Sunday, July 15, 2018

Reflection on Ephesians 1:3-14

How would the world be different if everyone knew that God’s “plan for the fullness of time,” was “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”?

How would you, as one who has already set your “hope on Christ…live for the praise of his glory” knowing full well that it is Christ’s plan to stretch his arms wide and gather together all creation?

In other words, how would you, one of God’s faithful servants, live your life differently if you remembered daily that God’s plan is to gather together all creation?

When asked a question along these lines, one young woman responded with a giggle, “I guess that I would have to forgive my sister for being a jerk.” She was giggling because her sister was standing right next to her. For the record, her sister was also giggling.

For these sisters, answering the question was somewhat of a joke, but here is the thing about jokes: they reveal truths that we keep hidden just under the surface. One of these truths is that resentment is real and it keeps people at arm’s length.

I know of numerous siblings that have not spoken to one another in years because of one family incident that happened one time at the family reunion…well, you can tell the story because you probably have an example of it within your own family.

Maybe, we have never fully realized that our unwillingness to forgive is also our unwillingness to acknowledge God’s desire through Christ to gather us all up.

Maybe, we are like the ice cream man who doles out scoops of Chocolaty Fudge Delight without the delight…without a smile. The man has forgotten that ice cream is not a basic nourishment that simply needs to be doled out in the way that stereotypical, Hollywood lunch ladies slap food on student's plates, but rather is happiness in a cone that makes lasting memories.
When we forgive it is like we are offering that ice cream with a sweet smile, and in doing so, we go a long way in sharing that vision of happiness and togetherness that God holds dear.

After-all, God’s desire from the beginning of time is the same desire that led my grandmother to invite all of the divorced, former spouses of the family to the family Christmas dinner, without warning anyone beforehand. She wanted to make certain that no one was forgotten. Believe you me, no one was forgotten that day.

That was a Christmas dinner none of us will ever forget. But, in the same way, neither will we forget the end of time when Christ gathers everyone and everything together. It will be a banquet of the once divided, but again united. Hopefully, the faithful will not be surprised as they glance around the table and see who is sitting there since the lid on the mysteries of God’s heart have long ago been cracked open by Christ and we have long been able to peek in and see God’s very heart. Hopefully, we would have long been about the business of gathering all together.

How would you, one of God’s faithful servants, live your life differently if you remembered daily that God’s plan is to gather together all creation?

One thing that has stopped me every single time that I have studied this verse is reading that Christ’s intention is “to gather up ALL THINGS in him.” Now, I know that the verse is intended to be welcoming to the outsider, to the gentiles, so that they may also feel adopted as one of God’s own people. But, authors can choose to write whatever they want. They can choose any word that they desire. This author chose a word that not only includes all people, but also includes all “things.”

Again, I ask: “How would you, one of God’s faithful servants, live your life differently if you remembered daily that God’s plan is to gather together all creation?” How would you live your life differently if you realized that God truly, truly cares about everyTHING in creation; not just people?

In my college religion class days, I read an author, Sally McFague, who tried to shift our eyes to see our natural world in a different way. Rather than seeing a tree as an object that we can just use, she encouraged us to try viewing it as a subject? You see objects are things that we can manipulate and do with however we please. A subject, on the other hand, is a someone or something with real life and real presence. You cannot simply dispose of living subjects without any thought or concern.

Here is a way to try to help you understand. In warfare, it is easier to shoot a faceless, evil enemy. If, for instance, you give your enemy a demeaning nickname, it is easier to pick them off one by one. If you make your enemy an object, then it is easier to do with them whatever is necessary.

But, if your enemy stumbles in front of you and the photograph of their 2 year old daughter falls out on top of the mud and rests right next to the female soldier’s trembling face, then, all of the sudden, your enemy becomes a person…a subject…and it is no longer easy to do with them whatever you please.

Sally McFague suggests that every living thing that God has made (plants, animals, and all) are living subjects, and are not dead objects. She points out that God desires to gather it "all things" together in one redeeming act for all creation. As I already pointed out, the Bible could read that it was God’s “plan for the fullness of time,” was “to gather up all people in him.” But, the Bible does not say that. The Bible reads: “to gather all things in him.” That is no mistake.

