June 14, 2015

Ordinary Time Proper 6

Last week, one of our Grace kids asked me about the green "tablecloths" in the church. You might have similar questions. These beautiful cloths are actually called paraments from a Latin word meaning "to adorn." The paraments change color according to the theme of the church year. For instance, we see red on Pentecost, which symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit; white during the season of Easter, which represents new life; purple for Advent, the royal color referring to the coming of our King.

The color green is used during the season of the church known as Ordinary Time. By "ordinary," we do not mean "normal, commonplace, or standard." Rather like ordinal numbers (first, second, third), Ordinary Time refers to a sequence of events. There is an order to the church year.

So, look at the paraments! I think that green is the perfect color for this season because it represents growth. As people of faith, we, too, are encouraged to grow. The green paraments serve as our reminder.

Such observations tie into our scripture this morning. When Jesus taught, he encouraged the disciples to consider the world around them: seeds, stalks, grains, and shrubs. Interesting that he refers to so many green things? Maybe Jesus was talking about growth as well…The way that Jesus told it, parables were living, green things, which grow in the fertile soil of our hearts.

Jesus taught the crowds using parables. In our parables today, we see that Jesus used everyday agricultural language to talk about God. In the first parable, he speaks of someone scattering seeds and watching them begin to grow. If you have ever planted a vegetable garden, you know how amazing it is to watch how the seeds come up, begin to grow, and eventually produce a harvest. Just look next door at the Community Garden behind Grace House. We don’t know exactly why it grows or how it grows, but somehow the earth produces the harvest, and we are able to reap what was sown.

In the second parable, Jesus speaks of a mustard seed, one of the smallest seeds known in the Palestine of Jesus day, and so some might expect that the harvest from the smallest seed would be very small as well. However, Jesus says that from the smallest seed, the mustard bush becomes one of the greatest of all shrubs. It puts forth large branches and all of the birds of the air make nests from its shade.

Just a few weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost, which reminds us that the Holy Spirit is present and active in our world. God does not abandon God’s people, and the Holy Spirit is always available to us. The Holy Spirit gives us power to do ministry in Jesus’ name and to speak the truth about God’s love. In these two seed parables, we learn about that which seems to have been the most important topic for Jesus, the kingdom of God.

First we learn that there is mystery to the kingdom. Some of us do not like mystery in our lives. We want order and structure, and we want to be in control. However, we are reminded that God works in God’s own way and timing. While we may see in other teachings that God desires for humanity to join in God’s efforts, this particular parable suggests that even if humanity is oblivious to what’s going on around them, God is still at work. That is good news!

It strikes me that the kingdom of God works from the inside out; something that is barely noticeable at first until you wake up one morning and it is the only thing you can think about. The kingdom of God is something that is full of hope and yet radically life-changing. It changes even our expectations.

I think that many of the Jews in Jesus’ original audience would have heard Ezekiel’s words kind of like Old Testament background music. In many ways, the Gospel and Ezekiel are complimentary: they refer to small things growing large and God’s power and, perhaps most of all, the hope it represents. The birds in each account offer to an image of inclusiveness, a powerful picture that all are welcome from far and wide. And yet, Jesus makes a significant change that topples our expectations…if we would only see things as he tells them.

Cedars were the tallest and mightiest trees in Palestine. They stood for all that is noble and good and exalted. You know, the bigger, the better; the taller, the grander. This makes sense, right? Don’t you want the symbol of the kingdom of God to be tall, lofty, and awe-inspiring?

But Jesus edits Ezekiel’s vision of this ideal. Jesus inserts the idea of a mustard seed, and suddenly, the kingdom of God takes on a whole new meaning. The mustard plant is hardly a mighty tree. Some places consider it a weed. It doesn’t grow more than three feet tall; rather it spreads out far and wide.

Here is a comparison in our culture: Jesus says that the kingdom of God is not like the mighty cedar tree, but like a weed. The kingdom of God is like an invading species: it grows everywhere, whether you like it or not. There is seemingly no way to control it. It starts small, but spreads out more and more, until it finally takes over and is the only thing you can see.

If the kingdom of God is like this, then our understanding should be constantly growing too. We have to live into it by following Jesus teaching and actually doing what Jesus taught his disciples to do. The kingdom of God invades our senses and changes us from the inside out. The kingdom of God is pregnant with hope; it is green and growing, so that we, too, might be full of life and offer that life to the world around us.