SERMON OF JUNE 14, 2009
M. Bruce McKay
Pilgrim - St. Luke=s United Church of Christ
"The Mustard Seed Movement"
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17, Mark 4:26-34
We’ve had lots of evidence this week of the death dealing forces at work in our world.
Renee Greco, a 24 year old woman with dreams of becoming a social worker, was brutally murdered by two residents of the Lockport group home for troubled teens where she was working.
Kowat Rual came to Buffalo at the age of 7, fleeing the violence in Sudan with his 4 brothers and his mother. Their lives were at risk because his father was a Christian. While he survived the violence in Sudan, he didn’t survive life on Buffalo’s West Side. His body washed up on the shore of the Buffalo River last Tuesday morning, less than a month before his 16th birthday.
Just before 2:00 pm that afternoon, near the intersection of Grant St. and West Delevan, 3 young men in their 20’s were shot by someone in a passing car. One of them later died.
At about the same time, on the same day, Stephen T. Johns, a 39 year old security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC opened the door for James W. von Brunn, an 88 year old man, who then murdered him with a .22-caliber rifle. Von Brunn has a violent history as an anti-Semitic, white supremacist.
Having witnessed the pervasive presence of crime, violence, hatred and death this week we come to church and hear Jesus talk about the mysterious and mighty power of a mustard seed.
We hear Jesus talk about the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of God’s love and compassion, peace and justice – growing imperceptibly in our midst from the smallest of seeds into the greatest of shrubs.
And there’s a part of each of us that can’t help but say, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“Lord, you’ve got to be kidding!”
“You’re telling me that there is something in the mustard seed that’s taped to my bulletin that’s more powerful than any weapon and more permanent than death itself.”
“Lord, you’ve got to be kidding!”
The funny thing is he isn’t.
The really funny thing is there’s a part of each of us that knows he isn’t – there’s a part of each of us that knows that violence and death don’t have the last word. For there is a seed that is even smaller than a mustard seed planted in each of our souls that is ready to sprout and grow into a Kingdom that is bigger than the Roman Empire – bigger than the American Empire – bigger and more powerful than all the empires the world has ever known.
With what can we compare the Kingdom of God? The Greek word for Kingdom is basilea. It’s the same word used for the Roman Empire.
“With what can we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)
The mustard seed on your bulletin is like the image of God planted in your soul. Through the power of the God whose name is love and whose work is justice this seed in your soul is ready to sprout and grow into the fullness of all that God created you to be. All you have to do is get out of the way.
That’s right. Get out of the way!
Jesus makes this clear in the other parable he tells this morning:
“The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself…” (Mark 4:26-28)
The Kingdom of God grows within us and within our world without our understanding. We don’t understand how this happens anymore than a farmer understands how a seed sprouts and grows.
This movement from seed to plant, from seed to shrub, from seed to tree, from seed to fruit, from seed to vegetable, from seed to human being happens without our understanding. We don’t have to have the knowledge to make it happen. That’s God’s part in this movement.
Neither do we have to have the power to make it happen. “The earth produces of itself…!” The growth is also up to God.
As St. Paul reminds us, “So neither the one who plants or the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (I Corinthians 3:7)
In this mustard seed movement the growth is up to God. And God has done God’s part.
As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “The moral arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice!”
The future is not in the hands of the violent, death-dealing forces at work in our world, but in the hands of our life-giving, justice-seeking God whose word assures us that death is not the end:
“See, the home of God is among mortals,” the Scriptures tell us, “God (he) will dwell with them as their God, they will be God’s (his) peoples, and God (himself) will be with them; God (he) will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…” (Revelation 21:3-4)
So where does that leave us?
What is our role in this mustard seed movement of love and justice?”
Our role is to “walk by faith and not by sight,” trusting that God will do God’s part in answering us when we pray, “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is on heaven.”
Our role in this mustard seed movement is to leave God’s great work to God and to do the small things that make a big difference.
As Mother Teresa understood: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love. It is not how much you do but how much love you put into doing it.” (Quoted in The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, p. 319)
Less than a block from the corner of Grant St. and West Delevan, where 3 young men were shot last Wednesday afternoon, the Massachusetts Avenue Project, works out of a former library. Their Growing Green Project involves working with young people, growing community gardens, teaching nutrition and cooking healthy foods.
