From the Rev. Carey D. Chirico, Deacon, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | Third Sunday of Pentecost Year B, June 14, 2015
I was born in the 1960s. In the time of the Vietnam war; drive in movies and folk music and at a time when many people’s understanding of the Kingdom was changing. I was born before CNN, before Amber alerts and before the term ‘free range children’.
I was a free-range child. I ranged freely by bike, foot and small sail boat. We children ranged and looked and explored and miraculously survived.
I discovered very early on those long easy days of exploring swallows’ nests under the bridges of the Lafayette River and the small clams that dug themselves back into the mud at low tide that Mystery is the greatest of all motivators.
That mystery is not the absence of something but the presence of more than we can begin to comprehend.
“The Kingdom of God is like a seed that falls to the ground, sprouts and grows in the dark rich earth and the planter – has no idea how.” Those early days of my life were one science lesson after another and they led me to inextricably link mystery to physical to mystical to faith. God moment after God moment.
The great Charles Darwin explored many of nature’s mysteries, among them the mystery of something called ‘drift seeds’.
Mystified by how seeds ended up on volcanic atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean–seeds carried thousands and thousands of miles–he wondered about the impact of traveling birds and fish that might carry and scatter them. Back home from his travels he actively investigated how this mysterious action happened, soaking seeds in salt water and timing their ability to float and placing them in tanks filled with fish.
My dear Hooker
… Everything has been going wrong with me lately; the fish at the Zoolog. Soc. ate up lots of soaked seeds, & then I imagined swallowed, fish & all, by a heron, being carried a hundred miles, been voided on the banks of some other lake & germinated splendidly,—when lo & behold, the fish ejected the seeds vehemently, & with disgust, equal to my own, from their mouths.—
Goodbye my dear Hooker
Ever yours C. Dar
Science inquiry opened the mystery and we now know that certain seeds are seemingly made for dispersion by drift, their pods impervious to water and filled with air and their taproots ready to quickly grab sandy soil. But none of this is obvious; none of this was quickly seen. Really, it makes no sense that a seed would float over 30,000 miles and turn into the glorious flora of Hawaii.
Physical, tangible mysteries like these help me see the sense in the way that Jesus taught. This that makes me see the sense in obscure parables, indirect references and veiled images.
Mystery is not the absence of an explanation but the presence of more than we can comprehend.
The Kingdom is here, among us, active yet elusive, just within sight yet hidden from view.
Growing yet we know not how.
Is it possible, even probable that within each of us there resides a drift seed? That within each of us there is a seed germinating, humming, growing planted there by a loving God who knit us together in the womb? And as we go into the world, we carry that seed with the potential to let it go and to flourish?
And that we are the ocean current carrying it along?
We have heard a great deal in recent weeks about the decline of organized religion, of Church in the West. Surely it must make those of us in the pews feel like we have missed something that everyone else knows. What we have not heard as much about is the fact that 44 percent of Americans say that faith is of great importance in their lives, germinating and alive, looking for soil to hold onto. That Christianity is flourishing in Korea and China. What we do not hear about is the resurgence of attendance at Compline services, a monastic tradition of sung prayer to mark the end of the day, or the vast numbers of young people at services in Taize, France, or of the huge interest in social entrepreneurship by Church communities.
We have not heard about the fact that those who are in the pews are more committed and more engaged than ever since they are making a conscious choice to be there.
Rachel Held Evans, a modern-day Evangelical turned Episcopalian, writes that when she requested, on Facebook, title suggestions for her new book about looking for ‘Church’– one suggestion was “Jesus went to Heaven and all he left us was this lousy Church.” And she writes that as much as that made her smile, it in no way captures the mystery of Christian Community that is Church.
Church is a place that has the power to point to the Kingdom. It is a place where we who want to understand, want to question, want to look beyond the words come together. It is a place of followers, followers of Jesus the one who gave the authority to heal – not cure.
Church at its best is place that asks hard questions – understands that life often hurts, that brokenness exists and shows up to hold those pieces with each other. In community and in love. That is what takes us into Haiti, Congo and South Dakota. That is what leads us to host 12-step groups, divorce recovery groups, grief groups and to and explore hunger in our communities.
The mystery of this Church community invites us to plant and watch and wonder at the magnificence of life beginning anew.
When Moses stood on the banks of the Jordan, 40 years after the journey began for a rag tag group who would replant the Kingdom of Israel, he cautioned against forgetting, against the amnesia of success, the amnesia of affluence. He cautioned against forgetting whose and who we are.
Seeds lying in the earth, waiting to germinate to bring hope and green and oxygen into the world. New life emerging as mysteriously as it began. That is our invitation as the Church of Christ – to nurture the mystery, the dark, and the seed. When we live in the everyday and stop to make it sacred, we are marking the way of the Kingdom. When we bring to our work and to our play, to our meals and to our life transitions a moment of prayer, a moment of remembering whose and who planted and nurtured us, we bring into the world the signposts of the Kingdom.
Is it possible–even probable–that within each of us Children of God, is a seed, mysterious and wonderful, that we are carrying with us out into the world each day? A seed we can scatter and allow to bear beautiful fruit even though we know not how. A seed we scatter through our choices and engagement with God’s world. This is a seed that will mysteriously grow and thrive and bloom in ways that say, “The Kingdom is here.” This is the way. Follow me.
Rachel Evan’s response to her Facebook followers says it very well: “Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, “Pay attention, this is holy ground. God is here.”