Want to hear about the scariest thing that’s happened to me since coming to FCUCC? Karen Nice-Webb—who is so aptly named—gave me a plant. Despite the fact that I am descended from farmers, I did not get the plant gene. More like the plant-killing gene.
So, when Karen gave me this lovely plant, terror flooded my being. Just as I was trying to impress you all, this kind person delivered what was sure to become the vehicle of my first spectacular failure. At that moment, I determined that it was going to take me twice as long as usual to kill this plant. Karen has been so gracious….assuring me that when—I mean, if—this plant dies, she’ll provide another. (I hope she’s on the frequent flower plan.)
So, here it is. Through Lent, I did okay. I forgot to water it a couple of times…but when I saw its leaves drawing in and drying out, I gave it a quick spritz and it perked right up.
Then I was gone a couple weeks after Easter to tend to Mom. I forgot to ask someone to water the plant. When I got back, so much work had piled up, I forgot I even had a plant.
By the time I saw it a couple of weeks ago, remembering with alarm that I had a plant, it didn’t look too great. Some of the leaves had dried up, turned black, and were resting on the parched dirt. I pulled them out and tossed them. In truth, I wasn’t sure there was anything left to save. But the thought of having to ask Karen for another plant…flooded my being with terror.
So, I determined to try to bring this plant back to life. I watered it. I put it in the sun. And a couple days later, a new leaf emerged! I’m not sure about the long-term prognosis, but it is doing better.
Most of Jesus’ preaching and teaching happened in the Judean countryside, in and among folks who tended the land. So, when he tried to help folks imagine a whole new way of understanding of God’s realm, he often used agricultural metaphors. // Just my luck.
“The reign of God is like this,” Jesus said. “A sower scatters seed on the ground, then goes to bed at night and gets up day after day. Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without the sower knowing how it happens. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the ear, and finally the ripe wheat in the ear. When the crop is ready, the sower wields the sickle, for the time is ripe for harvest.”
Even for the agriculturally-challenged, like me, the message here seems clear–building God’s kindom, acting the world into wellbeing in Jesus’ name, doesn’t happen overnight. It happens one tiny action at a time, myriad tiny steps taken by myriad people over long periods of time. If we tend to the small things with steady attention, eventually, in its own time, the new thing will emerge, and before you know it, the crop will be ready for harvesting. Eventually, Jesus is saying, if we keep at it, the world of which God dreams will be born.
Sounds good. Yay, Jesus! But the needs of the world are overwhelming, aren’t they? Our theme this summer is radical hospitality. A quick look at the news shows just how important it is for people of faith to reclaim this vital spiritual practice. Children ripped from their parents’ arms at our country’s southern border…as a matter of governmental policy. Same- gender-loving families continuing to experience exclusion and disenfranchisement, despite the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality in 2015. A pastor friend of mine with two young children recently posted on Facebook about how scary it still is in many settings to mention her wife. And the world remains a dangerous place for trans and gender-non-conforming folks.
Racial justice…Jim Wallis calls racism our country’s “original sin.” I suspect he’s right. From the beginning, our nation’s first immigrants, had Native Americans in their sights–disease, alcohol, indebtedness…reading about the treatment of Native Americans throughout our history is deeply disturbing…
…as is reading about our country’s history of building an entire economy on the backs of people we had enslaved, not to mention interning Japanese Americans during World War II, or the current incarceration crisis, or the current immigration crisis.
Getting woke is a primary spiritual practice for people of faith…or it should be. But staying woke is hard, perhaps especially for white folk. For white folk, waking up to the sin of racism means, first of all, dealing with our own white privilege. It’s not easy, is it?
Here’s the thing about privilege. The privilege of any kind of privilege–white, male, hetero, able-bodied–the privilege of privilege is the luxury of navigating the world without having to think about race or gender or gender identity or sexual orientation or physical ability. The really hard part about getting woke from our privilege is suddenly having to think about all those things…and coming to grips with the fact that much of our flourishing depends on the diminished lives of others. Confronting privilege is such. Hard. Work.
