This is the sermon the Rt. Rev. Scott Mayer preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Fort Worth, worshiping at the Chapel at All Saints’ Episcopal School, 9700 Saints’ Circle, Fort Worth, TX, 76108, on the Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021..
All Saints Fort Worth 2021 3 Pentecost – Proper 6B June 13
I want to begin this morning by expressing my respect, affection, and gratitude for you, the people called All Saints Episcopal Church. These have been difficult and disorienting times – to say the least – and even while you are experiencing significant and appropriate grief, you have shown courage and faith – even and especially an adult faith during this transition.
You are a congregation with outstanding leadership – both lay and ordained. I would like to recognize publicly your clergy: Father Chris Jambor, Mother Lynne Waltman, and Mother Maddie Hill. Let’s show our gratitude for their presence, pastoral care, and leadership.
I want to express gratitude, also, to All Saints Episcopal School for their hospitality, as the congregation sojourns here for a season. Thanks go to Dr Tad Bird (Head of School) and Mother Jill Walters (Chaplain), as we navigate the use of this beautiful space.
Finally, our worship this morning includes the world premiere of the “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” commissioned for the parish’s 75th anniversary by the rector. The settings were composed by Joanna Marsh, a British composer who lives in London and Dubai. They are being sung by the Evensong Choir: Katie Dunn Powell, Karen Farnell, Philip Johnson, and Mike Farnell. Let’s show our gratitude to your organist-choirmaster, Clive Driskell-Smith and the choir.
This morning at All Saints we celebrate the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, as three are baptized and twenty are confirmed, received into our tradition, or reaffirm their faith. To all of the candidates, we want you to know that we count it a privilege to be a part of your lives on this significant day, and later during this liturgy we will make a vow to do all in our power to support you in your life in Christ.
Our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, says that by our baptism we are called into a movement, and after his six years as presiding bishop most of you likely know that he calls this the Jesus Movement. I have had occasion to hear how Bishop Curry came to understand the Church as a Movement. I would like to share it.
Maybe you’ve heard of Clarence Jordan. In the late 1960s Jordan wrote “The Cotton Patch” version of the Gospels, a translation of the Gospels set in his home state of Georgia. I still see old copies in church libraries.
At any rate, in the early 1940s Clarence Jordan created an inter-racial Christian community, which was eventually seen as a threat during Civil Rights Movement. And in the face of such threats, Jordan made the claim that “the God Movement is greater and deeper than the civil rights movement. The God Movement is the most revolutionary movement in human history.”
And in his translation of the Gospels, everywhere the word “kingdom” is used typically, Jordan uses the word “movement.” “The Movement of God is at hand,” for example. Today’s appointed reading says: “The God Movement is like a man who planted a certified seed in his field.” And later, “The God Movement is like a mustard seed which a man planted in his garden. While it’s the smallest seed there is, yet when it is full grown it is one of the largest plants . …”
And 2000 years ago the hearers of today’s parable would have heard the parable as an announcement of a revolutionary movement. Depending on their place in this drama, some would have heard it as a threat, and some would have heard it as a message of hope.
For everyone knew what a mustard seed did and does. Over 1900 years ago, a Roman author (Pliny the Elder) wrote: “Mustard … with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted; but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”
One contemporary biblical scholar (John Dominic Crossan) says: “The point … is not just that the mustard plant starts as a proverbially small seed and grows to a shrub. It is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control. … And that, said Jesus, was what the kingdom was like – like a pungent shrub with take-over properties. Something you would want only in small and carefully controlled doses – if you could control it.” [Jesus: a revolutionary biography p64-65]
These three “seed” parables are the first parables told in Mark’s Gospel. Right off the bat Jesus tells a parable that the religious and political authorities of his day would hear as the announcement of a small revolutionary movement – and to them, a threat. And yet, those who were beginning to follow Jesus would hear the same parable as a message of hope. Their seemingly small insignificant movement could grow – and matter to this world. Against the evidence, against the apparent odds, against unfavorable trajectories, there was hope.
I’m a big baseball fan. A few years ago my family gave me a book entitled, “Baseball Days,” by Bill Littlefield. It’s about baseball, but I would like to read a passage to you about the human capacity for hope.
