It was like a treasure hunt, she said, handing me pictures of a rock-strewn edge of the river, of a field, of a wooded path, of bright colored trumpet vines and ferns and weeds and grasses. And children. Children – from Richmond’ s inner city, from one of its project communities, where the livin’ ain’ t easy in the hot summertime.
Whitcomb Court and the James River Park are both within the City of Richmond They are just a short distance away from each other, as the crow flies, but a world apart.
One day last month one of our parishioner couples here at St. James’ s helped a dozen or more children, their teacher and two of the parents from Whitcomb Elementary School to cross over from one world (the Project) to another (the Park). When I heard about it, I thought of the haunting, soul-searching song, Bridge over Troubled Waters.
The wife is one of our St. James’ s mentors for a child at the school. The child’ s name is Unique. She calls her mentor BB.
It was like a treasure hunt, the mentor told me. With the help of Ralph White, the park’ s naturalist, the children explored the life of the park, the watery parts as well as the dry. The children heard how the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly’ s dappled markings are like the dappling of the sun and shadow filtering down through the trees, helping the fragile butterfly elude predators. How the lowly jewel weed has healing in its leaves and is used to help relieve poison ivy. How some of the smallest creatures can be found under the rocks in the river hugging snugly to that which offers them sanctuary.
Unique had never been hiking before. Somehow this had come up during a mentoring session. Will you take me on a hike? Unique asked BB one day. It was a small question by a small girl to a person who’ d volunteered a little time an hour or two each week to help a child with reading and numbers.
It turned into a magical time for a whole class. It was a morning full of revelation for them.
As the mentor finished her story I wondered if the children took with them in their hearts and minds any connections between themselves and what they found that day. Don’ t they, like the Tiger Swallowtail, live in a dappling of light and shadow and need to elude those who prey on the vulnerable and fragile within the project’ s concrete boundaries? Don’ t they yearn to find something that heals, that relieves the distress that comes from brushing up against poisonous things in their environment? Are there rocks where they can find sanctuary in their world? Just what did they uncover that day? What was revealed in that special time of exploration?
Today, Jesus offers us a chance to explore. He calls us to explore territory that’ s just around the bend of our hearts, but seems a world away: The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is like . . . . and then Jesus threads a string of parables for us, like so many beads on a rosary he places before us.
In the parables about the Kingdom we find that it’ s often the small things that Christ uses to reveal what the Kingdom of God is like. It’ s ordinary things: a mustard seed, a little bit of leaven/yeast, a fishing net. It’ s everyday people: a merchant, a businessman, a fisherman, a woman in her kitchen. It’ s ordinary places: a field, a perch among the branches of a tree, a nearby lake.
In the parables about the Kingdom Jesus starts out with the ordinary and the everyday. He uses ordinary and everyday things and transforms them into a window to the extra-ordinary, the miraculous. And the smallest, the least, are transformed into something super-abundant.
It’ s all about a kind of Divine synergy. Where 1 + 1 + 1 doesn’ t merely yield four or five, or on a good day, even ten or twenty. It’ s about a Divine synergy taking a few bits and pieces here and there and turning them into a yield of a hundred, or a thousand or an infinite number. Remember the loaves and the fishes?
The parables about the Kingdom are about the unseen. They don’ t teach, they reveal. They lead us to aha moments to glimpses of the treasure that is waiting for us to sightings of the Kingdom to revelations that pull us toward the heart of God and into astounding love. This can happen as we search for it, like the merchant looking for fine pearls. But this can also happen when we’ re simply going about our everyday business and stumble upon it, like the someone ploughing a field who stumbles upon hidden treasure. However it happens, this is treasure so extraordinary so amazing that our response, like those in the parables, is to give up everything else, all our other searchings, when it becomes found to us.
Are we, as small and ordinary and everyday as we are, the stuff Christ can use to weave a parable? Are we, as insignificant as we feel we are, the stuff of miracles? Can we, as cloudy and muddled and streaked as we appear, be windows to the Kingdom for each other?
