3 Pentecost B, 2021: Our Inheritance

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Texts for Preaching:
Mark 4:26-34
What to remember when waking by David Whyte
The YouTube version follows the text

Side-by-side in today’s reading from Mark,
are two parables.
I’m going down and dirty today —
taking a fillet knife
and slicing out the edible parts.

Both parables imagine
what the kingdom of God is like,
and that is the critical comparison for a parable.
Parables were the unique teaching tool
of early first century Judean and Galilean preachers.

They held one point
laced into a contrast.
Forget all the fluff the Gospel editors
added to them, especially Matthew.
They are not allegories
in which element symbolizes something.

They are parables
in which the single point
is framed by a contrast.

So, the kingdom of God,
in the first parable
is like a farmer who harvests the crop
when it is ripe.

This is truly an agricultural metaphor that
any farmer would understand.
When the corn or soybeans are ready to harvest
you can’t stand around savoring the view.
The harvest comes and immediately
the farmer is out there with his sickle.
Farmers know that the forces of Nature
are impetuous
and can quickly take back what has been given.

So the kernel of wisdom
embedded in this first parable
is that the kingdom of God strikes
while the iron is hot!
It doesn’t hem and haw,
wonder if the market will be better tomorrow,
or fret about success and failure.
The kingdom of God scatters seeds,
waits for them to ripen,
and then acts immediately.

To put it even more succinctly:
the kingdom of God
acts instantly
when the moment is ripe.
When the moment is ripe, God acts.

The problem for us, of course,
is that we mostly do not believe God acts.
Many of us are functional agnostics
who would be hard pressed
to publicly attest to a single act of God
in the world,
in our lives,
in our lifetimes.

So this can be a disconcerting parable
since it may not align with our experience
or beliefs about how the universe operates.

More about that and David Whyte in a moment.

The next parable proclaims that
the kingdom of God,
upon whose branches
are nestled countless living things,
begins from the tiniest of seeds.

I like to super-size the metaphor this way:
Upon the kingdom of God
is nestled countless spinning orbs
and far-flung fiery asteroids
and clusters of life in the cosmos,
all of which had its origins
in the teeniest, tiniest speck…or bang.

That’s pretty straightforward.

So if we put these two parables together,
as Mark did,
they tell us that when the moment is ripe
God acts immediately;
and the ripening of that moment
will take place inconspicuously.

Let me repeat that…

Teeny, tiny, and inconspicuous
is what it is all about
in the Kingdom of God.

It is the opposite of our perspective on the world.
It is NOT about being the biggest,
most powerful
or fantastically successful person.

In fact, it is not about us at all.
It is about God’s action.

In the Economy of God
the currency is all small change
rather than amassed wealth.
God acts when the moment is ripe;
and God acts through supremely insignificant
little minnows like us.

These parables put us in our place
even as they liberate us.
We are not the authors of the moment.

We are not the creators of the seed.
It is not our field.
We don’t make life grow.
We cannot hurry it.
We cannot ripen it.

The kingdom of God
lives and moves and has its being
in the immense drama unfolding all around us
and we can’t even see it.
Once we get over being insulted
because it is not about us,
and that we have no bragging rights
when it comes to the kingdom of God,
this hard news is liberating.

It really isn’t about us
and that is great.

We are only dust mites
on an extremely small planet
in a particularly tiny galaxy
in a cosmos
that goes on and on and on and on
in every direction
farther than we can see —
farther than we can imagine.

So if we think we know how to judge the world
and what takes place around us,
we might want to broaden our perspective
by looking through the Hubble telescope.

And at the same time, while it is not about us
it is also true that even through creatures
as insignificant
and limited as we are,

God can bring about amazing things
when God acts.

We will never see it
or get know it while it is taking place,
but living as if we might possibly be agents
in the kingdom of God
is empowering.

Or think of it this way.
If you are a single cell
with little or no relationship
or significance
to the billions of other single cells
floating around in the warm waters of creation,
it can be a lonely,
and enervating life.

But if you are a single cell
that is part of a body,
that is an actor in a larger ecosystem
with other bodies
and other forms of life
all interacting and growing
and being held in the branches
of the creator-of-all-that-is,
then it will feel like an amazing, miraculous life.

In either case, we are the same single cell
but how we experience
and live that life
will be vastly different.

That is what I hear
in these two parables.
It is God’s action
and God’s garden
and while we are not even be a speck
in God’s eye,
we are part of it.

Now here is where all this
connects to that great David Whyte poem.

“In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.
What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance…  (What to Remember when Waking)

First, we will never, ever see
the kingdom of God
looking at the world through the lens
of pure reason
and mechanical thinking.
We see it in the miasma in between
thought and imagination,
in between reason and intuition,
in between art and science.

The exact moment we start pointing to it
and trying to describe it,
we lose it.

Whyte’s description of that in between
wakefulness and sleep
is a perfect metaphor
for the consciousness within which
we become aware of the presence of God’s reign
and the tree in whose branches we nest.

And then there is this:

“To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance…”

Knowledge of this realm
in whose branches we nest,
or in whose cosmos we spin,
is a hidden gift we carry for others —
knowing it
and living within it
and sharing it
is our inheritance.
It is not something we need to prove.

It is a gift we live, an inheritance we enjoy.