Sermon: Tent Sunday–or, The God of Small Things (Mark 4)

tent

The Hebrew Bible tells us that before there was the Temple, there was a tent.

Before there was a nation of Ancient Israel with a capital in Jerusalem, there was the Hebrew people, and there was the covenant with God that they made out in the wilderness, under the shadow of a great mountain.

Before there was even a sighting of the Promised Land, over on the other side of the Jordan River, there was the promise, and a 40 year journey through an unforgiving country to see that promise to fruition.

Jesus also knew what it was to be outside.

So much of his ministry was a ministry of the road, a ministry of journey—so much so that it’s taught us to see the spiritual life in general as a kind of journey—a highly personal pilgrimage for each soul, with the community that matters not the community of our birth, or our outward circumstances, but the community of hope that we encounter along the way.

And perhaps it is no accident that, according to Scripture, the Apostle Paul had a day job…and his day job was to work as a tent-maker.

City person though he was, Paul knew what it was to journey, and what it was to need shelter—and he knew it in every way.

So to be outside and under the tent again this morning is a change of pace, and an embrace of summer, a time to welcome back some of our prodigals and to commission some of our fellow disciples as they go on to new adventures, but it is also a way to lift up something that is buried deep within us.

It’s a way to get our hands around something that lies very close to the heart of what our tradition says that faith is all about.

Because if faith is about finding our home, and making a home, and about coming home, well, faith is also about leaving home—about leaving the safety and the security and the familiarity of the great stone walls that are there to keep the danger out.

Faith is also about the deep truth that sometimes, it is only when we risk the danger around us that we find the life within us.

And so we come to the tent to reclaim a little bit of that pilgrim spirit that has always been the beating heart of God’s people… the people who got us here…the people who found the strength to do bold things…who were not afraid to seek new life, and new meaning in old promises, and to begin new chapters in their own lives, and in the life of God’s people.

The best thing and the worst thing about a church is how safe it makes us feel. A tent reminds us to love God, and not simply that sense of safety.

II.

If you listen carefully, you may here something of that spirit in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark.

Jesus makes a parable by calling our attention to the mustard seed—the lowliest, the smallest, the least likely to succeed of all seeds.

But it’s a strange parable, in part because it lives in the shadow of a more famous statement that Jesus makes about mustard seeds.

You probably know that one. In the words of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Truly, I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

So when we talk about faith that moves mountains, we are talking about something that may begin as small as a mustard seed.

And there are times in life when we desperately need to hear just that…when the promise of that is a life preserver in the middle of an angry sea.

It’s a way of saying that something small can still be great, not because it is not small, but because God is great. And God is good. And so great, good things are possible for those who believe.

It calls us to summon our faith.

But this morning, Jesus uses the mustard seed to make a different point.

Because what he’s talking about today is the Kingdom of God.

What he’s talking about today is that idea…that force…that hope…that odd but steady pull that time and time again taken ahold of God’s people and led us out—beyond the great stone walls, beyond the safety of well made fence, beyond the known…and into the wilderness where anything might happen.

Because the thing about a mustard plant is not that it starts small. The thing about a mustard plant is that it’s wild.

We’re not talking about a plant that begins the size of a pin and in time, grows to be a mighty sequoia.

We’re talking about a plant that barges in and takes over everything.

It’s not a plant that grows tall—it’s a plant that spreads wide.

It’s not a plant that turns out to be beautiful or majestic—it’s a plant that is commonplace, durable, and impossible to contain.

And so what’s Jesus saying?

He’s saying that hope is like that. Life is like that. Love is like that.

The Kingdom of God is not some impressive thing, like the Temple in Jerusalem was in his day, or perhaps like the Vatican is in ours. And when it comes to Greenwich, Connecticut, lets admit that nobody scrapes the sky like we do, and we’re proud of that.

But the Kingdom of God is not that.

The Kingdom of God is wild is ways we cannot hope to contain, which is why the Kingdom of God is worthy to contain our hopes.

It’s strong, not in all the ways we can predict, but in all the ways we can’t, which is part of why it still gives living water when everything else has gone dry.

It doesn’t look like success by any other definition, and its excellence is not excellence in the ways that much of life teaches us to reach for.

It’s where a different kind of hope lives, and new visions take shape, and we plot our journey into places for which there are no maps.
That’s what the Kingdom of God is.

Even as the world can seem so very tired and so very familiar, the Kingdom of God remains just outside the door, eager to call us into the open, eager to take over the whole garden, and show us a life that is made new again and full of surprise upon surprise.

III.

And so today we come outside.

The matinee is over and we emerge from the cool, dark movie theater, blinking in the sun and feeling the air of the season, and remembering what it is to be alive, and unscheduled, and grabbed by what today might be.

Might it be for God?

In Egypt, they said yes. In Galilee they said yes. In Ephesus and Corinth and Athens and Rome and in so many other places, they said yes. At Plymouth Rock, and in so many moments of great danger and great courage, they said yes.

So now we come, not out of duty, but out of hope, and not because we are perfect or complete, but because we seek God healing, and a sense of God’s vision for our lives.

Won’t you say yes?

Our God of small things invites us into the greatness of the life he dreams for us.

Let’s pack up our tents and go.

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