Saturday, June 13, 2009

For all the beauty even unseen...

Mark 4:26-34


I did a big part of my growing up in western Kansas where my parents served as co-pastors of upwards of four congregations in a 60 mile radius. Now, one of the things that I still remember fondly was the literal amber waves of grain. We drove by them on the way to school in the school bus. We drove by them on the way to church. We drove by them on the way into the city to do our shopping. One of the things you should realize is that “amber waves of grain” isn’t just an image in a patriotic song. It is literally what happens as the strong southerly winds drive across the open fields of grain causing them to undulate and crest like the waves of the open sea. That take by itself is an absolute beauty and sight to admire.

I’ve often heard from people that the drive along the roads to get through the state of Kansas is one of the most boring things you could ever do. I’ve heard it said, “There’s nothing to see out there! It’s just flat and empty.” I lived out in western Kansas for seven years, and I’ve had multiple occasions to go back to visit and see the area in which I spent a significant portion of my childhood. Let me tell you all here, there is a depth and breadth of beauty that is almost unmatched. Sure there aren’t many trees, and the trees that do grow are stunted and twisted by the whipping winds. Sure there aren’t majestic hills, let alone enormous mountains that loom high in the sky. But, Kansas has a beauty that you wouldn’t expect. The beauty is in the grand scope you can get looking off into the horizon and be amazed at the vastness of God’s creation. The beauty is in those undulating fields that ripple and roil in the wind. The beauty is in the subtleties of the landscape that may not be apparent at the first glance. However, getting people to see that and realize such tremendous beauty often fails, because for some reason mountains are something to look at and the plains and prairies are not.

Let me assure you right now that I’m not bringing this up because I’m being paid on the side by the Kansas State tourism board. I’m not even implying that I don’t like or appreciate the beauty that I’m surrounded by right here right now living in Wisconsin. But I bring this up because, for some reason, we all tend to have trouble seeing the value and the beauty in the small, broken down, dilapidated, poor and seemingly insignificant. We love what is grand, extravagant, well kept, popular and successful. But, what makes the grand and glorious be something that we end up valuing so much? What gives things like mountains, canyons, and city skylines an inherent value and worth? Who decided that the mountain was something to look at while the open prairie is just empty and boring?

Jesus knows that when we think of what is good for us in our lives we think of what is grand and glorious. Take a moment. Close your eyes. Try to imagine what the Kingdom of God will look like. Focus on the images that pop into your mind’s eye. What do you see? Do you see a mustard seed growing into shrub? Do you see a farmer harvesting his or her crops? I think that if we’re honest with ourselves, we probably think of the Kingdom of God like we so often imagine heaven in our pictures and descriptions. We first see pearly gates. We see streets paved with gold. We see grand houses in which we will be reunited with all our friends and relatives. But do we see God? Would we even be open to how God makes the Kingdom of God a reality?

Jesus uses these parables so that he can confront what we would expect the Kingdom of God to look like. He uses these parables challenge and confuse what we are expecting from God. He uses these parables to tell us that God’s reign is an event, not a place, where people have trust in God’s love and care for them and where people then respond in showing that love to one another.

This first parable that we heard today is a parable telling us that the kingdom of God is going to grow and happen whether we are vigilant watching it grow or even know all the processes that need to take place for a seed to grow. The farmer doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know the second by second progress of the seeds life. The farmer simply plants the seed and gathers the fruit that the seed bears. In this, the Kingdom of God is simply being open and trusting that the seed will bear fruit in its due season. The process is ultimately out of the farmer’s hands.

The second parable we heard today is a parable telling us that the Kingdom of God is like the unlikeliest of seeds and plants. The mustard seed is small. In fact, if someone dropped it on the ground outside, we just might not be able to find it. Compared to the other things in life back then like having a labor animal or a heard of sheep, just one mustard seed would seem very insignificant. Yet God’s Kingdom comes even in the seemingly insignificant and proceeds to bear the fruit and love that provides shelter, food, and a nesting place for the birds of the air. God’s kingdom comes unexpectedly and directly challenges our normal ways of thinking and shows that that grace has come for the whole of creation and even the seemingly small and insignificant has the power to share God’s grace. God’s kingdom is a place where grace, forgiveness, and simple care for the other person happens as a response to what God has done for us. It doesn’t happen because we know and are making sure it happens. It happens because God has willed it to happen, and happen it does in many surprising and unexpected ways. Even the “flat and empty prairie” is a place where the beauty of God’s work can be seen, if you only have the patience to open your eyes and see its beauty.

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