Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sermon: June 14

Dirt. That’s all we had. Dirt. The tree cover at the rectory made some areas inhospitable to grass, it never grew, so even if it rained, it just became mud. But now the trees are trimmed, sunlight gets in and the grass seed was planted. Sure enough, without my having to do a thing, the seed has sprouted and grass is growing. And that is what the Kingdom of God is like.

Jesus loves in his parables, to turn our thinking upside down. The Kingdom of God is like a tiny seed, a seed that is planted, sprouts and grows because God wills it, not because we have anything to do with it. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, a very small seed, but when it grows it becomes a mighty shrub for the birds of the air to make nests in its shade. From something seemingly insignificant comes the kingdom of God, bursting forth in our world, creating a place where we can be sustained.
In 1992, the beautiful city of Sarajevo was being torn apart in the ethnic strife of the Bosnian civil war. On the afternoon of May 27, a bomb was dropped on one of the last functioning bakeries in the city - 22 people who were waiting patiently to buy bread were killed. Vedran Smajlović witnessed the bombing from his apartment window. He was horrified and enraged at the massacre. But what could he do? He was not a politician or soldier. He was a musician, an accomplished cellist. All he knew was music.

So that is what he did for 22 days ­- one day for each of those killed - Smajlović played at the same spot. Every evening after that, at 4 P.M., the time of the fatal explosion, the 37-year-old cellist, dressed formally as if for a concert performance, took his cello to the site of the crater created by the bomb. And there he would play one of his favorite pieces, Albinoni's "Adagio in G minor." All around him mortar shells and bullets would fly, but he would continue to play. He played for the sake of human dignity that is the first casualty of war. He played for life, for peace, for hope. He was also known for playing for free at different funerals during the siege, even though such funerals would often be targeted by enemy fire.

Today, Vedran Smajlović is revered as a hero by the people of Sarajevo. A statue of a musician, sitting on a chair and playing a cello, was erected on the sport where Smajlović first played. But Smajlović says in all humility, "I am nothing special. I am a musician, I am part of the town. Like everyone else, I do what I can."
A simple act done by a man of the town to do what he can through his gift of music. From something seemingly insignificant comes a recognition and it grows to something much bigger, and God bursts through, and hope and peace are once again front and center in the midst of despair. Smajlović’ story embodies the parable of the mustard seed.

For our faith, Mustard seed faith, is centered in the conviction that, in the smallest acts of compassion and generosity, life can be transformed from barrenness to hope. We may have little or no expectation of a harvest from our small seeds; even nurturing what we have planted may be frustrating and futile, but Christ calls us to embrace the faith and hope of his parable: to be willing to plant seeds of hope and compassion that we possess, wherever and whenever we can, in the faith that it will result in God’s kingdom coming near.

For the Kingdom of God is all around us, in very simple ways, sometimes sprouting from the smallest of acts, and in it, God is at work in our world.
As Mother Teresa put it, “There are no great acts, only small acts done with great love.”
Like walking around a track celebrating life, in witness with those who survived cancer, remembering those who didn’t and walking to fight against cancer in the Relay for Life. A small act and yet it is there the Kingdom of God is proclaimed in our actions. It reminds me of one of my favorite stories: The Starfish Story adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1907 - 1977)
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?" The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean.” "I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man. To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!" At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."
The Kingdom of God is all around us, sprouting and growing in the smallest acts of compassion and kindness. Look around and see, for the parable that Jesus tells is true. So what will you do today to bring the Kingdom of God that much closer? What will you do today to proclaim your faith in a small loving act? Whatever it is, go and do it and have faith that God will indeed make it grow! Amen.

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