I want to talk a little
bit about gardening this morning: I know -- and many of you do,
too -- from my experience in our Seed to Feed garden that there
are a number of folks here at Creekside who know a lot more about
gardening than I do. I’m not concerned by this, because what
I really want to talk about is the kingdom of God, and I figure
that if Jesus can talk about God’s kingdom as a garden or
a field, than I can too. We don’t know how much Jesus knew
about gardening, but I believe he knew more about the kingdom of
God than anyone before or since.
Garden similes -- that
is, comparing something to a garden -- are certainly nothing new.
Cultivating plants for food for people and livestock is a practice
that’s been around for a long, long time. It’s not a
new literary device to equate someone’s spiritual life and
growth to plant life and growth. Personally, I’d rather be
fruitful than vegetative. Some of you have read William P. Young’s
bestseller The Shack, or seen the recent movie adaptation of it.
There’s a scene where Mack, the main character, spends a morning
working with Sarayu, the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, to prune
and weed a plot of land which is a mess. At the end of the morning,
with lots of work still to be done, Sarayu tells Mack that the mess
he’s been working in is his own soul. It’s a rich and
evocative image, this idea of working with the Spirit to prune and
root out some of the unsavory or even poisonous things which have
taken root within us.
The parables about the
kingdom of God which Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 13 are
certainly about plants, but they are not entirely conclusive about
weeds and how we are to handle them. The first parable, about the
weeds among the wheat suggests that we may need to tolerate some
weeds in order to preserve the wheat, and that only after the wheat
is harvested can the weeds be collected and finally burned. If we
go after the weeds too aggressively or too early, we’ll uproot
the wheat, as well. An unknown person said that the way to tell
the difference between a weed and a valuable plant is that one is
more strongly rooted. Pull on the plant, and if it comes out of
the ground easily, it’s a valuable plant.
This leads into the second
parable, the parable of the mustard seed. Some of you have probably
seen actually mustard seeds -- you can even get them in jewelry.
Mustard seeds are about the size of coarse ground black pepper,
and really, no one in their right mind would sow this stuff in a
field. Oh, mustard seed grows, alright, but it is a pernicious weed.
It ends roots underground and comes up in unexpected places, and
if you give it an inch it will take a mile, and before you know
it this plant is a shrub the size of a tree, and there isn’t
room for anything besides birds in your field.
Jesus explains the parable
of the weeds in verse 36, and it’s clear that he is not advocating
bad behavior -- those weeds are the children of the evil one, and
they’re going to be thrown into the fire while the righteous
will shine like the sun. Fair enough. But I’m still intrigued
by the mustard seed, and what we might have to learn about the kingdom
of God from this pernicious plant.
For those of you who
have not used the word “pernicious” in this century
-- or ever in your life -- here is a brief definition: something
which is pernicious causes great harm or damage, often in a way
that is not easily seen or noticed. Gossip is characterized as pernicious.
Physical illness such as cancer can be pernicious. These are things
which are difficult to root out. Mustard plant can be a pernicious
weed: so why compare it to the kingdom of God?
I believe we as Christians
may actually be furthering the kingdom of God when we stubbornly
cling to ideas and practices which the world would just as soon
eradicate. When we practice service and compassion and shelter for
others in ways which are not calculated to be easily seen or noticed,
we sow the seeds of God’s kingdom which can grow in ways that
will be tough to root out. It is always, always good deeds and God’s
will that we want to cultivate, but sometimes we have to go underground
to do it. We may even have to begin with a small seed and trust
the growth to God. We may start something without being able to
control where it goes. Let me give you an example.
