Ezekiel 17:22-24; Mark 4:26-34
For the most part the miracles of Jesus were about speed. Things that usually take a long time were done in a flash. We remember that he turned water into wine without thinking that every winery in the world does the same thing because all wine is made from water. The point is that Jesus did it with a word, the same way God called light and stars into being in the creation stories. Jesus stilled the storm and healed the sick, but all storms eventually quiet down and sick people get better everyday. The miracle was in the speed. Jesus made his mark in a nanosecond instead of hours or days. Because we are steeped in these lightening manifestations of God we might have trouble spotting the slower more mundane ones. We might miss the point in the passage from Ezekiel and the Gospel that we heard this morning. The prophet sees God plucking a fragile and tender sprig from the top of a large cedar tree and rooting it in mountain soil. Jesus speaks of tiny seeds of grain and mustard. In both cases they anticipate something large and grand, the very Garden of God, but the beginnings are tiny, uncertain, unimpressive, and vulnerable.
Christians must be alert to the lightening strokes of God and stewards of that which has become noble as the cedar, ripe as the grain, and great as the bird-sheltering bush. But along the way we must also recognize the fragile cuttings of God, learn to nurture the stalk before the grain appears, note the seed on the ground as well as the branch in the air. Come with me as we look together at some of God’s seedlings, the slow growing miracles of God that are taking root all around us.
One of my favorite stories from my home state of West Virginia is about the criteria for a janitor in the Wood County school system. The standards are reasonably standard but the fourth one is worthy of note: Knows dirt when he sees it. If you have worked with those who clean, you know that dirt recognition is not a universal gift. The same point could be made about Christians who should be able to see God’s work all around but, alas, God recognition is not a universal gift either. We have to work at it. And our work is especially difficult in regard to those embryonic seedlings of God that are intended to become great but for now are still tiny, uncertain, unimpressive, and vulnerable.
God plants ideas among us, gives us instincts, principles, and possibilities which may appear impractical at best or foolish at worst. Free the slaves? How could you do that? Government of the people, by the people, and for the people? The king would never allow it. A cathedral church on Mount St. Alban overlooking the capital city? A pipe dream. Women as leaders in business and government? It is just not in their delicate nature.
It is easy to look back and see the seedlings of God that have, against all odds, become the Garden of God. The trick is to be able to see the seedlings that have not yet ripened, branched out or become great. To sharpen the eyes for those tiny sprouts one must begin with an awareness of the sorts of things God is likely to plant, things that reflect the known interests of God. Things like God’s ongoing enthusiasm for breaking down barriers and bringing people together or God’s concern for the lame, the least, and the lost. When we have God’s interests in mind it is possible to see that God is still busy planting in our world, placing cedar twigs in the thin mountain soil of our distracted lives, dropping vulnerable seeds that appear impractical or even foolish. Things like equitable distribution of wealth; inter-religious trust; honest understanding of how race matters and how it does not; homes for the homeless; homes for the immigrants; homes for the refugees; safe places for the battered, the broken and the betrayed; unemployed armies instead of unemployed veterans.
These are just sprigs of ideas right now tiny seeds lying exposed on the ground. But God has great hopes for them, does he not? God has put life potential in those ideas and a hundred others. Potential that is bursting to become the realities of future generations. We Christians need to know God’s seedlings when we see them. It is not a universal gift but one that we can work on. And when we see them, we must nurture them, live into them, be the sun and rain and soil that brings them to fruition no matter how long that ripening process might take.
Let me mix the metaphors a bit and move away from talking about seeds. I have been told that belief is hearing the music of the future, faith is dancing to it. I am convinced beyond doubt that God wants us dancing to the music of God’s intended future, living into the time that is not yet but sure to come.
We gather in the shade of trees planted by people who never saw them grow. We are sitting right now in a cathedral that was nurtured into being by people who never saw a roof over it or heard a sound in it. We walk out of here into a nation crafted by those who sought a more perfect union but never saw it. We enjoy freedoms gained by martyrs who never experienced them. We are comforted by a faith that was hoped for but not known for centuries. And, like those who nurtured the seedlings of their day into the cedars of this day, we are called to nurture the tiny, unimpressive, and vulnerable possibilities that we know are the will and hope of our God.
Is there anyone here who does not know what God intends between the haves and the have-nots of this world? Can any of us deny the expectations of tolerance and generosity that rightly belong to people of faith? Do any of us not know what racial harmony might look like? What have we run out of that prevents us from providing shelter that can become dwelling and then house and finally home? Are there any among us who lack the power to serve the interests of peace?
God cuts cedar twigs and plants them in thin mountain soil. God scatters tiny, uncertain, unimpressive, and vulnerable seeds all around us. God fills the impractical and unlikely with incredible potential to make life new. God opens the eyes of the faithful to see those plantings and opens the hearts of the brave to nurture them into reality.
When you go from this place, water the seeds. Nurture the plantings. Do not step on the twigs. Nurture the plantings and live in the Garden of God. Amen.