Sermon preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama on June 17, 2012 (Father's Day)
Proper6, Year B
All I had was a broken race car and no answers.
“He did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” In the Men’s Bible study on Monday, someone light heartedly asked, “Wait a minute! Where is our personal commentary from Jesus? We are his disciples too.” And then everybody looked at me. It was too early in the morning to respond, but in my mind I replied, “I’m sorry, but I’m not Jesus.”
Let’s consider the question at hand for a moment. What if Jesus explained these parables to us in private? Would that make us understand any better? Even if we did understand better, would that make us better disciples? Did Jesus’ private homily make the disciples understand any better? Did that secret sermon improve the disciple’s faith? There is no indication that the disciple’s faith was strengthened because of the private homily, at least not immediately. The very next story in Mark’s Gospel tells of how Jesus accuses the disciples of having little faith in the face of a windstorm.
One of the many questions that begs to be asked in light of this reading says, “Does it matter if we know how it works?” “Do answers to secrets enliven our imaginations and strengthen our faith?” Another way of putting this asks, “Are we more impressed with a magic trick once we know the secret behind it?” What is more important? Understanding all the little details behind how life works or having faith that we have a God who makes all things work?
Like most children I grew up with a fascination for toys. I was particularly interested in knowing how they worked. As you can probably imagine there were a lot of dismembered toys around the Alvey house. You have to remember that all this happened before the Toy Story movies so this kind of behavior was not considered criminal at the time.
My favorite toy of all was a remote control race car. I loved race cars. At the top of every Christmas list was “remote control race car.” It didn’t matter what I got for Christmas just as long as I got that car. I had to ask for a new one every year because at some point in the previous year I took the car apart in order to figure out how it worked.
Unlike any other toy the remote control race car stirred up my imagination the most. I couldn’t figure out how in the world the car moved at my command with just the flick of a thumb. How was I in control? I had power over the car and the best part was that I didn’t even know how! For all I knew, it was magic. I was the god of remote control race cars, so I thought.
When I was thirteen or fourteen my dad said I was getting my last remote control race car so it would be a bad idea if I took it apart. I had fun with the car for a while but eventually I got bored. As teenage boys have a tendency to do, I went against my dad’s good advice. I went against my dad’s advice and took apart the race car in search for answers (Happy Father's Day!). Finally, I gave up and all I had was a broken race car and no answers. In the weeks to follow, I remember wishing that I spent more time playing with the car as opposed to taking it apart. Life then would have been a whole lot more fun if I just played with that race car instead of ripping it to shreds.
Why was I so obsessed with trying to figure out how the car worked? In the same way, why am I so intrigued by the veil at the end of this parable that says, “He explained everything in private?” More specifically, why do I want so badly to be in control? Why do I have to know everything all the time? Do you ask these questions too?
Some of these questions are easier to answer than others but the truth of the matter is that through the parables of Jesus God is pointing us to consider more important questions. The parables of Jesus are not meant to explain how everything works. The first parable in today’s lesson never talks about photosynthesis or horticulture. The parable doesn’t talk about what kind of sunlight the plant needs or how much water the plant takes. Instead, the parable simply says, “the earth produces of itself.” In other words, the earth is responsible for the growth and not the farmer.
Parables aren’t meant to be chapters in science books and neither is the Bible. Like the Bible, parables are meant to open up the possibilities that are found in God’s Kingdom, possibilities for true life and true joy. One commentator defines parable as, “grasping the amazing wonder that is God within the limits of human language.” Shouldn’t this description be enough? Shouldn’t rejoicing in the beauty and wonder of God be enough?
Our rejoicing in the beauty and wonder of creation is enough for God. While God knows we live in a tough and mean world, He sent Jesus to prove it, ultimately I believe that when all is said and done God wants nothing more than for his creation to be happy and at play. God wants nothing more than for us to follow the desires that He has given us in creation; the desire to love one another, the desire to be good to one another regardless of circumstance, the desire to grow and flourish in communion with one another. Remember that these desires are gifts from God and the fruit of these desires are of God’s doing, not ours. As the first parable states, it doesn’t matter if we are asleep or awake, God will produce growth once the seed is planted.
A word of caution in the face paced, fast food world we live in. The fruit of these desires do not grow overnight. The parable notes that fruit is not worth bearing until it is ripe. In other words, be patient. It is good for the Word of God to dwell in our hearts and minds as we prayerfully await what God has in store next. So when God presents an opportunity for growth, the seed of God’s word that we have been carrying can be planted.
You might ask, how big does that seed need to be? Do I need to be an expert farmer before I plant the seed? Do I need to make sure that seed is big enough? According to the second parable, the seed does not need to be very big; in fact it can be the smallest of seeds. Secondly, it doesn’t really matter if you have a green thumb or not as the farmer in the parable has no idea how the plant grows.
Over two years ago a couple of women from this parish noticed that one of our Birmingham Hospitality Network children wore the same clothes every day. At that moment, the seed of generosity and compassion that God put in these women’s’ hearts was planted. As of today, My Child’s Closet, now a notable charitable organization in the Birmingham area, has given away over 58,000 articles of clothing to 5,000 children in need. Previously, none of the founders of this ministry had ever run a non-profit.
Several decades ago a handful youth in the Diocese of Alabama were invited to South Dakota to help out with a Vacation Bible School. At that moment, a passion for outreach was planted in these young people’s heart. When the youth returned to Alabama they teamed up with a few small churches in the Black Belt of Alabama and offered a day camp to some of the locals. As of today, the Sawyerville Day Camp provides two week long camps for 450 children in the Black Belt. In addition, 180 youth of this diocese serve on staff and just about every parish in the diocese is involved including All Saints’. Previously, a similar seed was planted but God had something else in mind.
Ten years ago not a church in the state provided the children’s formation program called Atrium. Starting with All Saints’, the Atrium ministry has grown to include fourteen churches in Alabama and meets the spiritual needs of well over 1,000 children each Sunday.
2,000 years ago Jesus’ planted the seed of God’s kingdom in the heart of twelve disciples. As of today, the living Christ dwells in the lives of billions of people across the globe. And that seed continues to grow as we await the fullness of God’s glory. After studying science and history and the human condition, I have no idea how that seed has managed to produce so much fruit. One thing is for certain, God must be responsible for that growth. I am grateful that I don’t have it all figured out. Otherwise, I might get too caught up in asking how and why and miss out on the joy found in God’s abundance.
Another thing, as disciples of Christ we are not responsible for making that kingdom grow, we are not Jesus; rather we are called to rejoice and give thanks for the goodness of God and have faith that God makes all things and restores all things. We are called to let the Word of God dwell in our hearts richly and give thanks for fruit of God’s work in us and in the church.
I still love race cars. I still want to know how things work. I love to pick apart what I don’t understand in search for answers. And on some level I think that is a good thing. But in the end I have come to realize that I am much happier in life when I accept that I am not in control. I am much happier when I can relax and watch God work miracles through ordinary people in ordinary places. Life flows much better when I spend less time being consumed by the how and spend more time enjoying the awe and wonder of creation.
I give thanks that we have a God who makes everything work. I give thanks for a God who has ordered creation and calls it very good. And most of all, I give thanks that we have a God who is bringing to fulfillment everything that is broken and damaged in this world. We have a God who has put the seed of the Gospel in our hearts so that all may know the beauty and wonder of the love and joy found in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ our Lord. Amen.