2 Cor 5:6-17
“The Story of the People of God”
6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[a] even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[b] we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
26 [Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
Grace and peace to you from God the Creator, Christ the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We are in the part of the lectionary cycle called “ordinary time”. This season, which we symbolize with the color green, is the longest singular Church season – spanning close to 6 months, with a couple of feast days sprinkled in. There’s a beautiful image of the liturgical cycle by Moore + Sprinkle, where the top half of the circle, from Advent through Pentecost, is labeled “the story of Jesus”. The bottom half of the circle, ordinary time, is labeled “the story of the people of God.”
For half of the year we follow the story of Jesus – the anticipation, his incarnation, revelation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. And then for half of the year we ask – how do we live in response to the story of Jesus? What is our story as people of God? Where is our story taking us?
That might feel like an impossible, overwhelming question to answer even in 6 months, but all stories are made up of singular moments, choices, conversations, and relationships, that are sewn together into the tapestry of Creation. We are always and already being made new through Christ’s love. Actions as singular and small as planting a seed can grow into the Kingdom of God.
In today’s Gospel text, Jesus makes two comparisons to the Kingdom of God, trying to explain to those listening something that can’t be fully explained, only experienced. In the first comparison, Jesus likens the Kingdom to someone who scatters seed, and then rests. This person doesn’t know how the seeds sprout and grow, only that it does, and that what was sown produces a harvest. The line that really sticks out to me in this comparison “the earth produces of itself”. The action taken by the person, to scatter seed, is then out of that person’s control – we don’t hear of them watering or weeding, only harvesting. The seed and Creation hold all that is necessary for growth and abundance. The only action required is the trust to scatter the seed in the first place.
In the second comparison, Jesus likens the Kingdom to a mustard seed – tiny, weed-like, a seed that grows into the greatest of all shrubs, giving refuge even to the birds. Mustard is not something a gardener would plant – it’s an invasive species that grows wild. Birds, too, are not gardeners’ friends – so much so that gardeners make scarecrows to keep the birds from eating the seeds that have been planted. It’s these exact qualities that I imagine Jesus referencing – the Kingdom of God is invasive, pervasive, growing over all the land. Once planted it continues to grow and flourish, despite all of our best efforts to pull it up by the roots. The Kingdom of God provides shelter for those who would be driven off, their survival needs deemed a nuisance. All members of Creation have a home in the Kingdom.
Jesus is using these comparisons to say – imagine that these seeds – planted with hope for the future, with hope of abundance, with faith in God’s Creative work – truly are the Kingdom of God. Imagine these plants, imagine the Kingdom, flourishing instead of the occupation and violence and death that currently has a vice grip on the world. Imagine that the Kingdom is so invasive, so pervasive, that it grows wild. The Kingdom will not come through a conqueror, but through a gardener, and through many seeds.
These are some of my favorite parables, because they provide so many ways for our stories to intersect with the story of Jesus.
You can imagine yourself as the person scattering seed in the first parable – trusting in the life-giving energy of Creation, trusting that not everything needs to be in your control, but that there will be an abundant harvest. That there will be enough, even if you rest.
You can imagine yourself as one of the seeds – sown and nurtured by God, and shaped by God, in order that you become the harvest. That you are part of the Kingdom of God, and you are given all you need to transform. That you are full of potential, ready to burst forth.
You can imagine yourself as a bird from the second parable – that even if you are cast out, chased away, denied what you need to live – there is shelter in God. The Kingdom has enough food, enough shelter, enough love for all of Creation.
At different points of your life, you might find a different entryway into these parables. They are so expansive that we can each fit ourselves into them, like the seeds fit themselves into the soil, and the birds into the branches. For today, as we think about our story as people of God, we might imagine ourselves in the moment just before the seed sprouts from the dirt, to reach towards the sun. The seed has been planted, time has passed, it might seem like nothing is happening. When in reality, the seed has begun to root into the earth, and is about to burst forth into new, abundant life. We are the seeds, growing roots, reaching towards God, responding to the stories of Jesus. We have planted the seeds, trusting that God will guide us and guide their growth.
