Parables and stories about Jesus can help us to find meaning as we live through times of great change and uncertainty. The stories may or may not have happened in a certain way, but we can find truth in the possibilities of surprise, inclusion, and the active creation of hope.
Homily 1: The Smallest of Seeds / IDRE Marsha Thrall (video from Marsha)
Today in some places, is Easter Sunday, a day where Christian churches throughout the United States and the world celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
Some of you, especially our young UU’s may be asking “what is resurrection?” And the answer is complicated. Christianity defines resurrection as “Jesus rising from the dead before ascending into heaven.” Now, some of you might think “Zombie” when hearing this definition. But… resurrection can also mean “a rising again, as from decay, or disuse; or, a revival.”
In today’s reading, Carolyn Savadkin narrated the last chapter of the biblical New Testament Gospel of Mark. FYI – a “gospel” is a good news telling of a story – hold onto that bit of information for a little while. There’s an interesting thing to know about the gospel of Mark; Mark’s gospel was written before the other New Testament gospels – namely Matthew, Luke, and John. And the gospel of Mark influenced the stories of Jesus as they were told and recorded in both Matthew and Luke.
Have you ever played the game of “telephone”? If you have, you’ve likely been surprised, or amused by how the statement whispered into the ear of the first player is totally different by the time the last player “repeats” the statement out loud.
And the New Testament gospels, particularly Mark, Matthew, and Luke are a lot like the game of telephone. In the generational skips between when Mark was recorded, and Matthew and Luke were recorded, Jesus not only is killed, but Jesus’ lifeless body lays in wait, in a tomb, and then is “resurrected” into a mystical living being before he is lifted into heaven.
But here’s the thing, in Mark’s gospel, at least in the way that the Gospel was first written, Jesus just dies. Jesus’ body disappears from the tomb before the people who love him can prepare his body, and give him a proper burial. And holding up this part of the story, maybe, can provide help, right now, when we are working to find hope in a very perilous moment in time.
Right now, we’re living in a period of time, that is, if we’re perfectly honest with ourselves, a pretty scary time. People who we may or may not know, our local and global neighbors, are sick. And some are dying. And the only way that we can provide comfort and love is by *not* physically touching and physically demonstrating care to one another.
But – while these times are scary, they are not, by any means hopeless. Today, the parables recreated for us by our “Parable Players” told us that the beauty of finding the smallest misplaced thing, or finding one “lost” creature, combined with small acts of love and kindness are all the seeds that grow and strengthen our community. And this growth, strength, and powerful love begins within the homes of each and every one of us.
And this was the ministry of Jesus. The most important part of the story. The Jesus that we read about in Mark’s gospel was a fully human person who believed that the smallest, most devalued things in society mattered most. Jesus believed that the whole world is our community, our home. And by loving the small and insignificant, new life can be breathed into our communities. Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus believed, and taught that small acts of love, when taken cumulatively, could resurrect the world.
And that is the good news.
Homily 2: Small Things, Divine Realm / Rev. Lyn (audio & video recording of Rev. Lyn)
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
This parable from the Book of Mark has so much meaning in a very small package, much like the metaphor of the mustard seed itself. As Marsha mentioned, Jesus in Mark’s gospel is a human person, working to bring about a different way of being in this world. To the best of my understanding, the kingdom of God is not some far away place or an afterlife, but an alternate reality that we can taste and experience now when we practice beloved community. Sometimes I translate the “kingdom of God” to “Divine Realm” or the “Reign of Blessing.” Imagining that realm is a way of understanding, behaving, and orienting ourselves differently, not beholden to the powers and principalities of greed, exploitation, and discrimination.
To what shall we compare the Divine Realm? In the parable, a small seed grows into not only the weed or the bush we would normally expect, but a whole tree. Perhaps abundance is closer than we think. Perhaps the beloved community contains more within it than can be believed by those who don’t recognize its value. Perhaps the Reign of Blessing appears as a weed to the people who want to impose artificial capitalistic order, and it grows in spite of their efforts of suppression, and it provides medicine and flavor to the people who the oligarchs have ignored. In the retelling that the Nicholson Massey family shared with us, the mustard seed helps us to “imagine what can be, but isn’t yet.” During our current challenges, we need that kind of imagination.
I don’t have a perfect answer for you about what this story means. Parables are like Zen koans, they don’t have to make sense or be reduced to platitudes; they can challenge our minds and spirits. In this time of unknowing, let us make room for mystery.
In the oldest version of Mark’s gospel, Jesus does not appear after his resurrection. His friends are left grieving and wondering, still in danger, not yet clear on how they will carry on without him. That feels a lot like the Easter we are in today. The world will be different on the other side of current events. We don’t yet know how it will be different. We can practice imagining the world as it could be, noticing small moments of joy and beauty, one at a time. We can practice being in that world by making one choice at a time toward beloved community. Each small choice is a seed that may yet grow into an astounding tree.
This is what hope means when we don’t have certainty of outcomes or timelines. Hope is an action, a choice to move with love, justice, beauty, and possibility. Hope is making the Divine Realm manifest in small ways, planting seeds toward the day when we and all of our neighbors can fully rest in its shade. Have courage. Seek, find, and be found. Love one another. This is how we co-create the kingdom. May it be so. Blessed be. Amen.