How would you, one of God’s faithful servants, live your life differently if you remembered daily that God’s plan is to gather together even those fellow creatures and plants outside of our walls in nature?

Does it make a difference to know that God cares deeply about those subjects of creation also?

Does is make a difference that God plans to redeem and restore them to fullness of life in addition to us?

One thing is certain, you are an adopted child of God. You were chosen for this adoption through Jesus Christ, simply because God desired to hold you forever. That is the same comforting good news that a parent provides a child when they gather the child into their lap and promises to never, ever let them go.

You were chosen to be a part of a holy family “in Christ before the foundation of the world,” a family that was created “to be holy and blameless before him in love.” In other words, you have been adopted into love.

You are a part of a family of love that forgives and you have been forgiven.

You are a part of a family of love that does not forget the suffering or the stranger, because love also sees them as a family member.

You are part of a family of love that sees all in creation for what it is: beautiful beings created by God so that they may enjoy God's gift of life.

How would the world be different if everyone knew that God’s “plan for the fullness of time,” was “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”?

How would you, as one who has already set your “hope on Christ…live for the praise of his glory” knowing full well that it is Christ’s plan to stretch his arms wide and gather together all creation?

In other words, how would you, one of God’s faithful servants, live your life differently if you remembered daily that God’s plan is to gather together all creation?

Monday, July 9, 2018

Reflection on Mark 6:1-13

Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is yours
Take up your spade and break ground
-Sara Watkins

Welcome to this new day O people of God! It is a new day of possibility.

The story of the day has not been written, and here is the awesome thing about the day: God has given you the opportunity to help write the story of this day. There is love to be shared this day, and you get to be the one to decide how it is shared. You get to walk where you feel compelled. You get to shape the lives of those whom you choose with God’s unconditional love. You get the chance to pick up your spade and break ground.

And, here is the thing that is even cooler, you have been equipped with all that you need to do the important task of planting the love of Christ today. All you need is…well…you. Really that is all you need. Jesus allows you to take a walking stick if you like for the journey, but other than that, you have all you need to make a difference in your world today. That statement is true for both the richest of us and the poorest of us.

Do not be caught in the trap of so many divorced parents where they worry about what their Ex and their Ex's family is able to provide materialistically. I am talking about all the stuff and the junk. Do not worry if others can provide more materialistically. After-all, no grown child reflects back on their lives and says, “I’m so happy that my parents left me and neglected me and gave me all that cool stuff to play with!” Those words have never come out of anyone’s mouth in the history of the world…ever.

You are enough. You have enough. Your presence is enough. Your love is enough.  Not only are other people a gift of God for you, but you also are a gift of God for others.

God’s unconditional love can come from the hearts of people who live in the mansions of Beverly Hills just as equally as from the hearts of people who live in a 12 foot by 12 foot house in the slums of Mumbai, India.

I guess, what I am saying is that: you are enough! You have nothing deterring you from your task of sharing God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and desire to seek justice for those who have been forgotten. Nothing can stop you from making this a great day.

Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget not where you’ve been
Shake off your shoes,
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground
- Sara Watkins

“Shake off your shoes” probably ranks up in the top ten of my favorite teachings from Jesus. Maybe it is even right there at number two behind “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' and "Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Shake off the dust that is on your feet” is how our bible puts it. And, it refers to all those times that you come to someone’s aid or come to share some your love and they reject you. This rejection happened to Jesus also. There was the time when Jesus came to spread God’s love in his own hometown, and the people regarded him merely as "the carpenter" and “Mary’s son” and refused to see his holy goodness as either holy or good.

Did any of this rejection from those who he grew up with; from those who helped raise him; from those who you would expect to give him the greatest support but were instead his greatest critics; did any of that rejection stop him from starting out a new day fresh with God’s love?

No.

Yesterday is yesterday. If those people had a problem with receiving God’s love and healing, that is their issue. That was not Jesus’ issue.

