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Seed of the Word

By the Most Rev’d Fred Hiltz

A field of Mustard Seed plants

In his teaching about the kingdom of God, Jesus paints images drawn from fields and vineyards and seashores, and marketplaces and homes. He speaks of seeds and vines and fish, of yeast and salt and light, of coins and pearls of great price. The people can readily identify with many of the images he uses but a few seem rather odd – like the one about the mustard seed.

Commenting on that parable Rosalind Brown writes,
“Jesus probably had a broad grin when coming up with this parable to describe the Kingdom of God, because it was verging on the ludicrous. Far from being its being as a glorious example of first century Mediterranean arboriculture, mustard was a tall annual herb, grown for mustard seed oil. Anyone listening would laugh at the thought of birds trying to nest in it: they couldn’t even perch on its spindly stems. Taken literally, it was plain daft. Jesus appears to have chosen this example to catch people’s attention.
If people laughed at the idea of birds nesting in mustard,  some would know from the Scriptures that Jesus was alluding to Ezekiel’s prophecy to exiles in Babylon about birds of the air who would nest in the branches of trees. But Jesus was subverting it. Ezekiel was talking about enormous, solid cedar trees that could house dozens of nesting birds. His prophecy looked forward to the Messianic age, when God would make the restored national a blessing to all nations on earth. Jesus meanwhile talked about the most lopsided shrub imaginable with skinny stems and big branches.”

Jesus is speaking about what Brown describes as “the surprising nature of the growth of the kingdom”, and “unexpected harvests”.

These parables of the mustard seed and the seed growing secretly always remind me of how numerous reforms in the politics of the world, and the ordering of society in accord with the ‘kin-dom” of God have had the most contrite, humble, modest and courageous of beginnings. Let me bring a few to the forefront of our memory.

We think of John Newton and his 1778 pamphlet “Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade” which began with an apology for his own  participation in buying, selling, and trading slaves. “Amazing grace”, he would  write in time, “how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  Now I see the true nature of the kin-dom of God.

We think of the great abolitionist Sojourner Truth and her great speech “Ain’t I a Woman” which spawned numerous civil rights movements in the United States.

We might recall Viola Desmond who refused to leave the ‘whites only’ area of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in 1846, and Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955.

These people “dared to dream God’s reign anew”. (Marty Hagen)

And how can we not think of Martin Luther King Jr. and his great “I have a dream “ speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963. Invoking images from the writings of the prophets he spoke of a world in which justice reigns and racism is absent. “I have a dream”, he cried out, “ that one day this nation will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed.”

And then of course there is Nelson Mandela, affectionately know as ‘Madiba’, and his first words on the day of his release from 21 years in prison , February 11th, 1996
“A South Africa without apartheid will be a better home for all.”

And then his great friend Desmond Tutu who always spoke of ‘God’s Rainbow People’, and how he and Mandela worked side by side in dismantling apartheid and forging paths of reconciliation and hope.

Two great servants upon whom the Spirit of God  had fallen mightily, daring them to dream God’s rein anew.

We might also think of Oscar Romero who spoke out against the oppression of the poor in El Salvador and boldly called for a “turning of the Gospel’s light onto the darkness of the political scene.”  “The peace in which we believe”, he preached, “is born of the fruit of justice.” He too dared to dream God’s reign anew.

And then we might think of dear Anne Frank and her diary, “The Secret Annex”. In one entry she wrote “I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful and bring enjoyment to people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death.” Of the great chestnut tree she could see through the window of the attic where she once wrote “our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It is covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year.” Long before it collapsed on 2010 cuttings from it had been planted all around the world. Anne drafted to dream God’s reign anew.

We in Canada think of Phil Fontaine who told his story of abuse in Indian Residential School and how his courage gave others courage to tell theirs too, and how all of their stories moved the Churches to make Apologues and in time the Government of Canada as well, and how their stories would prompt the establishing of a national Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose Calls to Action are intended to reset the relations between the Settler Peoples of this great land with its First Peoples, guiding us in a new and different path.

As Anglicans we remember Archbishop Michael Peers and the words that shaped his 1993 Apology “I am sorry, more than I can say”, words etched on the very soul of this Church of ours, words that compel our abiding commitment to healing and reconciliation. Another faithful servant of God upon whom the Spirit fell mightily, one who dared to dream God’s reign anew.

And then all those people whose voices cried out for the full inclusion of persons of the LGBT2QS communities in society and in church, crying out for equal rights under the law and full and equal access to all the sacraments of the church, including marriage, all those who continue to help us realize that the kin-dom of God is beautiful in its diversity.

And looking around this chapel and who is here this morning we think of Francis, and Clare and Teresa, the Saint of the Gutter who famously wrote, “what I can do, you cannot; what you can do, I cannot; but together we can do something beautiful for God”.  And so it is that the kin-dom grows …

And finally we call to mind that little company of people in Toronto working to establish a Sisterhood in Canada. We think of Rose Grier who organized a garden party in 1881 with conversations inviting her sister, Hannah Grier Combe, to found a Community of Religious. This year The Sisterhood of St. John the Divine is marking its 140th year of daily prayer and service to the coming of God’s kin-dom.

All of these people and countless others whose dreams and stances, and stories and legacies remind us of a truth of which St. Paul speaks, “I planted, Apollos watered , but God has given the growth.”

“We plant seeds that one day will grow” reads a the prayer attributed to Oscar Romero, “we water seeds already planted, knowing they hold future promise.”

We might well consider the parables of this day from the perspective of vocation….
  “You are a seed of the Word, o people,
     bring forth the kingdom of God.
    Seeds of mercy and seeds of justice
     grow in the kingdom of God.”  (502,CP)

Yes, you are seed of the Word, o people….
Each of you, and all of you drawn and bound together in Christ. In you the kin-dom is rooted, it grows, it bears fruit, its reach is extended and its horizons broadened.

The mustard seed is indeed tiny and “our lives”, writes Herbert O’Driscoll,” may seem tiny in the great scheme if things, but we cannot tell how a faithful word or act may be used by God as a means of grace in circumstances beyond our knowing, perhaps not even in our lifetime.”

You are a seed of the Word, o people.