2 Corinthians 5:6-17
We know that violence breads violence, that hate breads hate. We know this, and this last year has shown us this in abundance. As more and more school shootings happen, as the numbers of suicides grow, as the hate speech escalates… we are reminded and see again and again that negativity can be contagious and can spread like wildfire. The uncaring that is becoming so rampant, especially as children are separated from their parents and caged which is so incredibly inhumane, and the fact that people are numb to this, are not standing up against it, shows that the negativity has spread so far that people no longer care about the most vulnerable people in the world: our children. People are suspicious of each other, angry at each other. We see this at a much smaller level every single day just in our cars: road rage causes more road rage. And the negativity is growing, is spreading…
But todays’ scriptures, such as these two beautiful parables from Mark also point out that the reverse is equally true. God can take the smallest seed, the smallest bit of good, and once it is planted, it can grow and grow into things that are beautiful and wonderful and awesome! The parables tell us that little seeds grow into big plants even without help. God’s love is like that, God’s care is like that. Our good actions are contagious. With plants we don’t have to pull on the stem or say magic words. Plants grow because they have been made to do just that. We can choose to be part of helping them to grow by watering them, putting them in the sun. But our care is minimal to the miracle of each seed becoming something wonderful, something big, something beautiful. Even plants that aren’t cared for such as all the trees and plants in our forests and wild areas grow completely on their own.
So it is with all the good things we do, all the good efforts we make, all the simple acts of kindness. Kindness, too, breads more kindness. It grows, it spreads, it is contagious. Warm hearts warm our hearts. Sunny dispositions can melt the coldness in our beings and bring out the best in us, the best of who we are.
Thomas Merton put it this way: “Every moment and every event of every person’s life on earth plants something in her or his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men and women.”
We are invited into love, into justice, into kindness, into being mustard seeds. Church services, by the way, are supposed to provide the soil for the seeds to grow, the richness of the earth so that after church we have the strength and motivation and energy to spread, to plant other seed, to go out in the world and to bring love and kindness, to do the work of God. We should be producing fruit. Church itself, worship itself, is not actually the point of our faith or the end of our faith. It is merely supposed to feed us so that we can BE the church in the world, doing the work of God in the world. If your faith ends here in this place, then the church has not been a fertile soil for you in which you are nurtured. Worship is just the resting, nurturing ground that gives us the strength to enter the world with conviction, with love, with compassion, to follow Christ, to do the call God has given us to do.
Our acts of kindness, of compassion, of love and empowerment of others – our actions of care towards one another are little seeds which God can grow into big plants. I don’t know that we often take the time to think about what we want to spread, who we want to be in the world, what we would like to pass on and pass forward. So I invite you into a time of reflection. Who are the people that you most admire and why? How do they handle adversity? Confrontation? Who do you want to be in the world? Who do you think God wants you to be in the world? Think about this past week. What are acts you did this last week that reflect who you want to be? What are actions in this past week that you wish you’d done differently. And if so, how do you wish you would have behaved?
What are little things that you do…that are seeds which, when nurtured can grow into big and beautiful trees? What are kindnesses that you don’t do that you might be willing to try, willing to challenge yourself to do?
God can take our acts of kindness and make them big. God can take our good things and made them into things that feed others, help others.
I think about the people others have told me are their heroes, are their mentors. These are people who changed us for the better by their actions. And most of the time, it is their kindnesses, their actions for the justice and empowerment of others, their ability to put aside anger or respond to hatred with love and grace that move us, that change us. We can choose to be like that as well. God can take the desire within us to do good, to be kind, to have mercy and justice; and God can grow it into a beautiful blooming plant of grace. I remember Mitch Albom’s book, Have a Little Faith. He shares about being asked to walk with a Rabbi who wanted Mitch to do his eulogy at this funeral. Mitch made the comment, ““And is often the case with faith, I thought I was being asked a favor, when in fact I was being given one".” He went on to describe a man who was kind, who was generous, who was loving.. .and through all of that changed who Mitch was. I think about my own heroes, one of whom is Mr. Rogers. The way he dealt with hardships, the non-anxious, non-defensive presence that he used with others inspires me daily. It is a seed waiting to grow, as many of you know, but one that gets watered and nurtured every time I read one of his quotes or see one of his programs. We have that opportunity to be kindness for others, to teach that to others, to practice it and watch it grow. There is a Facebook page called “clayton Kindness” that is just kind, nice words. It is helpful too, as it reminds us to treat each other well. Little seeds, that God can grow.
