With apologies to anyone listening who knows anything about civil engineering, I begin today reflecting on bridge-building.
A bridge can take us from the known to the unknown, across ravines of misunderstanding to the firm ground of mutual appreciation for another’s perspective and vision.
The Greek speaking world of St. Paul in his missionary travels put a lot of stock in persuasion.
In the culture of Western Europe and North America we are accustomed to persuading others to our point of view.
You can see how well that is working on our political landscape.
In the culture of the Jews at the time of Jesus, the “parable” was a frequently used method of bringing a listener along a path of discovery of a new point of view.
Because the parable is not a common way for us to communicate, we need to take special care that our way of persuading others is not an obstacle to really hearing Jesus’ message about the Reign of God.
We enter a world of comparison and contrast, a world of allegory and metaphor, a world of paradox and symbols when we hear a parable.
The listener does not have to agree with everything described in a parable to “get” the parable.
For instance, most farmers and gardeners could tell you that the mustard seed is not the smallest of all seeds.
But that does not take away from the point of the parable.
Seeds and plants are wonderful starting points for a parable because they are so mysterious, as are all living things.
Jesus used this starting point, not only because most of his listeners understood raising crops in a desert, but also because prophets before him had used these images and observant Jews nodded knowingly at the reference.
Jesus then takes them to places they are not prepared for, because he takes them beyond the cultural expectation and spiritual/religious horizon they are accustomed to.
“The time has come,” he said, “and the reign of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.” – Mark 1,15
With that apocalyptic declaration Jesus began his Galilean ministry in Mark’s Gospel account.
God breaking into history is a key feature of apocalyptic literature reaching back 600 years before Jesus.
The time of the exile in Babylon occasioned the rise of prophets in Israel who saw God’s hand in the rise and fall of Israel’s fortunes amidst the political and military powers of the time.
Jesus then mines a rich tradition that his followers and listeners immediately recognize.
Mark’s version of today’s parable counsels Patience and Hope.
The scripture of the day prompts us to experience the Reign of God as alive.
The Reign of God is not a “state of being” but rather an ongoing activity of the God whom Jesus calls “abba”.
We the listeners/followers key into the lively activity that is sometimes difficult to observe.
Our faith and trust in Christ Jesus and the Spirit that flows from him makes our perception of that lively activity possible.
For a few more minutes, then, let us explore what patience and hope we need to cultivate, using the images of the parable as our guide.
Our Gospel writer, Mark, has Jesus deliver five parables as a sermon.
The parables we hear today are near the end of the sermon.
Waiting for a seed to germinate and grow can be an anxiety-provoking exercise for the farmer or gardener.
Were the conditions for planting just right?
Was the soil warm enough for this type of seed?
Was the seed buried at the correct depth?
Did it get too much or too little rain?
Except in greenhouse conditions, we never have as much control as we might like.
The ultimate truth is, we do not ever control the seed.
Likewise, we will never control the reign of God and where and how and how fast it will grow.
Therefore, Jesus and the Gospel writer, Mark, tell us, “patience” dear listener, dear follower.
Do what you can do to prepare the soil of your own heart so the Reign of God may enter in like a seed.
Likewise, do what you can do to create more just systems in our world so that future generations have a fruitful garden to live in.
At the end of each day and at the end of each life span, we the listeners, the followers, can say we gave the Reign of God a space in which to grow and thrive.
What about hope?
Our first reading today from the prophet Ezekiel is part of a longer passage called the allegory of the eagle in which the prophet satirizes the occupying power of his day.
Our passage is a response to the allegory, assuring the reader that the God of Israel is more powerful and more inventive and more creative than the foreign powers that dominate the Israelites.
Jesus and the Gospel writer borrow heavily from Ezekiel and use the lowly mustard seed rather than a cedar sprig to demonstrate how powerful is the Reign of God.
They are saying to us, the readers and followers, place your hope in the power of God.
The first followers and listeners look around at one another – a bunch of the most common people you can imagine at any time in any place – and they hear Jesus going on about the significance of the Reign of God already close at hand.
There had to have been some skepticism.
2000 years later, please look around at how common we all are.
Do we trust the Reign of God is close at hand, and growing, when it is extremely difficult to discern it?
Our prayer together echoes Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth.
So we are always confident;
even though we know that while we are at home in the body
we are away from God—
for we walk by faith, not by sight. – 2 Cor 5,6
The traditional invitation to the Prayer of Jesus begins,
“We pray with confidence in the words our Savior gave us.”
We are – each of us and all of us – heirs with Christ Jesus to the Reign of God.
We live in it already as we await its perfection.
** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** *
In thanksgiving for those who speak truth to power in our own day, advocating for the well-being of our earthly home and its inhabitants. May they find support and encouragement in our Christian Communities, we pray …
In thanksgiving for those who are willing to stand for elected office locally and across our nation. May they possess the moral compass necessary to consistently act as servant leaders, we pray …
For communities of faith throughout our world, in particular this Sunday Assembly and the Benedictine Women of Madison, that they grow in love and in numbers, we pray …
For diplomats and the leaders of NGOs throughout our world that they will find a way to distribute COVID vaccine to all the people of the world, we pray …
Please mention quietly the needs you carry in your hearts. For these and all those listed in our book of intentions, we pray …
May all our prayers rise like incense to the one whose love knows no bounds. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.