All Saints’ Church
June 14, 2015
Proper 6 / Year B
Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion. Amen.
When I was in seminary, I supported myself by babysitting for two adorable, and also opinionated, little girls who were about 10 and 6. Once, the 6 year old asked me how old I was, and I did that thing that you should probably never do with children, which was to respond, “how old do you think I am?”
“Um, 50?” she said. This is why you should never open these kinds of questions up to children.
“No!,” I said. “I’m 29.”
To which the 10 year old piped in, “You’re 29?!?! When are you gonna get a career?”
Of course, I was in professional school at the time, working towards my master of divinity. And right now I am in what we call in the Episcopal church, “the ordination process.” This process has a lot of steps and requires a lot of meetings and a lot of work with a lot of different committees to discern what God wants for me, and if I am called to be a priest.
So, while I was in seminary, and while I am in the ordination process, I’m in an in-between phase. And while I don’t worry so much about a 10 year-old’s ideas of career and what things might make a suitable career, I think she was picking up on the fact that I am in this in-between phase. 10 year olds can be very intuitive. Perhaps she could feel that my true vocation was not to be her babysitter forever.
I’m sure everyone here can relate to that unsettling feeling you can have when you’re in an in-between phase.
And it’s not always about work, about your job. We have so many in-between phases in life. Maybe you are caring for someone who is very ill, maybe you’re looking for a new apartment, maybe you are ending a relationship. Maybe what lies on the other side of this in-between time is going to be great–but you’re just not there yet.
So when people ask me what I do, even though I wear this crazy robe and get to preach pretty regularly, I can’t say that I’m a priest yet, because I’m in this in-between phase. But my title here at All Saints’ is program minister, so I usually say that I’m a minister.
This is always a fun thing to let drop at a party, when someone asks you what you do, and I get to say: I’m a minister, actually.
Usually there’s a pause and they will say: “…what kind?” And then I’ll say, the church kind! And it depends on what kind of party it is, what happens after that.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m not the only minister here in this room. And I’m not just talking about the rest of us up here in robes. No. You are a minister, too.
I don’t care if this is your first time here at All Saints’ Church or your thousandth time, you are a minister, and there are no committees or meetings that need to decide that God called you here. God called all of us, each one of us, into this room.
Here is what we prayed for at the beginning of this service, in what is called the opening collect, the prayer that brings us all into this space for worship and collects us all together: “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion.”
Our services always open with a prayer that’s called a “collect,” and often they relate to the season or whatever the biblical stories are that we’ll be reading later in the service. Sometimes they are ancient prayers, or sometimes they are prayers written by Thomas Cranmer in the 1500s, the first author of the Anglican prayer book.
This prayer is much newer, however. it was written for this most recent prayer book published in 1979. And it was chosen for this Sunday to go alongside Jesus’ famous parable about The Mustard Seed.
This morning, we are called to minister God’s justice with compassion. And this is why I am reminding you that we are all ministers this morning, because this is talking about all of us, this is what we are all called to by being here this morning.
But what does the mustard seed have to do with it?
The story this morning comes from early in the Gospel of Mark. The author is introducing us to Jesus’ particular way of telling stories in parables: short little illustrations that Jesus uses to make a point. Mark indicates over and over again that these stories were not exactly straightforward: at the end of this passage, for example, Mark seems to tell us, “not to worry. If this is confusing, Jesus explained it all to the disciples in private.”
That might not seem very helpful to us, but of course Jesus, and the hands who wrote down the stories of Jesus, were very smart about how they told these stories, because without easy explanations, the stories stay active, and continue to make meaning for us over the centuries and centuries that we tell them to each other.
At this point in the story, Jesus is on a boat in the middle of a lake, and many other boats have gone out to follow him and gather around. It’s a kind of odd setting actually–Jesus sitting calmly in a boat and telling confusing little stories to a scattered group of people.
Jesus wants to explain The Kingdom of God, a phrase we hear again and again in Jesus’ stories, and that we pray for every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The kind of kingdom Jesus was referring to all the way back in the 1st century as he preached on that little boat is very foreign to us in the United States in 2015, but rather than a monarchy as we would imagine it today, Jesus really meant a perfect society–so perfect it’s almost impossible to imagine, where God’s love is spread around equally and abundantly.
And to illustrate this point, Jesus says: “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 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.”
Sounds pretty straight forward, right? The tiniest, littlest seed–and if you’ve seen a mustard seed, you know that’s true. But this tiny little seed grows a huge plant, and that is like the Kingdom of God–the spreading of God’s love abundantly and miraculously.
Here’s the thing, though: the plant that comes from a mustard seed is actually more like an aggressive and overwhelming weed, with a very bitter green. The way Jesus tells the story is really beautiful and compelling, but in reality, a mustard plant is not the loveliest thing. And there really is no mustard plant that could ever grow high enough to host birds’ nests, or to give any shade. It’s more like a weed that nips at your ankles.
And so we can see why Jesus might have had to explain this one to his disciples in private.
But this is the miracle of the mustard seed–and the miracle of God’s Kingdom. The tall branches, the shade, the nests for birds don’t just come from the smallest seed; they come from a seed meant for weeds. The spreading of God’s love–its magnitude, its possibility, its home for every single person–is miraculous.
I think God sees the potential in every little speck, in every tiny little mustard seed, in every little weed. And God sees us, too, when we are in our in-between spots. When we are rolling along like little mustard weeds, persistent but not quite there yet.
The piece that the collect reminds us, that prayer from the beginning, is that we cannot do it alone. We cannot spread God’s love all by ourselves; our mustard plants will not grow into beautiful, shade-giving trees if we hunch into our in-between times and shut everyone else out, and just wait for it to pass.
Because we are all ministers, to each other.