To what shall we compare the kingdom of God? We get a well known parable from Jesus today. Jesus spoke a lot in parables. We’re even told in verses 33 and 34 of Mark today “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.” Why parables? Well, remember that Jesus was trying to explain to his listeners what the kingdom of God might be like. Had he not described the kingdom of God using parables, he might have just blown minds. It’s as if Jesus were telling a joke and the people laughed but in their minds they were thinking “we aren’t getting this joke…we’re just laughing to be polite.” It wasn’t until later…much later that they might have finally understood the joke. The same goes for these parables. At the time, the listeners might have thought “that’s nice Jesus” but later they would have had a “whoa!” moment. (Side note, this happens to me when I use sarcasm with people)
It is interesting today that 3 out of our 4 readings talk about trees or plants of some kind. In the first reading from Ezekiel, we hear about cedar trees. In the psalm reading we heard about palm trees and cedar trees again. And finally we hear about the noble little mustard seed and bush in our gospel reading. And that got me to thinking about roots. If you’ve picked weeds before, and I am assuming most of you have, you know how important it is to get a weed out with all of the roots in tact. I think I’ve mentioned before that growing up on our summer to-do list every single day was “pull weeds.” I am sure my father would say now that that particular chore “built character.” It really only built calluses. Anyway, I always hated it when I would pull a weed and I would hear the familiar “snap” that meant there were roots left behind. And I knew there would be another weed in that same place soon enough, mocking me.
At the same time, roots are important. I don’t know a lot about yoga. I’ve taken a few classes here and there. But, what I do know is that claiming your ground is important. Getting your footing correct is one of the most important steps. It should say something that one of the most basic poses is called a “mountain pose.” If your footing isn’t correct in yoga, you’re bound to fall on your face. If a tree doesn’t have roots, it is bound to fall down. What happens if a church doesn’t have roots? We have a lot of roots. We have some roots that are just starting to take shape, and we have roots that go miles deep. However, with most plants and shrubs, the roots cannot be seen and it’s the tree or shrub itself that needs attention or gets the praise for its beauty.
I once heard Reverend Mark Hanson, former Bishop of the ELCA say that the biggest problem that we, the ELCA are fighting is nostalgia. Let that sink in for a moment. We’ve talked about change a little bit around here. And since starting as your pastor, we’ve made some small changes. Nothing too crazy yet. You’ll notice I haven’t touched the flags or moved to weekly communion…yet. Because here’s the thing. This stuff, the stuff that we think makes “us us” doesn’t. We have strong roots. When we talk about change around here, or any church for that matter, I think people think we’re going to be chopping away at the roots when really we’re just trimming the bush or branches. It is the strong roots of anything that allow us to make those changes.
I know I am blessed with 2 parents that loved the heck out of me and my siblings. They weren’t perfect parents, by any means, just like I’m not a perfect parent. But, what they taught me was to ground myself in my family and that I would be able to withstand any storm. My roots are intertwined with those of my family. And this is what happens to us as humans. We get our roots intertwined with one another. It happens in church as well. When one of us feels week, another will hold us up. When one needs help, someone steps in. It happens with church, families, friends, work place relationships, etc… Where do you think the idea of “laying down roots” came from? That doesn’t mean that we don’t have room for more roots, or that we don’t need new roots, because we do. What it means is that our foundation is strong, no matter what.
Jesus was speaking in parables because, again, had he actually outright told his listeners what the kingdom of God was going to be like, he might have had a lot of fainting people on his hands. I think it’s important for us to have good solid roots and to have one another because the kingdom of God will not and does not look like what we think it is going to look like. In God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as classism. In God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as racism. In God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as sexism. And for some people, that may sound more like hell than like a kingdom. But I once heard that if your God starts hating the same people you do, then you’re not worshipping God, you’re worshipping yourself.
Tradition, nostalgia, routine, status quo, and staying the course can be good things. But if this is what we’ve rooted ourselves in, when the kingdom of God comes, we’re going to be turned upside down. We should always, first and and foremost, root ourselves in the saving action of the cross. That is where our grounding should be. When the cross is the center of our lives, we could have a tornado of issues swirl around us, and we’re not going to move. The kingdom of God isn’t going to be like we think it should be, it’s going to be completely different and it probably won’t make much sense. But that’s okay, the cross didn’t make a lot of sense either and that is where we have our grounding, our roots.
When you think about that old hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” that could be the mantra for our roots, right? “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” The building doesn’t make us a church. If, God forbid, this church burned down tomorrow, we would still be people of God. Our programming, while awesome and life-giving, doesn’t make us a church. Our fellowship doesn’t make us a church. What separates us from any other social or volunteer organization is our roots. We have grounded ourselves in Christ and the cross. We cling to the idea that we are saved only by Christ and by him crucified. We are intertwined with one another, knowing that we are both saint and sinner and we need one another because we need Christ. The best way to experience and see Christ is through one another.
So this week, I want to challenge you to a self examination. I want you to think and pray about where your roots lay. I want you to think about if you are rooted in tradition, routine, and ideas, or are you rooted in the cross? Is it time to grow those roots a little deeper or is it time for some pruning and pulling? I didn’t say it was going to be easy; but the deeper those roots, the richer the soil. Peace be with you as you grow and prune.