Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Realm of God is Like A Seed -

 The Realm of God is Like a Seed

Mark Fredericksen, ND, MDiv.

A Sermon Preached at Vashon United Methodist, June 16, 2024

 How many of you are gardeners?  My wife and I have gardened for a large portion of our married life, which is nearing 50 years.  In the Spring, we have the “garden debate” of whose job it is to do what.  I like to prepare the ground and plant the seeds, and for her to water, weed, and harvest.  Yeah.  She doesn’t like weeding any more than I do – so you can imagine the tensions that division of labor puts into our gardening.

I love the planting part because the seeds represent a potential for glimpsing the wideness of God’s Realm. I think I may have mentioned in my sermon here with you back in April that our concepts of God are too small. If our God is too small, then our faith will also be small.  So this week and next, I’m going to try to enlarge your glimpses of the God who cares for you, with a goal, hopefully, of blessing you with a more vibrant certainty because, as Paul said to the Corinthians, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” 

Because I have lived a large chunk of my life learning and every day using what is known about biology and chemistry with a little physics, I want to bring us around to view our faith in God from a whole different angle than we usually use when we’re in church. Angles are important.  If you want to see a rainbow, for instance, you have to be looking from the right angle. So here is another one.

It starts with seeds. Seeds, essentially, are power-packed stardust.  Jesus used seeds in parables intended to awaken faith.  He only had a tenth of the knowledge about seeds that exist today. The startling thing to me about them is that they’re so tiny relative to what they can become.  In the past couple of weeks, I have held a beet seed and a seed from a Sequoia tree in my hand, and they are about the same size & not that different in appearance.  But General Sherman, the name of one of the largest Sequoia trees in the world, down in California, is 31 feet in diameter and 275 feet tall, while a beet – well, you all probably know about how big a beet plant gets.  That’s really amazing, don’t you think?  God is amazing.  All the time.

But that’s just a simplistic beginning point. How do those two different seeds know what they’re supposed to become?  How did/does God write their calling into their being?  Thomas Merton, one of my favorite theologians, Roman Catholic, mystic and good-trouble-making priest (died too soon!), talks in his book Seeds of Contemplation how a tree gives glory to God just by being a tree.  It’s that simple.  You give glory to God just by being you. Just by being.  Being yourself. Not what you do, how much money you have, or what you accomplish by this world’s standards. The glory you give to God is just being you. Period. Now, let me insert here -- Glory is a tricky word that has always been hard for me to get my head around until I realized that it’s the God-Light, the interstellar glow of eternity that God places within each of us at our birth.  One of the old Catechisms asks, “What is the purpose of human beings?”  And the answer is, “The purpose of the human being is to give glory to God.”  So, how cool is that?  That God puts God’s-light, that interstellar glow of eternity --God’s glory-- within us so that we already have what we need to reflect that outwardly back to Godself.  Do you feel the glory?  Perhaps it’s like the mud Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer got slapped on his nose to stop the glow?  It doesn’t remove the glow; it just hides it.  All the shadows, negative self-talk, and ancient power games religious hierarchies played spooning us fear of hell in order to extract money or labor for big cathedrals and shore up a Bishop’s own lack of self-worth?   Sin it is labeled.  Maybe all we need to do is polish up our fogged-over mirror with Love such that through us, others can see God.  1 Corinthians 13 – at first we see dimly, but then face-to-face.  That’s a lot to take in.  Let’s just sit with this a minute and let it soak into our being.  At your birth, the glory, the God-Light, was bestowed upon you.  Nothing can take that from you.  All that is required is to be yourself the best you can be to fulfill the only real purpose God wants or needs from you. Faith is not about doing but about being. Some of us turn out to be Sequoia trees and some weeds, but you know it is all okay because all are equal in God’s sight, appreciation, love, and embrace.

How does a tree or any plant or any living being (or you) know what it is supposed to be?

