How do we hold scripture?
The stories we hear this morning from scripture are two of the best known in the Bible. Jesus talks about the reign of God as a mustard seed. God tells the prophet Samuel to ignore the valuations of the world, to select the smallest, the least likely of Jesse’s sons: David is anointed. There’s a danger in preaching on well known stories, because when the stories are well known we think we already know the meaning as well. We know the intellectual answer. We’ll pass this Sunday school quiz.
It matters how we hold the Bible. One of the best descriptions I’ve heard for Biblical wisdom is this: the Bible is not a book of directions (plural), but a book of direction (singular). Trying to live a legalistic interpretation of the Bible as a Christian doesn’t really work. If we try to be literal, we might all have to consider this morning literally giving up our careers to become mustard farmers. We might debate choosing our next president by pouring a horn full of olive oil on whatever ruddy small child we find out herding the sheep.
The Bible isn’t best understood as a book of directions, but the Bible IS a book of direction. And in a moment like the one we find ourself today, at this strange threshold time between what we just survived and what is coming next, the Bible can be helpfully orienting. We can find our way through by looking at the way God has lead in the past.
And so today, I want to offer two interpretations of these stories, these are just my takes on where the map might be leading. The first has to do with seeds, and the second has to do with embracing the unexpected.
Let’s talk for a moment about seeds.
This is a well worn metaphor, even for Jesus. Jesus lived in a much more agrarian economy than we do today. Seeds are the stuff of life, but they don’t necessarily look like it from the outside. Jesus uses seed here to talk about the seemingly small decisions, the seeming minutia of life. This week I was reading a case study of a church not unlike our own. This was a church that thought of itself as a diverse and welcoming community and they prided themselves on the inclusion of younger people in the congregation.
This story is about a young man called George. George has a disability which significantly limits his language. His parents noticed that the young people in the parish were very friendly to the family, but they weren’t getting to know George. One Sunday, after church, the parents overheard several of the young people talking about the sixteenth birthday party of one member. They had sung happy birthday to her during the service. It seemed all the young people were going to her party, but George wasn’t invited. His parents drove him home, saddened and not really knowing how George felt.
That afternoon, after the usual family lunch, his mother went up to George’s room, and found him cutting up pieces of paper. She asked, “what’s this you’re doing George?” and he responded, “I’m making up tickets for the party.”
Your heart just drops, doesn’t it? What’s so hard is that we can all see how easily something like this could happen…even in our own church. There wasn’t any deliberate evil committed. But this is a story of one of those tiny mustard seeds, rolling over the dirt, failing to be planted. It seems so small, but the party invitation could have meant so much.
When I read this case study, I realized again why our church has so deliberately committed ourselves to starting the Grace Gathering ministry. There are so many people who have been excluded by church because of disability. It takes real intention to plant seeds of relationship. It takes real intention to plant seeds of trust.
Grace Gathering isn’t about making a separate space for people with a disability. We are planting this ministry, we are investing this time and talent, we are investing financially, because we know it will take real intention to overcome the subtle defaults that exclude people who are disabled in church. We trust that we can’t yet imagine the way the seeds will grow, but that tiny intentions can blossom into work we can’t even comprehend. If you’re interested in learning more about Grace Gathering, being part of the intentional work to build relationship with the disabled community, I encourage you to talk to Julie. The first Grace Gathering that will happen in person is coming next week.
Belonging and unexpected friends
The work of intentionality helps us to see a wider theme in church. We often use the language of “belonging” when it comes to church. We ask, “what church do you belong to?” We talk about wanting people to “belong here.” But here is the reality, belonging isn’t something that happens technically. It’s not really about a letter of membership or a bishop’s hands on your head. Belonging happens because we belong to one another. We know we belong when we know that we would be missed if we didn’t show up.
The mustard seeds matter. The little things matter. How do we help one another know that we belong? How do we take steps outside of our comfort zone and really see one another? How do we form friendships deep enough that people know they would be missed if they didn’t show up? How do we plant mustard seeds?
Notice, David was missed in this story. His family didn’t think it was possible that God could call the littlest child. But somehow Samuel knew. The Lord’s anointed was not among the impressive siblings. God does not see as humans see, scripture tells us. God does not evaluate us the way we evaluate one another. God doesn’t judge us based upon our bank accounts, our SAT scores, or the car we drive.
Why we celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride at church
We need reminders. I know that some folks roll their eyes when we light up the altar for LGBTQ+ Pride month. I know for some it seems a little over the top. I know. Some think the rainbow flags, and showing up for the downtown Pride Interfaith Service, it’s just a little much. Let me tell you why.
First let me say, it’s not for me. Well, it may be just a little bit for me, but mostly it’s not. A couple of years ago, I was in India. I was sitting with a Catholic monk, a man who was openly gay, who had a real call to the monastic life but who sometimes wondered if celibacy had also been the most viable option given his very religious family. He was asking about Holy Communion, fascinated that we were free to be so openly embracing of the LGBTQ+ community. As we sat and talked, I flipped through pictures. When he saw the picture of the altar, he grabbed my phone. He wept. He asked me to send it to him.
We light up the altar for Pride, we make such a big deal, because there are still so many people who have been told that their love, that their sexuality, can’t be a part of what God loves about them. Yes, you can buy a rainbow on everything from a pair of Nikes to an ice cream cone, but you can’t buy the rainbow as a symbol of God’s love. That rainbow will always be free, and I pray it becomes less rare. We make a big deal about Pride because there are so many people who have chosen to join this church because it made space for them to embrace part of themself, or part of their child, their sibling, their friend. We make such a big deal because part of the good news that we have to offer is that God does not judge the way that humans judge. God sees you, all of you, with love. God sees you, all of you, as a blessing.
The direction in which Scripture points us is often counterintuitive, and it’s is almost always counter-cultural. The direction God points us ALWAYS asks us to be intentional about the seemingly small things. God is always planting seeds, seeds of friendship, seeds of belonging. The people you may most need, the friends who may be the biggest blessings in your life may very well be the people you least expect.
The people God gives you may be a little more loudly queer than you would have initially felt comfortable. The people God gives you may think differently or vote differently. The people God gives you may have a disability which limits communication. And, friends, friends, the people God gives you will help you know, you belong. You are a part of a wildly diverse community of God’s beloved. Plant the seeds. Keep your eyes out for the unexpected people in whom God shows up.