The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Third Sunday after Pentecost—Year B (Proper 6); Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14; II Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
Okay, God is good. There is a lot going on in our hearts today, and all our texts bring us exactly what we need.
And we might as well head straight into the energy in the room. So, if you didn’t read your email, Friday afternoon, I sent out word that Ted, our beloved Organist and Choir Director, will be leaving us early this fall. Ted has been in discernment with me since late February, and there is something calling him, some invitation to lean more fully into the fullness of his life and being. Some “yes” has been stirring inside of him, yearning to be expressed, and I applaud him for hearing that whisper and following. That takes tremendous courage and reminds us of the work that all of us are to be about all of the time—listening to and heeding the Spirit’s stirrings.
And what this means for us is that big scary word—“CHANGE”—Ted has been with us for 12 ½ years, and this comes on the heels of saying our goodbyes last Sunday to Sarah Miller, our Coordinator for Children and Youth—that’s two of our six core staff—that’s like 1/3 of our team. As I said to the Sr. Warden last Sunday afternoon, “What is God doing?”—not in a bad way, but really, something is in the air; God is stirring things up a bit, which brings out my curiosity—what is the Spirit doing?
How wonderful that we are going to have a real-life case study, right before our eyes, in the dynamics of change. And while this is a communal case-study, I think all of this applies to change at a personal level in our own individual lives.
So, how many of us just relish living through change? My reptilian brain registers change this way: uncomfortable, unsettling, opportunity for anxiety; I can easily go into Lost in Space mode—“danger, Will Robinson, danger!” But there is this deeper place inside of me that leaps just a bit—change is also exciting, full of possibility and opportunity, and perhaps, most importantly, it takes us to our knees and calls us forward in absolute trust and faith. If control is our thing, if we approach life like the game of whack-a-mo—just keep knocking down those things that pop up until you get them all back in their boxes (which never happens, by the way)—if control and whack-a-mo are our thing, then this season is going to call us out of our comfort zone and into a space of openness and trust, expectancy and attentiveness. We are about to get a really good spiritual workout as a community.
Now then, there are some things that I am aware of right off the bat. First, SCARCITY is a big temptation. Ted, you are truly one-of-a-kind, and we will not be able to replace you. You are so gifted as a musician, and so rich in your person. The voice of SCARCITY could call pretty loudly, “You won’t find another Ted. We are in a somewhat isolated region; there just aren’t other talented organists out there who can do what we will need them to do.” And like that crafty serpent last week, some parts of that SCARCITY voice are speaking truth—we won’t find another Ted, but also like that crafty serpent, that’s not the whole truth.
We hear in Ezekiel of a God who plants twigs, in order that it might produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar…That God says, “I the LORD have spoken; and I will accomplish it.” We don’t know what God has planted that is about to bear fruit in our midst, but we can absolutely trust that God will accomplish it—we don’t have to force this, nor do we have to settle because SCARCITY is telling us that what we want will be impossible to find. God, through Ezekiel’s mouth, is calling us on that one with that audacious proclamation, “I the LORD will accomplish it.” And if that message falls on deaf ears, then remember what the angel said to Mary when she doubted, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” And if that doesn’t get through, then listen to what Jesus tells his disciples when it felt impossible to them, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” SCARCITY doesn’t like such audacious hope.
And then there’s the psalmist who proclaims: “It is a good thing to sing praises to your Name…To tell of your loving-kindness early in the morning and of your faithfulness in the night season; on the psaltery, and on the lyre, and to the melody of the harp. For you have made me glad by your acts, O LORD; and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.” Okay, even like 3,000 years ago, different styles of music were appreciated and the capacity to sing praises was celebrated—God loves a breadth and depth of praise, and God knows how hard we have worked in this congregation to get to the range of music that we enjoy—God will provide what we need to keep sinking our roots deep in the soil of music that lifts our hearts and opens our souls in ways that words just can’t do on their own. And even if we have a little night season until the “what’s-coming” arrives, we can trust in God’s faithfulness. We’ve just got to keep singing of God’s loving-kindness early in the morning and trusting in that faithfulness in the night.