Shake off your shoes. Do not let any of that negativity cling onto you and hitch a ride for the following days. Leave the dust of their rejection behind, forgive them of their shortcomings, and move on.

It is a new day after-all. There are other towns. There are other villages. There are other people who need the love and healing. There are other pages to be written in this story of God's. There are other fields that need to be tilled. Shake off your shoes and move on.

We are a people of forgiveness after-all. And, that forgiveness not only has the potential to transform those who have rejected or afflicted us in any way, it also gives us the freedom to just move on in life and till new fields without letting the past drag us down. Shake off your shoes.

Give thanks, for all that you’ve been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
- Sarah Watkins

Give thanks because God has given you a new day! Give thanks because God has given you an eternal love! Give thanks because God has given you a purpose in life and you do not need to wander aimlessly. Give thanks because every moment, every breath, every act of love, every demon cast out, every recovery from darkness, every moment of forgiveness, and every good thing is a precious gift from God.

We give thanks because all of these things are the gifts from God that write the story of our day. These acts of holy love are the gifts from God that will fill the air with good stories shared long after you are gone. These are the things that matter. Give thanks for it all. God is good. The day we have been given is good. And, Christ is with us! What more could you ask for?

Christ is here, step out into your fields
Christ is here, you will not work alone
Christ is here, hold hope out for the harvest
Take up you spade and break ground
- Jira Albers

Yes, this is a new day in God’s world. Let’s go ahead and enjoy the lyrics of that great bluegrass song from Sara Watkins that envisions the possibilities for our days through the lens of gardening with a little gospel of Jesus Christ to guide the imagery.

By the way, that last verse was added by myself. I felt the need to “churchify” the song at one point in my life. It is not up to the standards of the original, but I shared it anyway because it preaches too. Enjoy the new day! It is God's new day!

Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is yours
Take up your spade and break ground

Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget not where you’ve been
Shake off your shoes,
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground

Give thanks, for all that you’ve been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground

[Christ is here, step out into your fields
Christ is here, you will not work alone
Christ is here, hold hope out for the harvest
Take up you spade and break ground]

"Take Up Your Spade" by Sara Watkins from the album: "Sun Midnight Sun"

Verse 4 by Jira Albers


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Refection on Mark 5:21-43

Say it with me, “There is more than enough.”

There is more than enough love. There is more than enough concern. There is more than enough healing. There is more than enough time. In Jesus Christ there is more than enough. Say it again, “There is more than enough.”

I want that phrase to be embedded in your mind as you move on through the day because it is easy to be convinced that scarcity rules the world.

You feel the fear of scarcity as you read this gospel story. It is right there, hovering under the surface of these two female’s stories. Their stories do not start with fear though. These two intertwined stories start out quite normal, with faith, revealing a synagogue leader who faithfully asks Jesus to come and quickly heal his daughter who is at the point of death. Jesus agrees and follows the synagogue leader to his home. But, along the way the fear of scarcity starts to set in.

You see, there was this old woman who had been pushed to the edge of her society, and most likely literally pushed to the edge of town, because she had been suffering from a continuous, menstrual type of bleeding for years and years. Doctors had not helped her. They had actually made matters worse by draining her both physically and financially. She was ruined and suffering.

This old woman sees Jesus coming and takes her chance. She mixes in with the crowd that boxes Jesus in as he tries, unsuccessfully, to move quickly to the ailing little girl. Getting close, she reaches out with the tips of her fingers and touches the edge of his cloak. And, it is in the next words of the story where we see the fear of scarcity setting in: “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’"

Yes, you read that correctly, "the power had gone forth from him." It was like her neediness sucked the power right out. And, his ominous question has us wondering if the little girl’s healing had been stolen for the benefit of this much older woman?

Scarcity. It is the notion that there is a limited supply of something, and the fear that you or your loved one might not get any. It is having only 12 peanut butter cookies in a room of 30. Worse yet, it is having 12 cups of coffee to go with those cookies for a room of 30. It is having a small reservoir of water for a vast plain of fields. It is having two jobs available and 15 applicants. It is having one kidney and 5 patients waiting for the transplant.

