Proper 6 (11), Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
13 June 2021
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
One of the teachers in our child care is Muslim. One day last week, as she was leaving for the day, I spoke with her to express my sorrow about the attack in London, On and to thank her for working for us.
We talked about the world and the things that worry us, and she said, “We really do need a Saviour, don’t we?”
When I was relatively new in Richmond I visited with the imam at the Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre on Number 5 Road. I went there one day, and the imam came here on another day. I sent him an e-mail last week expressing the sorrow we feel and to affirm our friendship.
He wrote back with these words: “Our faith teaches us to be strong and resilient in such moments. We take strength in knowing that life and death, health and sickness, peace and safety are all decreed by Allah.” Muslims believe that all things are preordained.
“We are, however, more concerned about the society in which we live. Such external violence is a symptom of an internal chaos and disharmony within the souls of people. As people of faith, we know that these sentiments cannot be removed only by enacting laws or raising awareness about the condition of a community. These sentiments only find harmony through turning towards God, and recognizing that each of us is a creation of one God. I pray that such tragedy brings about moments of profound reflection for the souls that live in our society.”
These are wise words.
Years ago when volunteers of Peace Lutheran Church in Abbotsford were serving cheerios and coffee to homeless folk in Jubilee Park, I had a conversation with a police officer who said that many believe that addictions issues are prevalent only in Downtown Abbotsford, Whalley, or in the Downtown Eastside, but that it is a problem that is very much present in ordinary neighbourhoods.
Compulsive and addictive behaviour we know to be a way in which people treat their own anxiety.
This comes to mind as I think about the words of the imam from Az-Zahraa on Number 5 Road who wrote of internal chaos and disharmony within the souls of people.
In our reading from Mark’s Gospel we hear Jesus tell parables. The parables are agricultural parables. They tell of a sower who sows seed in hopes of a harvest. The seed germinates, the plant grows, and it produces grain. Agriculture is not all success stories and I know that farmers on the prairies have been concerned about precipitation, something that is more challenging as our planet warms.
However, the sower is blessed with a harvest. The first parable in chapter four is not part of our reading. It is the parable about seed falling on the path, on rocks, among the weeds, and on good soil.
Our reading picks up on the 30, 60, and a 100 fold yield from the seeds that had fallen on good soil, except that it does not explain how such yields come about, only that the farmer rose night and day and saw the plant grow but did not understand how. That the farmer did not understand how means that it happened without the farmer’s doing. It came as a gift.
And we may think of the miracle of the DNA that is encapsulated in a seed.
Today’s Gospel begins with the second parable, the parable of the mustard seed. Mustard has a pretty yellow flower and grows perhaps up to four feet tall. The variety Jesus’ listeners knew was considered a weed that would spread where you wanted to plant productive crops and where you did not wish it to go.
And yet Jesus speaks of it as if were a cedar of Lebanon, he speaks of the mustard seed growing and putting forth branches so that the birds will build nests in its shade. Only one phrase gives away the irony with which Jesus speaks, “when it grows it becomes the greatest of all shrubs.” It will not be a cedar of the Lebanon, it will only be a shrub.
In the reading from Ezekiel we encountered the cedar of Lebanon. It is a story of a transplanted cedar, the cedar itself a towering, mighty tree, a glorious image for God’s people.
This cedar was transplanted to Babylon, into exile as punishment for the unfaithfulness of dreaming of its own glory instead of the glory of their God. Israel had broken covenant with God and with Babylon by forging an ill-fated alliance with Egypt and ended up destroyed and in exile. Ezekiel in the last verses of chapter 17 promises Israel’s restoration: The cedar shall be transplanted back to the promised land and God’s people shall be restored.
And while Jesus knows the promise from Ezekiel, he proclaims a different vision. Jesus speaks not of a mighty cedar but of a shrub, a weed that spreads quickly, and that no one would plant intentionally.
Could it be that Jesus suggests that we don’t need a mighty cedar and don’t need mighty cathedrals, or structures of power, or esteem, or whatever it is that we would identify with power? Could it be that Jesus suggests that we don’t need that power, nor the symbols that represent it, because it is not about us being in control but about God being in control.
If a shrub is the sign of God’s kingdom, then it suggests a completely different symbolism: Not big but small, not mighty but weak, not centralized (in Jerusalem) but spreading everywhere like a weed.
That is what happened after Jesus’ death and crucifixion. The disciples were scattered, but they were profoundly changed so that the faith in Jesus spread like a weed through the entire ancient world. They did not hide the light that was in them but testified to the light that had come in Jesus.
The gardeners among us may not want to be compared to a weed, and I can understand that. But a weed is something subversive, that moves against the powers and against the stream, and the more there is of it, the more your landscape will change.
The followers of Jesus may have some chaos and disharmony in their souls, too. After all, life is not only beautiful but at times difficult and challenging.
But those who by their baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection have been grafted onto the vine, want to walk as a child of the light, for they know that in Him, there is no darkness at all, and that the Lamb of God is the light of the world.
Imam Murtaza is correct when he says that enacting laws or raising awareness is not enough to combat hate, though they are good and necessary.
However, what is needed is the light of Christ to dispel the darkness of chaos and disharmony and to free people to live in the light.
We are the shrubs and weeds of God. That is God’s gift.
May we bring light wherever we go. That is our calling.