And if our confidence gets shaky, well, St. Paul is there to lift us up, daring to proclaim: “We are always confident…for we walk by faith, not be sight.” And he goes on to talk about the love of Christ which urges us on and about how dying with Christ and rising with him changes everything—“We regard no one from a human point of view,” Paul says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
Fear, scarcity, anxiety—these are the old way. But we live as a new creation founded on hope and joy and possibility and life. And nowhere has our new creation-ness been more manifested than in the work we have done as a community with regards to music. This past week I made a list; in our worship, we embrace some 18 different styles of music—that’s a new creation. Over the years, we have moved beyond “personal preferences” to a deeper communal commitment to learning to love things that speak to our neighbor’s devotional heart, even if they aren’t quite our thing. We are musically integrated as a community, and you can feel the life in our worship because of it.
Yes, we will all experience a death of sorts, every loss is a death of sorts—and Ted, your going is indeed a profound loss to us all. But the loss is never the end of the story; death never has the final word—not in the Christian rhythm. No, God is already at work, calling us ever deeper into this new creation; we just need to let go of our human point of view in order to see it.
And then there are the parables from Mark—good stuff for today! Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how…
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Okay, a few things here. Jesus goes to his favorite narrative style, the parable. Scholars agree that the parable is a really distinct style whose purpose is to subvert our normal way of seeing the world. They are full of paradox; they are meant to provoke us; to turn us upside down; to shake our worldview. And they don’t lend themselves to pat interpretations, which is why that bit the narrator tacks on at the end about explaining everything in private to the disciples doesn’t ring quite true to how Jesus worked. That bit about “as they were able to hear it” absolutely rings true.
Jesus goes to the parable whenever he is trying to get us to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of God… “it is like…it is like…it is like…” Which means, we can’t nail down this “kingdom of God”—it is bigger than our definitions, bigger than our brains can pin down; there is no wrapping the kingdom of God up in a box, duly labelling it, and setting it on a shelf to collect dust. Parables are living, breathing things—they call us out of our comfort zone and into a strange land. They tend to resonate with the heart, sort of like music, and we have to dwell in the land of imagination to begin to touch their creative and redemptive potential.
So, these two parables we are given today—“the seed that is scattered and which sprouts and grows, we don’t know how” and “the mustard seed, that teeny-tiny seed that when sown grows up and becomes a great shrub, putting forth large branches, so that birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With both of these seeds, there is something wonderfully mysterious germinating and growing, hidden away in the earth, that grows into something wonderful and lifegiving.
In large part, our job is to trust the germination process, to get out of the way and trust the growth process at work; our job is not to force things, but to be open and attentive so that we can see when it’s time for the sickle and the harvest, so that we can trust and recognize thatsomething with tremendous capacity to hold all the life that is in our midst will indeed come from a very small and hidden seed.
The voice of SCARCITY—“we won’t ever find the right person;” and the voice of COMPARISON—“they won’t be Ted,” will absolutely cloud our sight, rob of us of joyful expectation, and prevent us from being attentive to the seed that is already growing somewhere deep in the earth. And that seed that is hidden and growing is just waiting for a moment such as this and a community such as this, just waiting to break ground and stretch out his or her boughs and offer his or her unique gifts that we might continue to nest and rest in the beauty of the glorious music that feeds our souls week in and week out.
The Spirit is moving in this place—there are too many people opening up to “yes’s” and possibilities for it to be otherwise. We just don’t quite know where that Spirit is leading us or what’s ahead, but the soil is rich and God is faithful and seeds are growing even as we speak.
It’s all good, or as Julian of Norwich says so much more poetically, “All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well”—for Ted and for St. Luke’s. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
June 14, 2015