And, in this story, it is having the power of healing intended for a young girl of a high member of society (a synagogue leader) with limited time to do the healing, and both appear to be stolen by an old woman who invades Jesus’ personal space, leaches away the healing, and causes Jesus to stop his life saving mission. “Who touched my clothes?” Jesus demands to know.

At this very moment, when the fear of scarcity has climbed very near its climax in the story, the disciples provide a little bit of comic relief. That is always a good thing when there is a lot of tension in the air. “What do you mean, ‘Who touched my clothes, Jesus.’ You are in this crowd, being knocked back and forth like a pinball in a machine and you want to know who touched you?” I can imagine the disciples spitting out today.

The comic relief clears a space and reveals an old woman on her knees, apologizing profusely, telling her story…the whole story…ashamed at her theft of power, all so that she might be healed.

Here is where my heart breaks. It breaks because this woman has been stripped of everything good in life and is still caused to feel selfish for desiring the most basic of needs.

I think of the story of Jean Val Jean in Les Miserables who is sent to jail for years because he stole some bread to save his sister’s son from starvation.

I think of the guy who was fired from his well paying job and lost his medical insurance because he had to leave the job site suddenly to care for his daughter in the ER; the first sign of a deadly and expensive cancer.

I think of the woman who lost her home and business in a flood and found herself, jobless and homeless just days later (two states away from her flooded home) on the side of the street next to her little girl with hands out; people spitting on her and telling her to just "Go get a job."

I think of a mother and child who have courageously left the only home they have ever known, escaping rape and violence in Ecuador, only to be detained and ripped from each other at the border of the US.

I think about all of these people who have been brought to the lowest of low, and are still kicked while on the ground.

I wonder if the old woman feared being kicked while she pleaded on the ground? I wonder if she feared the retribution that comes when you have nothing and reach out in desperation for healing?

Jesus looks down at the old woman, who stole the power and stole the limited time and says, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." Jesus says these amazing words of healing and wholeness because Jesus knows a truth that we often forget: “There is more than enough.”

The truth is that in Jesus there is more than enough love. There is more than enough concern. There is more than enough healing. And, we will see very soon that there is more than enough time.

The climax of the fear of scarcity comes right after Jesus' kind words to the old woman when, suddenly, some people come from the synagogue leader’s home to report that too much time has been wasted. The little girl is dead. There is no need to bother Jesus any longer. If only Jesus had not been stopped and had not wasted so much time listening to that old woman’s story!

But, Jesus knows the truth. Jesus, the Word of God, who breathed life into a dark nothing and gave rise to the entire universe, responds confidently, "Do not fear, only believe." Because, guess what? “There is more than enough.”

There is more than enough time. Jesus reaches out to the seemingly lifeless little girl and says, “Little girl, get up,” and she does. In Jesus we discover that we need not fear, there is more than enough.

We can be concerned and show love for both old women and little girls because in Jesus there is more than enough.

We can care about separated families in our communities and at our borders because in Jesus there is more than enough.

We can care about homeless, starving veterans and homeless, starving children of God in war-torn African nations because in Jesus there is more than enough.

We can love our own families and love our neighbors because in Jesus there is more than enough.

We can love ourselves, care about our own dignity, and we can love our enemies, caring about their dignity also because in Jesus there is more than enough.

Have faith people of God. There is more than enough love. There is more than enough concern. There is more than enough healing. There is more than enough time.

In Jesus Christ there is more than enough to heal all that is broken. Through the cross of Christ which saves the entire world, there is more than enough.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Reflection on Mark 4:35-41

Where do you find peace in the storm?

Peace eludes the disciples as they battle the waves and waters that are threatening to swamp the boat. Struggling against lines that are being pulled to the point of breaking in the storm’s wind, bailing water a bucket at a time when the sea easily dumps 40 buckets in the boat at any given moment, and struggling to find a direction to point the boat in a confused, chaotic sea all lead the disciples to look at Jesus, who is sleeping through it all, and ask, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Those words, or ones like them, have passed through the lips of millions of followers of Jesus. “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

They came from the lips of those early Christians who were thrown into the middle of Roman arenas with hungry lions. As the lions approached, death lurking and waiting to pounce at any moment, the question escapes from under the breath, “Jesus, don’t you care?”

