1 samuel 15:34-16:13; psalm 20; 2 corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; mark 4:26-34
The Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis
I have been thinking about story telling perhaps because I have had more time to spend with you, and you have been generous in sharing your stories.
Stories are integrating and impact us at many levels. Stories convey more than a simple list of facts. For example, I can tell you my mother is a consummate helper with the spirit of St. Francis. The statement tells you something. But if I tell you the story of the time she followed a hairless Chow around her neighborhood for hours to rescue it only to be bitten on the hand. It would tell you more. The hand became infected and swelled up like a baseball glove. That Chow remained hairless and in my mother’s home for a few years until it died. This story conveys more about my mother than my original statement.
Stories are told in public and private. Stories are told for a multitude of purposes; for bonding, healing, threatening, or instruction. A history professor I know said she uses stories to introduce her college students to larger concepts. She says if she can compel them emotionally or personally with a story, their minds are more likely to grasp a larger concept that may be new to them.
Story telling can be a way of loving people, especially in dying. Hospice workers remind us that hearing is the last sense to go. When a dying person hears stories about themselves and their life, they are reassured that they are not alone in their final hours.
It occurs to me that Jesus sometimes loved people through story telling. One type of story he told is the parable. The parable a timeless tool for agitating, elevating and even illuminating the minds of its hearers. Parables cannot always be understood at first or without help, because like myths parables point to something beyond themselves.
The realm of God is best described in parables. While it has universal properties, it cannot sufficiently be portrayed by a straightforward description.
Perfume, for example, cannot sufficiently be described by simply enumerating its scientific characteristics. It is a liquid that when dispersed is more than its dispersal. The scent carries beyond the reach of those diffused droplets. It has an olfactory impact that sometimes triggers emotion, attraction, repulsion. Perfume can make us to follow someone or to think we are falling in love.
Like perfume, the phenomenon of God’s realm, reign, kingdom or kindom cannot be explained by a list of characteristics. So, Jesus uses parallels. He said the Kingdom of God is like one who makes provision. It is like one who brings in harvest with seemingly no effort of his own. It is like the tiny seed that makes great shade in the middle of the desert.
The Kingdom of God has the capacity to grow and spread always for the good. We never say the Kingdom of God has the capacity to grow and spread like a mushroom cloud, colony of roaches, or aggressive cancer. Kingdom of God always makes a provision for something good; something necessary. Food. Shelter. Survival. Survival beyond the body. Survival beyond one single person.
Edward Sellner writes of the St. Ciaran of the 6th Century, one of the first founders of Celtic monasticism in the early Irish church. The lore of St. Ciaran is that he went to visit a friend. Upon meeting both had a vision of a grand tree growing in the middle of Ireland. “This tree, while protecting Ireland, also had its fruit carried across the Irish Sea by birds from around the world which filled its branches.” It is said that Ciaran speaks to his friend of the vision, and the friend interprets it back to Ciaran. “The tree is you, Ciaran. For you are great in the eyes of God. All of Ireland will be sheltered by the grace within you, and many people will be fed by your fasting and prayers.”
This story about Ciaran and the parables of the kingdom of God offer concrete images to convey a most complex mystical phenomenon; that the seed of divinity which dwells in you has enough life or life force to effortlessly yield something plentiful and sheltering.
A contemporary spiritual teacher from India puts it this way:
The seed of purity [in our own hearts] must be nurtured and made to grow in such a manner that it radiates beyond the confines of the individual human system, radiates beyond his home and beyond his small world until finally the whole universe comes within its divine embrace.
From a miniscule, spiritual seed The Kingdom, or work, or realm of God has the power to sprout concrete expressions of provision for the world. Provisions of love, acceptance, compassion, food, water and shelter. “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat,” says the Lord.
On this Father’s Day we could say that the nature of the Kingdom of is a guideline for the highest order of fatherhood. It is the spiritual seed that provides for all of creation. It is a spiritual seed that works in a very particular way.
In his poem, “The Seeds,” Wendell Berry writes, “The seeds begin abstract as their species…But the sower going forth to sow sets foot into time … the seeds falling on his own place. He has prepared a way for his life to come to him, if it will.”
What starts out as a seed of spiritual abstraction has the potential to grow into the life of a saint.
The life is yours. The tree is you. The grace within any one of us has the power to shelter a nation and bring fruit to the world. What starts out in any person as a seeded spiritual abstraction turns into a life lived. Your life is the kingdom of God. May it provide for your own needs as well as the needs of others.