Every time we do something God asks us to do: to bring justice and care to these children I mentioned, for example, we plant a seed that can change the world. I remember a Joan of Arcadia episode in which Joan was asked to do a small thing: to join AP Chem by the God character. She didn’t understand why, but she did it. And in the end God showed her how that one act had changed so many lives for the better. Because of meeting someone in the class, she had introduced that person to her father who was a police officer. As a result, the father talked to the boy’s parents who knew about a car for disabled drivers. As a result, her disabled brother had gotten the car. The God character went on to point out other results: catching a murderer, building important relationships between people who had previously not trusted each other, bringing down a crime ring. As God was explaining all of this, Joan turned to God and said in astonishment, “How far does this go? How far does the one act of following your request by joining AP chem go?” To which God replied, “It goes all that way, baby. All the way.” “Always for the better?” Joan asked. “Yep. That’s how it works with me,” God replied. That’s how it is with God.
In the story Lord of the Rings, there is one moment in which Frodo is so angry about Gollum still being alive. He makes the comment, “It’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill him when he had the chance.” Gandalf replies, “Pity? It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand. Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them, Frodo? Do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. Even the very wise cannot see all ends. My heart tells me that Gollum has some part to play yet, for good or ill before this is over. The pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many.” That kindness, that pity, that grace, that mercy… that was, in the end, the saving of Frodo. We just do not know how far kindness goes, or in what way it returns to us.
God’s ability to help a seed grow can even use those parts of us that we see as flaws:
An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do. After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. 'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.' The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?' 'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.' For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.' Each of us has parts of ourselves we consider to be flaws, but when we give them to God, God can take even the cracked seeds and made beautiful flowers grow from them.
Sometimes we don’t see or understand the gifts God has given us, the seeds God has given us to plant. I heard about a woman, recently, who has the gift of dance. She is a wonderful dancer, but more, her dancing gives her great joy. However, she became convinced that God wanted her to give up this gift because she loved it so much. I don’t believe in a God who asks us to give up the very gifts God has given us. We are called, always, to use our gifts for good, for love, for joy for others and ourselves. That does not mean giving that gift up. You may all be familiar with the story of Cat Stevens. A similar one: he came to believe that somehow his singing was not what God wanted and he stopped sharing the amazing gift he had that had brought so many people joy, and had brought so many people close to God. I think about his piece, “Morning has broken” and the joy that has given to so many, the invitation to appreciation of all God has done and made that invites each of us to be our best, most grateful, most aware selves. I felt at the time he stopped singing that he had misheard God’s call. Fortunately, he, too eventually came to that realization and he is singing again. But he missed years of using God’s best gift to him and to those who would hear his words, his voice and his commitment to faith. I’ve shared with you before about a woman I knew who refused to allow laughter into her home, feeling that silliness was also ungodly somehow. Laughter, too, is a great gift from God: the gift of joy, the gift of relaxing, the healing that comes from laughter. Squandering God’s best gifts – that is a sin.
We are called to use the gifts that God has given us. But Kindness is a particularly wonderful gift because we can all claim it. We can all GROW it. And that kindness can change the fate of the world. God can use it and grow it beyond our imaginings.
God gives us seeds, gifts, beauty to use and to share and to plant. God can take the best, and even sometimes the worst, of each of us, the seeds, the gifts and will grow them into something magnificent. All we have to do is plant, and watch, and pray and wait.