Thursday, June 11, 2009

“...and the seed would sprout and grow...”
(Mark 4:26)

Year B Proper 6
Ezekiel 17: 22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Mark 4:26-34
Jan Robitscher
Trinity Parish
Seattle, WA
June 14, 2009

There are three things that make us Christians:
faith, baptism and sharing at the altar.

Guerric of Igny, Twelfth century.
Sourcebook on Baptism, p. 160)

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

So here we are. The Great Fifty Days of Easter and its feasting are over. Last week you had your patronal festival of Trinity Sunday, the capstone of six months of tracing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the birthing of the church, I am sure it was all glorious! We are now at the beginning of the long, green season which is sometimes called “Ordinary Time”. Why green? Green is for the leaves of summer, and for the growth which, we hope, will happen during these months.

But this particular day is not ordinary. Today we celebrate two very special baptisms. Today Antonio and cousin Natalie, (great-grandchildren of Mary Alice Legge) will become friends of Jesus and we will adopt them as children of this community. In a way, we are “planting seeds”, and, over time, they will grow. Sometimes this growth will be noticeable, sometimes, as our lessons say, it will happen “we know not how”. Suddenly, they will be teenagers and then young adults. Hopefully, they will, as St. Paul says, grow up into the full stature of Christ.

Our readings today attest to this. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God planting a special cedar tree.

“Under it every kind of bird will live... All the trees of the field
shall know that I am the LORD.”

And our Gospel lessons speaks a lot about seeds in two little parables: of a sower
scattering seed and noticing over time how the seed grows, he knows not how, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The tiny mustard seed (I have one on my bracelet) grows up into the largest shrub, providing branches “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Somehow, God seems to be about planting seeds and nurturing them as they grow. What can we learn from this?

Let's take these two Gospel parables and look at them closely. Remember that a parable is a story with one main teaching point--sort of a “one point sermon”. Jesus used parables a lot in his ministry as a way of describing, in ordinary, every-day terms, what the Kingdom of God--that time when God?s reign will be fully known among us. A parable today could be that the Kingdom of God is like one of those greeting cards that starts off “you know you are old when...” or maybe we could have one that said “you know you?re an Episcopalian when...” or a special baptismal card that says “You know you?re a friend of Jesus when...” The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like seeds growing secretly.

People in Jesus' time did not know the science, as we do now, of how seeds grow. They only knew that if you planted seeds and tended them, watered and fertilized them, you would wake up one morning and wow!--suddenly they would be tall stalks of wheat or barley, or tall date-palm or olive trees. That?s what the Kingdom of God is like. We plant the seeds of loving God and each other and we trust that, while we are sleeping or going about our daily tasks, one day God?s Kingdom will become fully known to us and all things will come to their fulfillment in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, our special baptismal greeting card would say: you will know the Kingdom of God has come when the seeds of God?s love you planted at baptism have , with God?s help, taken root and grown up inside you, even if you don't see it happen.

There are three things that make us Christians:
faith, baptism and sharing at the altar.

And from even the tiniest mustard seed, the largest shrub grows, giving shelter to birds and other animals in its shade. So with our faith--even the tiniest faith--grows to embrace God and all those around us, so that we love as Jesus loved, giving shelter to all who are in need and welcoming all who, as Jesus did, come to the waters of baptism in faith.

But how do we plant the seeds? Remember, these seeds are not annuals. They are perennials and so they only get planted once. Baptism--our once and for all incorporation into the Body of Christ--is the way we Christians plant our seeds. As the early Christian writer put it, “Christians are made, not born.” Permit me to speak as a liturgist for just a moment.

From its beginnings at Jesus'own baptism, which was the inauguration of his public ministry, those desiring to becomes friends of Jesus have done as Jesus did, entered the waters in a wonderful participation in Jesus' death for us and his resurrection to new life. In the beginning, these were mostly adults. But by the 4th century, after Christianity became legal (and therefore public) several generations might be baptized at the same time, including young children. Infant baptism did not become common until about the 7th century--but that's another sermon!

Back to our seeds. Once the seeds are planted, whether they the
seeds growing secretly or the tiny mustard seed or our special “baptismal seeds”, they must be nurtured by God, who sends good weather and rain, and also by the plant food and other tending given by the gardener sent by God?s Holy Spirit. In other words, the seed, once planted, gives itself up to God's care and the farmer appointed by the Holy Spirit, in order to grow.

So it is with our “baptismal seeds”. Once a person is baptized, whether an infant with parents and godparents making promises on their behalf, a young child (or two) or an adult making their own profession of faith, the circle of care-takers becomes much larger. The African adage “It takes a village to raise a child” applies here. In effect, we all become the adoptive parents and godparents of those being baptized. Or, as St. Paul says:

What then is Apollos? What then is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe,
as the Lord assigned to each. I [Paul] planted,
Apolos watered, but God gave the growth.
(1 Cor. 2:5ff)

+ + +

There are three things that make us Christians:
faith, baptism and sharing at the altar.

But baptism does not exist by itself in the Christian life. It is accompanied by the anointing with oil and the words, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever.”, the giving of a candle (Receive the Light of CHrist. Now you be the light of the world.) and then we celebrate the Eucharist together. It is in Communion, that Jesus gives himself to us in a very special way through bread and wine. This is the repeatable, ongoing part of baptism. Like plant food for our seeds, so is the Eucharist, the “sharing in the altar” as our Medieval friend Guerric says, for our “baptismal seeds”; food for our journey, Christ's very self with us so that we become “little Christs”--Christians--carrying him out into the world. So every time we receive Communion we recall our baptism, whether or not we can remember the actual event.

Jesus said,I am the true vine and my Father is the
winegrower... abide in me as I abide in you.
My Father is glorified in this, that you bear
much fruit.
(Jn. 15:1ff, 8)

So let's plant some seeds--real seeds and baptismal seeds! Let's help Antonio and Natalie become friends of Jesus and welcome them into the Body of Christ. Let's take seriously the promises we make to nurture these special children, these “baptismal seeds”, to help them grow in faith, hope and love. And let?s continue to come, week by week, to receive Jesus, food for our journey, so that we, too, as St. Paul says, may grow into the full stature of Christ.

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