To God all things are possible. So the answer is YES!
I think back over times I’ ve flown cross country. I always try to get a window seat. For me it’ s exciting to be able to look out that tiny plane window and see vast stretches of countryside spread out way below. It gives me a chance to look at things with a different perspective. I watch for the mountains and great rivers, but it was the farmlands that caught my eye and stirred my reflection the last time I flew.
The scenery stretched out below as we flew over that part of our country we call the breadbasket of America. The fields seemed so clearly defined as I saw them from a distance. Broad areas, some brown, some green in different shades. Some with buildings and barns, some without. There was variety in the way the fields were planted. The different designs created a surprising patchwork quilt effect, as if pieces had been carefully chosen and neatly stitched together in some divinely created whole.
I think of our church congregations like those fields. Each with its unique composite of soil and nutrients. Each sown with seeds, hopefully taking root and growing upward, pushing through the soil towards the sun. Each seed with the promise of usefulness, abundance and harvest implanted deep within its DNA.
St. James’ s is one of God’ s fields. There’ s treasure here. Here there is the stuff of miracles. Here there are the bits and pieces of us which, when offered up, can be woven into the stuff of parables.
One of you sits quietly with someone in distress, listening, opening your heart and providing comfort, even in silence. And a bit of Kingdom light shines through your open heart and pierces an outer darkness that surrounds the other person.
Two of you spread snowy linen over a wooden table and count wafers and pour wine in a flagon and set out a cup. And hundreds will share a meal and a mystery that strengthens them for an hour, a day, a week, or more.
Three of you gather in the chapel on a Tuesday at noon and pray for healing and wholeness. And something new begins to stir in the body, heart, and mind of those for whom the prayer is offered. A wound is touched by the Great Physician. Strength starts to flow into the weak and despairing. Life renews.
Four of you gather in the kitchen and mix a hundred pounds of meatloaf to feed the homeless. And maybe, just maybe, you’ ll feel God’ s hands in the mixing, adding that special ingredient of hope to nourish those who are waiting for food, not only for their stomachs, but for their souls.
Five or six or eight or ten of you sign up for the first time for a mission trip. And God will use the people you are sent to serve to transform you. To open your eyes that you can see the Divine beckoning to you in the smallest starving child, in the sick, in the abused, in the abandoned.
Twelve or more of you sit around a table in Gibson Hall trying to discern God’ s will in the distribution of monies to worthwhile endeavors around the city. Money, giving back out of God’ s abundance to us, can be synergized too. And those who give and those who apportion the gifts and those who receive are woven together by the Spirit.
And a dozen more from this congregation cross into the world of one of our city’ s project communities – into Whitcomb Elementary School. An adult works as a mentor with a child there as the child works her way into the mentor’ s heart. Both are made richer in the process.
If Jesus were standing here, right here, today, I believe he would say that the story of Unique, the little girl who wanted to go on a hike, and the woman who responded is the stuff out of which he could craft a parable about the Kingdom of God. Because it’ s all about the ordinary, the everyday, the small moments between us which, when transformed by the Spirit, open closed hearts, blind eyes and deaf ears ours and others. Then the Kingdom Light breaks through and we are brought into God’ s amazing miracle-making love, for a moment or for a lifetime.
If Jesus were here today, I believe he might walk up and down these aisles, quietly and with great love. With deep compassion he would look into each of your hearts. With great desire he would call to each of you. From deep within his heart he would call you, asking you to go on a hike with him into a new world. He would say, I need you, yes you, in my parables.
Unique wrote BB a letter. She said to BB in the last line in the note, I love you all my life. The End. Jesus says to us, I love you with my life. And this is the Beginning of yours.
Will you answer Christ’ s call? Will you stand up? Will you follow him? Or will you slip out the side door and miss the treasure laid out in front of you?