Text: Mark 4:26-34
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jun. 17, 2018
I have a friend from my bible college days who sends me his weekly blog that goes out to his parishioners and many friends. Bob has a wonderful sense of humor. A recent blog started out like this: A man from Chicago went to Key West on business. His wife planned to fly down the next day to join him for a few days of vacation. When he checked in to his hotel he discovered they had several computers in the lobby for guests to make reservations, surf the web or send emails. He decided to send an email to his wife to let her know he arrived safely. She had one of those addresses like Lucy847@aol.com. Instead he wrote Lucy846@aol.com. The lady who received the email was a pastor’s wife who buried her husband the day before. When she read the email, she screamed and promptly fainted. Her daughter came running in from the kitchen to see what was wrong. She found the following message on her mother’s computer.
Subject: I’ve arrived safely.
My dear loving wife. You are probably surprised to hear from me, but I discovered they have computers here now. I see that everything has been arranged for you arrival tomorrow. I look forward to seeing you then. P.S. It sure is hot down here!
No, this is not going to be a sermon about hell. I told this story to get your attention. God has a message for you. He knows where you are. He knows your exact address. He knows what you are going through right now. He also has an important job for you to do. Whatever experiences you encounter, whatever situations you face, embrace them—they are all designed to transform you from the inside out so that you are equipped to accomplish that mission.
In our gospel today, Jesus tells us in two parables what the kingdom of God is like. Both involve seeds, and both speak directly to you and me. I’m going to reflect on them in reverse order. Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed. It was the smallest known seed of his time yet, when planted, from it came a very large bush, so large in fact that birds found shade from the heat of the sun and were able to make nests in its branches.
The point of this parable is nothing in God’s hands is too small or insignificant. Indeed, God often takes the smallest, the youngest (or the oldest), the most overlooked and inconsequential among us. In today’s Old Testament reading, Samuel goes to the house of Jesse to choose a king from among his sons. Jesse calls the boys together and Samuel looks them over. He is puzzled. Is anyone missing, he asks. Jesse responds, oh there is my youngest, David. I knew you wouldn’t want him, I left him out in the field to tend the sheep. But he was God’s choice. As a young lad we find him standing up to the giant Goliath with no armor and only a slingshot and five stones to a weapon. But in God’s hands it was enough.
David goes on to become Israel’s greatest king. And later the prophets foretold from his linage would come the promised Messiah. But who would have thought that this promised Messiah would arrive as a babe born in a stable or would grow up in a redneck town called Nazareth and get his start as itinerant carpenter. Who would have thought that he would gather an unimpressive following consisting of fisherman, laborers, widows, a tax collector and even a prostitute. If they got their start in America today, we would probably call them a bunch of losers. Yet they were the ones God used to change the world.
You never know what God will do with you until you try.
Two examples here at St. Paul’s readily come to mind. Several years ago, one of your former associate rectors, John Lindell, saw homeless people living in the woods on our property and decided to feed them. He talked with some of the women of the church. They got excited. Then other churches got involved and today we have St. Matthew’s House. This past Wednesday, Kelli Nielsen, St. Matthew’s new development officer, stopped by to see me. She left a brochure. Here is what they are doing. 1: They have shelters in Naples, and Immokalee housing more than 300 residents every night. Since they opened, they have served more than a half-million hot meals to the homeless. While in residence, the homeless must work, and perhaps acquire new skills that will enable them to transition from homeless to self-sufficiency. Justin’s Place is a center for rehabilitation for those on drugs. Of their 340 graduates, 90% have remained drug free. St. Matthews’s House owns and operates Port Labelle Inn and Conference Center in Labelle; two restaurants; two catering services; five thrift stores; a car wash and detail center and a job placement center, all providing work for past and current residents. 1,856 Naples residents volunteered last year to assist St. Matthew’s House. A grain of mustard seed developed into a large organization doing great things. And you got it started!
Last spring, Peter Lund and Ken Eastlack got talking and wondered aloud, what would happen if they cleaned up our outdoor grill and started serving free hotdogs at our Farmers’ Market. And you know what happened. People started stopping by in droves. We got to know them – and more people came to St. Paul’s from the Market in those four weeks than attended in the five years that I have been here. Who knows what will happen from this ministry as it develops in the future.
This leads me to another aspect of a mustard seed that Jesus talked about. That is its relationship to our faith. Jesus said if you have the faith of a grain of a mustard seed you can remove mountains.
I remember an incident that happened to me when I was on staff at the cathedral in the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky. My main job was to visit those who were in nursing homes or who could no longer attend church. There were eighty. I visited 40 every month. The other forty were had Alzheimer’s so I got to see them once every two months. I searched for months for one person on my list whom I could not find. I often thought of the parable of Jesus leaving the 99 sheep to look for the one that was lost.
I talked to parishioners to see if anyone knew where she was. I left word at the desk of every nursing home I visited. I inquired at all the hospitals in town. One Sunday afternoon when I was leaving one of the hospitals, the volunteer at the desk called me over. She said, Fr. Bill, that lady you keep asking about was in our hospital briefly this past week. Then she told me she was at a nursing home that I had never visited. I went immediately to see her. I found her wizened, curled up in a prenatal state, and semi-conscious. She was totally unresponsive to me. Nonetheless, I was so grateful that I had found her, I put my hand on her forehead and called her by her name. I said I have been looking for you for months and only now, almost by accident found out where she lived. I told her that God loved her and that I would come back to see her the next week.
Quite frankly, I wondered if she would be alive the following week. To my amazement I found her sitting up in a chair eating her lunch. Her eyes brightened in recognition when I walked through the door. “You came back,” she said. “Last Sunday,” she said, “I was so discouraged. No one had seen me in months. I wanted to die. I had just prayed, “God, if you want me to live give me a sign, otherwise, please take me home. Five minutes later, you walked in. I decided I was going to live! Sue regained her strength, returned home and had a productive life for the next ten years. She had always been a regular on Sunday mornings, but in those last ten years she became actively involved in several ministries in. the church Her faith started as a grain of mustard seed—but as God responded her faith grew!
Not every idea takes root, of course. In another parable, Jesus tells us, some seed falls on rocky ground, other seeds are choked out by thorns and thistles. But that is not our concern. As the first parable we read in today’s Gospel implies we are to sow the seed everywhere we go. It is God who is responsible to see what seed sprouts, and it is He who gives the increase. When we see seeds taking root in good ground, our responsibility returns. We are to tend to it, water it, nurture it. Our final responsibility is a joyful one, we are to be there to take in the harvest!
May we find ourselves ever ready to focus on those areas for which we are responsible and willing to let God do the rest. If we do, I guarantee we will not be disappointed!