Sunday, August 6, 2017

"That's ONE Small Seed" - Sermon for July 30, 2017

Note: This was originally intended to be the sermon for July 30, but because of the Minerva Fire in Quincy, we did a guided meditation in-lieu of the sermon.  We hope that you will still read the intended sermon and as always, let's talk more!!  

Community UMC, Quincy
“That’s One Small Seed”
July 30, 2017
Pastor Andrew Davis
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

            I think by now, it’s probably safe to say that all of us who were involved with VBS are now fully rested and recovered, or at least I hope we are.  I was telling several of my friends and family that I forgot how much energy kids have…in fact, they have boundless energy, something I wish I had more of at times even though I still consider myself still on the young-ish side.  I think it was best said last week that many of us feel young again, but also feel old at the same time too.  But as we talked about a couple weeks ago, it was wonderful time of planting seeds, especially as we saw many children who are not associated with our church or Our Savior Lutheran Church taking part, and I hope that some seeds were planted along the way.  Along with VBS, I’ve also been able to go to the weekly Farmer’s Market each Thursday and have been able to chat with various people from our community, including some of you from our church, and meet new people as well, which is another seed planting opportunity.  Since I have the weekly ‘coffice’ hours on Thursdays at our various coffeehouses, I guess I could coin the term ‘FMoffice’ hours for Thursday evenings.  Along with the weekly Farmer’s Market on Thursdays, another favorite summertime tradition that I really enjoy is the county fair, which is coming up in a little more than a week, as we also have a chance to meet various folk from around town and around the county when we’re out and about at the fair.  In fact, if we want to do a group outing any of the nights that the Fair is on, let me know.  We do need to have a little FUN as a congregation too!!  Of course, with the county fair also comes deep-fried-everything and everything-on-a-stick!!  Okay, it’s not the state fair, but when I think of the county fair, I especially love the funnel cakes and corn dogs, although I absolutely MUST have mustard with my corn dogs (even though that’s one indulgence I’m not partaking in at the moment on this journey of renewed health and wholeness). 
          Now mustard is something that is hit and miss with me, as I usually love the classic French’s yellow mustard.  However, I did expand my horizons several years ago at the weekly wine tasting at Bel-Air in Natomas on family date night when their wine steward, Ron also served mini corndogs in honor of the state fair and featured samples of various kinds of mustard as part of the snacks that are included each week.  Some of the mustard we got to sample was very grainy and still had seeds and added a distinctive texture to it, with some mustards being on the spicy side.  Indeed, those seeds in the mustard are very, very tiny, just like the mustard seed that Jesus talks about in this morning’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, which includes ‘The Parable of the Mustard Seed.’ In it, we hear the message that the mustard seed is one small seed, but creates one, huge plant!!  But the mustard seed, the yeast, the pearl, and hidden treasure can also say something about our faith journey and our part in discovering the Kingdom of God (KOG) too, as we are still in some ways on the idea of seeds and planting, but also about seeing the products and fruits that come from those seeds that are scattered and planted. 
          In each of these small parables from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus equates the KOG with something small and perhaps even insignificant to everyday life; a mustard seed, a yeast particle, a pearl; but then Jesus adds some bigger stuff like finding hidden treasure.  Even though Jesus is focusing on these small, maybe insignificant items, they can lead to something much bigger like the great bush that mustard seeds produce, or the many loaves of bread that are leavened by the yeast and baked, or the great riches that can be found when pearls are sold and turned into necklaces (which one of my good friends loves to wear).  By using such parables, Jesus is trying to get the crowds and us to understand and “expand our understandings of God’s kingdom.[i] God’s Kingdom is much bigger than we expect, but can come out of something small and ordinary. Something so small can still lead to something that is great and something mighty.  It’s kind of like the late astronaut Neal Armstrong’s famous quote when he first stepped on the surface of the moon, “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”[ii] That’s one small seed, yet one big bush; that’s one small yield of yeast, yet many loaves that come out of it.  The same can be said for the KOG, that while we may not see it immediately before us, yet it’s actually quite large there and a includes major role that we have as the community of faith, as part of our job is to help bring the KOG to the here and now.  But in order for us to bring the KOG to earth here and now, we have to start somewhere and that even means starting small, just like that little seed of mustard or that tiny particle of yeast, or those tiny grains of sand that form the pearl in the oyster. 
          In his book, Change the World, Rev. Mike Slaughter explains that Jesus’s time on earth was a time of eagerly awaiting the coming KOG in the messianic age which was foretold by the prophet Isaiah.[iii] However, Mike further explains that “this expectant kingdom was not a disembodied heaven that people would ascend to in the afterlife but a righting or restoration of God’s created order on earth” in which “Jesus proclaimed the arrival of this new kingdom order.  His message was clearly focused on the KOG’s present influence in the world rather than on going to heaven when we die.”[iv]  --- Now, there are many different ways that we are already bringing the KOG to earth, even in small ways like the little seed of mustard and particles of yeast when we put our faith into action.  The KOG can even be a hidden treasure that we heard in our Gospel lesson; and that’s something that’s my hope for those who may be a little on the skeptical side or don’t know what they are missing out on by not being a part of a faith community and helping bring God’s kingdom to earth.  Mike Slaughter continues to write that “Jesus followers are not waiting for heaven but are actively rebuilding, restoring, and renewing the lives of broken people and the shattered communities of despair.  Yes, we are waiting for the return of [Jesus].  But it is not passive waiting.”[v] ---
          So what’s holding you back?  What are some priorities that need to be changed?  As we said together in our call to worship, we should strive to see the potential that is possible in the KOG, not so much our limitations, because each of us has that small seed of faith just like the mustard seed, tiny yield of yeast, and may have a pearl of wisdom to share.  I admit that seeing myself through my limitations, not my potential is something that held me back from doing what I’m doing now.  Even though it’s a struggle at times to look at what is possible, I have to keep reminding myself and being reminded that I’m not limited by my limitations or all my shortcomings, which are still many.  When I was in the early stages of candidacy process for ordained ministry, I kept lamenting my lack of self-confidence with my pastor at the time, Tina Ballagh and Pastor Tina would always tell me just to proceed as if I was confident and am glad to say it was that little seed of faith that I needed to hear.  And in the moments where I feel like I lack self-confidence, I have to remind myself to grab that little seed of faith, because my part and work in the KOG and helping bring the KOG to earth is much bigger than my limitations and my own shortcomings and I hope that all of us can start seeing that within ourselves too. 
Like we’ve talked about before, starting new ministries and trying new things as a community of faith is part of that small seed of faith, that small yield of yeast, or that pearl.  We want others to discover that hidden treasure that people can find in the KOG, but it takes being active, especially when we try to reach others and that may also include trying to create new spaces for new people so that they can see for themselves the hidden treasures, mustard seeds, and granules of yeast when they encounter what it’s like to be in the KOG in the here and now.  We have to keep looking at what’s possible, not what we are limited by.  One such example of a church that turned around from looking from the lens of their limitations and saw what is possibtle through the lens of a tiny seed of faith is Mount Vernon Place UMC in downtown Washington, DC. which is also a partner church with WTS and is the seminary’s downtown campus.  When I interviewed to be director of music there five years ago while beginning the journey of seminary at Wesley, the senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Donna Claycomb Sokol told me of the transformation that they were just starting to experience.  When she was first appointed there in 2005, the church was literally on life support, as most of the committee chairs were in their mid-90’s and fondly remembered the ‘good old days’ when things were bursting at the seams and thousands attended worship.  Doesn't seem any different from many church’s stories, as all of us love to remember the ‘good old days’ for whatever they meant to us. When Pastor Donna arrived, church’s main financial safety net was this massive endownment that they were spending, and when the endowment dried up, they determined that would simply lock the doors and walk away, as the church’s giving was not enough to sustain the long-term future of the church. 
However, there were still some small seeds of faith left in the remaining people there, although it would involve letting go of the past, selling the Christian education wing which was then demolished and a mixed use building built in its place, undergoing a full restoration of the building, and forming new partnerships such as the partnership with WTS.  In the book she recently co-wrote with Rev. Roger Owens, A New Day in the City, Pastor Donna explains that in order to see what was possible and live into a reality and do their part of bringing the KOG into the here and now,
The congregation [of Mount Vernon Place UMC] literally had to move out of the building and let go of nostalgic dreams of the past in order to make space for God to first bring detachment and then bring visions of what could be.  It was not long after moving day when the congregation started to learn how much they loved the building and all its contents for their sake instead of Christ’s sake.  We love more than fifteen pianos even though we only had a need for two.  We loved silver tea sets even though they had not been used for forty years.  We love our stuff enough to fight over it at a garage sale when neighbors finally stepped inside the building.  The stuff made people feel good, bringing back memories of the past.  But our stuff will never have the power to touch, change, and transform lives.[vi]

