Date: June 17, 2012
Title: “It’s God’s Garden!”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Mark 4:26-34
In my hometown, July was always an important month. That was the month that two really great things happened. First, there was the Daily Olympian Pet Parade, a perennial favorite among all the children in the area. Then, there was Capitol Lakefair.
Since we lived outside of town itself, and quite some ways from the fairgrounds, my participation in Lakefair usually consisted of one afternoon and evening, seeing the sights, riding the carnival rides, that sort of thing. But one year, I got a little more involved.
I remember that year because it was the year I had graduated from high school. And, as it turned out, it was the last summer when either of my sisters lived at home. The summer of 1973 my sister Debby and I drug ourselves to each of our low-paying, boring jobs, five days a week, eight hours a day. And were weren’t very happy about it; we weren’t having any fun at all; and I’m sure we were not especially pleasant to those around us. Until the weekend that Lakefair was in town.
Every year the festival committee would hide a special key somewhere in Thurston County, and the local radio station and the newspaper would publish clues to find the key. Finding the key meant fame – and some fortune – for the key unlocked the Lakefair treasure chest, filled with things like free trips, cars, etc.
So Debby and I would listen every afternoon on the way home from work, writing down all the clues, talking them through. And we were absolutely certain we knew where the key was hidden! I’ll never forget how smug and self-assured we were, as we peered around the tombstones and climbed the trees in the Pioneer Cemetery one night, expecting at any moment to uncover the key and turn our summer of boredom into one of delight.
Of course we never found it there. We later learned that the key was hidden someplace entirely different (and significantly less creative, I might add!). The key to the Lakefair treasure turned out to be just as unpredictable as the keys to the Kingdom of God!
We looked in all the places we thought it should be. We mapped it out, used our considerable rational and intellectual skills – until finally we had to give up. We had to admit failure and to recognize that our hunt was nothing but folly. We had no treasure with which to console ourselves; no fame, nor fortune was going to redeem what felt like a lost summer. And we were tempted to go back to our grumpy, self-pitying mode (doing the laundry at Motel 6 was hardly my idea of the perfect job!).
But then, we got to thinking about it. And we got to laughing about it. And pretty soon, we realized that we had found the treasure after all.
It had not come in the form of a key. It had not unlocked any box, treasure chest, or secret hideaway. But we had found the treasure all right. For we had found each other once again.
I am reminded of that summer when I read Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God which we read today. For in them, as well, the treasure comes unexpectedly. The treasure of God’s Realm, God’s perspective, God’s Word in Jesus Christ always comes unexpectedly. It comes in unexpected places, through surprising things, unlikely people, or unexpected events.
So it is no wonder that when Jesus talks about the Kingdom, he invariably resorts to parables, telling stories which point the way to the Kingdom rather than outlining each specific step along the way. Jesus knew that it is hard for us to talk about holy things apart from ordinary ones. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way:
“Throughout the Gospels, Jesus was always making comparisons. Sinners are like lost sheep, the Word of God is like seed sown on different kinds of ground, the kingdom of heaven is like a wedding feast, God is like the owner of a vineyard…’the kingdom of heaven is like this…’ he said over and over again.”
The Kingdom of God – God’s Reign – breaks in upon this world unexpectedly while we are busy looking in all the wrong places. It is fulfilled while we are absorbed with the minute and distracting details of our lives, as God’s presence breaks in among us and God’s love becomes real within us.
Anyone who has ever gardened knows that it is often the surprise crop that does the best – the one you thought would never make it. The one whose seeds were too small, or too few, or too limited in potential. They are often the ones which bring the biggest bumper crops – if we do not give up on them first.
When Mother Teresa first contemplated a mission to India, she told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream to build an orphanage.” Whereupon they scoffed and replied, “You can’t do much with three pennies.” That hardly dissuaded Mother Teresa, who reminded them, “Yes, but with God and three pennies, I can do anything!”
Sometimes all it takes is a tiny start – three pennies, a mustard seed – and a commitment to God’s love. Again, in Taylor’s words:
“Whether it begins as a seed hidden in the ground or a treasure hidden in a field, the Kingdom comes when it is no longer hidden but revealed, when the tree is full grown, when the treasure chest is opened, when what was lost is found and what was secret is known and what was hidden away is brought forth for everyone to see.”
So where do we start? How do we take the tiniest of seeds, or the smallest speck of faith and cultivate it into something strong and mighty and real? I think we have to start right where we are.
We have to start right in the midst of our own grumpiness, or our joy. We have to start right in the most mundane moments of daily life, or in the highest holiest of celebrations. We have to start right in the complexities of our most intimate relationships or in the vagaries of our most distant isolations. We have to start right where we are, right now.
Because Jesus seems to be suggesting that God has pulled out the oldest trick in the book. The Kingdom of heaven is not hidden away in some extraordinary place; it is hidden in plain view, found in the very ordinary circumstances of our very ordinary everyday lives. Indeed, God’s Holy Spirit comes to us disguised as the experiences of each of our lives.
Someone else put it this way:
“There are always forces and factors more powerful than the precise dreams of any reformers. And the human capacity for sin is boundless. Pride and vanity and triviality are giants never really brought low…but the human spirit, molded by the plan of God, is greater than that. What is asked of us is obedience to the moment, every new moment. God will take care of the centuries.”
We might as well admit it. We do not own the garden, we only till it for awhile. It is God’s garden, wherever the seeds of the Kingdom sprout and grow. And we do not need to control God’s growth. We do not even need to completely fathom God’s grace.
Which is good news for mustard seeds. And even better news for churches. And great news for the Christ in each of us right now. All that is being asked of us is obedience to this moment. And trust that God will take care of the centuries. Thanks be to God! Amen.