11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Proper 6 – 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 and Mark 4:26-34
My friend is an artist. In fact, if you have been to the Montreat Worship and Music Conference, you may have seen her work. She has the gift of calling forth beauty from even the most mundane of things. Sticks, leaves, scraps of fabric… nothing is impossible for her to craft into art. I love visiting her studio. My favorite thing among the many wonders therein is an old school library card catalog. The labels on the drawers include “shells” and “buttons” and “doll parts.” Pulling out the drawers reveals a myriad of colors and shapes just waiting to be chosen to be a part of something bigger. There are long tables with art supplies and a dress form draped with a partially completed stole. Her studio communicates possibility and mystery. Something is in process, something good… but exactly what remains to be revealed.
The other gift that comes with visiting her studio is its location. It is situated in a far corner of her backyard – although “backyard” is not the correct noun. It is a garden, but even “garden” doesn’t come close to helping you visualize the place. Whenever I enter I feel as if I am in the pages of my favorite childhood book, “The Secret Garden.” I wonder if it is like Eden or a glimpse of the New Jerusalem. There are statues and flowers and trees and paths and shrubs and benches and wind chimes. My friend recently wrote this about her garden after hosting the youth choir party there: “We’ve had raccoons, possums, hawks, one eagle, a resident barred owl or two, voles, a snake, lizards, a host of squirrels, and who knows what else. I suspect Fairies are about as well, but this is the first verified sighting/sounding of angels.”
You see, she is not only generous in sharing her studio, she is generous with sharing her garden. There have been wedding proposals there, countless choir parties, picnics, Bible studies and an open invitation to come and walk and meditate and pray. Her husband is the artist-in-residence there, but it is no less a place of possibility and mystery. Something is always in process, something good… but exactly what is perpetually about to be revealed.
In thinking about the texts for this week, these are the two places that came to my mind and took root. The Kingdom of God is like… seeds planted that mysteriously grow, small things that contribute to something much bigger, places and spaces that provide nurture, comfort and welcome. The Kingdom of God is about possibility and mystery. Something is always in process, not always visible, but nonetheless certain. Possibility is one of God’s Kingdom characteristics. Vision and patience, work and rest are our tasks if we are to participate in it.
My artist friend and her gardener husband have Kingdom vision. She knows that parts and pieces, scraps and threads are not to be discarded. They are to be carefully gathered like the leftovers after the feeding of the 5,000, so as to be used in ways that will bring glory to God. The smallest of sequins, when affixed by the thousands to a 20-foot banner, make for awe inspiring worship. He knows that the smallest of flowers have the ability to attract the most beautiful of birds, butterflies and salamanders. They have Kingdom vision, seeing possibility and potential. The texts this week ask us if we do, too.
Knowing that “the Lord does not see as mortals see,” do we have Kingdom vision? What, and who, are we overlooking? Where do we refuse to see possibility? How is it we are looking on outward appearances and missing the heart of the matter?
My friend and her husband not only have Kingdom vision, they have Kingdom patience. The items collected, the seeds planted and watered, they are all works in progress. Who knows when the drawer filled with broken colored glass will be opened and that green fragment will be called upon for service? How long will it take for that transplanted cutting to provide shade? The joy is not only in the result, it is in the process, in participating, and even in the waiting to be surprised at what will spring forth.
Remembering that seven sons passed before Samuel before David was retrieved from tending the sheep, do we have Kingdom patience? Might God be doing some things in our midst that are worth the wait? Can we focus on the process of faithful discipleship, on participating in the new thing that God is doing, entrusting the results to the One we follow?
Art studios and gardens are places of work and rest. There is a time for everything under heaven and the Kingdom of God has rhythms. There are times to scatter and plant and tend and weed. There are times not to disrupt and to let things alone. There are kairos times that invade chronos time, when hours pass like minutes and creativity is rampant. But there are also times when minutes feel like hours and nothing seems to grow.
Kingdom rhythms of work and rest call on us to trust that God is relentlessly creative. Therefore, we can rise and sleep in peace. One of my favorite prayers is from “A New Zealand Prayer Book.” It has this line: “It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.” Artists, gardeners and disciples of Jesus Christ know they can “let it be.”
Assured that God gives the growth, how can we find a Kingdom rhythm of work and rest? What is it we need to tend and what do we need to let be? How is our inability to unplug, take vacation or simply put down our phone a form of idolatry? He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep (Psalm 121:4). That means we can rest easy.
This week’s lectionary readings are about mystery and possibility. They call on us to trust that something is in process, something good and life giving, even if we can’t always see it and we don’t know exactly what form it will take. On Sunday, preach parables of possibility. Remind your hearers what the Kingdom of God is like and ask them:
- How will you hone your Kingdom vision?
- What are ways you can cultivate Kingdom patience?
- When does your life reflect Kingdom rhythms?
Art studios and gardens and worship are great places to practice all three.
I have been asked about providing a daily devotional and to that end below are six ideas to use with the weekly lectionary texts. I would suggest reading the texts and then trying a few of the following. I can’t promise to do this every week, will from time to time.
- Read the Mark text and then pray (or sing!) “Hymn of Promise,” #250 in Glory to God. Here is a link to a YouTube video of this hymn. Allow the text and the hymn to lead you to prayers of promise.
- An alternate Old Testament reading for this Sunday is Ezekiel 17:22-24. After reading this passage, find a garden or park and simply sit and notice all that is living there. Close your eyes and listen. Notice the good work that God does and give thanks.
- Read 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and consider how it is that God looks upon the heart rather than on outward appearances. When have outward appearances made it difficult for you to see someone’s heart? What are ways our culture reinforces the importance of appearances? How might we offer a different message? Check out this Dove, “Choose Beautiful” video. What labels should we put on ourselves and others?
- How do small things make a big difference? Read about the mustard seed in Mark 4:30-32. What small seeds could you plant that might grow into something life giving? Make a list and then commit to doing some of the things on the list. Notice when God grows those small seeds into something bigger.
- Use a concordance and do a word study on “seeds.” What other biblical passages talk about seeds and growth? What is distinctive about each passage? What are the common themes?
- Visit an art museum or go to an art studio. Color a mandala. Collect some leaves, rocks, buttons or scraps of fabric and make a visual prayer. Don’t worry if it is “good.” Enjoy the process. “Praying in Color” by Sybil MacBeth is a great book to get you started.
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