Could there possibly be an easier illustrated Gospel reading than this one at this time of year? At least I know this to be the case where I call home.
- I look out my window to see a world that is lush and green.
- I drive through the countryside and take in field after field that has been planted and is starting to grow.
- I go into my own back yard to check the garden and I find that tomatoes and peppers and basil and squash and cucumbers have doubled in size and that the raspberries are coming on and will make their way to top my breakfast cereal before I know it.
- Just the other day I had a brief exchange with the daughter of a member who assured me their farm stand would be open within the month and the sweet corn is looking good this year!
Oh, I know that people who study such things can tell you ‘how’ these things happen, but don’t we all find ourselves standing back in wonder to see the whole world coming to life again this year? Indeed, it seems that these words in Mark’s Gospel are meant for precisely this. To remind us all of how we are literally surrounded by gift and grace. And that these things which so abundantly nourish us and strengthen us do not ultimately come from our own effort, but are always simply the very gift of God.
That is easy to forget, of course. In the way that planting and growing happens where I call home it takes a lot of investment. On large scales that means purchasing equipment, and fuel, and seeds, and fertilizer, and on and on. It means planning. And it means a whole lot of trust that wind won’t destroy and that rain and sunshine will come at the right times in order to nourish. In my own backyard it means purchasing plants or starting seeds early enough to get them in the ground. A few years back it meant building a couple of raised beds. This spring it meant transplanting some volunteer raspberry plants which sprung up in the wrong place. And yes, of course it means pulling weeds, and watering when it has been too long between rains. Oh, it is surely far too easy to forget that at the heart of it all, God is at work bringing life and all of my, all of our own meager efforts only help it along.
- It is true in the garden and in the field.
- It is true in the classroom and in the boardroom and yes, in the church council room.
- It is true when I mix up the ingredients for banana bread (or anything else) and pop it in the oven.
- It is true when I sit down to write a sermon or when I search for words at a suffering one’s bedside.
All I can do, all we can do, is perhaps do what we can to help make the conditions right — and at least in life if not in our gardens, often that means getting our own selves, yes, our own egos —- out of the way and remembering that something, that Someone far more powerful is at work in our midst. And then stand back in wonder at the life that is spilling over and simply try to catch up to what God is already doing.
And so this is my wisdom for each of us as we seek to live into Jesus’ Gospel words today. All he was doing when he shared these images so long ago was to tell his listeners to ‘take note.’ Could we possibly go wrong in finding time in the days to come to simply do the same?
So do this.
- Pause in your own back yard or in a nearby park. Stand still long enough to allow all of your senses to ‘take note’ of what God is doing through no effort or aid of your own.
- If you can make the time in your calendar do more than pause. Consider doing what the Japanese call ‘forest bathing.’
- Or if nothing else do this: kneel down and rub a dog’s belly. Look into the milky eyes of a nearly blind centenarian. Truly see the curls and eager smile of the toddler who got away from his dad and made his way towards you in a restaurant.
- Finally, this. Take a look around your congregation and your community to see where life is springing up. Get close enough to marvel at what God is already doing without your help. And then try to catch up to it.
Do something in these next days to ‘take note’ of God at work in marvelous ways. And then tell about it. Just go and tell about it. For that is all that Jesus did. And that was the beginning of all that came next.