July 27, 2008
One of the great blessings of this season is witnessing a majestic transformation of life in Gods universe. The process begins in early march along the bosque. Pairs of Canadian geese work methodically along the ditch bank, heads down, intent on the task at hand.
The Geese are oblivious to the hundreds of people who pass by. They are much too busy, preparing with a sense of purpose, a sense of belief. Over time, I become accustomed to their activity until one day I notice a difference.
The Geese are no longer working. They are now keenly aware of everything. Necks extended, eyes alert, bodies full – an impressive sight. Then I understand why. Barely visible are 3 or 4 small goslings, tucked close. Awkward and small, they seem vulnerable. Yet, with each passing week, I notice subtle changes. They grow stronger and venture a bit farther out from their parents.
They acquire the distinct black and white color pattern. They transform into something totally new. Soon, the entire family will take off in flight, upward – as one. And I will be rendered speechless. Blessed to share in their transformation. Witnessing the true purpose for which they were created. Beauty transformed into something beautiful.
The moment is always indescribable, that millisecond when the air gets caught in the back of your throat, and you are frozen in complete wonder and amazement. You feel the presence of God, and your soul glimpses the Kingdom of Heaven.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is relating the wonder of his Father’s Kingdom. He is describing the indescribable awe, I experienced, except that one moment - is promised for all eternity. To describe it, Jesus uses two insignificant objects, nearly imperceptible to the human eye. He also describes a process to get there.
A mustard seed, so small that it can fit on the head of a pin. He uses yeast; your breath can blow it out of the palm of your hand. Yet, these two tiny objects have amazing potential. The seed has the ability to grow into a tree, so great that the birds of the air will make their homes in it. The leaven may be able to grow exponentially and rise thirty fold, even one hundred fold. Both have amazing transformational potential. Is it luck? Steroids? Miracle Grow?
Like most of his teachings, Jesus wants us to think. There is always a story behind the story, a parable among the parable. The solution is not as simple as it appears. Seeds do not grow into trees on their own; leaven does not become bread by sitting on a table. The mustard seed needs sun, soil, and water. Leaven needs flour, the hands to mix the ingredients and the patience to rise. The goslings need their parents’ guidance, protection, and care.
All depend on nurturing, the life around them to initiate their transformation. Because there is something inherent in the seed that calls it to be a tree, something inherent in a Gosling that moves it to flight. All are encoded with the ability to achieve their ultimate promise. To grasp their potential, to realize the reason they were created. As the beloved children of God, should we be any different?
These parables highlight how dependent we are on this world and our surroundings. Neglecting the life around us is devastating on everything and everyone. If the mustard seed is not nurtured, it will never become a tree. It will stay small, dormant and fade into the earth. If the gosling is abandoned, it will starve, fall prey to predators. It will die.
Just as nurturing and belief support life, neglect and indifference suppress it.
We see this daily, marriages or committed relationships that are not lovingly nurtured that are not lovingly nurtured will eventually wither and perish. That love will starve. If we neglect our relationships with our children, family, the people we love, the life of that bond will become frail and fade away.
We were not created to be small seeds in parched fields. We need life around us.
Everything God created has a place in this world. Everyone God created has a purpose. For life has meaning, and if we do not nurture it, if we are not nurtured, we will never witness transformation.
This includes our relationships with our spouses, partners, family, friends.
And importantly, our union with God and Jesus Christ. For this is why we are created. Just mustard seed is encoded with the potential to be a tree, the yeast the ability to transform into bread; we are created to be one with the Lord.
When we were knitted in our mother’s womb, God placed in us his desire for each one of us to return to him. This is the purpose for which we were created; our lives were meant to share in his Kingdom. Oswald Chambers wrote that people say they are tired of life; but no one was ever tired of life, they are tired of being half dead while they were alive. We need to be transfigured by the incoming of a great and new life.
But the active word is transformation and transformation is not easy. It is not a quick wardrobe change to look good for the moment. It alters your structure, your outlook on life. We are challenged to live differently to become something new.
Transformation breaks open that hard outer shell of that small mustard seed and explodes into a tree that gives shelter and sustenance to others. It gets into your body, kneads and twists you like bread dough. It turns a lump of flour into the bread of life that can feed the world. Transformation changes an awkward gosling into absolute wonder.
True transformation is majestic. So what would cause such a change? Jesus. It was written that there was just something so clear and beautiful, something so true, unique and powerful about Jesus that old rabbis would marvel at his teaching, young children would run and sit in his lap, ashamed prostitutes would find themselves weeping at his feet. Entire villages would gather to hear him speak.
Experts in the law would find themselves speechless, and all people, poor, the rugged working class; the unbelievably wealthy would leave everything to follow him. Why? They were transformed by Jesus Christ; they realized that he was their purpose in life. The reason they were created. Their beauty was transformed into something beautiful.
This realization propelled uneducated fisherman, tax collectors and women of faith from a small dark room in Jerusalem out into the world. Their purpose? To make the world what it was meant to be – God’s Kingdom. Transformation in Christ gave us those viewed the world not as it is, but as it might be - Archbishop Luwum, William Muhlenberg, Dorothy Day, William Wilberforce, and the millions of unnamed angels that God alone only knows.
Last week Fr. Brian said that the church is supposed to be very different people finding their common ground in Christ. Republicans and Democrats, tree-huggers and gas guzzlers, not a monochromatic club of the like-minded. But as members of God’s family, we are also not wooden chess pieces who move stiffly in and out of this sanctuary.
Our call is to the Father, our transformation is in Jesus. But to do so we must have the preparation. Seeds have soil, yeast has water, and the goslings have their parents. What do we have? The Eucharist, simple prayer, the Holy Bible, our sacred cross and one another. Part of our preparation is providing sustenance for each other, loving one another. We help each toward our father’s Kingdom.
Mustard seeds, transformation, and the Kingdom language are not old stories written on dusty sheets of Papyrus. It is alive and we are living it today. We bring forth Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven in the fellowship of the Thursday book group, in the work of the dedicated volunteers of the food pantry, in the faces of our children while in their Christian formation classes, through all our pastoral ministries.
Transformation begins when we step across this sanctuary and introduce ourselves to those we do not know. When we greet our brothers in sisters in Christ love. When we hold one another’s hand in times of tragedy and joy.
Transformation occurs in our communal call to take the message of Christ evident at St. Michael’s into the larger world. God is constantly calling us to transform our hearts and our souls. To believe in the unimaginable and undertake the impossible. When we do so, our small seeds will create thousands of acres of trees; our leaven will produce food to feed millions.
And each of one of us will experience that eternal moment where we cannot catch our breath, where we stand in wonder and awe and experience of the kingdom of heaven, to the delight of our Father.