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God’s Kingdom’s Bustin’ Out All Over (June 17, 2018)

About 30 years ago, when I was living in Edmonton, a massive storm ripped through the southeast part of the city. There were still large swaths of wooded areas there. The wind howled through the forest. Trees creaked from the pressure of the wind. Thunder and lightning cracked through the air. Huge trees snapped as if they were twigs; they crashed, breaking everything in their path as they thudded noisily onto the ground.

Even from where I lived a couple of miles away, you could hear the noise.

I went to see what had happened; it took my breath away. It looked like the woods had been killed by the storm — uprooted trees, rubble strewn everywhere, the whole place torn apart.

But then, so quietly we hardly notice it, the forest comes back to life. New saplings rise out of the denuded earth, amid all the debris. The fallen trees become soil for new growth. Birds sing again. Wildlife finds tender plants for food. The black and brown of the storm is dappled by the fresh green of new birth.

To paraphrase the song in Carousel, “life is bustin’ out all over.” It seems to just happen, all by itself. Miraculously. What was dead begins to flower with life, lush green life. The amazing and wonderful sights and sounds of new life and new song signals the new birth all around us.

That’s kinda what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel reading. “God’s kingdom’s bustin’ out all over!” That’s the heart of Jesus’ preaching. God’s kingdom is here. Watch it grow.

“Look,” says Jesus. “This is what God’s kingdom is like … a gardener scatters seed everywhere, and then takes a nap while the seed sprouts and grows willy–nilly, automatically.

“God’s kingdom is like this … the tiniest little seed is tossed into the ground and it grows to become a large shrub.”

God’s kingdom is like this … the most ordinary kinds of things are images for us of how God’s love grows in the world. All of you gardeners out there are signs of God’s kingdom being born. All of us who live out God’s love are signs of God’s kingdom being born. All of us who reach out in grace and compassion are signs of God’s kingdom being born.

Notice I said “you are.” Not “you should be” or “you ought to be”. You are.

Any seed we plant can come to beautiful flower. Any word of grace and healing becomes an instrument of healing in the life of the world. Any act of reaching out in love is a sign of God’s radical and inclusive welcome.

The amazing thing about this, if you think a little about these parables, is that we don’t even have to do the work well. We just have to do the work. Look at the gardener in this parable. He scatters the seed and goes off to sleep. No gardener I know does that. Most of you plan and prepare and hover. You lay out neat little rows in well–manicured beds. You keep an eye out on the weather. You protect your gardens from the birds and the deer. From early spring until harvest, you water and prune and weed and worry.

But not this gardener. He throws the seed around without a care in the world and goes to bed. He scatters and sleeps.

And the mustard seed? No gardener in her right mind would plant something like that. It’s a weed. It’s as if Jesus was talking about someone planting dandelions or knapweed  or thistles. It just doesn’t happen.

And this, says Jesus, this is what the kingdom of God is like.

So what might that mean?

The thing about parables is that they tease our imaginations. They’re open–ended. They never mean just one thing.

Partly, I think, Jesus is suggesting that the kingdom of God redefines what is beautiful and what is welcome. In God’s economy all are welcome — roses and ragweed, dahlias and dandelions, thistles and tulips.

The kingdom of God is about practicing radical inclusion, sheltering the unwanted, welcoming the unwelcome.

But there’s something more. These parables teach us to see differently. So often, we look for God in the large, the amazing, the miraculous. But Jesus says, God is present in unexpected places, in ordinary places. God is at work in ordinary people.

Look around you … all these ordinary people in this ordinary church in this ordinary little city amid these majestic mountains. Here is where God is at work … in us, in the person beside you, the one behind you, the one in front of you, the face in the mirror.

Here is the mystery of God’s kingdom. It’s growing in us! It’s very much like Jesus saying, “See me in the least of these my brothers and sisters.”

So let me challenge us all this week. Where, in our ordinary lives, can we see God? As you think about your life, where is God present? Where is God reaching out through you?

In a few moments, we’re going to say thanks to our Sunday School teachers. Ordinary people, doing ordinary stuff, with ordinary children … planting seeds of God’s love. The kingdom of God is growing.

There’s a group of people from Christ Church and beyond who reach out every day to people in nursing homes. They go to sing … and what’s happening is that God’s love is being shared.

There are people here who visit with those who are lonely, who help people go shopping, who mow their lawns. See the kingdom of God bustin’ out all over.

There are people here who work with groups to make life better for people all over the world, whether it be with Rotary or Lions, with local committees and groups. Watch the kingdom of God growing in our midst.

When we begin to see God in all those ordinary moments, we are paying attention to what lies beneath the surface of life. We look beyond the obvious, and we see God. In all the humble and unassuming realities of life, we see the love of God reaching out to make lives better.

That’s what Paul means when he says that “we walk by faith, not by sight”. We learn to see God in the ordinary moments of our days. We listen for the nudging of the Spirit. We learn to see more deeply into our lives and into our world. We exercise our holy imagination, and we become open to a deeper dimension of life. We are touched by grace–full levels of reality.

And when we open ourselves up like that … then we can dream. We can dream God’s dream. We become part of the Jesus movement, and we dream with God to change the world. We become part of the new creation that is born as we dare to dream God’s dream.

The kingdom of God is like this — a gardener tosses seed into a field, walks away, sleeps, gets up. Days come and go, and even though the farmer does nothing, the seeds grow.

All we need to do is toss the seeds out … and then watch as God’s kingdom starts bustin’ out all over!

Thanks be to God!

Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt

June 17, 2018 (4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11)

Mark 4: 26–34

1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13

2 Corinthians 5: 6–17