          When we think of the little seeds of faith or the little grains of yeast that can become something significant, what are we doing that will touch, change, and transform the lives whom we encounter as if people have found a hidden treasure in us?  I know it’s easy to get consumed by our buildings and our stuff, but is that part of building the KOG in the here and now, although to turn that question on its head, how can we best use our building and our stuff for the glory of the KOG?  Because to be a little bluntly honest, sometimes it’s easier to see the church Asia it's a museum, just like what the people of MVPUMC did before acting on a small seed of faith to go from a congregation barely on life support to a now growing and thriving congregation.  Something for us to think on and chew on here!!  As we go into this new week, let’s think about the hidden treasures that people can find in this community, but also think about how we can all contribute even just one little seed of faith to bringing the KOG to the here and the now as we go about transforming lives and making our world a better place, seeing the bigger things that can come out of those mustard seeds.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, Amen!!



[i] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3351

[ii] Spaceflight, Human. 2012. "'One Small Step For Man': Was Neil Armstrong Misquoted?". Space.Com. Accessed July 27 2017. https://www.space.com/17307-neil-armstrong-one-small-step-quote.html.

[iii] Michael Slaughter, Change the World (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010), 2-3.
[iv] Ibid., 3. 
[v] Ibid., 4.
[vi] Donna Claycomb Sokol & Roger Owens, A New Day in the City (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 13.  

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