Called to Wonder

Lectionary 11 (2nd Sunday after Pentecost)
June 14, 2009
Mark 4:26-34

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It’s been a while.
It’s been a while since you’ve seen this green stole … you probably don’t remember.
That’s ok.  I won’t take it personally.
It’s a nice stole.  One of my favorite, actually, but it’s not remarkable.
But it has been awhile since I’ve worn this … 
back on February 15, to be precise, Presidents Day Weekend …
you know, that national celebration 
marked by discounts on mattresses, appliances and cars.
Yes, that weekend.  That was seventeen Sundays ago … 
Since then we’ve donned three different liturgical colors in this place– 
white for Transfiguration and again for the season of Easter,
purple for Lent, and red for Pentecost.
We’ve celebrated festivals and we’ve engaged in spiritual disciplines.
Young people received their first communion, and others were confirmed.
A gifted orchestra and choir led us to faithful reflection through prayer and song on Good Friday,
and wonderful, white lilies joined us in this place to sing Alleluias on Easter morning.
But now … 
But now is different.  Today we enter into a long season of green,
a period known as “ordinary time” in some Christian churches,
a season devoid of major festivals,
a season of routine … perhaps some would call it monotony
as we count off the Sundays after Pentecost, 
from today, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost,
all the way to the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, 
a few weeks after Halloween.
As a kid I remember that several of the churches where we belonged 
had these old hymn boards on the wall, 
with cardboard numbers and letters that would fit into slots on the board,
letting folks know at-a-glance what hymns were to be sung that day.
The first line of the board would announce the Sunday ….
Second Sunday of Easter, for example, or Pentecost Sunday.
One of the churches I attended as a child used roman numerals to write out 
how many Sundays after such-and-such it was …
And so I can remember as we would get later into fall 
that space on the first line of the sign board would get tight 
as more and more letters were put on the board 
to count off the Sundays after Pentecost….
The 18th Sunday after Pentecost, for example, required “XVIII”to be spread across the top,
and those I’s, though thin little letters, were on cards just as wide as an X or W,
taking up a ton of space on the hymn board,
announcing with a grand quantity of characters that yes, 
we were still in the green season of Pentecost.
So get comfortable, folks …. it’s gonna be a long season.

How appropriate, then, that at the beginning of this long, green season
that we hear stories and descriptions of trees from Ezekiel, the psalm, and from Mark,
and the promise of new creation in Second Corinthians.
Green.  It’s not just on our vestments and pulpit this day.  It’s in our readings.
Green, the color of growth and life, a color so ubiquitous in creation that we tend to look it over
in favor of vibrant reds or yellows or purples …
Green.  Ordinary, “garden variety” green, is the color of the day … 
the color of this long season,
the color of life in all its ordinary, day-to-day splendor.
Green.  The color of ordinary time.

One of my favorite children’s shows these days is the Backyardigans, 
which has been airing on Nickelodeon for almost five years.
It follows the imaginative adventures of five neighborhood friends:
Pablo, Tyrone, Uniqua, Tasha, and Austin 
These five friends 
use their backyard for extraordinary, creative adventures.  
Every show opens with a catchy little theme song, the opening verse which says, in part,
“Your backyard friends, the Backyardigans.
Together in the backyard again, In the place where we belong …”
A few lines later, in the second verse, 
“We’ve got the whole wide world in our yard to explore.
We always find things we’ve never seen before.
That’s why everyday we’re back for more …”
After the opening song, each episode begins with the friends engaging in creative,
make-believe play in their back yard.
After a few moments, the imagination of the friends transforms the scene …
the garden turns into a mote,
one of the trees into a drawbridge,
and a castle appears, for example.
Their imaginations have transported them to another world,
a new setting, a new way of playing,
even though they’re still in their everyday, ordinary back yard.

Sometimes I wonder if church is like the Backyardigans …
We gather week after week not in a yard (though we could), 
but here in this place, 
in the “place where we belong.”
And whereas the Backyardigans sing before each episode that 
they have the whole wide world in their yard to explore,
we, too, when we gather here, have the whole wide world to explore,
indeed, we have the whole riches of God and of the community of saints
right here, in our church, in this gathering around God’s Word and Sacraments …
Yes, the words of that theme song could be applied here:
“We always find things we’ve never seen before,
That’s why everyday we’re back for more.”
Like those Backyardigans,
who make each day in their backyard unique and extraordinary by their imagination, 
We are invited, in this place and by our Lord, 
to use our imaginations to envision the unique and extraordinary riches 
of the Kingdom of God.
Yes, on this day, this first of many Green Sundays,
Jesus invites us to use our imagination,
he calls us to creativity:
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God?” he asks, perhaps playfully.
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God?”

