Proper 6 Year B
June 17, 2018
This country is a country of do-ers. We were founded and the West was discovered essentially, because of our restlessness. We need to be on the move.
One of my favorite symbols of this is the rocking chair, which was of course, invented here in the US during the 18th century, because in a country that values “doing,” just plain sitting there doesn’t cut it.
From a very early age, we learn to plan what we are going to do. And, as we mature, not only do we execute those plans, but we also learn to evaluate what we’ve done. We then strategize on how we can be more efficient, accomplish more, make a bigger impact – and oh, if only we could figure out how to pack more than 24 hrs. into a day.
Today’s parable flies in the face of this particular ethic or value, pointing to how the seeds grow without our effort and, by extension, how God’s kingdom will come, regardless of what we plan or do or how we evaluate those things. These words called out to me this week, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 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.”
Now, I’m no gardener, but if I was using this passage from the Gospel of Mark as my “Gardening for Dummies” textbook, my take away would be that all I need to do is throw some seed around and then wait, while the automatic process of the earth worked its magic.
Of course, this parable isn’t merely talking about gardening. It also speaks to our lives. And believe me, it’s a message I need to hear. I try desperately to manage my life, to fuss over it, to plan it, and worry about it . . . and I have great angst about wasting days, (sitting in a non-rocking chair!) or worse, wasting away my life’s call to ministry. As you might imagine, that has been the crux of my struggle as a “sick” person. It has interrupted my ability to plan and manage my life, because I am unable to control how I feel day to day. So my best laid plans for scattering seed, if you will, are often upended by the unexpected. Believe me, when I ended up in the hospital on Good Friday – knowing Easter Sunday was just two days away – it was definitely NOT in my plan! But you know what, (one of my doctors reminded me of this) Jesus would rise from the dead, whether I was in the hospital or in church!
What about you? Do you fuss, plan, manage and worry about your life?
I read a sermon this week, preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang (St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut on June 14, 2009), and he named our struggle perfectly. He said, “We live is an age of anxiety—in the time between the planting and the reaping - which is a time of great uncertainty. We really want to believe that God will act on our behalf the way God does in the automatic earth, but the planning/doing side of our human nature has this burning urge to help God out—just in case.” Some call this “functional atheism,” which is affirming our belief in God, but actually living our life as if God doesn’t exist. I’m guilty of that more often than I wish. And unfortunately, the by-product of functional atheism is anxiety, which leads us to expend an exorbitant amount of time and energy seeking to take control of the garden, even forcing the harvest any way we can.
Again, from Rev. Lang, “Anxiety can consume us. It is so much a part of our everyday life that it seems almost automatic. It can isolate us from others and make us retreat into an unhealthy dark place where nothing good grows.” Of course, the conditions for ‘growing’ anxiety within the Church are perfect. It spreads like kudzu across the southern state highways, and is fed by statistics of decline, low worship attendance, deficits, and accusations of irrelevancy. If you’ve ever been in a room full of clergy, (and I wouldn’t recommend it) the anxiety is pretty much palpable.
One year though, our Bishop invited the then Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori to speak at our clergy conference; one of those anxiety-ridden clergy gatherings. Someone asked her how she was able to sleep at night with so much stress – the stress of breakaway Bishops and Dioceses, of international pressure with other Anglican leaders, and the stress of the national Episcopal Church – all on her shoulders. She chuckled at this question, and then very calmly answered, “I sleep very well at night. Because when I go to bed, I remind myself and God in my prayers, saying ‘This is your church, God, not mine, and I’m going to sleep. Goodnight.’”
She offered me – and all those in the room – a powerful witness of today’s good news, which is that you and I can and SHOULD scatter our seeds, spread God’s love, forgiveness and opportunities for reconciliation in the day to day affairs of our lives, but the growth of the Kingdom of God is in God’s hands, not ours. Faith allows us to open our hand and scatter those seeds far and wide, because we can trust them to the mystery of God’s grace. Trusting in that mystery truly is the crux of our faith. Because on that Holy Saturday, when Jesus was in that sealed tomb, closed in by a stone too heavy to move, we have no idea what happened there. In the darkness. In the soil. In the earth. But we do know that on that first Easter morning, Jesus sprung forth. Alive. Conquering death. Our faith is born out of this story. The story of life coming out of darkness, of grace being present in the emptiness of death, of God working in the mysteries of darkness, stillness, and even in what we might mistake as absence.
God is constantly on the move. That is the promise of this parable. And it’s a promise that still applies to us every single day – and night - our lives. Sleep well. Amen.