You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Holy Possibilities, HERE.
So… did you count? This morning, depending on how you define a parable, we read 6 of them. Bernard Scott defines a parable as, “a short, narrative fiction” and that as such references a symbol. This symbol represents in Jesus’ words “the kingdom of God.” Over 50 years ago Franz Kafka observed, “All these parables really set out to say merely that the incomprehensible is incomprehensible, and we know that already.” Which makes Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Have you understood all this?” all the more ironic.
Have you understood all this?
How do we understand today what Jesus is teaching us as he talks about Holy Possibilities? Seeds and trees, yeast and flour, treasure and fields? How do we see God’s Great Hope in the tangled nets we do not always understand? And then, before we have enough time to respond, Jesus shifts our attention to glimpses of what God’s kindom looks like right here, right now.
My question for this faith community today is: What has God planted deep within you… deep within this congregation… that may be taking root during the pandemic? What is the deep, urgent, need of the world growing HERE?
We KNOW seeds come in all sizes—as do treasures. Some sprout. Some do not. Some treasures we recognize. Some possibilities are there all along and we miss them. Or, it is not until later in our lives we begin to grasp their importance.
Today Jesus tosses multiple “the kindom is like…” short stories at us. At the Wednesday morning and evening Bible studies (Scripture and Scones) someone mentioned the mustard seed resonated with them, another the yeast, yet another the treasure in the field. Someone else said, “the pieces of the quilts I make.” The pieces of a quilt.
Now, if you didn’t hear Jesus say, “the kindom of heaven is like the pieces of a quilt which stitched together comfort and warm the heart and soul on gut wrenching nights…” it is OK. Parables are like that. Some are told in scripture. Others are lived into throughout our lives.
Take sunflower seeds for example. As I put together the sunflower packets I mailed to each household in April, I was aware of the different sizes, the various shapes and colors of the seeds. I have been wondering about, and watching, each individual seed that I planted grow over the past few months. The ones that sprouted, and the ones that did not. The ones that are short, compact, and the sunflowers which are outpacing them all and growing tall. Here a photo of the sunflower garden at Memorial UCC from this week:
The kindom of heaven… is like a sunflower seed, which holds lots of potential for hope, and growth, and blossoming—even during a pandemic.
And then, of course, there is a zombie story. You know you have finally made it as a preacher when you get to tell a zombie story in worship. For the kindom of heaven is like… our youth. Who, in the midst of the coronavirus have been building a church on a platform called Minecraft.
One morning back in June, I opened my emails to find a message that was a ominous. It was from Dean Baumgartner, our Church President. The subject line read: New Discovery at MUCC (Memorial United Church of Christ).
I thought “great.” The building was closed due to COVID-19. I sighed deeply. I wondered what this “new discovery” could be. Turns out that it was not unlike the parable of a “treasure hidden in a field.” This is what the email said:
I don’t know if you are aware, but the Friday evening Minecraft group has discovered catacombs under the building. Who knew? I understand though that a few zombies have also been sighted in the catacombs, which is a bit disconcerting.
Have a good week.
Yeah. Zombies. At church. Have a “good week.”
Now, if you do not know what Minecraft is, or what zombies might be doing at church, don’t panic. You see, Rebecca Malke (our Dir. of Faith Development) and Peter Young have been coordinating a Friday night youth event during which the kids have been building the church—Memorial UCC—virtually. I have a short video to share of you of their efforts. What you are about to see is Memorial UCC, through the eyes of our youth… and Minecraft. The recording will walk you through the narthex (our gathering space), the sanctuary, Youth Room, Rebecca’s office, and then outside of the building. Near the end of the video, you will see that at the time the video was made the roof was not yet complete. Watch carefully. In the sanctuary, after the digital person walks inside, if you pay attention you will see our bell choir! It is set up on a brown table, with golden bells.
The video begins with a photo of the actual sanctuary. Now—see what the kids have done!
My response to Dean’s email was:
“…(Remember) Wherever you are on life’s (and after life’s) journey, you are welcome here.
The kindom of heaven is like youth… that someone planted in fertile, digital, ground. A place where they could explore, and learn, and grow…
And the final parable? It is YOU. How are you, how are we, how am I, becoming the kindom of heaven today?
This morning I presented Rebecca with Tod Bolsinger’s book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. This is the book that the UCC clergy group of which I am a part read this year: 2020. Let’s just say that leading church in uncharted territory is a HUGE understatement as our church leaders, staff, and I are trying to figure out how to Be Church during these unprecedented times.
Yet in the seeds planted here, treasures may be found.
The book shares how leading a congregation today is so very different from anything Church has been in the past. It parallels the changes faith communities have been going through with the story of Lewis and Clark in 1804 (through 1806). Lewis and Clark initially thought that the Missouri River would take them directly to the Pacific Ocean. Their plan was to canoe the entire way. And then, they came to the head of the river. It was nowhere near the ocean. The Rocky Mountains lay before them. All their planning, their training, their expectations where shattered.
I leave you with these words planted in our midst, from Bolsin’s book:
“As he stepped off the map into uncharted territory, Meriwether Lewis discovered that what was in front of him was nothing like what was behind him, and that what had brought him to this point in the journey would take him no farther. Lewis faced a daunting decision: What would he do now? Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery were looking for a water route, but now they had run out of water. How do you canoe over mountains?
You don’t. If you want to continue forward, you change. You adapt. Meriwether Lewis looked at the miles and miles of snow-covered peaks and knew that to continue his journey he would have to change his entire approach. The same is true for all who are called to lead beyond the boundaries of what is known… We keep on course with the same goal, but change absolutely everything required to make it through this uncharted territory. We ditch the canoes, ask for help, find horses, and cross the mountains…
You let go, you learn as you go and you keep going, no matter what.
…This is the leadership moment of the church today. We are canoers who have run out of water. There is no route in front of us, no map, no quick fix or easy answer. But… there is good news… This is a divine moment. The church at its best has always been a Corps of Discovery. It has always been a small band of people willingly heading into uncharted territory with a mission worthy of our utmost dedication”
The kindom of heaven is like a small band of people willingly heading into uncharted territory with a mission worthy of utmost dedication.
Beloved, this is us. Seeds, digital hopes, and uncharted territory. Holy Possibilities. Symbols of God’s hope for the transformation of what is.
Let go. Learn as you go. And keep going.
With God’s grace and peace.
Reflection on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 offered July 26, 2020
 Bernard Brandon Scott, Hear Then the Parable: A Commentary on the Parables of Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990). Kindle edition pg 8 of 465.
 Ibid. pg xi of 465.
 Bolsinger, Tod E. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2018. 34-35.