In the same building PUSH Buffalo organizes citizens on the West Side to work for improved housing and greater economic opportunity.
Even closer to us, on Rhode Island at Brayton, Urban Roots employs young people in its cooperative garden supply and nursery business that first met in the room below us and started as part of our Holy Ground work west of Richmond Ave.
In the Urban Roots building is the Five Points Bakery, owned and operated by a husband and wife living across the street with four young daughters and their Vietnamese grandmother.
Ten years ago we came home from church on Mother’s Day and all the tulips in our front yard had been picked by children living a few houses away. They’d given them to their mother as a gift.
It hasn’t been easy having a garden in our neighborhood. There were years when there were only a handful of flowers planted on our block, nearly all of them in front of our house. This year two homes on the block will be officially on the Garden Walk, two others will be on it unofficially, and nearly every house has flowers planted in front of it.
This happened because I happen to be married to a gardener who knows, as we all know, that “we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
This mustard seed movement depends on God for the great things and it depends on us for the small things, done with great love!
The mustard seed movement is revealed in last year’s movie Milk. Sean Penn won an Oscar for his role as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician in America. Milk’s beginnings are mustard seed-sized. At forty he opens a camera shop in the Castro, a gay community in San Francisco. As a small business owner he becomes aware of civil rights issues and runs for City Supervisor. He loses the race. He runs again and loses again. (Lectionary Homiletics, June 14, 2009, p. 17)
Milk keeps running and losing because of the seed God had planted in his soul that told him that “All God’s Children Got a Place in the Choir” – the seed that he knew God had planted in him and in all people – the seed that led him to do small things with great love.
Harvey Milk was finally elected as City Supervisor for San Francisco. After being in office less than a year he was assassinated at the age of 48. From his mustard–seed beginnings has grown a movement that no bullet can kill. For the movement for gay liberation and civil rights is part of God’s mustard seed movement for justice.
The same is true of the movement for Comprehensive Health Care Reform that is now being hotly debated in Washington, DC. It’s simply outrageous that 47 million Americans live each day without health insurance. Accessible, adequate and affordable health care in the richest nation on earth should be a basic human right for all and not a personal privilege for some.
The movement for Comprehensive Health Care Reform is part of God’s mustard seed movement for justice.
In the early spring we have a weed in our backyard with a little yellow flower that looks like a buttercup. Through the years it’s spread to virtually every ounce of soil in the yard that wasn’t already taken up by tree roots, grass, shrubs or flowers. It’s invaded the neighbors’ yards as well.
I learned this week that mustard shrubs, if left to themselves, grow and spread in the same way. They’re like this weed in our backyard. They’re like the weeds that grow out of the foundations of abandoned houses and up through the cracks in city sidewalks. Nothing can keep them from spreading.
And so it is with this mustard seed movement in our hearts, in our community and in our world. Nothing can keep it from spreading if we get out of the way – trusting God to do God’s part in making God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, and doing our part by doing the small things God has given us to do with great love.
There is no more horrific example of the death-dealing forces at work in the world than the Holocaust. In the movie Schindler’s List a German businessman, Oscar Schindler, saves the lives of thousands of Jews in Poland at great risk to himself and his family. At the end of the movie a sentence from the Talmud stretches across the screen. It says, “If you save one life, you save the entire world.”
James W. von Brunn was able to end the life on earth of Stephen Johns, when he welcomed him into the Holocaust Memorial Museum last Tuesday.
But he was not able to end the mustard seed movement of God’s coming Kingdom of peace and justice, any more than the killer of Harvey Milk was able to do this, or the killer of the man on Grant St. and W. Delevan, or the killer of Kowat Rual, or the killers of Renee Greco.
For this mustard seed movement is the movement of the One who offers each of us all the protection we will ever need from the forces at work that would diminish our dignity and destroy our lives.
Our part in this movement is to plant ourselves as seeds of hope by doing small things with great love, great compassion, and great courage – trusting that God will do God’s part in bringing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven! May it be so!