The fragrance of God?

240616 Pentecost 4 year B
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, 11:14-15- PSALM 20 – 2 Corinthians 5.6-17- Mark 4.26-34

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

In the global world in which we live, life has become for the curious a joyous journey through a wide range of gastronomic traditions and cuisine. There is nothing I love more than to discover new tastes and new experiences, and then to try and cook them at home to share with family and friends. To try out new things reminds us of what we like best in our own traditions, but also takes us into the life and experience of other cultures through their food.

One of my early encounters of a cuisine different from my own was with Indian cooking, which I had never experienced before. I was staying with a British family in London, and an Indian meal was at least a weekly occurrence. I soon learned to make some of those delicious dishes, and introduced them back home to my family.

There are of course many varieties of Indian cooking, given the size of the Indian sub-continent and its many cultures. But as I am sure you will know, the basis of that cuisine is a mix of spices and herbs that produce different flavours according to the relative importance given to each in various dishes.

Often, the starting point for a curry recipe will be a gently frying of seeds – black mustard seeds, fennel, cumin, cardamoms and many others, to release the flavours into oil ready to cook onions, vegetables, pulses and other ingredients to turn into a wonderfully fragrant dish.

The seeds may be tiny, and not used in a large quantity in proportion to the whole dish, but they give their best to transform it and make it quite other to the bland mix it could have been without them.

Jesus’s well known parable of the mustard seed speaks of the potential that the very small seed has as it is planted, grows, and turns into a large bush which can become home to many things. That is the way it is told by Jesus, and it allows our imagination to wonder at the expanse of the Kingdom of God from the humble beginning of our kernel of faith.
But my colleague Anna Sutterisch drew my attention to the fact that preachers never dwell on the intrinsic value of the tiny seed as it is, not with dreams for the future or potential for exponential growth, but simply ready to give its all to bring flavour to the world, like so many of its siblings, in the here and now.

And perhaps that is another take on the Kingdom of God, which Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples. A place fragrant with divine spices released by a multitude – yet small fraction – of those populating it, and making God’s presence felt, in a ‘Taste and See’ that the Lord is Good sense.

The world loves to look at potential – what can be achieved if this, that or the other happens. What will be gained if only everyone is focused on this or that outcome and does what is needed accordingly.

As Christians, we know we are redeemed through grace, not through work. We believe that God loves us even before we have lifted a finger, simply as God looks at us and recognises in us a part of God’s image.

What is God’s outcome is not something we know, what God needs for that divine outcome God has created.

In the first of today’s two parables, we hear of the improbable story of the farmer who does not seem to have a clue as to how his fields grows the harvest he is able to gather at the end from the seeds he sowed at the beginning. Even two thousand years ago, people were a little wiser than that.

But what the parable might be telling us is that whatever happens between the sowing and the reaping is all still dependent on divine providence and the grace of God – the light of the sun, the provision of water, and an environment that will be conducive to grow to maturity. However much we might work on finding the right soil – as we learnt from the parable of the sower – that in itself is not enough.

Here, there is an expectation of fruitful potential, but the image may be more about the ways in which we grow into the full stature of Christ, with lives patterned on that of Jesus, gathered into the fold of God. Sharing into God’s plentifulness, and giving back to the world.

Of course, as we all know, the parables that Jesus taught are not meant to be explained, but for each of us to let them reach our soul that they there may, like seeds, germinate into new green shoots for our spiritual journey. Tantalising therefore to read that Jesus did actually explain everything in private to his disciples. How much would we have loved to hear those additional and not recorded explanations.

Nevertheless, the trajectory of the Biblical message from the early books of the Hebrew bible to the end of the New Testament tends in the same direction.

God does not follow human patterns and time and again chooses the unexpected, the small, the unimportant, those looked-over, in order to achieve God’s purpose from generation to generation by challenging those who think they are important or entitled.

In our reading from the first book of Samuel, we heard the story of the choosing of the successor of King Saul after his death.

God sends Samuel to visit Jesse in order to identify the one he will anoint – and as the story unfolds it becomes clear that it is not one of the older and stronger siblings that is God’s choice, but instead David, the youngest and smallest – the one whose father did not even think to present to Samuel so unlikely was he to be in the running.

And yet, like the mustard seed, it is the smallest and least promising that God chooses to provide a whole new lineage that will enable, much later on, the fulfilling of prophecies in the birth of Jesus, the Christ, a descendant of the house of David.
So what might this mean for us as a community at the Cathedral, what might this mean for us individually?

Today’s texts remind us that whatever the world thinks and however the world works, the community of the church works to a different paradigm. Wisdom and the divine spirit is shared amongst us, and will be more likely to make herself known when we least expect her, and perhaps from the least likely person.

St Benedict, in the third chapter of the rule that he wrote for his community of monks, was very specific about the involvement of all in discernment and decision making, as ‘the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger’.

As a community seeking to embody Christ here in downtown Montreal, we need to keep our ears open to the ways in which the spirit speaks to us and to be willing to be challenged in our traditional expectations.

We need to make time and space to hear God speak to us in Scripture and in our own prayer and meditation. And we need to keep our ears open to hear when the Spirit speaks through someone else around us.

As we say in our services: ‘For the word of God in Scripture, for the word of God around us, for the word of God within us – Thanks be to God!’

For each of us, the call is to not ever believe that we are not worthy of any task that God places on our heart and which is recognised by the community.

The Holy Spirit will provide us with all that we need to contribute to God’s outcome, whether seen within our owntime or way past it.

So as we move into the summer, remember the importance of the smallest seed – not simply as an impossible potential for the future that might never be achieved, but instead in releasing the fragrance and the delightful crackling of God’s presence in the here and now – and be that seed that delights, wherever you may be.

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