Benediction Online

Sunday, June 17, 2012

It's a Joke!

When we first moved to Los Osos, Jill was very excited to find Matilaja Poppies growing here, and she longed to have some in our own yard. On the next street there were several banks of poppies along the road in a place where it wasn’t quite clear whether it was road or yard. So, one late evening, when it was still just light enough to see, we took a shovel and quietly liberated a small clump of Matilaja poppy. We planted it in our yard with a lot of good compost, watered it and watched over it. It died.

A year or so later we went to the Botanical Garden in Santa Barbara and asked about Matilaja poppies. After a lot of searching they produced a pot with a twig in it. They were apologetic about how small it was and only charged us a few dollars. We planted it in our yard with a lot of good compost, watered it and watched over it. The twig turned brown. The next year it sprouted a few leaves in the Spring and then turned brown. It did this each year for several years, perhaps growing a little taller but not perceptibly doing anything.

Then one year a shoot came up near the twig, and another and another. They grew a foot or so and turned brown. We cut them down in the fall. They came up again in the spring, as did a bump in the tarmac in the middle of the driveway. It broke open to reveal a Matilaja Poppy shoot. That’s when we knew it had come to stay.

Within a few years, perhaps ten years after we planted the twig from Santa Barbara, it became difficult to get both cars into our driveway and we had to admit that a 25foot lot is too small for Matilaja Poppies. But once you’ve got them, they won’t go away. And how could we decide that parking our cars is more important than providing a show of these gorgeous giant white flowers?

The kingdom of God is like a Matilaja Poppy.

We longed for it, we planted it, we blessed it… but when it grew and how it grew is a mystery. It is a mystery of cooperation between us and God and the plant. We did our part with water and compost, but then it was out of our hands and for years we waited and waited, but now we get to glory in the beauty of these huge plants.

Jesus also said the kingdom of God is like – like what? A stand of redwoods? A forest of bamboo?  A magnificent eucalyptus?

No, Jesus said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. For the longest time I figured that mustard must grow differently in the Holy Land. I thought it must be quite different from the weedy yellow flowered mustard that grows on the roadside here or in great fields of yellow where it is grown for its seeds or its oil. It is only recently that I realized that Jesus is telling a joke!

He said “When mustard 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." Uhuh… I don’t think so!

If the Bible had emoticons this passage would surely have a passel of smiley winking faces after it! Jesus is telling a joke!

How can he make a joke about something as important and ponderous as the Kingdom of God?

Precisely because the Kingdom of God confounds human expectations. We expect it to be like a show of massive poppies or a stand of magnificent trees but sometimes it’s just a brown twig and sometimes it’s a scrawny weed. And sometimes it’s a joke!

Since the 4th Century the Church has confused following Christ with respectability. But it is not a respectable path, it’s a joke. We are called to repay evil not with evil but with prayer and gentleness. We are called to live in a way that honors the threads of our connections with all life, that uses less resources and strives to reduce our impact on our natural environment to the minimum. We are called to live generous, selfless lives caring for others as much as for ourselves. We are called to embrace the stranger and get alongside the poor. We are called to turn the other cheek to violence and respond with nonviolent resistance.

Just because. Just because that is the kingdom of God.

It doesn’t look like much. It’s just a twig, just a weed by the side of the road. Most people don’t even see it, they drive past on their way to wherever they think they’re going. But for the people of God, that weed is a sign of the kingdom, gradually spreading unseen under ground.  It is a sign that even when we are discouraged and God seems to be far away, even when our plans to help another fall apart, or our hopes for transformation in our own hearts are dashed, that the kingdom of God is at work.

We are not on our own. Even the little faltering steps we take towards living a daring life on the edge of respectability for the sake of the kingdom are blessed again and again. The little mustard seed of willingness which we bring to God becomes a huge mustard tree whose branches are so strong that birds can nest there!

The twig which we plant and water may gradually become a beautiful Matilaja poppy. Our job is to keep watering and hoping. God does the rest.

So take heart. Whatever seed of Christ consciousness you are hoping will sprout, whatever twig of discipleship you are nurturing, God is with you and God will honor that and God will work with you so that it grows and sprouts in ways you may not even notice until one day you realize that what you thought was just another bump in the road was the kingdom of God sprouting up in your own yard.


Post a Comment

<< Home