Now, you Bible scholars in the room – 
indeed, any of you who heard me read the text or who read along in your bulletin – 
will note that Jesus immediately follows up his question with his own answer.
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God,” 
is followed immediately with a parable about a mustard seed.
True … and we’ll get to that pesky mustard seed in a moment,
but I’m not ready to get past that question mark yet.
Jesus asks his disciples, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God?”
At that moment, before Jesus offers his own comparison,
the wheels of faith and imagination are spinning in his disciples’ heads.
With these words Jesus invites his followers to ponder God’s kingdom,
to wonder about God’s ways, 
to go beyond conventional ways of speaking of God
and to engage in a little bit of creative comparing.
This, I think, is as important a part of this text as any,
especially today, as we stand at the beginning 
of a long green season of “ordinary” Sundays:
Jesus followers are invited to ponder ways of describing his Kingdom,
to wonder about who and what God is.
This invitation to wonder is essential to the Christian life,
central to the task of theology, that is, to the task of speaking of God,
for a posture of wonder opens us to see and conceive of God and his Kingdom 
with unbounded curiosity.

Before Jesus chimed in with his reflection about the mustard seed,
I wonder what his disciples were thinking …
Surely in those few moments after asking the question his disciples 
had begun trying to answer the question in their heads,
perhaps creatively, perhaps conventionally …
We don’t know.
But we do know that Jesus supplies his disciples with an answer,
and with a rather unconventional answer, at that.
In these verses Jesus gives us the famous mustard seed parable,
about the smallest of seeds that grows into the biggest and greatest of all … shrubs.
Shrubs?  The Kingdom of God is like a big, great, shrub?
It’s funny, really, that Jesus here uses a shrub,
rather than a great oak or cedar tree,
or a mighty mountain,
all signs of grandeur, stability, strength.
No.  Jesus goes in a different direction,
and in turn invites us to consider God and God’s ways in a different manner …
… to consider that God’s ways could be as subtle and ordinary as a shrub which,
in its simplicity of purpose and rather minimal presence,
provides shelter and nurture to the birds of the air …
Indeed, Jesus here describes God’s kingdom in terms of birds and shrubs,
images accessible to the people of his day,
images contrasting, perhaps, 
with popularly-conceived notions of who God is and how God acts,
images that are open and speak of God 
through vivid yet impossible-to-nail-down metaphor.
This is how Jesus speaks of his Father: 
in imprecise parables that invite us into a story,
with metaphors that invite us into new ways of wondering about who God is 
and how God acts.
On this first of many sequential Sund
ays of green,
I think it is just as important to think about how Jesus speaks of God his Father, 
not just what he speaks about God.

Yes, there is a message in this parable that Jesus is sharing with us.  
But I think too there is a method that he is sharing with us in that question,
“With what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?”, 
a method, a manner of thinking about and reflecting on God and his Kingdom,
a method of faithful reflection that is marked … by holy wonder 
a method that we can and should adopt in our daily lives of faith.
Holy wonder.

Dear friends, we are going to come back here week after week after week after week
for the next 20-some odd Sundays,
and it is mostly going to be the same place, same service, same green color …
day in and day out.
No festivals, no special celebrations,
no out-of-the-ordinary displays of flowers or fanfares of music.
But like those friends in the Backyardigans,
we’re going to return to this place day in and day out, this place where we belong,
because this God who calls us to lives of holy wonder
is going to lead us during these ordinary days to see and do extraordinary things.
That’s why we come back for more, 
because we know that our Lord Jesus will speak words of wonder
and perform deeds of wonder,
all while inviting us to wonder about the grace and mercy of his kingdom.

With what shall we compare the kingdom of God?
In this place, week after week, 
gathering around Word and Sacrament,
guided by the Spirit and nurtured by this fellowship,
let us wonder with Jesus, dear friends, let us wonder with each other, 
about the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is like … what?
Over these next twenty some-odd weeks, let’s finish that sentence together.
Let us wonder about the Kingdom, dear friends.  Let us wonder with Jesus.
Amen.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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