They come from the lips of the one who sits at the edge of the hospital bed, holding helplessly onto the shoulder of one who clutches the pink bucket, waiting for the next upheaval to arise. Wishing that there was something that they could do, anything, to take away the pain and discomfort, they mutter as people pass by the hospital door talking and laughing, “God, don’t you care about this suffering?”

They come welling up inside the mother who has who has fled under the cover of darkness from the gunfire and rapers of female bodies on the streets while clutching her toddler close. And, the phrase returns as that toddler is ripped from her arms as she seeks asylum. “Jesus, ten piedad!” “Jesus, have mercy” she cries out helplessly.

Some storms we can handle. Some storms cause the sea waves to rise in predictable ways. Though the waves may be 30 feet tall, if the waves are all coming from the same direction, we know to turn the boat directly into the waves. If you courageously face the waves head on, you know that you can cut right through them and will make it safely through the storm.

The storms of life are no different. Though stressful, most of us can handle one crisis at a time without a problem. Do you have a disagreement with someone? Just face the problem head on, deal with the person directly, and you will likely make it to the other side of the problem just fine.

The problems come when the waters become dangerously turbulent in what seafarers call “confused seas.” Confused seas are exactly what they sound like. They do not have waves coming from any single direction pushed by any single storm. Rather, a multiplicity of storms have caused the waves to be pushed from multiple directions, and there is nowhere to turn the boat so that it might be safe. Waves, crashing from both the front and the sides causes the boat to rock uncontrollably and be overwhelmed by the spray. The waters start to flood the boat and the wind starts to tear at the lines.

In such a storm, where no one knows which direction is the right one or the safe one, the disciples call out to the sleeping Jesus in the back, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing!”

And, when the pressures and dangers of life attack from every angle, and life degrades to worse than overwhelming…when you lose much, much more than you can possibly gain...you have no choice but to cry out, “Jesus, don’t you care? Do something! I thought that you saved. Then do some saving! Why am I forgotten in all this?”

“Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing!” Those are probably some of the more honest words ever spoken in scripture. They come out of a desperate, broken hope that cannot see the end to the storm. They express the very moment when faith has died.

And, those words are right here, preserved for all time in the Bible! What I find most fascinating about it all, is that these words of dead faith are right here, preserved for all of us to read and see. Even the disciples had (How does Jesus put it?) “No faith!” Written right there in black and white, not hidden from the sight of anyone, we read that the disciples had “no faith” because life had become insurmountable.

I actually find comfort in the fact that even Jesus’ closest friends at times had “no faith.”

Christians in the West put so much emphasis on having enough faith, that when we are not able to somehow conjure it out of nowhere, we feel like spiritual failures. As if faith were a commodity that you can just go to the grocery store and buy more, sitting right next to the Doritos. And, who doesn't need Doritos in desperate times? But, you cannot find faith sitting there for sale. You cannot just go get some more.

Nor can you simply wish for more faith. You cannot just get up in the morning and decide, “You know what, today I’m going to trust in the power of Jesus!” Because, quite frankly, sometimes when you look around for Jesus you find that he is asleep in the back of the boat. “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” the disciples chide.

So, I’ll ask the question again, “Where do you find peace in the storm?” The funny thing is that the answer has something to do with that nap that Jesus is taking in the back of the boat.

When we are in the throes of the horrific, we look to the back of the boat and see Jesus sleeping and assume that Jesus is not paying attention, or that Jesus does not care. But, that is an assumption, based on our perception of events. But, we can look at the sleeping Jesus in a completely different way…in the way that Christians from Asia tend to see Jesus.

