Never undersetimate the small…and keep planting. Sermon for Adel Parish church – 13th June 2021

A single mustard seed resting on the tip of a finger.

Never underestimate the small…and keep planting.

Sermon for Adel Parish church – 2nd Sunday after Trinity, 13th June 2021

Mark 4: 26 – 34

Today I want to tell you a story. I won’t start with ‘once upon a time’ because as far as I know, it’s a true story.

It could be the story of a remarkable young man and what he did with his life. It could be the story of a narrow escape and a lucky break. But I like to think of it as the story of an ordinary, faithful Sunday school teacher…perhaps struggling a bit to keep a lively group of boys interested on sunny summer mornings…perhaps wondering if they’re taking anything in, but persevering anyway.

Actually, she (and it almost certainly was woman) is the person we know least about in this story – but we know she existed.

Anyway, our story starts in Uganda in the 1970s. The Uganda of Idi Amin, where innocent people regularly disappear. About 40 miles from the capital Kampala, our hero – David – is growing up in a poor village, cared for by his mother. When David is about 9, his mother and all of his siblings die of malaria within a week. Neighbours help him to bury his family – but haven’t the resources to take in an extra child.

So David walks to the capital to try his luck. For a few years he survives with other street children…scavenging for food and sleeping rough. But then he hears street children are being kidnapped to become slaves on the plantations of the dictator. What should David do?

At this point he remembers from years before, his Sunday school teacher saying ‘trust Jesus’; and he recalls passing a business with a sign declaring ‘The Jesus Garage’. So he knocks at the door – and is greeted by a huge, imposing looking man. Trying to look older than his years – David asks for a job. The man – a Christian (hence the name of his garage) takes pity on David, offers him the job of sweeper, and an old car to sleep in. His first home for years.

Actually, what the man gave David was a future…trained him as a mechanic, paid him, and shared his love of Jesus.

With his first proper pay packet, David rented a shack and took in 6 homeless orphans. He met and married Sarah, and together they had 8 children and adopted a further 9. But they did far more than that. When their children needed schooling – they founded a nursery school and opened it to locals…then a primary school, a secondary school.

Some pay fees – and this is used to provide a home and educations for orphans. When the AIDs epidemic struck, many pupils were orphaned each year – they were never turned out when fees dried up.

David is now a priest. I wonder whether that Sunday school teacher ever knew that if she taught nothing else, her message that Jesus can be trusted took root and grew.

2000 years ago, Jesus stood in front of a crowd telling stories. He was trying to make them understand that he, with his motley bunch of Galilean fishermen, tax collectors, hangers on, was actually the beginning of God’s kingdom breaking through on earth.

Well why didn’t he just say that? Why insist on talking in riddles? Perhaps because the crowd couldn’t have taken in what he needed to tell them. Perhaps because it’s a truth too big, too abstract to make sense of in one go. Jesus doesn’t deal in simple facts but deep ideas about our relationships with each other and with God.

In today’s words he was enlarging people’s vision to grasp that here was the tiny beginning of a kingdom that would grow and shelter people of all races. He gave them a narrative world they could enter and explore…which will go on teaching…will help people ponder simple ideas and complex puzzles.

Jesus talked about how things grow. He held up a mustard seed – not that they would see it – it’s far too small. But they knew all about mustard seeds. They knew that tiny though they are, with minimal effort from people they grow into bushes big enough to shelter all sorts of wildlife.

The people in these two parables don’t do an awful lot. They scatter the seed on the ground. There’s no watering, weeding, applying fertiliser…my sort of gardening in fact…but from tiny seeds come full heads of grain and massive shrubs.

Humbling, challenging and encouraging words for Christians working to grow God’s kingdom in their little patch. First a reminder that our role is perhaps both more and less important than we imagine.

We’re called to be the sowers – to plant the seeds – to tell people about the kingdom of God and the person of Jesus. Without the seed, there is no plant, no growth of God’s kingdom. That could be daunting – but remember how the sower just slept and rose and the plants grew? We don’t have to do it all. We don’t need a complete understanding – a thought out explanation – a plan for every step of someone’s Christian journey before we start to invite them into the kingdom. We sow – God’s grace brings about the growth, in a way we won’t understand.

And even the smallest of seeds can grow to a great bush.

So, if you’re a parent, managing a slightly embarrassed prayer at bedtime with your children; if you’re a Junior church or JJs leader wondering how to make sense of Jesus’ words for young people; if your evangelism to a friend consists of suggesting they try evensong, because of the peace it brings you, or ‘Ace’ because it’s fun; if the Rector’s asked you to share your thoughts at an All Age service and you can’t imagine what an ordinary person like you can say about God…

…think of David Serunjogi’s Sunday school teacher and what grew from the simple message to trust in Jesus; think of the mustard seed, and go on planting.

 

Don’t be a scribe…choose love rather than condemnation.

Sermon for Adel Parish church 1st Sunday after Trinity.

