New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
June 17, 2018
|Holy Family by Kelly Latimore|
It’s been quite a spring for gardens and lawns. All that rain and cool weather, and now sun and warmth. I don’t know about you but at our house June is busting out all over. Everything is green and lush, including the weeds. I’ve heard weeds described as wildflowers with poor public relations. But a weed can be something, anything growing where you don’t want it to grow. We’ve got a bumper crop of tender young maple trees springing up hither and yon. Because of the local mushroom farms right up the road and strong winds, spores have taken root and sprouted in the lawn and in the spaces between the wooden walls surrounding raised beds. A couple of weeping cherry trees were overtaking some smaller growth. We’ve got blackberry bushes growing in with the strawberry plants. “Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”Truth be told, I find it overwhelming, and yet thank goodness David is the farmer and gardener because he takes it all in stride. After all, we cannot control where every seed gets planted. We cannot nor should we tame, try to control all the wildness, how Nature is constantly scattering her energy to and fro. Blackberry bushes mean there will be blackberries to be harvested at some point. Trees can be moved when they get too big for their space, and more trees are a good thing. And one of the so-called weeds growing in the front garden has a beautiful bright pink-purple flower, perhaps some wild phlox.
Jesus described the kingdom of God, the Beloved Community, the kin-dom of God like a mustard plant, like a weed that is allowed to grow until it becomes big enough for birds to nest in. Such hyperbole! Jesus’s listeners were probably horrified to hear that what would save them was something they would trample underfoot. But then they knew what that felt like from the Romans. Jesus uses the mustard plant as a contrast to the cedar tree, which was prized for its strength, as it was the backbone of many an empire’s economy. King Solomon built the First Temple from cedar.
But instead of an empire built on an economy of might and control, bigger and better, Jesus describes God’s kingdom as seeds that are scattered and grow untamed, unfettered, unbounded. Jesus imagines God’s dwelling place, the saving grace of God’s people, the justice that will restore righteousness, right living, as a scrappy shrubbery that most of us would yank out of our gardens and put in our yard waste containers.
In fact, if he had read a few more verses into chapter 13 he would’ve found these words: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
If you really want to get into it, Isaiah puts it this way:
“Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
or fall among the slain.” (Isaiah 10: 1-4a, NIV)
Or from the book of Exodus:
“You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it’s like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9) and “The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you” (Exodus 12:49)
Or the oft-abused Leviticus:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
I could prooftext ad nauseum like everybody else. But the Bible was never intended to be used, as it is today, as a bludgeon to silence an argument or to correct other people’s behavior or to control them or to establish one particular theology over all others. It was intended to scatter, to plant, to nurture the seeds of hope and compassion, seeds of grace and justice, seeds of unconditional, undeserved, and unlimited love.
|RefuJesus, David Hayward|
For each of us, every single one of us—especially the least of us—and all of us together, we are intended to be God’s dwelling place, the saving grace for all people—you are mine, I am yours, we are ours—the justice that will restore right living.
What’s in your garden? Amen.
"So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up." (NRSV Galatians 6:9)
Let us not grow weary in scattering seeds of hope and compassion.
Let us not grow weary of being that scrappy, persistent shrubbery of the Beloved Community of God.
Let us not grow weary of being Church but rather unleash it upon a weary world that aches for justice and yearns for peace.