Littlefield writes: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind and pain and triumph and ingenuity of the human animal had better check out not only baseball, [wherever it turns up,] and softball, [whether anyone’s watching or not,] but also stickball, … wiffle ball, running bases, stoopball, the gay leagues, the old guy leagues, the blind leagues, and the various games of the imagination that a child can play when a rubber ball comes back to him as a grounder or a fly off the garage door or the back steps.”
“It’s a mean fact that some children have nothing but bottle caps and balls of rolled-up paper to throw at one another, a fact that should engender in us shame and a determination to make a better world. But we can also smile at the games children make of nearly nothing; we can see hope in that capacity.”
Shame and determination. The fourth century saint, Augustine, says: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
To go slightly tangential, I’ve learned in a new way, firsthand, what I learned in books in seminary: there is a difference between anger and wrath. Wrath is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It will eat you up. It is deadly. It will rob you of life. Anger can be source for good. Even one who is seen as the incarnation of peace, St Francis, has a blessing which says: “May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.” Anger is not always bad. Sometimes it brings hope.
Anger has its place. It can be loving, and it can move us to work for justice, freedom, and peace (which is in the Baptismal Covenant) but, anger has its place.
Jesus gave and gives his followers hope as he tells the parable of the mustard seed, and for that matter, all three of the so-called “seed” parables in this 4th chapter of Mark. He also gives them what we call “gospel” – good news – maybe good news that we in this diocese need to hear as we look forward.
To clarify, the Good News, the Gospel, is what God has done, what God is doing, what God promises. Identifying a problem, and then determining what we need to do about it is important, but it’s not gospel. It’s a speech. Maybe it’s a great speech, but it’s not a sermon – not a proclamation of Gospel.
Jesus says: “The Kingdom of God (the God Movement) 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.” Seeds sprout in our sleep. Growth and transformation occur in our sleep, and we don’t know how. The Kingdom of God is like that.
One more story. Several years ago I went to New York City for the first time. It was a work-related trip, and a few of us had some free time. We were walking along Fifth Avenue, came to St Patrick’s Cathedral, and we entered this breath-taking, magnificent place.
Upon our departure, we walked outside the big doors, and right in front of us, across the street, on the other side of 5th Avenue stands Rockefeller Center, and the sculpture of the mythological figure, Atlas. Directly across the street from St Patrick’s Cathedral stands Atlas, as Atlas is typically depicted, holding the universe, the heavens, the world on his shoulders.
I know thousands walk past that juxtaposition every day, but it was the first time I had experienced it. It is like a choice – maybe even, THE choice, is presented to thousands of passersby every day. That’s how I experienced it.
For as the myth goes, the most significant event in Atlas’s life was a ten year battle between the Titans and the Olympians. Atlas sided with the Titans, and was one of the most skilled and strong warriors, but the Titans lost. So Atlas was punished. He was condemned to carry the heavens on his shoulders for eternity.
In depictions around the world Atlas is portrayed as strong and muscular – an emblem of strength and perseverance – with a look of resigned suffering on his face, as he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Across the street in the cathedral there is another statue. You may think I’m going to say the crucifix, and hold that thought. For you are right to see the crucifix as a contrast. The depiction of Jesus suffering on the cross shows that he was fully human, and truly suffered, and really died. And from that cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” – forgiving the whole world, including the political powers and religious powers and even enemies – revealing the unconditional love of God.
Atlas is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders as a punishment. The crucifix reveals undeserved forgiveness, unmerited grace, and unconditional love.
But today I point us to another statue – another contrast. It stands behind the altar at St Patrick’s, and is not readily apparent to the casual visitor. It’s the sculpture of a boy, imagined to be 7 or 8 years old. It is Jesus. And with no effort, and in one hand, he is holding the whole world.
That’s Gospel. Jesus says: “The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed in the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”
Our calling is to scatter seeds. As Paul says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” We scatter seeds, and let God be God.
The weight of the world is not on your shoulders. As a community of faith, you started out in a house on the west side of Fort Worth. And since then you have scattered seeds in Fort Worth and even to other continents. There are people in Fort Worth and all over the world who would testify that they have experienced the love of God because of you. Looking beyond yourselves, you have planted the proverbial shade tree from which you would never draw shade. And God gave – and continues to give – the growth. … In the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live, and move, and have our being. Amen.