This idea began with
a conversation with Nigeria Crisis Relief coordinators Carl and
Roxane Hill, who reported that a school teacher volunteer had taken
T-shirts with her to Nigeria to share with children in make-shift
schools and camps for people who had been displaced by violent extremists,
the Boko Haram. Creekside’s Outreach Team printed shirts for
ourselves and other congregations in Northern Indiana, and made
enough to send with another group of volunteers. The children liked
them, and so did the adults. Carl and Roxane shared these shirts,
but mostly they shared the idea with our sisters and brothers in
Christ in Nigeria that they were not forgotten and they were not
alone, and that there were people whom they had never met and would
never meet who were praying that they would be protected, their
daughters would be returned, and their children would be able to
go to school and have the possibility of settled and productive
lives. These shirts were intended to be a symbol of hope and solidarity,
and many Brethren gathered in solidarity last year in Greensboro
N. Carolina. You will probably recognize some of these people.
I am not suggesting these
T-shirts -- or any T-shirt -- changed anyone’s life. But I
do believe that hope and courage and peacemaking change lives. The
shirts were our gift; hope and courage and peacemaking come from
God, and it is God’s work and the peace of Christ which we
celebrate. And tiny seeds can grow in places and grow larger than
we expect: Hassan has become a friend and brother in Christ over
this past year. Next month he will be moving to Richmond, IN to
continue his studies at Bethany Seminary. Because of the connection
he made here at Creekside, he will be considered a Church of the
Brethren student and get additional benefits. The greatest benefit
to him may be that his wife and son may be able to join him. We
pray that Hassan’s studies will equip him to return to Nigeria
to work at peace and reconciliation, and to help with healing of
emotional and spiritual trauma. Our part is a small seed that God
can use to provide healing and emotional shelter.
I took the last of the
Nigeria T-shirts to Grand Rapids Annual conference at the end of
June to be distributed to our Nigerian guests. I marked one especially
for Zakaria Bulus, who some of us from Creekside had dinner with
at the end of April when he was visiting the States. Because of
that connection. the Hills and a woman from Ohio who has also served
in Nigeria and handed out shirts, contacted us to support Zakaria
as he begins a peace studies degree at Manchester University this
fall. Followers of Faith has already committed money to help cover
the one-time costs of visas and textbooks. We may be able to provide
other assistance later. That’s how God works: small acts of
kindness and connection can grow into opportunities we never imagined.
I suspect that some of
you are thinking, “T-shirts -- that’s not my thing.
We ought to be doing more than that.” And I want you to know
that I agree with you. You don’t have to wear a bright blue
T-shirt to show your support for Nigeria or any other cause. You
don’t have to wear a shirt to be in prayer or to come to church.
(But if you choose to come to church without any shirt at all, there’s
going to be a fuss, I warn you). And absolutely, we ought to be
doing more than giving away T-shirts. I know that many of you, through
ministries at Creekside or ministries in other service or mission
organizations are already doing more than that -- in your own sneaky
and pernicious ways you are making sure that the kingdom of God
keeps cropping up. Thank you for those commitments which may be
mostly unseen by this congregation.
But I want to recognize
and celebrate the fine work Creekside’s Outreach Team has
done and the opportunities they continue to provide for us. I also
want to challenge us as a congregation to do more. Perhaps one way
to do more would be to donate more money; there are lots of good
causes where we can share financial resources. We need to have honest
conversations about our priorities and where we can combine our
gifts to boost their impact. Maybe you can’t give any more
money, but you could invest some time in service or in relationships.
If you have not participated in a Creekside-sponsored activity outside
of Sunday worship or fellowship, I challenge you to find a way to
do something from Creekside which plants seeds beyond the walls
of this building. Drop off vegetables at Church Community Services,
volunteer at Feed the Children, help knot a comforter, invite a
guest to have lunch with you. See if you can do something, or something
you haven’t already done, by end of this year. I promise that
sincere effort, no matter how modest, will make a difference to
you and to others. If no one has planned anything you want to do,
then come to the January Outreach Team meeting and tell them what
you want to do: maybe your idea will be the next seed that continues
the growth of the kingdom. It’s OK to start small, but if
we don’t plant anything, God’s going to have a lot harder
time making that grow.
Brothers and sisters,
we may not all be gardeners, but we all have opportunities to plant
seeds of service and peacemaking and hope. May God take our small
seeds and make them grow into weeds and shrubs and trees for the
sake of Christ and the kingdom. And all God’s people said,