So…for those of us who want to get and stay woke, those of us who want to act the world into wellbeing in God’s name, those of us who want to work for all kinds of justice–economic, environmental, gender, racial…For those of us who are eager to work as hard as we know how to create the world of which God dreams, but who occasionally get overwhelmed by just how much needs to be done…What do we do? How do we go about establishing God’s realm here on Earth when the justice to-do list seems so long?
We do it, to quote Pete Seeger, step by step. There’s an African proverb that enjoins us to plant trees in whose shade we’ll never sit. Why do something if we won’t see–or enjoy–the results? We do it because we care about people far into the future whom we do not know. We do it because a part of our jobs as human beings is to make the world a better place for those who come after us. Tending well to small acts of justice now, planting trees in whose shade we’ll never sit, is the best means we have of extending hospitality to future generations.
But it gets discouraging sometimes, doesn’t it? When gender issues re-emerged into our national consciousness after the presidential election, I had one church member—a woman in her 60s—who stayed enraged for many months. She’s raising her two granddaughters, one in high school, the other in college. She said, “I’ve already done all this work for women’s rights! I did it for my girls! Why do I have to do all this work again?”
Justice work, this work of creating the world of which God dreams, often feels like two steps forward, three steps back. Which is probably why Jesus told the story about the sower.
“A sower scatters seed on the ground, then goes to bed at night and gets up day after day. Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without the sower knowing how it happens. The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the ear, and finally the ripe wheat in the ear. When the crop is ready, the sower wields the sickle, for the time is ripe for harvest.”
Our job as Jesus’ disciples, our work of creating the world of which God dreams isn’t about pulling fully-formed flowers—or shade trees—out of some magical hat. Our job as Jesus’ followers is to scatter seeds of justice, to tend them day by day, and see what happens. If we do that, eventually, some day, somehow, the harvest will come.
One harvest we’re awaiting here at First, is the harvest of racial justice. We are blessed in this congregation to have many people who’ve been working for racial justice for more than 50 years. In this week’s newsletter, Horace Hunt shared with us his experience of hearing Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech in 1963. I encourage you to ask some of our elders to tell their stories about working for racial justice in the Civil Rights era.
As a community—in large part because of the crucial work done for racial justice by the elders in our midst—we aren’t starting our racial justice work from scratch. A lot of groundwork already has been laid. Roots have taken hold; leaves are bursting forth. The harvest will come… but we must tend to our work day by day.
There’s another harvest we’re waiting for here at first—the harvest of a vibrant children’s ministry. With children’s ministries, I’d say we’re closer to seedling phase than to full-fledged flower phase. Seeing all the children who aren’t here…that, too, might be discouraging. If you are discouraged, let me cheer you up by telling you about this past Friday night.
A couple of months ago, Betty Dillashaw came to me with the idea of a music camp. I said let’s do it! Last Friday was the first of three MAD (Music Art Drama) Camps this summer. Fourteen children came. Fourteen! The sounds of children in Friendship Hall, sharing pizza and artwork, running up the stairs to the choir room for music, and—I’m not sure what Loraine had done to them—but 9 children lying on the floor here in the sanctuary for drama….This place was alive Friday night! It seemed so natural for these halls to ring with the laughter and excitement of those children.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re still a way off from having a fully-formed children’s ministry…but we took a healthy step on Friday. And why? Because Betty Dillashaw scattered a little seed. She tended it day by day…then invited the rest of us to tend it with her until—boom! Fourteen bright green shoots appeared.
What might happen if we continue tending our ministry with children…day by day? What might happen if, nurtured by the stories of our elders, we continue tending to the important work of racial justice? If we plant our trees today, who might one day rest beneath their shade?
Step by step the longest march // Can be won can be won // Many stones can form an arch //
Singly none singly none // And by union what we will // Can be accomplished still // Drops of water turn a mill //Singly none singly none
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2018