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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service; click on the video camera icon.
June 13, 2021
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Many of you know that I served in Costa Rica for two years as a missionary with the ELCA, and one of the communities I served was La Carpio. It’s an area northwest of San José, the capitol city, that was settled by people who immigrated from Nicaragua. The income of the people who live in Carpio is well-below the poverty line.
People who immigrate to Costa Rica from Nicaragua fare about as well as people who immigrate to the U.S. from any country south of its border. And one of the ways the inequality manifested in Carpio was the placement of a garbage dump within its limits, about half a mile from where people live.
There are regulations in Costa Rica for things like garbage dumps – in particular, that they’re supposed to be located at least one mile from where people live. There was and is a need for a dump in that area. But the reason it was put within the limits of Carpio is because if it had been put where it was supposed to be, it would have been the southern view as you looked out from a luxury hotel.
We made it a point to take groups visiting from the U.S. to the dump in order to highlight the injustice of it. And one day as I walked with a group along the fence line, we noticed a plant with a purple flower growing out of a mound of dirt at the base of a fencepost.
It was most likely a weed. But one of the women in the group commented that, for her, it was a sign of life and hope in a place where she didn’t expect to see any.
And as I think back on that day and the woman’s comment, I can’t help but think about parables – the stories Jesus told, and the way they’re intended to spark people’s imagination. To invite them to think about and see things in a different way.
The parables we hear in today’s gospel are no exception. The first, the Parable of the Growing Seed, defies logic because good gardeners don’t just plant some seeds and then wait for the soil to do what it does, right? They plan, they plot out maps or diagrams of what’s planted where; they plant the seeds in rows, they put up fencing to keep the rabbits and deer out; they water and fertilize and prune and pull weeds as they watch and wait and even worry.
The parable about the mustard seed isn’t much better because people in Jesus’ day would never have intentionally planted it. It’s a noxious, stubborn weed – one that would quickly take over and choke out the cash crops and potentially ruin someone’s livelihood.
And the part about mustard becoming a wondrous tree that would provide a place for birds to rest…gardeners even have a love/hate relationship with birds. Their song is beautiful and they’re pretty to look at, but they eat seeds and the fruit they produce.
So, to hear Jesus tell it, the reign of God is like a sleeping gardener, mysterious soil, an invasive weed, and a nuisance flock of birds. Yes, it’s exactly like that.
When we think about God’s realm, what it looks like and what it’s like, we tend to romanticize it. Most of us have a vision of a beautiful, structured, ordered place – like a church building. But God’s realm is more ordinary and chaotic than we sometimes care to admit. And its beauty doesn’t always fall within our standards of beauty.
And if we aren’t paying attention, we can miss the fact that most of the time it’s right in front of us. I probably wouldn’t have paid any attention to that purple flower at the garbage dump if that woman hadn’t said something. But because of her observation, it’s the first thing I think about when I remember that day.
Regardless of what it looks like or wherever it happens to be, God’s realm reminds us that there is life and hope even in the places we don’t expect to find it. God constantly sows its seeds, and as it grows it spreads and takes over.
We like to think we can control where those seeds are planted so that they grow in an orderly fashion. But even when we’re intentional about it, it’s out of our control. God shows up where God shows up – in the things we consider beautiful, and in the weeds and wilderness of our lives. God shows up and plants seeds, and we can’t control where they’ll take root.
When we think about our lives, particularly when we’re looking back on them, we can all tell stories about when and where seeds were planted. No matter how chaotic our lives have been, or no matter how chaotic they are, somewhere along the way God planted – and continues to plant – the seeds of God’s realm within each of us.
Seeds of hope, life, tenacity, value…. And if they haven’t already done so, they’ll take root and grow and overtake seeds of worthlessness and pain. And bear the fruit that transforms suffering into strength and sadness into joy.
And as that happens, that process strengthens us so that we’re able to look beyond our own lives to the other places where the seeds of God’s realm have been planted and are growing. And seeing those places isn’t always easy.
We know that when we look at the world, it’s sometimes difficult to see – let alone imagine – that the seeds of God’s realm have been planted and taken root. But as we learn to not underestimate the value of even the tiniest of seeds, we see that the realm of God is incredibly pervasive and that it’s embodied everywhere we look.
We see it in the youth of our congregation who affirmed their baptismal vows last week. And in the teachers and mentors who work with them and the children of our congregation.
God’s realm is in us when we look at the world and imagine that things can be different. It’s in us when ask tough questions about why things are the way they are and dig in to wrestle with the answers and work towards something better.
God’s realm is in anyone whose life embodies the seeds of God’s love, grace, and mercy, and shares them so that more seeds can be planted. They take root through random acts of kindness, any effort to reach beyond what is comfortable, any welcoming of the stranger, any act of mercy extended to someone who is vulnerable.
God’s realm defies logic. It’s invasive. It often looks messy. It shows up in random places, and brings life and hope wherever it springs up.
We can’t know or control exactly where the seeds will be sown. But they are there, and God’s realm is alive and growing in our midst. And as they take root, seeds of life and hope grow even in the places we don’t expect to find them. Thanks be to God! Amen.