Where Your Heart Is: A Hopeful Heart
Glen Rainsley tells this beautiful story about Jeremy.[i]
At thirteen years old, Jeremy was already a skilled angler.
It was his favorite thing to do.
He would fish anywhere, but his favorite spot was Daisy Pond
where large bass cruised under the lily pads
and rolled in the shadows
where their light bellies flashed on the surface.
One of the best things about Daisy Pond was that
even when the fish weren’t biting, it was a good place to be.
Do you have those places in your life,
Where even if what you were doing wasn’t going so right
It was still a good place to be?
At any rate, at Daisy Pond
Not a building could be seen from anyplace.
The only signs of human life were a battered, rusty-green litter can
and old Mr. Hadbourne’s rowboat.
Jeremy had been in that boat quite a few times
and he always listened carefully to Mr. Hadbourne,
who had taught him how to tie strong knots on the line,
how to stalk fish and to tease them into striking.
Daisy Pond was always alive.
That is what Jeremy loved.
Muskrats churned through the waters,
porcupines wandered the nearby woods,
turtles sat on rocks doing nothing much at all.
The air sounded with insect humming and frogs making noise,
splashes of feeding fish
a chorus of bird songs.
One evening, at sunset, just as the water shimmied pink and violet,
Jeremy looked out over the pond. He was getting ready to go home.
High above, a lone hawk soared in wide circles.
And just above the water a whole flock of tree swallows darted about
snatching their insect-dinner from the air.
The birds swerved and swooped as they ate their fill.
Jeremy reeled in his line. He smiled at the bird’s acrobatics.
Suddenly, a most surprising thing happened.
One of the swallows misjudged its speed, or became more hungry than careful,
one or the other,
and it crashed – splat – right into the calm water of Daisy Pond.
Jeremy leaned his fishing pole against a tree and watched with a heavy feeling.
The little bird was a good, oh, forty feet from land.
It chirped in terror at first and spun in one spot.
Then it fell silent, and amazingly, using its wings as flippers,
It began ever-so-slowly moving to the nearest shore.
Jeremy couldn’t believe his eyes!
He silently started to root for the bird to make it.
Now, the rest of the flock had stopped its insect-catching
and now hovered around their companion.
They seemed to be chirping encouragement.
Jeremy tried to think of ways to help.
“If I throw a branch I might hit it.
The rowboat would scare it.
And I can’t swim out there.
All I can do is hope and pray.”
The little bird continued on.
It seemed to Jeremy that when it had gotten almost halfway to the shore
it slowed down.
“Worn out, I guess,” Jeremy thought to himself.
“Never going to make it. Some big bass will snatch it for dinner
or maybe that hawk will dive down.”
But the hawk was uninterested, no fish struck, and the little bird continued on.
The flock stayed just overhead.
“Come on, little guy!” Jeremy shouted.
He wished that he were God and could pluck the swallow to safety.
The flock stuck by.
Jeremy hoped and prayed.
The little bird continued on.
Finally, it reached a dry log and stood up on it, shaken, but triumphant!
The flock shot up and away after insects. It was done.
Jeremy put his fingers to his lips, and let out a loud whistle.
And the little swallow sat on the log, a small drenched triumph
of life over death.
What can we learn from stories such as these?
Sometimes, we just need to slow down,
And allow ourselves to see the GOOD going on in our world,
Particularly when the news and the times
Are all so stressful.
Fishing, they say, is good for that. It helps calm and relax the soul.
I don’t fish myself. I went a few times with grandparents when I was a kid,
and I’ve pulled out a pole at Deanna Rose with Nora and Tessa,
when they were younger
But I can’t say that I’ve seriously been fishing in 25 years.
I know some of you fish now and again,
And maybe more of you used to.
But this is more than a fishing story.
There is something beautiful here that
I think we can all recognize, something true.
We can sympathize with the little swallow, even if it is anthroporphizing a bit,
because we know life is full of miscues, painful attempts at recovery,
having to keep pushing and pushing onward
even when things appear hopeless.
