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June 16, 2006
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The first is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's service to the world through the ministry of Episcopal Relief and Development, discusses the texts in light of some aspect of ERD's work. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.

In the Beauty of the Mustard

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 becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

Just to be sure, I checked again: is there a mustard plant that's tall, tall enough for birds to roost in, a mustard plant with long, strong branches, a mustard plant that dwarves everyone else in the garden?

No, there's not. Not anywhere. Mustard is mustard -- plain and plentiful. A weed, in many quarters, although its greens are good in a salad and its seeds make the famous condiment that bears its name. The mustard Jesus knew is the same mustard we know.

We can only conclude that the enormous mustard of this passage is the fantasy of an anxious scribe, who simply couldn't believe that Our Lord meant to compare the Kingdom of God to a common weed and decided to help Jesus out a little. To explain what he thought Jesus must surely have meant: The Kingdom of God is Really Amazing!!! It's Huge!!! It's Just Incredible!!!!!!! You've never seen anything like it in your Entire Life!!!!!!!!!

When Jesus meant exactly the opposite: you have seen it before. It's right here -- it's everywhere. It is the beauty of a plant people think amounts to little or nothing -- the kingdom of God is a common carpet of loveliness, golden in the sun, and anyone can walk in it. The kingdom of God is you, you who think you're of no account, and it is you, you who are esteemed as of no account by others. Your beauty fills the earth, in community with all the other beauties God has made.

Ezekiel 31:1-6,10-14
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Mark 4:26-34
Psalm 92 or 92:1-4,11-14

A Part of the Middle Harvest

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. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come. --Mark 4:26-29

This image captures the essentially mysterious truth about farming: we may know a great deal about agriculture, but the actual process of a seed becoming a plant remains God's secret. It is chemistry and it is physics; it may even partake of psychology! -- but after it is all those things, it is mystery.

Our humble position in the scheme of the growing project has not prevented humanity from grabbing a sickle at harvesttime and gathering up every scrap. We do have important roles at the beginning and end of the growing cycle, but God takes care of the broad and long middle era of growing food on the farm.

From where we sit, this middle proceeds looks automatic, and it looks -- from where we sit -- as though we have no role in it but to wait. But this is not always true. In Malawi today, for instance, in the fourth year of the worst famine in anyone's memory, the maize harvest is at its lowest point since 1992. Half the population could face starvation. The local harvest will not suffice to feed the people of Malawi: it must be increased, and we can help increase it -- not by working the spent soil or changing the fate of the parched seeds, but by assisting the Diocese of Southern Malawi in working the local grain markets in surrounding areas.

Students at Virginia Theological Seminary, a number of whom came there from African countries to study, have become part of increasing the fruitfulness of that middle era in the Malawian harvest. A series of discussions and teach-ins, a graphic representation of what a line of people 650 feet long looks like -- one student made an orange silk rope that long, and strung it around the quadrangle -- and a plain lunch of soup and bread formed VTS's Day of Solidarity with the people of Malawi, focussing students' attention on the Malawian harvest and evoking a generous and personal response: $5,750.00 raised from slender student pocketbooks, in a single worship service, for the Diocese to assist its communities in buying food.

So human beings do not understand the mystery of how, exactly, the earth brings forth food. But even without understanding all the science, we are an integral part of it.


To learn more about ERD's work or to make a donation -- wouldn't it be something if parishes led by VTS graduates each sent an additional $5,750 to ERD for the Diocese of Southern Malawi, in honor of the effort of these seminary students? -- visit or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5129.
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