The Constant (Awful) Gardener
Episode 13 – June 17, 2018
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Mia & Jonah – “Mustard Seed”
Mia & Jonah – “Warm Wind”
Reading No. 1
The parables of the sower and the mustard seed.
Reading No. 2
1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
Samuel annoits David
Love for the World
Shout out to Fathers, in whatever form that may mean you. 😀
So, As many of you know, I have two children. Son #1 is 6 years old. Son #2 is three going on thirteen. They’re good guys. They love books, throwing rocks in the lake, and the Paw Patrol gang as much as any other preschoolers. They are also loud, and Son #2, in particular, is a little bit … opinionated. He has some very strong opinions on fairness and justice. And a memory – this kid can remember a promise I made 12 months ago about getting popsicles the next time we go to the zoo. He is very clever, nobody’s fool, and doesn’t take…nonsense from anybody. Especially not his parents. He’s got all the personality traits I really value in adults, but they make him extraordinarily difficult to parent sometimes.
We had a particularly stressful night this past week, where it took two hours to be able to get the guys down for bed. Son #2 was thirsty. Then he needed Mama to snuggle him. Then he needed to go poo. Then he asked for Mama and she said no so he asked for Daddy to snuggle him. Then he played Daddy and said he hadn’t had water and he was thirsty and had to go to the bathroom.
We’ve been trying to figure out what is the right thing to do – snuggle him until he falls asleep, or be loving yet firm and insist he goes to sleep by himself. The parenting blogs all say different things, yet are equally judgy of parents whom they think are either indulging their kids or preventing them from forming healthy attachments. I couldn’t decide whether I was creating a spoiled brat or a sociopath. When everybody – including Jason – was finally asleep, I was chatting with my friend online and said, “Oh dear. This kid – he’s either going to take over the world or end up in prison. I can’t decide which yet.”
My ever helpful friend responded, “Those are not two mutually exclusive options.”
Sometimes, I know right away when some parenting failure I’ve committed is potentially harmful. In fact, when I was pregnant with Son #1, I created a therapy jar. Anytime I do something where I think, “Huh – there’s some permanent damage”, I put in a toonie. Sort of an investment for the future. Some families have college funds. We have a therapy fund…
But it’s really hard to know if the parenting choices we are being intentional about are going to pay off in the end. Many of you listening may be in a place along your parenting journey where you’ve been able to see the fruits of your labour. Some of you without biological children may be or have been proxy parents and warm parental figures to children in your community. Maybe you wonder what influence you held in their development.
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. … But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.
In our Gospel reading today, we get to hang out with our buddy Mark. And Jesus, via Mark, gives us two parables to play with: The sower, and the mustard seed.
In our first story, the farmer has no idea how or why the grain is growing. He simply plants it, hopes for the best, and recognizes when it has come to fruition and is time to harvest. They recognize when a good harvest is produced, and hope that planting the seeds pays off. My kids are still young enough that I’m just hoping and praying that the seeds we are planting will reap a good harvest someday. And I’m not talking about getting into the best schools or securing some high paying job. I’m talking about hoping and praying that they grow up to be kind. To be critical thinkers. To question the status quo. To love others and allow others to love them. To speak out when they see injustice and act when they have the ability to make a difference. That would be a beautiful, and bountiful harvest.
I grew up on a farm, and one of the crops that grew on my parents’ land was mustard. So, as long as I can remember when I’ve heard this parable, I’ve thought of the mustard seed in this story producing a beautiful yellow flower, edible leaves and seeds that can make, well, mustard – a highly desirable addition to any garden.
Mustard in the Middle East, however, is not the same as the mustard you see growing as a crop in Canada.
The mustard Jesus is talking about…it’s a weed.
It’s a weed that will spread and take over any space it finds itself in. Now, being a weed in and of itself isn’t such a bad thing. Rhubarb is a weed and I’m constantly shocked when I see a small handful of the stuff selling for six dollars at the local supermarket. But mustard in Jesus’ context is not desirable. To be clear, you probably do not want a mustard shrub in your garden.
And so, I have a bunch of questions!
Why would anybody plant a weed?
Why would one want it to grow large enough to block sunlight from the other plants?
And why, oh why, would you want birds in your garden, who are likely gonna gobble up your cherry tomatoes?
Yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
It’s a good thing Jesus was trained as a carpenter because he’d make a really terrible farmer.
Both of these stories Jesus shares with the crowd are about the Kingdom – or the Kindom – of God.
In the first parable, We are asked to sow the seeds for the Kingdom, even though we may not know how they will grow, but to have faith that the harvest is coming. I can’t think of any greater nurturing of the Kindom than teaching little people how to be decent human beings. Maybe that happens as parents, as fathers – or maybe when we are placed in other nurturing roles. But, regardless, we’re never really sure where and how those efforts and seeds are going to pay off. But hopefully, we recognize them when they do. I’ll get back to you in 15 years and let you know how my kids have turned out.
With our teeny little mustard seed, the Kingdom of God is likened to an undesirable weed that shields light from other plants in the garden and offers refuge for the birds who may wreck havoc on the crop.
But that teeny tiny mustard seed also grows up to be a blessing for others – for those who are undesirable… who are unwanted. Just as Jesus does time and time again, the tables are turned….and turned over. The Kingdom of God is a place where the least expected are invited, nourished and have a chance to thrive. We’ll hear in a little while a story which was also part of the church service in Nobleton and Schomberg, about how a boy named David, the youngest, smallest and least desirable of his brothers, was anointed by the prophet Samuel to lead his people. In this story, Jesus speaks of prioritizing an invasive weed that will potentially crowd out the cash crops in order to create safe refuge for the birds.
Hearing this, It is hard for me not to think of what is happening along the American and Mexican border right now. To be clear, those seeking asylum, those seemingly unwanted souls, are the birds of the air…and their babies are being ripped from the nest as the American government snatches the sickle and attempts to chop the kingdom down.
One more thing…
”The greatest of all shrubs”. What the hell is that? It’s kind of like being the “greatest cup of instant coffee”, or “the greatest baloney sandwich”.
We live in a highly media-driven era of ambition and commercialism. There is always some way we’re not good enough…and something we can buy to fix the problem. We can constantly check out our social media feeds to compare our lives to our friends, our co-workers, and even celebrities. We measure our bodies against computer-enhanced images that bear less semblance to reality than Jeff Session’s understanding of New Testament scripture. We… everybody…parents…and Dads too…are constantly made to feel less…less than enough.
The mustard seed might grow up to be the greatest of all shrubs…but it is still a shrub. In this telling of the parable, it’s not the mightiest or the greatest tree, towering high over the garden. It is still a shrub. And to the birds – to those seeking nurture and refuge – that is enough.
And you know what, fellow pilgrims? So are we. If we are a blessing to others, then we are enough. So often as parents we are striving to reach some unattainable threshold of perfection. But really… Are we a place of shelter and refuge for our children? Do we do our best to nurture? To teach? To play? Are we a blessing? If so, then parents – Dads – you are enough. Congratulations! You are the greatest of all shrubs. To your children, the greatest of all fathers.
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada