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  • Writer's pictureSt Georges Milton

A Sermon for the 4th Sunday of Pentecost June 16th 2024 - A Seedy Hope

Updated: Jun 20

A few kid-friendly jokes for the gardeners in the crowd:

 

Knock knock!

Who’s there?

Honeydew!

Honeydew who?

Honeydew you wanna hear some garden jokes?

 

Why do potatoes make good detectives?

Because they keep their eyes peeled.

 

What kind of bean never grows in a garden?

A jelly bean!

 

How excited was the gardener about spring?

So excited he wet his plants!

 

A few years ago, I tried my hand at vegetable gardening. It was the first time I’ve attempted such a feat – but I wanted to make use of the large space in our backyard that previous tenants used for a garden, I thought it might be something I could do with my kids, and I love the idea of having fresh vegetables to cook with. So first l I weeded and tilled, and weeded and tilled some more, and then planted seeds of just about everything we eat: tomatoes, cucumbers, various lettuces, carrots, broccoli, peppers and more.

 


I did a little bit of research (like which plants to pair together), but quickly realized there was much more to learn here than I’d bargained for. So, I decided I would pair the vegetables strategically, but I wouldn’t do more than that. The seeds will either grow or they won’t, I wasn’t going to fuss over too much more than that.

 

I thought it important to calibrate my daughter’s expectations on my little garden. I feared her little heart might break if my inexperience as a gardener resulted in a rather lacklustre crop of fresh vegetables. So, I told her we were going to plant seeds, a lot of the seeds probably wouldn’t up growing, but that’s ok, we’ll harvest what we can and be happy with that, let the seeds do what they do.

 

The message behind today’s gospel parables is the good news that a successful harvest isn’t all up to the sower. Yes, the sower sows the seed and labours at harvest time, but the seed (and whether or not it grows) is itself a mystery. Van Gogh’s paintings so beautifully express the wonder, beauty, and mystery in the ordinary.

His work, ‘The Sower’ is an example of the luminous and mysterious quality of life. It is a bright and stunningly colorful piece depicting a simple field with a humble farmer casting seed. Its simplicity belies the potency of the seed to emerge from the ground bursting with life.

 

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to seed – it grows by an unseen power, and on an unknown timetable. The mystery is that while the sower sleeps, the seed stretches outward by its own potency. Jesus takes his metaphor further by comparing the kingdom to a mustard seed. You would be hard-pressed to find an earthly kingdom comparing itself to a mustard plant – no, the powerful kingdoms of Biblical times preferred to see themselves as mighty cedars. But God’s kingdom isn’t measured by earthly standards – it is a kingdom of the vulnerable, of the small and humble and unassuming, not of the wealthy, powerful imperialist cedars of this world. And yet the mustard plant does grow to a size and status that the little creatures of the air may find shelter in it – a reminder that God’s Kingdom is always to be a safe place of refuge.

 

Gardeners like myself can see similarities to the mustard plant in mint, another highly invasive plant.

Previous incarnations of my veggie garden contained mint and so literally every day I’m out there plucking out mint sprouts, for if left alone, they would certainly take over my garden!

 

But the kingdom of God as a sprawling, even life-giving plant can give us hope. For the seed has its own automatic trajectory of growth – it is persistent, sometimes annoyingly so. Its growth might remind us of another image left to us by advocates for justice like Martin Luther King Jr. who say things like, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” There is the sense that though the signs and symptoms of injustice are all around us, justice is moving forward, and time will allow us to look back and see growth towards equity for all peoples.

 

I have a hard time believing in this long, slow arc, bending towards justice when I see devastation happening in Gaza and the Ukraine. I have a hard time thinking we’re truly respecting and honouring the value of every human life when graves exposing genocide at residential schools are described to us in heartbreaking detail. We Anglicans have known for some time about the likelihood of such graves, but it is nonetheless shocking and appalling to imagine those beautiful, young, indigenous children having their lives cut so short. I want to believe in automatic progress that the seed image would seem to imply – but just as it was hard to see progress during the pandemic when we were in the middle of it, so it can be hard for us to see that the world is ultimately moving towards justice.

 

Was Jesus simply being an optimist when he gave us the image of the seed? Was he ignorant of the pain and suffering of his society and the ‘salt in the wounds’ effect a polyana message might bring?

 

Thankfully, we know that Jesus’ message was born in darkness. In the gospel writer’s world, his audience felt the crushing imperial context of Roman persecution. Most scholars believe his gospel was written close to 70 CE, the year of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.


Rome was crushing the Jewish people and Mark wrote in a time of public chaos that unsettled the traditional identities and viewpoints for not only Jesus’ followers, but the Pharisees, scribes, and crowds alike. And so this seedy hope was not borne out of a context of plenty, but rather one of the darkness of pain, one we might very well relate to today.

 

David Jacobsen writes of a seedy hope in the dark context of racialized violence. He recalls the court testimony of bystanders in the George Floyd killing that seemed empty of hope. Their cell phone videos painted the picture involving the EMT, the youth, the martial arts expert, the cashier, all lined up pleading with the white policeman kneeling on a Black man’s neck to stop and help him. All they could do was cry out and plead, to no avail. Why did all their pleading and yelling not suffice? Jacobsen asks, “What about Mark’s seedy hope of an automatic Kingdom of God can survive tearful testimony?”

 

In responding to his own question, Jacobsen quotes the lead prosecutor in the trial, calling these witnesses a “bouquet of humanity”:  “The very people who cried out from the sidewalk and made videos with smartphones were a surprise flowering of what it means to be human. The bystanders did not save George Floyd’s life, but they were a mysterious, living, testifying, bouquet of humanity. And in a moment, something of our view of Mark’s seed parable changes. What it offers now is a glimpse of change, a germination that flowers right there on a cracked sidewalk at 38th and Chicago.”

We might find a similar bouquet of humanity made up of the survivors of the residential school system. As we listen to their stories, we find in their courage and pain the beauty of their humanity. Calls for justice, for naming a genocide, genocide, renewed efforts to investigate the missing children, of ending generational wrong, come together to offer glimpses of change, signs of humanity coming to life to right wrongs. We may also see this bouquet in those lamenting the horrors of war in Gaza and the Ukraine – reminding us that peace is not something to be taken for granted and that hatred and violence still run amok in our world.

 

Where do you see such a bouquet of humanity? And in that bouquet, can you catch a glimpse of change and germination of kingdom seed?

 

We know that glimpses aren’t enough. We know that. We need an all-out flourishing of God’s kingdom, ending of injustice and hate and violence. But until that day comes, will glimpses fuel our efforts to bend that long arc of justice? We need to truly listen to the voices of oppression in our world, find opportunities for advocacy and to provoke change. We’re not likely to get there in a matter of days, or even years. But for God’s sake and the sake of all the oppressed, bend that arc, and watch the miracle of seedy hope produce human flourishing.

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