A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to travel down to the mountains of North Carolina for a writer’s retreat provided by the Sun Magazine that is published in North Carolina. A beautiful setting, excellent teachers.
On the first night after all the introductions each of those who would lead classes the next day read from work they had recently published. One of the women read from her new book, My Accidental Jihad. She has written about the first eight year of her marriage to a man from Libya. She grew up in Southern California, a stereo typed blond surfer girl who finds herself in the South and in an unexpected relationship.
I liked her writing, sat in on her workshops, bought her book. She describes the way she first met her husband, the runs on the trails around her apartment, the conversations that followed, the relationship begun.
Then comes the crisis, an unexpected pregnancy. She writes poignantly about the decision before her. This was not the life she had dreamed of. This was not Barbie dolls, wedding cake and gift registries.
This was a hard time of decision, then she writes: I understood that sometimes love has the power to drag us under and that there are also times when we have to dive headlong into our fears in order to find our joy.”
She faced her fears, marries this man, they form a family and learn together about what life is all about.
In her first seminar on the retreat she began by saying that “writing can be dangerous.” She went on to explain that in writing, especially non-fiction the writer has to describe relationships, feelings, experiences.’’ In the process some of those people who were part of the experience may be offended or hurt by the writer’s perspective.
If you are going to put yourself fully into life you cannot control the outcome. In writing her book she opens herself to us as reader. Invites us to see from within what she experiences, thinks
gives up control
over how she will be experienced…
Today’s Gospel touches ever so slightly on this same theme. Mark writes about a time when Jesus is teaching in what for us seems to be an innocent little story. Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God. Maybe he was standing near a field. He looks over at the plants that are breaking out of the earth. He points over and says the Kingdom of God is like that. It’s a little seed that is put into the earth. After that we don’t know what happens. We cannot see it. Somehow life comes to and from it. Over time a plant grows. In time it ripens and it is time for the harvest. Or maybe it’s like this mustard seed
the smallest of seeds
that becomes a bushy tree
one that the birds love
for their nests…
A seemingly innocent story but it is overlaid with imagery. The Kingdom of God was an important topic for the people who listened to Jesus. They were people who had memories of a time past when they were a powerful nation/kingdom. They looked forward to a kingdom coming in the future.
Jesus is not going to deliver on either level. He brings the conversation in the moment. The Kingdom of God is not about past history, not about bringing future glory. It is more about right here, right now. The seed is planted. We don’t know how life comes to it but it comes. Life unfolds. There is growth. There can be problems. There can be success. It is what it is. It is in this moment not something tied to the past. Not something anticipating the future. Life can pull us under or we can dive headlong into our greatest fear in order to find joy.
Jesus says “the Kingdom of God is here now. We are living in God’s time. We are living in our time.
On Sunday June 7th 1970 I entered Reformation Lutheran Church in Columbia, South Carolina. It was a service of Ordination. I sat on the front pew by myself. My Dad was there as a representative of our Bishop. My mentor was there who had introduced me to a whole new way of learning and working as a professional clergy the president of the seminary was there who would later become our national Bishop so I guess that’s as close to Apostolic Succession as I’ll get.
The preacher noted in his sermon that I was seated by myself. No one else wanted to join me on that pew. It was a day of being set apart for the work of ministry.
It has been 45 years since that day. I can honestly say from a life of experience that I understand something about today’s Gospel. The seeds had been planted years before I came to that pew. My parents, grandparents, my experiences with Sunday school teachers, church camps, mission trips.
Watching my dad live out his own call to ministry I can honestly say I had no idea of what my future would hold. The churches, the specialized ministries I would spend my life serving. I have felt deeply blessed by the people I’ve encountered. The doors that have opened in my life. The invitation that brought me to this pulpit to ministry in your midst.
Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a little seed that is planted. We go to bed and get up in the morning
look out at the garden
something is growing
There’s not much value in looking back in the past. What happened has happened. There’s not much value in trying to guess the future. You plant the seed. You hope for a crop. You live with what will come each day is its own day. Each day we are carried in the arms of faith. Those who blessed us in the past, those we will meet as the future unfolds in the arms of faith. We can dive into our deepest fears reaching for the joy that comes with the harvest.
Thank you for you care. For the privilege of serving in your midst… Amen