Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on June 16, 2024

Posted by on Sun, Jun 16, 2024 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 16, 2024

When someone asks me to tell them about St. Michael’s I always start by pointing to our depth of faith and remarkable spirit as a community, our worship and outreach, and so on. Invariably in the first few minutes they will ask about our size; how many members we have or how many attend on an average Sunday, sometimes even what kind of budget we have. So I talk about how being this size church means more of us know each other, that we talk and share and help each other — and yes, I can get around to growth, new members or attendance.  It’s just never the first thing that comes to mind. Furthermore, what seems implied by this question is that no matter what our present size, we should always be getting bigger to be better, and offer more and more in order to be a good strong church, and not yet another ‘in decline.’ 

Today we hear how perhaps Jesus would answer such questions.

“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; yet 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.”

Notice Jesus didn’t say the kingdom of God is like the great large shrub? No, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. Like the smallest of all seeds, he says. Not only are such small seeds important, they are the very likeness of the kingdom of God. No matter how small, how inauspicious, how underestimated, this drab little seed is treasured by God. Adding to that, and what Jesus’ audience knew, is that mustard was usually considered a weed. Who wants to hear that the kingdom of God is like the seed of a weed?

Jesus doesn’t even mention its use to produce seeds to flavor food. He says its glory is that “when it is sown it grows up and becomes greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Our world of bigger-is-better and constant upgrading is once again turned on its head by Jesus’ teaching. It is great by what it does and who it serves.

This is not the first time he tells us to appreciate the least among us or to pay attention to who or what might be judged inadequate or lacking. Jesus is always inviting us to see them in the moment and trust that there is more to the story than we first think—as parables always show us. Even with the smallest bits God can do great things. 

We hear a version of it in our reading from Ezekiel too; “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar … I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs…On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord.” 

Ezekiel’s words may have a larger meaning too, since ‘birds of the air’ was frequently used as a reference to outsiders or Gentiles. We can hear it as Ezekiel says “under it every kind of bird will live,” in its shade “will nest winged creatures of every kind.”  That tiny tender sprig of cedar, a single mustard seed, the smallest of all; size is not their diminishment, it is their great potential for bringing forth God’s kingdom anew. For surprising us even. For God by them creates both shelter and home for for all the birds of the air —without exception. 

The grace of what God sows and grows can be hard to discern. We are challenged by so many influences seeking to fracture and polarize us, saying that we birds will want only those who think or act or look like us to share the branches. That any others must be wrong or evil or irrational and should be kept out of our chosen ‘tree’. We also have a culture which pushes for the most profitable harvest of the highest value crop, aiming always for the best numbers, the biggest crowd, the widest array of advantages or comforts. That wasn’t Jesus’ way nor is it ours, and I wonder if we (as one more small band of faithful disciples) can help change this direction. I just saw there’s a book coming out tomorrow by an attorney and political operator who now regrets and owns his part in polarization and leveraging for his party as ‘winner take all’ – saying we can do better, together. (It is called The Unraveling: Reflections on Politics without Ethics and Democracy in Crisis by Bob Bauer.) 

Jesus is inviting us, asking us; Can we look into our hearts of faith and see the kingdom of God in the seed of a weed? Yes. We are people who choose the incalculable treasure of its branches, branches open to those seeking a place to rest, to nest, to be loved and known, and be reborn in Christ. 

St. Gregory the Great (540 – 604 CE) said, “Christ Himself is the grain of mustard seed, who, planted in the garden of the sepulchre, grew up a great tree; He was a grain of seed when He died, and a tree when He rose again; a grain of seed in the humiliation of the flesh, a tree in the power of His majesty.”

Amen

© 2024 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

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