At May’s congregational council meeting, a motion was passed for St. John’s to join the Poor People’s Campaign. This is a campaign that was revived in the legacy of the original Poor People’s Campaign of the late 1960’s.
The first Poor People’s Campaign was a collaboration between Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, among others, and was viewed as the next step to advance justice after the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed. Those bills did not have a significant change on the material conditions of marginalized groups. The Poor People’s Campaign proposed an Economic Bill of Rights under the principle that people should have what they need to live. Before this campaign, class was not seen as a unifying principle, that people across race, gender, ability, and other identity categories, could organize around. And historically, every time that people united around class principles, those movements have been suppressed by those holding power, because the coalitions are so powerful. Uniting across race, gender, ability, around the idea that everyone should have what they need to live, around labor rights, around economic justice – is a powerful force.
In 2017, the Poor People’s Campaign was revived by Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis under the tagline: “A National Call for a Moral Revival”. It is organized across coalitions, across issues, across identity, in order to “confront the interlocking evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, militarism and the war economy, and the distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.” There have been teach-in’s, protests, actions, listening sessions, and policy proposals. This past Monday, there were actions in over 28 states, demanding congressional support for the 3rd Reconstruction Resolution, a proposal that would address poverty and low wages from the ground up. The current Poor People’s Campaign has a wide scope, which might feel both impossible and overwhelming, but also gives a lot of entrance points for participation and support.
I want to take a moment to explore one of our central Lutheran confessions in relation to becoming a member of the Poor People’s Campaign – that we are saved through grace by faith, apart from works. Caring about the material conditions of our neighbors, caring about justice, participating in moral actions and good deeds is not contrary to being saved through grace, not works. We don’t do good works in order to seek salvation, or in order for God to love us more, but instead, good works are a natural response to God’s love and grace. Because we don’t need to worry about our salvation or if God loves us – because They love us so abundantly – we can instead care for our neighbor. Just as a seed, once it is planted and nurtured, can’t help but grow towards the sun, we, beloved and forgiven, can’t help but to extend that same love to our neighbors.
We have planted a seed by joining alongside the Poor People’s Campaign. What that will exactly look like in this context is still being discovered and discerned. Some folks might decide to join in the state-wide planning meetings. Some might decide to write their representatives, encouraging them to support the demands of the Campaign. Some might march. Some might distribute information. Some might provide food and gathering space for meetings. Collectively, these individual modes of participation form a web of change and action.
As we heard in 2 Corinthians today, the world is already being made new through Christ. We are already being made new through Christ. This new creation is earthly, embodied, our old ways of sin and death are being transformed by the love of Christ. In this season of ordinary time, as we ask where our story is taking us, it can be a time of exploration into our collective and individual roles in the unfolding story of God’s Kingdom. Asking questions like: what is my capacity? What am I passionate about? How can I better love my neighbor? Right now, in this time and place? As we grow together, making choices about what our world, our society, will be like in this ongoing unfolding, we might be transformed and made new.
Building Movement has created a social change ecosystem map that I have found extremely helpful, which maps out the different roles needed to effect change for equity, liberation, justice, and solidarity. Some of the roles include builders, healers, disrupters, storytellers. Just as we are able to fit ourselves into different parts of Jesus’ parables at different points of our experience, we can find our place in collective movements for justice and radical love. To what is God calling you? Calling us?
Beloveds in Christ, we are the seeds, growing roots, reaching towards God, responding to the stories of Jesus. We have planted the seeds, trusting that God will guide us and guide their growth. We will continue to plant seeds, in hope and anticipation of God’s Kingdom. May this season bring abundance, transformation, and new life. Amen.
Vicar Reed Fowler,