When I went to India, I visited a beautiful little Christian temple. It was similar to Hindu temples where people could just stop by and pray whenever they got off of work or walked home from school. In the center of the temple was a statue of sorts that represented Jesus (in the style of a Hindu temple); but, when you looked at the representation, rather than seeing a cross or a man dressed in robes with arms outstretched as you would elsewhere around the world, you see a lotus flower.

A lotus flower is like a beautiful lily that grows on the water. I asked the pastor, “Why is there a lotus flower rather than a cross.” And, he responded, “Because Jesus is our lotus flower. No matter the storms that send the waters into chaos, the lotus flower always remains peaceful and beautiful, floating above the chaos. That is Jesus. He is peaceful in the storm because he knows that the storm does not win. He is peaceful in the storm because he has power over the storm. All he needs to is say three words, “Peace, be still” and it is.

This story of the storm is trying to tell us something quite profound. When in the throes of chaos, we tend to look back at the sleeping Jesus and assume that he does not care. But, the story is actually telling us to take a second look. Maybe, we should stop and ask, “Why is he so peaceful.” "What is it that he knows that I do not know?" If we stopped and considered the peaceful Jesus, we would see him rise up, stretch out his arms and whisper into the screaming wind, “Peace be still,” and we would see the storm waters fall to a silent rest.

Where do you find peace in the storm? Do not waste time berating yourself for not having enough faith, or for the inability try to conjure up some non-existent courage. After-all, only God can get water from a stone.

Rather, simply look toward the back of the boat and see Jesus. See him, peaceful, as the boat thrashes about on the sea. Consider why he is so peaceful. Consider that he knows something that you do not.

In him you can see that a peace that rises above the stormy sea is our true reality. Peace is the true reality. Where do you find peace in the storm? Take a deep breath, look to Jesus, and see the power of peace. Jesus is our peace.

In that hospital room where the family member held the shoulder of the loved one, helplessness spread across his face, it was fascinating to look at the face of the man who was violently ill. Of course, you could see the strain that comes with all the gut wrenching, but beyond that, there was a peace about the man.

He was asked about that peace a day later. “Why were you so peaceful while everyone else panicked?”

He pointed to the white board on the wall facing his bed. At first you could not see what he was pointing at because it was so small, but sure enough it was there. Stuck into the corner molding of the white board was a postage stamp sized picture of a cross. Pointing to the picture he said, “When I feel that I am losing control, I just look to the one who brings peace.”

In other words, he simply looks to the back of the boat and realizes that peace is resting close by. Peace is not far away. Peace is there. Jesus is there. "Peace, be still."

Monday, June 18, 2018

Reflection on Mark 4:26-34

There is an inherent danger in sharing personal stories when preaching. The danger is that the story will make the conversation about me, rather than about God.

But, this story does not do that, because it is not about me really, it is about how God’s kingdom comes about. It is about how all God’s kingdom comes about in all of us. The story is a call story; my call into the ordained ministry.

When I first started college, I was a theatre major. As I envisioned the direction of my life, I assumed that it would be somewhere on the stage. I assumed that I was going to be in the spotlight; an actor. I took the lead role in my very first college play, and I savored every minute, every sentence uttered, and every movement cast about on the stage.

But from the wings, the voice leading me toward the designing and building of sets was calling my name, and that is where I increasingly started to devote my passion. That was where my life was going to lead: scenic design.

Then, along came the required religion course. Most students thought the required religion course to be something you just survived in order to move on in life, but I was captivated by looking at religious thoughts in new ways.

I was blown away when I was told that St. Augustine did not view sin as things that we do wrong, but rather as a state of being where we are turned away from God, which causes our lives to spiral out of control. I had never thought of sin that way before.

I was captivated by the open question, “If Jesus was the Son of God, the perfect one, why did he need to be baptized? What sin needed to be washed away?” I did not know the answer, if there is one, but I took on the challenge and took a stab at it in a paper that was passed around the religion department.

Even with that, up to that point, religion was just a passing passion. Its study was a hobby of mine, a hobby that I could take to Broadway with me and fiddle around with on my free time as I designed scenery for live theatre.

