June 17th, 2012 “Among the Weeds” Rev. Heather Jepsen
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 and Mark 4:26-34
It’s Father’s Day. A day we set aside to honor our Fathers, to thank them for their hard work, and to give them a break. I am sure that many of us here have plans for today. We are headed out after church to take Dad out to lunch, or to go fishing, or maybe to just let Dad nap on the couch. We have plans for BBQs and get togethers, for the giving of gifts and cards, today we have a plan and a vision in our mind of what the perfect Father’s Day will be like. The reality is though, that for many of us today will not be perfect. It will be just another regular day, where stress runs high and things don’t go according to plan. Such is life.
When we look at the Biblical narrative, we also find that often things don’t go according to plan. Our first reading comes from the history of Israel. Saul has been anointed king, but he is not up to snuff, so the time has come to anoint a new king over Israel. It sounds like a simple thing, a smooth plan, but in reality it is a messy business.
You see Samuel, the priest who has now grown old in years, still has hope for Saul. He was the one who, at the word of God, anointed Saul to lead, and I am sure that was no small thing in his eyes. But Saul has failed the Lord and the time has come for a new king. Though his heart still holds on the past, still holds on to the plan, Samuel is now called to anoint another. In a small ceremony, while Saul still reigns on the throne, Samuel will anoint a new king.
And so Samuel comes to the sons of Jesse. One by one they pass before him. Surely if this is going according to plan, than the oldest most handsome boy is the new king. But of course, this is not going according to plan, at least not the plans of man, and the firstborn is not the chosen one. One by one the sons of Jesse pass before Samuel and none are chosen.
Now imagine the scene with me. Jesse knows that Samuel is coming, and has planned for his family to attend the sacrifice. He has probably heard rumors that something important will happen that day. But someone has to stay back and watch the flocks, and there is no way that his youngest boy, David, needs to be there. So he is the one chosen to stay home with the sheep. Things are going perfectly according to plan as Samuel approaches Eliab with the horn of oil, but then it all goes wacky. None of the sons are chosen, and Samuel is calling for David, and someone has to run and fetch the poor boy from the fields while everyone stands around waiting. Samuel even says “we will not sit down until he comes here.” Jesse’s mistake in leaving David behind is holding up the work of the high priest, the work of the Lord. How embarrassing, what a mess!
When David arrives he is sweaty and he reeks of sheep and he’s out of breath. His face is ruddy, or red, probably from running in the heat. He stands before Samuel, and now, this is the one, the youngest one, the one that everyone assumed it couldn’t be. Here is the new king of Israel, young David. He is anointed with oil and the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him.
In the anointing of David we discover that the kingdom of God, or the realm of God, or the ways of God, are not our ways. We like to do things in decency and good order. We like to have a plan. In our world, up is up and down is down. The kingdom of God is a different place, a messy place. We could argue that there is a plan in the realm of God, but it sure doesn’t look like any plan that we would come up with. In fact, in the realm of God, up is more likely to be down, and down is more likely to be up. How else can one explain that “First will be last and last will be first” stuff that Jesus was always talking about?
Of course, this crazy realm of God plan continues to spin out in David’s life. Sure he’s anointed king, but Saul is still king and that is going to be messy. Once David comes into power things are still far from smooth. We all know about poor Bathsheba, and she’s not the only bump on the road. David is far from perfect. Sure he has a heart for the Lord, but he is a liar and a violent man who will experience much loss and hardship. His path is not one that I would choose, and yet in his story, his messy story, we find the realm of God.
The truth is; many of our lives are messy. We have good intentions, but often things don’t work out. We struggle in our marriages and in our families. Sometimes our spouse disappoints us; sometimes our kids aren’t what we wish they would be. Sometimes we lose our jobs, sometimes we get sick, sometimes despite our best efforts things just fall apart. When life doesn’t go according to plan we are tempted to wonder where God is. I would say that when life doesn’t go according to plan, is precisely when we are with God.
In our gospel reading from Mark, Jesus is teaching about the kingdom or the realm of God. He says that the realm of God is like a farmer who planted seeds and fell asleep. All by themselves the seeds sprouted and produced grain. The farmer then is ready for the harvest. The realm of God is like a mustard seed; a tiny seed that one can barely see and yet sprouts up to be a great bush. The realm of God is like a seed sprouting, it seemingly just happens by itself.
Modern readers love the mustard seed parable. “Oh yeah” we say “The mustard seed, that’s great”. What we forget is that the mustard plant was a weed. First century Christians would have hated it.
Now I just moved here so I don’t know which weed you all hate, but where I came from people hated dandelions. In Wilbur folks were always digging up dandelions and continually spraying poison on their yards. Everyone was working toward that perfect patch of lush grass, all at an even measured height, with no dandelions in sight. Now it doesn’t take much driving around here to see that lawns are not such a big deal to you all, but you get the idea.
Imagine if Jesus said, the realm of God is like a dandelion. You never know where it comes from. The gentle breezes blow the tiny seed into your lawn, and before you know it, the most beautiful flowers appear. We think it’s silly, but that how folks would have responded to the mustard seed. The realm of God is like weeds blowing around in the air. The realm of God is like those weeds that sprout up, ruining your perfect lawn or garden. When Jesus says the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, he is saying that it is like the most annoying weed you know.
As believers, we like to imagine or even hope; that because we have faith our lives will be perfect. I have often wondered where we got such a silly idea. It doesn’t take much reading of the Bible to discover that for believers throughout history life was far from perfect.
We remember perfect Adam and Eve, but we forget their sons Cain and Abel. We remember Noah and his family, but we forget that time he got drunk embarrassing his sons. We remember perfect Abraham and Sarah, and forget poor Hagar on the side. We remember the great David, and we forget his killing of Uriah. We remember the wisdom of king Solomon, and we forget his giant harem and how he leaves the kingdom in shambles. We remember Jesus, and we forget how his family called him crazy, his church killed him, and his friends abandoned him to die alone. We remember the teacher Paul, and we forget Saul who willingly killed people who disagreed with him about the nature of God.
My friends, the realm of God doesn’t happen in a perfect place. The people of God are not a perfect people. Not even close. Throughout the scriptures we find God not in decency and good order, not when things are going according to plan, but in the messy places of life. Jesus didn’t say the kingdom of God was like a rose garden that you worked so hard on to make perfect. No, he said the kingdom of God was like the weeds that sprout up when you are sleeping.
This is where we find God, among the weeds. We find God in the messy places of our lives, when things are falling apart, when we are weak and tired. We find God when we are broken and hurt and feel most alone. We find God among the weeds, because it is when we are lost in the weeds that we most need God. It is when we are lost in the weeds that we most need grace and forgiveness, hospitality and love, for others and for ourselves.
Just like the seed that grows while the farmer sleeps, the realm of God just happens. No matter how messy and imperfect our lives are, the realm of God just happens. No matter how many weeds sprout up around us, the realm of God just happens. Like the little flower sprouting out of a crack in the sidewalk, the realm of God springs up all around us of its own power.
So today, as you think about fathers and think about families, I am sure you will find that life isn’t perfect. I am sure that while today may be a beautiful celebration for you, you will find that life generally doesn’t go according to plan. God is in that. God is there when it is all beautiful and happy and works out. But God is also there, if not more so, when it is messy and just doesn’t click. Nothings perfect, nobody’s perfect, and that’s OK. God is with us, even here among the weeds. Amen.