June 14, 2015
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
I am neither a gardener nor a farmer. The closest I have come was the seed planted in the dirt in the milk carton in Kindergarten. But I have heard stories about mustard seeds. When a mustard seed gets in with the other plants, it likes to take over and be hard to kill. Being from Appalachia, I picture it as kudzu. Kudzu is a ground covering that was brought in to prevent erosion. The problem is that kudzu has boundary issues. It spreads. It will cover the ground, phone poles, trees, power lines, and anything else that will stand still long enough.
How is the kingdom like this, and how does this image help us if it is? If we are a small community of faith in the midst of the Roman Empire, where all the land and the farms are owned by folks off in Rome, and we are trying to hold on to our faith, while others are calling us atheists for not joining in the sacrifices to the city gods and the statues of the emperor, then the idea of being a stubborn weed is actually a comfort and an inspiration. They can try and pluck us up, but we will come back. They can try and kill us, but the community remains.
I believe that our difficulty with the “negative” parables of the Kingdom of God –a mustard seed (something invasive and hard to kill), leaven in the loaf (known as unclean), or something worth selling all our goods and giving the money to the poor to obtain (a crazy idea, isn’t it?) – is that we are trying to live in two kingdoms. On the one hand, come quickly Lord Jesus! On the other hand, I need to check and see how my 401(k) and Roth IRA are doing. I am called to love my neighbor as myself, but there are neighbors and there are “neighbors,” aren’t there?
Paul mentions this difficulty in the letter to the churches of Corinth.
He explains that if he seems like he is in his right mind, that is for the sake of the people he is trying to teach and help and nurture in their faith; and if he seems crazy (here translated as “beside himself”) then that is because he is working for the Lord and they just don’t get it yet.
From the brickyards of Pharaoh, the whole mountain-top, new covenant, Ten Commandments idea is just crazy. From the cross, the empty tomb seems like an insane dream.
Walter Brueggemann has commented on multiple occasions that amazing stewardship sermons are preached every year in churches all over this land, but we are so focused on Pharaoh’s quota of bricks, how can we hear them as good news?
Jesus’ own family thought he was beside himself (crazy) because they he was doing nothing that a good son/brother/family member was supposed to be doing. Jesus’ response was not an explanation or a justification, but a reframing that said, “my family are those who seek to do God’s will.”
Paul goes on to talk about dying and a New Creation. This is the language of baptism: dying to the self and rising to new life in Christ, dying to the world and living for the kingdom.
So if anyone is in Christ,
there is a new creation:
everything old has passed away;
see, everything has become new!
Which brings us back to the Gospel reading and the parable:
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, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.
I do not know about you, but I find myself resistant to this notion. Not because I cannot garden, but because the only way this can happen is for the hard outer shell of the seed to crack open. There is a vulnerability here, a fragility here, that I do not particularly like. Now, just because I do not like it does not make it any less true.
But to be a new creation in Christ means letting down that armor we have built up over the years to deal with the cruelties of the world. It means putting aside thoughts of revenge or punishment. It means to trust that God will make all things new.
On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced a vulnerability and fragility that we have not known for generations. And we are still militarizing ourselves, re-arming and re-armoring ourselves because that vulnerability and fragility scared us to our core as a people. How many lives and how many trillions of dollars has our fear cost us?
In the midst of our militarization, Ferguson, Baltimore, McKinney and other cities have shown us the fragility of our society when we have had generations of racist social and economic policies, and much of white America does not know how to respond.
Our social contract is fragmented and fragile, and not only around race. The rise of the Tea Party, the Libertarians, and the Occupy Wall Street movement comes in no small part because when we feel vulnerable and fragile we become more partisan, and we radicalize our politics.
Did you know that in the early church the first Christians were baptized naked and then clothed in white when they came up from the water? Baptism, like birth, is a fragile, vulnerable, experience. It was not about being sexual or salacious. It was because the one to be baptized came before the Lord in all of their humanity, wearing nothing of themselves or the world, and they are washed clean of the world, and clothed in their new humanity.
Maybe we are not ready to drop our shields, our walls, our armor. Maybe we are not yet prepared for such a vulnerability as this. But maybe we can find ways of speaking, and more importantly, listening to one another around them. Or through the cracks.
As Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack in everything, that is how the light gets in.” And it is in those moments when we are most human that the grace of God is most fully made known to us.
When we are vulnerable, when we feel fragile, let us pray that the Holy Spirit would allow us to be made new in the love of God known to us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God. Amen.