowds out my ferns. It knocks over the copper birdbath like a surly teenager. Even though I pull up at least a hundred of its sprouts a day, it just keeps spreading. Painter’s palette grows all over my yard, but no matter what I do, even when all conditions are perfect, roses and bleeding hearts keel over like a delicate Southern belle in a corset that’s too tight.
So I’m going to tell you that the two small parables we get in this week’s gospel had special resonance for me. Mark’s gospel is not a big one for parables. Unlike the other three gospels, there are only two extended parables in Mark. Mark moves too fast for long, drawn-out stories, with its “and immediatelies” moving us from scene to scene to scene at breakneck speed.
Jesus doesn’t tell long drawn out stories in Mark; he is too busy trying to explain to his listeners about the “kingdom of God.” We see it right there in the middle of our reading. Jesus asks, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?”
The question Jesus asks in the middle of our gospel reading today is one that many of us probably struggle with when we take the time to contemplate it. To answer it, Jesus goes back to the Parable of the Sower, which is the opening teaching in chapter 4. We didn’t hear this parable this year, because we hear other gospels’ versions elsewhere in our lectionary cycle. Nonetheless, this week the two little stories Jesus tells use the same symbols: gardeners sowing seed, and the soil receiving that seed. Yet the way the kingdom of God grows is rooted in mystery.
The first little parable we hear today only exists in Mark. It’s sometimes called “the seed growing mysteriously or secretly” by commentators. And we are not people who are comfortable with mysteries--unless they can be solved.
Yet Jesus makes it clear that there is a lot of mystery here in how, when, and where the seed grows. The gardener sows the seeds—and then, knowing that he can’t make them sprout, he goes off to bed. Jesus explains, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself…”
As made clear earlier in Mark 4, the seed is the word of God. The gardener represents the apostles Jesus sends out to spread his good news in Mark chapter 3—and even today. The good soil is the “kingdom of God,” within us, which produces its fruit by God’s own power. The earth producing of itself is God’s grace—unearned, coming to us not as the result of anything we have done to earn it, but simply through God’s great mercy and love. But when that grace takes off and spreads within us, when it is fruitful, just like with my painter’s palette all over my backyard, it is not the result of anything that the gardener did other than the initial sowing or planting. The reason why seeds sprout where they do or not is often still a mystery to most of us. God’s kingdom grows through the power of God, and it is not up to us to understand how God makes this work. We aren’t in charge of how fruitful this sowing of seed is going to be, in the end, and we are called to being humble enough to admit that the fruitfulness of God’s kingdom is not in our control.
In our modern context, especially our modern American context, we are uncomfortable with the language of “kingdoms,” which is why some people change the word “kingdom” to “kin-dom.” On the one hand that substitution seems harmless—but at the same time it also dodges the idea that we are called to submission to God’s call, not just going along with God’s call to us if we are so persuaded—it can be a dodge to still allow ourselves the illusion that we have some level of say in the matter of God’s dream for us, some negotiating power.
When I hear the word “kingdom,” nerd that I am, two usages come to mind: political, and scientific. And I think a broad swath of our fellow Americans are uncomfortable with both of those usages, whether we are talking about political systems of scientific categorizations, especially given so many people’s antipathy for science based on the mistaken notion that science and faith contradict each other.
Ironically, we saw science, and faith, and mystery collide this week. A few days ago, the ashes of Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist (and famous atheist) were buried in what is called “Scientists’ Corner” in Westminster Abbey. His remains were placed between the resting-places of Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Hawking’s declared purpose in life was seeking to understand the mysteries of the universe. It is, of course, a goal that first of all acknowledges that mysteries surround us, entice, and compel us, if we live with curiosity and a sense of wonder.
A sense of wonder begins with seeing the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary. It begins with the discovery of mystery through seeing things fresh, and being drawn to embrace that mystery. That openness to wonder is what led Stephen Hawking to make the great scientific discoveries that he did. That same sense of wonder is intrinsic to the life of faith. The same sense of wonder that propels scientific discovery is the sense of wonder that also calls us as people of faith into seeking closer union with God, and reminds us that we are not in charge.
Some of the things this small parable invites us to contemplate are the mysteries of grace and divine love which sustain us and save us. This mystery of grace and mercy seeks to work within us even when we ourselves fall short of living into our full calling as disciples called to embody God’s love into the world. The kingdom of God happens how, when, and where God chooses—a sower may scatter seed, but the flourishing happens independently of any other action the sower may take. So much so that the sower can go to sleep: the growing takes place in ways that are mysteries to the sower, far beyond his or her control. Talk about an uncomfortable gospel truth to our control-freak ears!
And that is the greatest mystery of all: despite our failures, our proclivity to hatefulness, jealousy, mean-spiritedness, and selfishness raised to an art form, God loves us so much that, if we take this little parable seriously, grace is extended to all. Love that first loved us (especially as we understand that Love Incarnate--Jesus) calls us to return, to seize on the offered gift of heaven in the here-and-now, not off in some distant future beyond the gates of death.
The kingdom of God is not about where you go after you die. It is about how we live, right now, and live life abundantly, not just for ourselves but by living our lives for others—for others who we see as being a part of us. The kingdom of God is about having faith enough to empty ourselves of all that is miserly, fearful, or suspicious-- in order to be a part of a community, and communion, of life throughout creation.
Jesus’s parables we hear today invite us to lean into the mystery of God’s love and grace in our lives, as it seeks to reconcile us to God and each other, to restore us to communion and community—the dream God had for us at the beginning of time. It reminds us that the life of discipleship unfolds in God’s good time, not in ours.
It reminds us to remember that when we invite God into our life, we invite God to plant the seeds of mercy and grace within our own hearts, that we ourselves become abundant vessels of grace and mercy in the lives of those around us. It also reminds us of the ongoing development of the kingdom of God within us and around us—as each of us allows the truth of God’s abundant grace to take root and grow in our hearts, we are called into the service of that grace to go and scatter that seed by our actions in the hearts of others.
In a world in which there is a shortage of grace and mercy wrought by human hearts, may we embrace the mystery of God’s grace and mercy within our lives, and allow them to flourish within us. May we open ourselves to being shaped by God’s will in our lives, especially God’s call to embody compassion and mercy, remembering the mystery of grace we ourselves have received. For only then may we truly pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, [11-13], 14-17
1- Hundreds of painter's palette plants on the hillside in my backyard early in the season.
2- Jean-Francois Millet, The Sower
3- Image of the sower in our parable from the Hortus Delicarium by Herrad of Landsberg, at Hohenberg Abbey, Alsace.
4- The memorial plaque over Stephen Hawking's final resting place in Westminster Abbey.
5- A seed sprouting.
Preached at Calvary Church, Louisiana at 10 am, and St. John's Church, Eolia at 2 pm.