June 17, 2018
We Know Not How
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
We know about the mustard seed. One of the great parables for how little faith may seem in the vast size and complexity of the world. One tiny seed, yet it can become a great shade and home for all the
So let us turn to the first parable Jesus speaks this morning.
“The kingdom of God is as if…”
We are not very comfortable with “it is as ifs,” are we? We want to know how high and wide and deep this kingdom of God is, and we want to know whether that is in metric or imperial or cubits. The world is a deeply complex place, and it would be nice to have some certainty. We see this in our debates, don’t we? If we can just stake out a position and make certain that it is what we are certain about, then
maybe we can keep some of the chaos at bay. Then maybe we can tolerate how everything seems to be changing on us all the time.
“The kingdom of God is as if…”
But Jesus speaks in parables. Maybe we are not ready for the whole picture. Maybe he knows that if he said, “it is exactly this!” we would stake our claim on that certainty, and fight for that truth, and kill in its name. There is plenty of evidence that humans do this incredibly well. And the church is not innocent in that pursuit.
But if he speaks in parables, we can continue to seek God’s will, continue to work to become doers of the word and not merely hearers, we can be blessedly unsatisfied with partial answers and bad theology and continue to let our souls seek the Lord.
The kingdom of God is as if someone scattered seed on the ground, and the plants grew, and we have no idea how that happens. There is a lot of science around agriculture. We know so much more about what nutrients offer what to each plant, what the optimal spacing of plantings is, how much water is not enough and how much is too much, and how to modify the seeds to achieve different results in the plants.
But when the seed goes into the ground, we have no guarantees that it will yield what we want. One fall a few years ago, as Mira and I were leaving the Annex, we saw Kathryn Johnson planting bulbs in the garden out back. I asked what she was doing. She said, “I’m planting hope.”
Putting plants into the rich soil in the fall, so that after the long Michigan winter, there would be beauty and growth. Planting hope.
Whatever else this parable of the kingdom of God means, maybe it means that God plants within us some bulb of hope, some seed of grace, some cutting of the first apostles’ desire to follow Jesus. And it grows. We do not know how. It grows, despite the winters of life’s coldness. It grows in spite of, or maybe even because of, the difficulties of life.
God plants in us the desire to seek God. The old catechisms speak of faith as a gift from God. That even our response to God’s gifts of life and new life is a gift of God.
And it can seem like our faith is so small. Compared to policies of the Department of Justice, our faith can seem inadequate. Compared to the divisions and blatant dishonesty of politics, our faith can feel
like it is not up to the task. Compared to the grief we carry at the loss of loved ones, our faith can look laughable.
But faith does not work like bricks. You need a lot of bricks to build anything that will stand. Our faith is not like water. Water fits itself to whatever container it is in, and quickly runs out of any cracks or holes in its vessel. Our faith is not like fire. Fire burns up what carries it. Our faith is like a seed.
Something so tiny. But then it puts down its roots into the rich soil of creation. Nurtured in the darkness of the ground, receiving what it needs from God’s bounty around it. And it is not tiny for long.
It grows. It stretches. It lifts up. And when it breaks free from the nurturing darkness of the soil, it grows leaves to catch the light, to find its nourishment because it takes what it is given and finds energy for more growth, more stretching, more becoming what it will become.
And when our faith has grown, it is a shelter for others. And when our faith has grown, it is a blessing to others. And when our faith has grown, it is a seed of faith passed on to the next generation.
And we still don’t know how. And that is okay. Because it is God’s doing. And it is marvelous in our sight.
Thanks be to God. Amen.