I’ll tell you how—at least from what humans have learned about the process. It’s all wrapped in a complicated molecule we call DNA. How do I know that DNA is God’s tool of choice in making us? A) Because DNA is so foundational to the blueprint of life itself.  99.9% of your DNA is the same as anyone else you meet. You’re not very doggone different from the person you love or the one you hate.  We share 85-98% of the same DNA with other mammals.  Heck, we share 60% of the same DNA as fruit flies and bananas!  B)  Because of just how impossibly difficult and unlikely it would be for any life to be here at all. DNA is a very uniquely structured molecule. It is made up of thousands, perhaps a million atoms. Five essential atoms: Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Phosphorus, and Nitrogen were spawned along with the other 93 naturally occurring elements in the furnaces of galaxies and exploding stars light-years from here.  So what are the odds of those elements landing here by random chance?  Through eons of time, they randomly gathered here from comets and meteors and space dust and our galaxy’s and solar system’s movement through the universe.  Then we’re asked by the atheist to believe they just randomly coalesced into a very complicated DNA molecule.   Look – a simple 30-digit combination lock where you need 3 numbers to unlock it has 4,062 possible combinations. If you have 93 elements and you need those 5 particular ones to get together the odds are 1 in 5.2 million. But those five alone don’t make DNA.  They have to be combined into sugars and phosphate groups and nucleotides and bound in a double helix hundreds of thousands of times.  Making the odds mind-numbingly overwhelmingly remote that the first DNA could have just fallen together. Leading me to the conclusion that purposeful loving intelligence with powers to manipulate very, very large bodies as well as quantum-sized particles has been and is at work.  And I will be so bold as to claim, based solely on faith, that human beings are catalysts in the process of Love Unfolding from here on in.

But it has never been enough in God’s mind to have a simplistic black & white world.  Sure, humans have played that game – the game of limiting choice, cutting back freedoms, indoctrinating and controlling one’s own tribe or clan, diminishing or eliminating the other, and hoarding resources. All of that is the antithesis of Love.  It goes against Creation.  It is not who we were created to be.  From Love, we came. In Love, we live. To Love, we return.  And our purpose while on this earth is to reflect God’s glory simply by being the beloved & loving creatures that God instilled us to be. Are you in?

Sunday, June 2, 2024

The Connection of Gardening With The Cosmos

 "With what can we compare the Realm 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."  -- Mark 4:30

It's Springtime, and summer is approaching quickly. Gardens are getting planted or already are. I don't know about you, but every packet of seeds I open surprises me and amazes me with how small the seeds are.  However many billion years it has been since the startup of Project Creation, quantum particles, atoms, and molecules have been generated by the formation of stars and galaxies.  Those particles have traveled untold light years to coalesce on Planet Earth and form themselves into larger molecules that humans have come to call DNA - the blueprint for life.  Looking at a seed, the most amazing part is the DNA molecules packed into those seeds determine what the plant will be.  There is very little difference in size or weight between the seed of a Sequoia tree and a common beet --yet tiny differences in the DNA create all the different plants and their characteristics. The entire encyclopedia of fauna covering Planet Earth is present because of tiny seeds. Viewed even more broadly, all reproductive cells contain this myriad of physical properties we see in every form of life.

The act of gardening connects us through seeds, to the food they supply, and to the life that we possess for however long we have on Earth. We are all being fed by elements of stardust. Is that not a humbling realization?  Many people, a couple of weeks ago, marveled at the Northern Lights brought about by magnetic storms arising from sunspots,  Yet just as amazing is every seed that has ever taken root.  

So, how is this a parable for the Realm of God?  The Realm of God is grounded in diversity.  In all forms of life, enriching and expanding to interact and fill the Earth with good and beautiful things. It is rooted in the primordial birth of the universe, which I believe was (and is) the outpouring of God's love.  That may be too large to get one's head around, but then God incarnated in the form of Jesus to give us the tangible how-to manual on how to behave with one another.  Let's take that to heart.