The real turning point in my life came in the form of two sentences. After receiving an “A” on one of my religion papers, one of my religion professors stopped me in the hall as I passed his office and he said, “Your paper was really good and thoughtful. You should consider doing this for a living.”

That was it. Two sentences.

It was as if he took a handful of seed and threw it into the hallway, hoping that at least one seed might take root. He had no idea if any of it would grow or not. He did not have the time to sit and cultivate the seed as I moved on in life and went on to take new courses, and then move on to new places.

That is not how seeds work anyway. You just scatter them and a seed will “sprout and grow, [you] do not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” It was only two sentences, but I would not be in this ministry without them.

The kingdom of heaven is built on so tiny of a foundation. It is as if a stone mason works days and days to cut a single slab of granite. He does not know where it is going to fit in the cathedral, but without that slab the cathedral cannot stand.

Just think about that. Just think about how big God can make all of this little stuff.

In the church, we call this “the discipleship of encouragement,” because church people like to have a least four word long phrases. You have not made it in life until you have produced for yourself a standard four word long phrase.

“The discipleship of encouragement” is simply scattering seeds. Encouragement is looking at a person, seeing the love and passion that God has put in them, and...well... encouraging them to keep living out those passions.

It is acknowledging the passions of deep religious thought in a young adult.

It is acknowledging the care for the forgotten one by a child on the playground who always plays with the new kid.

It is acknowledging the hard work and long hours that someone puts into helping a struggling neighbor build their house.

It is throwing out those little seeds of God’s “Yeses” to all the goodness we see happening every day. It is say: “Yes, that thought is a good one.” “Yes, that love is pure, don’t lose that.” “Yes, that hard work, sweat, and love is worth it in the end.” It is scattering little seeds of encouragement everywhere and just stepping back and letting the kingdom to come and God’s will be done.

Going back to that stone mason who cuts the granite, biblical scholar NT Wright points out that we do not build the kingdom of God. That man who cuts that single stone has no idea what the completed project is going to look like, or even if it is going to be completed in the first place!

He does not build the kingdom. But, he does build for the kingdom of God.

He is not in charge of building Jesus’ entire world of love and grace for all. Jesus is going to do that. The Holy Spirit is going to tool that project. But, he does cut one stone toward that end.

We do not build the kingdom of God. It is built as God sees fit. But, we do build for God's kingdom.

These small words and small actions can be powerful instruments that God uses for the kingdom.

And, it is the power of the small and seemingly insignificant acts of goodness that make them even more important, because equally small amounts of fear and hatred can have just as powerful of an effect.

The singular phrase, “We don’t need your kind here” shouted out the window of a passing pickup truck was enough to make a brown skinned friend of mine decide that it was time to pack up his family and leave. An entire family’s life was uprooted, friends at school disrupted, family stability knocked off kilter, and friendships put at a distance all because of one sentence. Seeds of evil can be thrown out just as easily, and they too sprout and grow of their own accord.

But, one minor detail that I would like to point out in the parable of the mustard seed is that the mustard seed produces a huge weed. Almost no one intends to plant a mustard bush (except mustard farmers I guess). But, God is able to take even those mustard bushes and create a home for the birds.

The seeds of evil will be overcome by Jesus. All evil dies on the cross with him and only love is given a chance to sprout up to new life.

But, that truth, that hope in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ who can take the worst of things and transform them into something new and beautiful should in no way give us a warrant to spread seeds of fear and discord. We do not need to make Jesus’ work any harder! No.

We are the people who hope for the kingdom of God. We are the people who search out the goodness. We are the people who plant seeds of encouragement and love.

We are not the people who create the great, huge garden called the kingdom of God, but we do plant for that kingdom of God. I cannot plant a garden whose vastness extends beyond the horizon, but I can plant a single watermelon seed. Or, maybe even several, because lots of delicious watermelon eaten in the summer on the porch is truly a gift.

I can scatter seed for the kingdom of God. And, maybe, at some point, one of those will take root, and God will cause it to grow, and with that seed of encouragement God will produce the harvest of Jesus’ love for the world.