Sunday, June 17, 2012

kernel mustard

Small, hidden, mysterious, potent, seed – mustard, cedar, soy, or sycamore – grows quietly, becoming only slowly what it will become in its fullness, and yet – the kernel is there, the seed is there, the DNA is there: and the seed knows how it wants to grow, knows what it wants to become.

That sounds a bit mystical: and yet even horticulturalists talk that way. When W. S. Merwin was growing his garden of 800 rare kinds of palm trees on 19 acres in Ha'ikū, Hawaii, he asked the biologist E. O. Wilson if it was silly to talk to the trees. And Wilson replied, no, it was not silly at all. “‘The tree’s gene code is much older than yours,’ he said. ‘It’s not withholding anything. If you know how to talk, it will tell you everything you want.’”

I trusted the tree in the backyard. We were friends. If I could talk to it, it would talk to me. But I didn't know how. I was talking to the biologist E.O. Wilson about that, and he said talking to trees was not silly at all. 'The tree's gene code is much older than yours,' he said. 'It's not withholding anything. If you know how to talk, it will tell you everything you want.'" Even, it seems, how to grow a forest.

Matthew Gurewitsch, “On the Palms From His Hands”, The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2012, accessed June 16, 2012)

They know how they want to grow.

And it turns out, in the case of plants and trees, they often want to start out slowly, from small beginnings, growing in mysterious and hidden ways – and sometimes they increase and flourish.

The people Jesus knew were dry-culture farmers, meaning they had no irrigation in first-century Palestine. They would cultivate the ground, sow the seed, and, in time, harvest. But in the meantime, they knew, it was up to God.

One time I was talking to the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and I ventured that he had had quite a success as bishop of Bath and Wells during a great renewal in the church. And he replied, someone else did the sowing; I was there at the harvest. Not just humility, but truth. And in between, they knew, it was up to God.

We’d like to force it, sometimes. We’d like it to grow the way we want it to grow, on our timetable, to our specifications. But the kingdom of God is – God’s kingdom. And God is the one who makes things grow.

We guide, nourish, co-operate; we are at best assistant gardeners; which, it turns out, is a pretty important job.

We are called to be part of the growth of the most extraordinary thing; we are called to be part of the growth of the most ordinary thing.

For the kingdom of heaven, Ezekiel said, was like this: God takes a small twig, a sprig, from the top of a cedar tree, and plants it on a high mountain. This sprig takes root and grows; and in time that cedar is the greatest and noblest of trees; birds rest in its branches. And yet – the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like the smallest of seeds – a mustard seed. And you know what happens when you spread mustard seed around?

A bunch of small plants! Maybe four feet high! Covering a hillside or a field, or filling your garden, what you have are almost ordinary weeds – just something ordinary. Something not far away, not inaccessibly gigantic, not impossible to grow; something you can reach out and touch with your hands, flowers you can pluck, seeds you can taste.
The kingdom of heaven is close at hand. The kingdom of heaven is already among you. The kingdom of heaven is real – and not strange at all. It is growing – like a weed!

What do we learn from this? Patience, hope, vision. And those are not small things at all.

We know that growth of the kingdom is not obvious and not subject to our control. We know that God is responsible for what falls and what rises. We know that he will transform the world, that a new creation is coming into being, that we are part of it. We know that God’s glory begins sometimes as a small and hidden (Gk: krypton) thing.

We know that the kingdom is God’s doing – and our eyes will marvel at it in its fullness, in its glory.

Vision, and hope despite the odds; patience – these are not small things, but extraordinary things: things that make the kingdom grow. And make us grow with it.

How will we plant a mustard seed today? How will we have faith – put our trust in God?

How will we enjoy seeing it grow? Will we wait? Will we try to push it along?

The kingdom will come, is coming, in its fullness: it is already present in hidden, small, secret, potent form. How will we help it spread?

Where do you see it spreading?

June 17
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 6
Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17
Mark 4:26-34

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