Saturday, June 16, 2012

Third Sunday after Pentecost: Volunteer Watermelon, Mint, and Church Camp

Readings for this Sunday:  Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Back when our kids were little and we still bought watermelons with the seeds in it, I would give the kids a piece of watermelon and send them into the back yard to spit seeds.  It was something my brother and I would do, standing on the back stoop, spitting as hard as we could, trying to see whose seed would go the farthest.

Well, late one spring, we noticed a vine growing on the patio.  I was going to pull it up, but Tim thought it looked like a melon plant.  We decided to let it grow and see what happened. 

Over the summer, we’d check its progress.  It grew and flowered – one lonely blossom.  Then late in the summer, Tim said, “I think we have a watermelon growing.”

That single watermelon never got much bigger than a baseball.  But then, given that we didn’t plant it, and didn’t nurture it and it was growing half under a concrete slab, I thought it did pretty good.  The watermelons that my brother would plant in our garden at home never yielded more than one cantaloupe-sized melon per vine – if that!

If you’ve had a garden, you’ve probably had a ‘volunteer’ or two.  Last summer, I heard about volunteer tomatoes.  I managed to get a salad or two out of the volunteer lettuce that grew in the container garden behind the parsonage.  Sometimes I think the produce from a ‘volunteer’ plant is especially tasty – a harvest gift.

Jesus likens the kingdom of God to a seed that is scattered on the ground.  Did our farmer intentionally plant this seed, or were these seeds maybe just dropped on the way to the barn?  Does it matter?  This farmer is ready to reap a harvest where ever it may be found. 

But between the sowing and the reaping, the farmer does….nothing.  The seed grows by itself, following the instructions deep in its DNA, the pattern written into it by God at creation.

It first sprouts,
          -       and grows,
             -       and puts out a seed head,
             -       and the seed head ripens into grain.     

How is the kingdom of God like a seed that grows by itself, like a volunteer watermelon…
             -       Grows by the design of God;
          -       A delightful surprise;
          -       Mysterious;
          -       Comes to us when we are not looking;
          -       Come to places we wouldn’t expect it;
          -       Grows from a seed we didn’t even know we planted.

“What parable would you use to describe the kingdom of God?  Can you find a metaphor or simile?”

I doubt anyone listening to Jesus ask that question would have blurted out, “Ooh, ooh, Jesus, pick me, pick me! – It’s, it’s, a-a-a mustard seed!”

I mean, Ezekiel compared God’s kingdom to the cedars of Lebanon – mighty, glorious trees, strong and beautiful.  Its wood was highly valued, and expensive.

Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a mustard plant. 

The kingdom of God is like an herb that’s basically a weed?

Mustard is invasive.  It’s nearly impossible to get rid of once it’s planted. So you have scrubby bushes all over your garden, or field. And while the seeds are good for spices and medicines, a little goes a long way. One plant would be more than enough for most people’s needs.  Mustard grew in the wild – if you needed some, you just went to the hills and looked.

Makes me think of mint.

When I first started an herb garden, I planted some mint.  The lady at the nursery warned me to be sure to not plant the mint in the ground.  Mint is hardy and invasive.  If you put in it the ground, soon your garden will be covered in mint.  She knew from experience – one of her garden patches is completely covered in mint, and it has migrated to another patch across the yard.

So warned, I planted mine in a tub.  It was a dish tub turned into a planter and I had plenty of room to put another plant.  So I planted Thai basil in the other half.  Within a few weeks, the basil had been choked out by the mint.  It completely took over the tub.  What’s more, it sent out runners and I had to keep cutting it back before it took root in the ground. 

I had more mint than I knew what to do with!  I gave it away.  I made tabouli, which takes a lot of mint.  I dipped the leaves in chocolate.  I dried it.  I still had more mint than I could use.

By the way, I discovered that catnip is a relative of mint, and apparently mint smells close enough to catnip to make it very attractive to my cat.  Let’s just say that I had to be creative to find a drying place that a determined cat couldn’t get to.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, like a mint plant…
          -       We want it, but we like to keep it in manageable amounts.
          -       It defies our attempts to control it.
          -       It grows profusely.
          -       It can plant itself.
          -       It shows up in places where we least expect it.
          -       It survives and thrives in the least likely of places.
          -       It disrupts our ordered, planned lives.
          -       It comes and keeps coming regardless of attempts to eradicate it.
            It might just attract someone unexpected - or maybe even unwanted –to your garden.

The kingdom of God is like a seed that we plant that God makes grow.  We do our little bit and God does the rest. 

We do our bit.  We scatter the seeds of God’s love.  It can be a little thing – like the mustard seed.  We can intentionally plant a seed, or we can be completely unaware that we have even sown a seed at all.

That’s maybe the most amazing thing about the kingdom of God – it’s the little stuff we do because we are children of God, because we are touched by God’s love and grace and mercy that often has the biggest effect in someone’s life. 

Last week I was at confirmation camp.  Here’s some of the places where I’ve seen kingdom of God seeds sown:
       -       A 7th grader prays out-loud in a group for the very first time.
       -       Kids playing 4-square kick ball, giggling at the confusing rules, laughing as a ball lands in another group’s field, learning to share a limited space.
       -       A deep quiet over seventy plus middle school kids sitting on the grass as Jesus tells them to love God and love one another during the “Christ Walk”.
       -       An even deeper quiet as the kids crest a rise later in the “Christ Walk” to see Jesus hanging on the cross.
       -       A cabin counselor engulfed in a group hug as the girls she’s guided this week say good bye.
       -       Looking around at the earnest young adults with a passion for Jesus, and knowing that camp is a garden that produces many of our future church leaders.

Who knows how those seeds will take root, how they will grow, what will be the fruit?  Only God knows.  Somewhere down the road, someone will see the results, someone will benefit from the harvest.

So, this week, look around.  Where do you see kingdom of God seeds sown? Where do you see the kingdom of God push up between the cracks?

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