Choose love rather than condemnation…sermon for Adel Parish Church 1st Sunday after Trinity, 2021

Mark 3: 20 – end

“I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees, but they wouldn’t dance and they wouldn’t follow me”…we all know the song. Even as a child I realised that in the gospels; fisherman, or even tax-collector, was a better bet than being a scribe.

In today’s reading they’re accused of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…for which they can never have forgiveness. Given all the other sins recounted in the bible – that seems a bit harsh.

So who were the scribes and what exactly have they done?

They’ve heard how Jesus is healing people of major physical and mental ills. They’ve also heard how Jesus talks of forgiving sins as well as restoring bodies. So they’ve come to see for themselves.

But they haven’t really come ‘to see’; they’ve already decided. Scribes were educated men who copied, and interpreted the Torah – the laws of Moses. They had everything neatly boxed into right and wrong, good and evil…and Jesus didn’t fit. He did wonderful things you’d think must come from God, but he didn’t go about it in the ‘right’ way, and anyway, only God could forgive sins.

The scribes are so sure about the system they’ve built up, that they can’t see beyond it. The healings; the wonderful joy and freedom in people who had suffered terrible mental illness; they can’t deny these. If these illnesses were caused by demons – Jesus was clearly casting out these demons.

But because Jesus doesn’t fit their idea of ‘good’ they’re convinced he must be evil. They come up with the ridiculous accusation that it’s by the power of Satan, that Jesus casts out Satan. As Jesus points out – if Satan is working against himself then he’s finished – but this doesn’t convince the scribes, because they hear Jesus’ words and assume it’s Satan speaking. They’ve seen good, and labelled it as evil.

And it’s at this point we hear, ‘people will be forgiven for their sins, and blasphemies, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness.’

When we consider the whole passage this begins to make sense. It’s through the Holy Spirit that Jesus forgives, heals and makes whole. But if the scribes could look at the relief and joy Jesus was bringing – and say it came from Satan – they’d be unlikely to accept that healing for themselves. Jesus doesn’t say, God won’t forgive, but they can’t have forgiveness.

This week, it made me think of vaccine deniers. Not people with good reason to be hesitant, but people who’ve decided vaccines are ‘bad’, and come at every argument from that perspective.

Show the vast array of independent scientific data…all of those scientists must be part of a worldwide conspiracy to cause harm.

Point to improved health where vaccines are used…it’s fake news. Since they’ve decided the very thing that could save them from disease is evil – there’s no way they’ll accept the protection a vaccine offers.

Likewise the scribes; they can’t be forgiven because they’re rejecting the one who can bring forgiveness. It’s not that they can’t see the light – but they’ve called the light darkness. As the ‘Message’ bible translation vividly puts it, they’re ‘sawing off the branch on which they’re sitting’.

So should we be worried? Everything I’ve read about this passage suggests that if we’re worried about committing this ‘unforgiveable sin’, then we probably aren’t. If we’re open to God’s forgiveness – God will find us.

But still, Jesus condemned this sin very publicly. I read some interesting advice for public health officials on how to engage publicly with vaccine deniers. It said you’re not really talking to the vaccine deniers as they probably can’t be persuaded, your audience is the general public…who might need protecting from misinformation.

Jesus responds to the scribes, but knows they’re unlikely to accept his words. His audience is the crowd…and us.

Is he warning that once we think we know good from evil, when our religious establishments have neatly categorised it into rules we can teach and apply, our eyes can become closed to the work of the Holy Spirit?

Here he is talking about seeing something good – something from God – but labelling it evil because the religious ‘rules’ say it is.

I think it can be a problem for churches today. For those convinced that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, other faiths are seen as wrong. But this can close our eyes to the obvious goodness and love involved. We see them as dangerous rather than entertaining the possibility that they hold some truths within them, from which we might learn.

We know, from Jesus himself, that divorce isn’t the best path. So in the past the church refused to remarry divorced persons. The ‘rule’ stopped us looking beyond; seeing many new relationships are built on love that surely is of God.

And still today, Christian organisations tell us that gay relationships are sinful, against God’s plans. Beyond some isolated bible verses though, anyone who takes the trouble to look, who sees the genuine love between many gay couples, must surely find it looks very like the love of God as it’s reflected in all wholesome relationships.

The trouble is, rules feel safe. How am I supposed to judge whether changes in society are the breath of the Holy Spirit, or an erosion of true Christian values? How can I know whether the church should follow, or resist?

Well people came to Jesus for healing. Following him is never easy – but it always involves healing and wholeness. Jesus seems to be saying to the scribes that if it’s healing and wholeness they’re seeing – they should trust it comes from God. Perhaps that’s not a bad guide for us too.

And anyway – when I have to account for my life before God – I’d rather justify having loved too much, than having condemned too much.

Lord God – open our eyes to the actions of your Holy Spirit, that we might share in your healing and forgiveness.