We can understand Jeremy’s helplessness,
and perhaps admire his understanding that he cannot do all things to save the world
and we know he would have done anything he could
to make things right.
There are some moments like that.
Glen’s stories always provide for me little glimpses
of what it means to be Easter people
to live into the promises of God through constant hope
and abiding trust that God cares for us
and that God is working among us to make all things new.
This is one of my favorite Sunday’s of the church year.
Its not officially on any liturgical calendar,
but Stewardship Dedication Sunday has always been a joy.
Today we celebrate all that is life giving,
love building about this place.
Today we lift up where our heart is:
The hope we have because God is our God
And we are God’s people
Learning how to follow God because of Jesus Christ.
Today is a celebration of what it means to be church. What it means to be community.
The work of reconciliation that we have been given.
What it means for us to live into the Story of God’s great love
God’s triumph in our lives of life over death.
The thing about Jesus is that he was constantly challenging our assumptions
our perception of things.
Time and time again in scripture,
the stories we read about Jesus
center around they way he pushes against what we think, what we know
how Jesus challenges what we hold to be true about God
or about ourselves,
and then Jesus uses the disruption caused by that to help us grow.
You have heard it said….but I say to you.
Now, who is your neighbor?
Those who humble themselves will be exalted…
Render unto Ceasar, Render unto God…
And time and time again, when in the presence of Jesus,
the faithful have to pause and listen anew.
Blessed are you who are poor,
For yours is the Kingdom of God.
Blessed are you hungry, you who weep,
For God is with you, and you will have food, you will laugh
But others, woe to you, who laugh and play while others weep and starve.
Instead: share, give, grow your heart
Bless those who curse you
Pray for those who hurt you
Go the extra mile
Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
Challenging, but life-giving words.
Jesus does this, I think, to help us develop searching, humble hearts,
always wanting more out of life,
never content to assume that we have it all right
always driving to deeper relationship
so that we can learn more and love more.
Take for instance that time
When Jesus was trying to get through to his disciples
About the Kingdom of God
And he was talking about farming and gardening
And about seeds—stuff of the earth,
You know, for these people of the earth
Who grew things themselves
Who knew what it meant to get their hands dirty and to eat what they’ve cultivated.
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God,
or what parable will we use for it?” Jesus says.
“It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground,
is the smallest of all 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.”
Jesus, comparing the kingdom of God to the smallest of all seeds.
Why would he do that?
Isn’t the Kingdom of God supposed to be like what we envision God to be like,
bigger than life, all powerful, noble, extraordinary?
Yet, says Jesus, somehow THAT small seed yields surprising, unexpected growth,
and even becomes a HOME for the birds of the air to rest in.
THATs exactly what the kingdom is like….
The unexpected becomes the very place of rest and hope and joy…
The realm of God is like a mustard seed.
Small. Not-very-noteworthy. Insignificant, perhaps.
And from that tiny seed, comes wonderful, great things!
A pastor friend of mine, Tim, told me a story this week,
about this new ministry at their church and how it came to be.
Tim pastors an inner-city congregation in one of the nation’s larger cities.
In this church, a FEW members of the congregation became concerned
about the homeless in streets outside their front door.
They did what many churches do when they become concerned about the homeless:
They began a soup kitchen,
where they were soon feeding lunch to over 60 persons three days a week.
At the same time, every other Sunday,
it was their custom to have a congregational meal
immediately after worship
(for church members and the occasional visitor alike).
Now, it wasn’t long before someone asked a logical question:
“Why don’t we invite the folk who gather here during the week
to gather with us on Sunday too?”
And so they did what churches do when someone asks that question:
There was a rather fierce debate about it.
After all, it’s ONE thing to feed the hungry,
but another thing entirely to invite them to eat with the family.
I’ve been in churches where that question
could be answered either way, frankly, Tim said.
But, at this particular gathering, someone flipped open a Bible,
turned it to the gospel of Luke, and read it aloud to those assembled.
