A reflection on Proper 6-B: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Psalm 20, 2Corinthians 5:6-17, Mark 4:26-34 by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt
Simon’s 5th grade class had a science fair this week. Two of the children experimented with plants: did a plant grow faster if one played classical music, rock music or rap music next to it?
The children were convinced rap music did the trick. In one boy’s experiment, one plant was kind of shrunk down compared to the others. The other boy said that the rap music one was taller – the classical music one looked vigorous and healthy to me – but the rap music one had broken its stem on the way to school. But I was skeptical. Maybe I had today’s parable in mind: we sow the seed, but it sprouts on its own – it grows tall – we know not how. It grows to tall, ripe grain, or to become a shrub so might that the birds nest in its branches. Even controlling for variables in a scientific experiment, it is still God’s seed, God’s mystery, God’s power, God’s time.
That is kind of what is meant by “the kingdom of God.” That kingdom is not necessarily a place, with border guards and boundaries, but a sense of God’s power. God’s dominion. God rules here. God’s rules rule here. The seeds sprout and grow into plants. The sun rises and sets. We work, we sleep, we rise. We see God’s kingdom at work in the world around us.
Following the rules of God’s kingdom is a balancing act between the work God calls us to do, and an utter detachment from the results of that work. In every way, God wants us, I think, to participate in the work of that kingdom: to plant seeds. What are the seeds God has given you in your life? How do you think God wants you to participate in the kingdom of God?
What was God looking for when he chose David out of all the warriors offered to him, David, the youngest, to be the one chosen and beloved of God? What could David have possibly done to deserve such a blessing?
In the letter to the Corinthians, Paul encourages the believers. “The love of Christ urges us on,” Paul says. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away.”
There are moments in our lives when we just can’t make things fit. Try as hard as we can, something just doesn’t work. A relationship, a task, a problem to be solved. Aren’t we just prone to worry ourselves sick? Don’t we just want to get this right, that perfect, to please ourselves, to please God? Is this what God would want? How do we know what is the right thing to do? What if we just worked a little harder, fixed this thing a little better, dug a little deeper, stayed up a little later? Wouldn’t there be more justice in the world? Wouldn’t there be more mercy? Wouldn’t things be RIGHT?
One of my favorite summer stories is set in New York City, in an indeterminate decade sometime in the middle of the 20th century. It’s a story of boys playing marbles on the street, in the deepening dusk. The narrator is Buddy, shooting marbles with his friend, Ira. Buddy’s brother, Seymour, comes up to them.
One late afternoon, at that faintly soupy quarter of an hour in New York when the street lights have just been turned on and the parking lights of cars are just getting turned on - some on, some still off- I was playing curb marbles with a boy named Ira Yankauer, on the farther side of the side street just opposite the canvas canopy of our apartment house. I was eight. I was using Seymour's technique, or trying to - his side flick, his way of widely curving his marble at the other guy's - and I was losing steadily. Steadily but painlessly. For it was the time of day when New York City boys are much like Tiffin, Ohio, boys who hear a distant train whistle just as the last cow is being driven into the barn. At that magic quarter hour, if you lose marbles, you lose just marbles. Ira, too, I think, was properly time-suspended, and if so, all he could have been winning was marbles. Out of this quietness, and entirely in key with it, Seymour called to me. It came as a pleasant shock that there was a third person in the universe, and to this feeling was added the justness of its being Seymour. I turned around, totally, and I suspect Ira must have, too. The bulby bright lights had just gone on under the canopy of our house. Seymour was standing on the curb edge before it, facing us, balanced on his arches, his hands in the slash pockets of his sheep-lined coat. With the canopy lights behind him, his face was shadowed, dimmed out. He was ten. From the way he was balanced on the curb edge, from the position of his hands, from - well, the quantity x itself, I knew as well then as I know now that he was immensely conscious himself of the magic hour of the day. 'Could you try not aiming so much?' he asked me, still standing there. 'If you hit him when you aim, it'll just be luck.' He was speaking, communicating, and yet not breaking the spell. I then broke it. Quite deliberately. 'How can it be luck if I aim?' I said back to him, not loud (despite the italics) but with rather more irritation in my voice than I was actually feeling. He didn't say anything for a moment but simply stood balanced on the curb, looking at me, I knew imperfectly, with love. 'Because it will be,' he said. 'You'll be glad if you hit his marble - Ira's marble - won't you? Won't you be glad? And if you're glad when you hit somebody's marble, then you sort of secretly didn't expect too much to do it. So there'd have to be some luck in it, there'd have to be slightly quite a lot of accident in it.'
There are no accidents in the kingdom of God. We sow the seed, we shoot the marble, we reach out to the friend in need. The seeds sprout, we know not how, and when we turn around, a great tree has grown up in our midst, and the kingdom of God is here.