Friday, July 25, 2008

The Kingdom of God: Certified Organic

(Read Mark 4: 26-29)

Today’s Gospel Scripture was given to me in Taize, France. They sell several types of necklace charms there, each comes with a Scripture as to its meaning. As soon as I read the text from Mark 4, I knew which one I had to buy as a symbol of my life and the spiritual journey.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like this: a person scatters seed on the land. Night and day the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps the harvest!”

I can say that about this misson trip I just took. The kingdom of God grows, "She knows not how." It was a mystery to me. I did not seek it out as much as I felt like I was sought out. I did not till endlessly in the garden to make something happen. And yet, grass, buds and grains keep emerging.

The kingdom of God is certified organic. It grows naturally out of the stuff of life. Especially when we surrender, and when we follow the Spirit and the teachings of Christ do are lives grow beyond our own efforts.

The kingdom of God is not something that we plan. It is something the
Spirit of life orchestrates based on a wisdom and foresight unknown to us. Living in the kingdom of God on earth is all of our destinies, and it is a mystery to the human mind, only as it is growing do we recognize it springing up all around us.

Let me begin at the beginning.

Jen Lalor, a teenager from the Reformed Church of Port Ewen, called me two years ago and asked me to apply as a leader for Project Timothy. PT is a mission trip for youth sponsored by the Reformed Chruch of America. Two years ago, I said no. This was not my denomination, not my church kids, not something I felt called to do. But when she called me a year later, this past spring, with the same invitation, I had a different response. I said I would consider it. Maybe, just maybe, the Spirit of God was calling me through the invitation of a girl from down the street.

So, I put myself out there. If one was trying to apply the metaphor of today’s Gospel parable, I was scattering seed. I tossed bits of who I am into the application process, and I did it quickly one evening. Then, I let Project Timothy go.

Two months went by. I did nothing pertaining to PT but went about my life and routine. Until one evening, a blade of grass appeared. I received an email that I had been chosen to lead Team France to Taize. I had been curious about Taize for several years since I had heard about it in seminary. Not only is Taize in the beautiful French countryside, but it sounded like a Christian Woodstock, a festival of the Spirit minus drugs, sex and rock-n-roll. Thousands of kids, aged 17-29, flocked there each summer to pray, eat, work and find centering amidst the band of brothers who had committed their lives to Christ and lived in this profoundly alternative community. What makes Taize different from the average monestary is that it opens its doors and shares its life with so many who search, believer or not.

I am a seeker by nature so I was attracted to the prospect of life at Taize.

But the minute I found out I had been asked to go and lead 6 young people in the process, fear and doubt crept into my mind. Worldly concerns bombarded me. How would I afford it? What about the churches I serve? How could I leave? Would I be putting in all this time and effort just to wind up out of my comfort zone and miserable?

Beyond the doubts that barked in my head, I felt a pull in my heart to say “yes.” I took the events that I’ve just described to you as a sign. Plus several people in my family and church life encouraged me to go for it. (Thank you). So I turned off my brain and mailed in my $100 deposit with a short note saying how excited I was.

That doesn’t mean my fears and doubts entirely left me. My first journal entry upon arriving to California, which is where I met all the 30 participants of PT , and where we did our team building and orientation, I wrote: "What am I doing here? I feel totally out of control. Because I am. I’m in new surroundings, with new people and on someone else’s schedule. I need to surrender control. Is God with me?"

This entry announces a way of thinking completely in opposition to the trust I now feel for God's plan, and which helped me to write this sermon. The kingdom of God is organic. It grows naturally by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. My thinking was very worldly. It was filled with doubt and control issues. If you want to enter into the kingdom of God on earth, you must take a chance, go with your gut, do something new and unknown. Because it is when we surrender our way and our ideas that God gets some room to play out God’s way and God’s ideas. The kingdom of God is not forced. It grows naturally by the wisdom of the Creator who makes the crops to grow in their season and cultivates our lives just the same in their season. We just have to be willing to grow.

My friends, I am telling you, if I could have planned this trip, if I could have picked the people who went, my best friends in the world, and decided how we would spend every day, this trip would not have been the profound experience it was. God grew this experience and that’s why it was wonderful.

I read two books on this trip, and believe it or not, they both had the exact same quote in them. That doesn’t happen very often. Two totally different books by different authors with the same quote!? "I did not ask for success, I asked for wonder” (said by Rabbi Abraham Hershel).

So wonder it was. Wonder became the theme of this trip. I am in wonder at how God works.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like this: a person scatters seed on the land. Night and day the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps the harvest!”

When we seek out opportunities that seem random, that is us scattering seed. Or when we make efforts or choices or follow our hearts, that is us taking seed and scattering it into the ground.

God grows and cultivates that seed in ways we do not fully understand, but we see the blades of grass emerging. We see the crop coming to harvest. And that is the work of the Spirit, that is the blessing of grace.

Some of the things God taught me:

The wonder of teenagers/young adults: I love you all! Serena, Anthony, Ryan, Lauren, Pinto and Elizabeth. Laughter. Searching. Trust. We became a family
in the name of Christ.

The importance of surrender, waiting, patience—let life unfold organically.

The importance of getting out of one’s comfort zone- I love to travel! While I have it all set up at home, it’s hard to let the crops grow without tinkering.

How much I love and trust God—God is wonderful! Trust in your Maker.

What will this all amount to?

It is a mystery of how this all came to be and continues to unfold. I believe in a great ending.

God poured grace upon me and every person on this mission trip. Now, it’s a matter of seeing how that grace will take root and grow. I know not how it will happen, but I am confident in an abundant harvest.

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