Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 2 2015

Ezekiel 17:22-24
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

Well here we are enjoying the delights of June in England. And, hurrah, we have a green Sunday at last, the colour of life and growing things. And even if it is a bit cloudy it’s still a busy time of year in the garden. Some of us might watch programmes like Gardener’s World to give us inspiration and remind us of the tasks that need doing.
But if we tuned in to Gardener’s World one Friday and Monty Don told us that this was the weekend for sowing dandelions in our lawn, or nettles in our lettuce bed, we might wonder if he’d caught a touch of the sun. If there had been any.
It would be a strange thing to tell us to plant weeds in our carefully cultivated gardens or window boxes. But that is the story that Jesus tells us today. Someone sows a mustard seed. And you have to ask why. The mustard plant that grows in the Holy Land is an invasive weed. You want to keep it out of your garden or your field, because it would quickly take over. It’s not something that anyone would grow on purpose.
And yet, in the parable, someone sows a mustard seed. Stranger still, it grows into the biggest shrub of all and all the birds of the air shelter under its branches. Well, mustard isn’t that big, really. It’s a thin straggly plant about six feet high, and wouldn’t provide much shade for anything.
So we enter the mysterious parallel universe of parables. Jesus speaks a lot of the time in parables, especially when he is talking about the Kingdom of God. The parables are like windows into a new and different reality where things are not what we are used to. And this is because the Kingdom of God is not what we are used to. Parables challenge our perception and our priorities. They invite us to enter a deepened awareness, a new consciousness, of something that Jesus is holding out to us but we can’t grasp in terms of life as we know it.
What is the Kingdom of God? It is God’s rule of justice and peace, of love and generosity, becoming real in our lives and in the world. It is our lives and the world becoming what God created them to be.
In Jesus the Kingdom of God has entered the world. He, in his person, in his life, is God’s rule lived out and shown to the world. The Kingdom begins in him, and all who follow him will enter the kingdom with him.
We know that the Kingdom of God has become real in Jesus, not only because he tells us, not only because he lived it every moment in everything he did, but also because the Father raised him from the dead. The death of Jesus may have seemed like the violent kingdom of the world triumphing over the Kingdom of God, but the resurrection turns that defeat into victory. In God there is no death, and the resurrection reveals the kingdom of God in which death has no dominion.
It is that reality which undergirds the whole gospel. The resurrection, the life of God breaking in to the world in the place of rejection and defeat, is the key to understanding everything in the gospels and indeed everything in the Bible.
Which is I think why a number of the parables are about sowing seed, with its resonances of death, burial and resurrection. Jesus himself makes this link in John’s Gospel, where speaking about his death he says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
So it’s significant that in this parable of the mustard seed it is a weed that is sown. The disregarded plant from the wasteland that you wouldn’t want in your garden becomes an image of Jesus who was despised and rejected. The rubbish seed that no-one wants is thrown into the ground. And, miraculously, it rises, and becomes a great tree, giving shelter to all creatures. Just as Jesus, raised from the dead, becomes the one in whom all will find their true life and true home.
In Jesus God’s kingdom has become real in the world. In his resurrection the Kingdom has triumphed in the place of violence and rejection and defeat. The discarded seed has become the Kingdom of God.
But the Kingdom of God, like the seed hidden in the earth, grows in secret. It is God’s gift, and we need to train ourselves to become aware of it. People rejected Jesus because they couldn’t see that in him God’s Kingdom was walking on the earth.
The Kingdom also grows in us, mysteriously, and in secret. It grows in us as the image of Christ is formed in us, as we are transformed into him by grace. That is God’s doing, not ours. We prepare the soil, the ground of our hearts, by repenting and turning towards God. We nourish the ground with prayer and sacrament, as rain and sunshine nurture the earth. But the Kingdom itself, Christ in us, is God’s gift. The growth comes from him, and often is secret and unobserved. It will bear its fruit in due time. One lesson of that is that we are not to worry about our spiritual growth, or try to assess our progress. We open ourselves to God in repentance, prayer and sacrament, and leave the rest to him.
The Kingdom also grows in the world. And in the world, as in our hearts, it is often unseen. The Kingdom always begins on the edges, in the place of rejection and defeat, among the poor, the marginalised, the ignored. Because that is where the Kingdom has entered the world in Jesus.
So the Church needs to look to the margins, to the hidden places, to the poor and despised and rejected, because that is where God’s Kingdom is happening. That is where God’s reign of peace and justice, of love and generosity, is becoming real in the world.

So when we pray, as Jesus taught us, “Thy Kingdom come”, we are praying for that reality of God’s rule and God’s life to take root and fill the world. And we are praying for the image of Christ to be formed in us and grow in us. And if that growth is often hidden and secret, both in us and in the world, we still pray in faith awaiting the day, in God’s time, when the fruits of the kingdom will appear in all its fullness, and Christ will be all in all.

No comments: