Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Bellerose, NY
13 June 2021 + Lectionary 11B (Pent. 3)
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
View the entire installation liturgy below. The gospel reading and sermon begin at the 13:45 mark.
Good morning! My name is Pastor Josh Evans, and I have the privilege of serving the people of God at St. Philip Lutheran Church in Glenview, IL, a north suburb of Chicago. I am delighted to be with you today, and I bring you greetings on behalf of St. Philip and your siblings in Christ in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod.
Let us pray: O God, you are love. Let my words be your words. O God, you are love. Let us seek to understand with your heart. Amen.
* * *
It’s no secret that I don’t exactly have a green thumb. You know those large leafy green potted plants that are almost impossible to kill? Emphasis on “almost.”
So when these parables on agriculture and gardening come up, you could say I’m just a little outside of my field of expertise.
“The seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how…” I assure you the character in the parable isn’t the only one who “does not know how.”
When I was in seminary, I had the privilege of serving as sacristan of the chapel — caring for our sacred space where the community gathered for worship and dreaming up creative ways to engage the assembly in the times and seasons of the church year.
One year, just before Lent, we observed Transfiguration Sunday and, like many congregations, we marked the day by creatively burying the alleluia. During the liturgy, we invited those gathered to write down their hopes and visions for new life and resurrection — using paper embedded with wildflower seeds — and then we buried the paper in planters near the baptismal font.
Never having had experience with this seed paper before, I had my doubts: Will it work? Will the seeds actually sprout and grow? What if the package of paper I got from Amazon had somehow expired? Do seeds even expire? So … I bought some packets of morning glory seeds — and after the service, when no one was looking, I sprinkled a few seeds in each pot. The seeds would sprout and grow, I thought, and no one would know how…
Ministry during this past year feels a little like that: Will the seeds sprout and grow? How do we know this is even working? Literally! Is the Facebook stream up? Is anyone even watching? Can they see the moving boxes, just outside of camera view, in my carefully staged home worship area in the corner of my dining room? Are we doing enough? Are we doing the “right” things? When is it safe to come back? What about the ones who don’t come back?
These questions and more are enough to fill any church leader — lay or ordained — with enough anxiety to keep you awake at two in the morning, typing a sermon that you’ll preach to a camera that you’re not sure anyone will even hear should the wifi decide to go out on Sunday morning (but I’m sure that’s never happened, right?).
If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that life is unpredictable. Think back to a year ago. When the world shut down seemingly overnight. When this installation was indefinitely postponed as other priorities took center stage. (Talk about a time to start a new call!)
Now, as the country begins to slowly, cautiously, optimistically emerge from the pandemic … as more people get fully vaccinated … as empty office desks are occupied once more … as church pews start to fill up … It’s easy enough to say things are getting “back to normal” … that “church is opening up again” … that the seeds long dormant are finally sprouting and growing.
But here’s the thing: the seeds have been sprouting and growing all along.
Church has never – not for one second – been closed. Buildings, maybe. But church has been thriving … possibly more than ever before. In my own congregation in the suburbs of Chicago, we have former members and family and friends joining us for worship and bible study from as far away as Florida. In the isolation of the past year, members well into their 80s and 90s have learned how to use Zoom and are connecting with each other in new ways.
The seeds are sprouting and growing, and some days I have no idea how. Some things, I’m learning, we just have no control over.
The kingdom of God is like that. It’s not all up to us. The seeds sprout while the gardener sleeps.
Our job is not to take control … tempting as it is to plant a few extra morning glory seeds for good measure … as though somehow we can outsmart the God of the universe.
Our job is to work with God and participate in the work that God is calling us all to be a part of … the work of repairing the world, of striving for justice and peace in all the earth, of meeting our neighbors where they are and building God’s beloved community on earth as it is in heaven.
* * *
Today, we celebrate the ministry of Pastor Analyse, now over a year after it began here — but this day is not about her alone. This day is about all of you, the people of Holy Trinity.
You are equipped for ministry together now. You have been called for such a time as this.
Will the seeds sprout and grow? How do we know this is even working? Are we doing enough? Are we doing this right? What if the wifi goes down?
God’s kingdom hears our questions … and welcomes our imperfections and our falling short. Because it is by the power of God’s Spirit — not by our own skills or abilities — that God’s reign of justice and love comes.
God calls mustard seeds … small, seemingly insignificant seeds that take root and grow, not into stately trees, but “invasive, spindly weeds.” In the gospels, Jesus calls “raggedy fisherman and corrupt tax collectors” to be his disciples. God calls the “clueless, clumsy, timid, and doubtful.” (Debie Thomas)
Lest our egos get the best of us … God calls us in our imperfection and says, “Yeah, this will work!”
Not that we don’t have a role to play. There is trust here, but trust, by its very nature, doesn’t exert control.
Maybe that’s why we often refer to pastors as servant leaders — an oxymoron to our 21st century capitalist American ears, more attuned to individual merit and success. But instead, servant leaders are rooted in the model love of a servant savior who stoops down to wash the feet of his disciples, who lays down his life for his friends.
This job is not easy. The work of ministry God calls us — all of us — to is not without its challenges and doubts and failures. We won’t get it right all the time.
Thanks be to God it’s not all up to us! Thanks be to God the seeds sprout and grow, even while we are asleep.
* * *
The seeds did sprout in our chapel planters by the time Easter came around — a mix of morning glories and wildflowers. I should’ve known what seeds are capable of.
When I was growing up, my grandma had this big blue planter in the corner of her backyard. Every year, she would plant morning glories in that pot, and they would grow and flower and soon take over the whole fence. Of course, the downside to that is that when the first frost sets in, and the flowers die, there’s a lot of untangling to be done, pulling the flowers and stems from the chain link fence.
So one year, my grandma decided it was time to discontinue the annual planting of the morning glories. Evidently she didn’t clean out that blue planter well enough … because, before long, at the peak of summer, the fence was once again full of blossoming flowers.
The kingdom of God is like that. It sprouts and grows and produces of itself. And sometimes, we don’t even know how. (Not even two master’s degrees in ministry can make sense of how God’s reign works sometimes, right?)
Today marks a new chapter of ministry at Holy Trinity. So celebrate and give thanks!
Take a nap!
Let the seeds do what they do.
Trust in God’s grace.