SERMON 6/17/12 Pentecost 3B

I Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; Mark 4:26-34

                Faith is confidence or trust in something or someone.  We trust our insurance agents that if we wreck our cars or if a hurricane hits, the bill will be paid.  We trust the surgeon that she/he knows what they are doing and will restore our health.  We trust our accountant that she/he will file our taxes properly and keep the IRS from taking our stuff.  We trust that our 401K it will provide enough money for us in our retirement.  We trust that our spouses will be faithful and love us.  We trust in ourselves, because we buy into the notion that we are the only person we can really depend on.  What about God?  What about faith in God?

                 We may say, “I trust in God,” but if we put our trust in others or even ourselves, why do we need faith?  Do we need faith so we can live into the promise that God will not abandon us to the grave, that we have insurance of something beyond the grave?  Do we need faith in order that we can have God’s spiritual and possibly physical healing when we get sick or when we face pain and disease?  Do we have faith so, when bad times come, we can know God will be with us.  Yes, yes, yes but there is so much more to life in which we trust God.  Trusting in the insurance agent, surgeon, accountant, 401K, our spouse, or even ourselves is a false hope.  We as Americans, tend to believe we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and make things happen.  We believe we can help ourselves, that we can overcome all obstacles, that we do not need anyone but ourselves.  If we buy into that, we have bought into false hope. 

                We must never forget that God is creator and we are creature and as such, we are utterly dependent on the source, which comes from outside ourselves.    We trust in the Master because we are the master’s handiwork and not our own.  I love this little poem written by Simcha Bunim:  “Everyone must have two pockets into which to reach from time to time as the need requires: In the one pocket it shall read, ‘For my sake were the heavens and the earth created,” and in the other pocket, “I am but dust and ashes.’  We get a little reminder of our own mortality our utter dependence on God, on Ash Wednesday.  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust shall you return.”  As creatures, we are the beloved dust of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  We are loved and accepted, but we are dependent.  We are utterly dependent on God: the Father, the creator, the source, the beginning, and end, the Alpha and Omega.  We are utterly dependent on God: the Son, the redeemer, the reconciler, the healer.  We are utterly dependent on God: the Spirit, the sustainer, the teacher, consoler, encourager.  We are mere dust, fertile soil into which God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, places the seed of hope, love and grace in us and through faith, through trust, our lives become the abundant crop of hope, love and grace.               

                Our faith like seeds, are little bundles of great optimism, hope, and anticipation.  Jesus used the parable of the seeds because in an agrarian society, the people understood the significance of planting and harvesting.  Today, we live in a time of advanced agricultural technology, vast farming operations, rapid distribution chains, and a plethora of retail food chains.  We are a bit detached from the parable of the seeds in this 21stcentury food machine.  However, even today, farmers still put seeds in the ground and crops emerge.  Farmers plant and they trust that a crop will come forth.  Their livelihoods are at stake, and yes, they trust.       

                Even with all the technology, a farmer would never take her precious seeds, hide them in a container in the barn, and say, “These are my seeds, I’m going to hold on tightly to them for myself and keep them hidden until the harvest comes.”  Does that even make sense?  No, a farmer takes the seeds, those precious bundles of optimistic trust, digs into the soil, and places them deeply into that rich, fertile, dust.  The work does not end there.  She or he works every day to give those seeds the best opportunity to come to full growth.  The farmer pulls weeds so they do not choke the plant.  She adds fertilizer to help the little seedlings emerge.  She insures that there is enough water available to keep the plants alive.  She adds a little organic, non-carcinogenic pesticide to discourage other critters from taking her crop.  The farmer does not hide the seeds in the barn, she does not merely plant them in the ground, and she works on the little seeds coaxing, encouraging, and supporting their growth and fulfillment.  Faith is not something we claim for ourselves and merely place on a shelf whenever we need it.  Faith is not something we receive once and say that is it.  Faith is something we must cultivate, tend, foster, support, and nurture.  

                To grow the crop of trust in God, we must explore, communicate, and act.  Cultivating the crop of faith requires us to explore the narratives of faith shared by other folks who have gone before us.  Study is the fertilizer of faith.  Read scripture daily if only one verse.  Immerse yourself in stories of the saints who have gone before.  Add a sprinkling of someone else’s trusting God into your mix of soil, and watch the sprouts emerge.  Cultivating the crop of faith requires us to communicate with God and each other in holy conversations.  Communication is the water of faith.  Pray daily.  Speak to God plainly.  Share your hurts, disappointments, and desires.  Offer up your thanksgivings, celebrations, and joy.  Talk with God; that is prayer.  Talk with others too.  Share holy conversation with each other.  Engage in sharing how God is working in your lives and you will be surprised at the common threads of grace you discover.  Add abundant holy conversation into your mix of soil, and watch the plant of faith come to life. 

                 Cultivating the crop of faith requires us to act and to remove those things that get in the way of growth.  Sometimes we need to get outside ourselves and see the plight of others.  It helps us pull the weeds of our own complacency, self-focus, and lack of compassion.  Sometimes we need to immerse ourselves in the weeds of someone else’s existence, so that we can see our own.  Work in the garden of the least, lost, and lonely, your sisters and brothers here and beyond here, so that we may help their gardens flourish and mature.  To grow the crop of trust in God, we must explore, communicate, act, and then, we must share.

                Faith is not merely something for us, but through us, it might become hope for others.  My Uncle Marvin Loftis every year planted a garden the size of a small village.  He not only ran, along with my Aunt Anna Mae, a busy little country store, but he spent all spring, summer, and fall tending this garden.  Tomatoes, potatoes, corn, cucumbers, okra, beans, you name it, and Marvin grew it.  I remember visiting him during the summer and as much as I wanted to go fishing with him (one of his other favorite hobbies), that just had to wait.  Even when the fish were biting, Marvin could be found in the tall corn lovingly cultivating the garden, anticipating the coming of autumn, awaiting what was to come, and getting ready for the harvest.

                I always knew that the rustling of leaves, the return to school, and the fall of the year was just around the corner in East Tennessee, because without fail, Marvin and Anna Mae would begin taking Sunday afternoon journeys to go and visit with family.  We all knew that Marvin had harvested the garden because when they came to visit, and as they entered the house, he would say, “I brought you all little something from the garden.”  It never failed, we always received from the wonderful couple huge grocery bags filled with huge ears of corn, more tomatoes than one could ever eat, cucumbers galore, beans of every variety and type, and the best okra you ever tasted. 

                 See for Marvin, cultivating his garden, all the love he put into it, all the long hours of fertilizing, watering, and weeding was not so he could hoard it all for himself and Anna Mae.  The joy of gardening, the joy of all that hard work came not from the canning, storing, and eating of the abundant crop, but it emerged from the sharing.  Marvin took those little seeds he had, put them into the rich, red East Tennessee soil, fertilized them, watered them, and weeded the rows, so that he could go out among those whom he loved, and share it.  That is what our faith is really all about!  We are given the gift of faith, of trust in God, so that we can cultivate it, but not merely for ourselves, but so we can share it.  We are given the gift of trust in God, so that it might be an abundant witness, so others may be able to receive it, be transformed  by it; by the shade of God’s grace that sprouts, grows, and emerges in and through us.  “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”  Plant, fertilize, weed, water, and grow; so that others may share in the abundant grace of God in you. 

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