Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's June 17th homily. Relevant text, Ezekiel 17:22-24, Mark 4:26-34
Last week I spoke about a particular characteristic of God. I said that our God was an inside out, upside down kind of God.
In today’s scripture lessons we encounter a transforming God.
In Ezekiel God takes a sprig – a small young twig from a tree and plants it in order that it might become a lofty noble cedar tree, providing shade and protection for every winged creature.
With this image fresh in our minds we move on to the Gospel. First we hear a parable unique to Mark. The kingdom of God is, as if, someone would scatter seed on the ground, then would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow. He does not know how.
Next we hear a more familiar parable. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it grows up, it becomes the greatest of shrubs, putting forth large branches, so that birds can make nests in its shade.
Did you hear the transformation that took place in all of these stories? A small twig, a handful of seemingly dead seed, a single tiny mustard seed --- they each were transformed into a living, useful, fruitful plant. There was sprout and growth, though we do not know how.
What good news this is for us – as individuals and as the church.
Let’s take a closer look at the the mustard seed parable.
You have heard the nursery rhyme, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, and pretty maids, all in a row.”
And in this is all the truth and hope in which our faith is rooted. From the barest, and most unlikely, resources spring forth God’s kingdom. How, exactly, we do not know. We only know and trust by faith, that God is transforming what is into something new –
a seed into a plant,
a crucified corpse into a living savior,
a ragged scruffy bunch of doubters into bold witnesses,
a quadriplegic into an artist (Joni Erickson Tada),
a demoted captain and multi election looser into the President of the United States (Abraham Lincoln),
a child labeled too stupid to learn anything into the inventor of the light bulb Thomas Edison),
a nightclub bouncer into a Pope (Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis),
a small congregation of believers into … well, who knows what God is doing in our midst right here and now.
But we do know that God is doing something – that God is transforming what is right here and right now into something new. How do we know? We know because this is who God is and what God does. Our God is a transforming God that takes what is and creates and grows it into something new.
And here is the trap we often fall into – we assume that new means bigger and better. And why wouldn’t we think this – scripture talks about God taking a small twig and a very tiny seed and transforming them into the greatest of trees.
Now, the mustard plant is actually an annual bush. This means that while the mustard seed grows into a large plant, it is a large and sometimes unruly bush. Some commentators say that farmers in ancient Palestine considered the mustard plant to be an obnoxious weed.
But, whether it grows by design or by luck, at the end of the season it dies and needs a new seed to grow again the next season. This holds some important truths for we who are, waiting for God’s transformation in the midst of our own lives.
First it reminds us that God’s transforming grace is not once and done. It happens over and over again in due time and season.
Second, it reminds us that being transformed and made new does not mean we are exempt from the realities and trials of life. Sometimes what is dies and is forced to wait until another new seed is planted. In fact, under our theology of the cross we proclaim that death is a requirement for new life – that you cannot have Easter without Good Friday – that there can be no resurrection without first experiencing death.
The theology of the cross is sometimes a difficult pill to swallow. Even Jesus didn’t care for it’s bitter taste.
Remember the nursery rhyme I made up: “Jesus, Jesus, quite amazing, how does your kingdom grow?” Remember the answer? “With time, and patience, and godly ways, that are not ours know.”
This too can be a difficult truth to swallow. Because we want what we want and we want it now. But the reality is that it is God who does the transforming and God transforms in God’s time, and in God’s way, according to God’s wisdom.
I said last week that God’s ways are not our ways. Sometimes this is the greatest news in the world. Other times, it is the source of our greatest consternation.
We want what we want and we want it now. We want to be in control.
But today’s parables are very clear, it doesn’t work that way. We have a role to play. We get to scatter and plant the seed. Maybe we can pull some weeds. We also get to do the harvesting. But the growing, the transforming, that’s all God.
And so it is that we must trust what we say we believe: that our inside out, upside down, transforming God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, keeping his promises to make everything new.
Let it be so. Amen.