It didn’t sound optional: “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind…”
A motion was made to have a meal after church every Sunday
and invite everyone to come,
particularly the people on the street who show up on weekdays.
The motion was seconded and passed. (What good Presbyterians!)
And that church invited EVERYONE to come to their Sunday meals….
An amazing thing happened, Tim said.
People starting getting a real sense of God’s presence at the church.
Attendance at the church doubled,
and the church had a sense of what God was calling them to do and to be…
“We have the Lord’s supper every Sunday now,” said one woman.
“We don’t call what we do in the fellowship hall after service ‘the Lord’s Supper,’
but that’s what it is.”
“What was such a small thing, at first,
through some wrestling and some birthpangs, became for us
the kingdom of God, here …. at our church.”
These stories of Jesus mean different things to different people,
depending on what we bring to the table.
If you are a gardener, and have worked to understand how plants grow
to arrange them in some order to add beauty or to provide food,
you’ll get something different out of a story about a mustard seed
than if you are like me, who can just about
manage a lawnmower and a weed-wacker well enough
to keep the neighbors from calling the village
about the state of my lawn.
But for each person, these stories have something to teach us about God’s world
and about what God is trying to bring about in our midst.
Today, on this Pledge Dedication Sunday, the question on my mind is this:
What gives you hope?
How do you see God moving among us
So that the hungry are filled with good things, now
So that those who weep are comforted, today?
What is it that God is doing among us that might be ready to burst open?
Where is it that God might take the smallest germ of an idea,
Maybe even your idea,
Smaller today than a mustard seed
and provide unexpected, surprising growth?
When you look back at the ministries that we are currently engaged in,
most of them, perhaps all of them, started with a small seed.
You heard last week,
Christmas In October started when a couple of guys thought it was important
To help people maintain safe, comfortable homes
And someone around here thought that was a good idea too
And now we’ve been part of a movement that
Has tended to more than 10,000 homes
With new paint, roofs, waterheaters, and wheelchair ramps.
Or what about our partnership with Center Schools
Which started 25 or more years ago with a recognition of
Two seventh and two eighth graders, peacemakers in their community
An idea from one of our own.
Today we’re contributing hundreds of volunteer hours
Not to mention chili and desert and all sorts of goodies for teachers
So they can teach well and the kids can learn well
And letters of support and encouragement and love for students
We sent life protecting mosquito nets to the people of Cameroon last year.
One of our members built a solar-powered food dehydrator
For the good people at Cherith Brook Catholic worker,
And we go up there several times a year
With food for the community meal they share with us
And with the people on the streets.
There are blood drives and canned goods and warm coats and yes socks
And you, my friends, are blessing the poor and the hungry and the weeping
With the gift of love and good food and laughter.
We could do this with many many others ways we’ve found
of being God’s Very People here at The Kirk.
Each one a small idea, a small vision, that was planted, shared, watered
and over time, became a part of what The Kirk has to offer
in the kingdom of God.
The Kirk is but one place where God is working to
take the seeds that we are planting
and to make them grow into marvelous gifts of God.
It is our place, a place where we belong and where we are constantly being surprised
constantly being pushed and challenged and nurtured and encouraged
to think big things for God.
Big things that start off small, of course.
We don’t always know the outcome.
Some seeds take root and others don’t.
But each beautiful outreach starts off with a small idea somewhere
a tiny seed that has the potential of being a life-giving thing of God.
May we, as we celebrate this day the manifold gifts of God in this place
may we give thanks to God who helps each seed grow into something beautiful
may we continue to plant new seeds for the future
doing unto others as we would have them do unto us
so that all may experience the Kingdom of God
may we remember that it is God who gives the growth
and may we help till and keep this good plot of soil
that God has entrusted to us.
That is what gives my heart hope.
God continues to make all things new.
Thanks be to God.
[i] From Glen Rainsley, Thanks Be to God: Prayers and Parables for Public Worship (Wipf and Stock: Eugene, Oregon. 2005) p139-140.