We walk by faith, not by sight. But God is bringing the harvest. So we do not lose heart.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 11 B
Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 (with reference to other parts of this section, before and after); Mark 4:26-34; 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“So we do not lose heart.”
We’ve heard this encouragement in the past weeks as we’ve heard Paul write to the Christians of Corinth. You might feel fragile, not strong, like jars made of clay, Paul said two weeks ago. But you do this ministry by God’s mercy, he said, and you carry the extraordinary power of God’s love in that fragile, clay jar. So don’t lose heart.
You might feel the weight of your mortality, or the struggle of this life, Paul said last week. But God is preparing a life for you beyond death. So don’t lose heart.
Paul doesn’t deny our experience of how challenging it is to follow Christ. He understands you worry about what you can’t do for the world, on how impossible it is that all the problems the world faces can be helped. I don’t need to list them again, we know them well, we talk about them with each other all the time. As people of God we see so much in our world, our society, our city that needs God’s healing and grace, and we know we’re called to be a part of that.
But if you’re like me, or like Paul, some days you despair, and wonder what you could possibly do to make a difference. Today Paul gives an astonishing answer: always be confident, for you are a new creation, and God will accomplish much through you.
You are the person God is making new to be a part of God’s healing.
That is to say: you are God’s new creation. You are exactly the child of God needed for where you are in your life in this world. You not only carry God’s love within you to witness and live in the world. God is making you new, healing your fragility, strengthening your weakness, until you are God’s creative force for healing in the world around you. Everything old is passed away in Christ’s death, Paul says. All is made new in the life of Christ’s resurrection. And in the verses following today’s reading, he says it’s all for God’s reconciliation of all things.
But, Paul says, we walk by faith, not by sight. So don’t be surprised if you don’t look in a mirror every morning and see this new creation.
That’s what Jesus says in these parables about seeds.
In one parable, there is planned, cultivated sowing of seeds: agriculture. In the other, wild, random seeds, cast into the world by wind and birds. Both are mystery.
The farmer, who knows which seeds to plant and when to plant them, doesn’t know exactly how they grow. The seeds are sown, and faith takes over. Work is done in the meantime, of course, tilling, tending. But the harvest is mystery.
The lowly mustard seed, growing in a ditch with no one to plan for it or tend it, likewise grows to its potential, a bush big enough to make shade. No one knows how. Even today we can explain the growth of seeds scientifically, but the mystery of their spark of life eludes us.
Jesus says that’s what God’s reign is like. A new creation. But it starts very small, and grows to be a blessing. Whether planned or seemingly random, growth happens. Some days it’ll look like nothing is happening. But we walk by faith, not by sight. So we don’t lose heart.
Which brings us to the young shepherd, David.
Despite our writer’s adoration, who says David was ruddy, handsome, and had really pretty eyes, the truth of this story is David is overlooked. Whether Jesse knew why the great judge and prophet Samuel wanted to see his sons one by one isn’t clear. What is clear is that his response was to bring seven of his sons. Not the kid out back watching the sheep.
God takes this opportunity to remind Samuel that God ignores outward appearances and looks into the heart for the truth of a person. Something in David drew God. David, forgotten by his own father, becomes Israel’s greatest king. And yes, he’s flawed. He does horrible things along with the good. But at this point, David is the mustard seed. Not seen to have much value.
But we walk by faith, not by sight. So we don’t lose heart.
We can trust God with this mystery. We’ve seen this often.
Long before there was a statue of him on the National Mall, Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a pastor in the city of Montgomery. When Rosa Parks was arrested, he was the one local leaders chose to lead the boycott. A local minister, just trying to be faithful to Christ in his city.
Rosa herself wasn’t always a hero. She was a hardworking African-American woman asked to do what she did, to stand up to the oppressive Jim Crow laws. A regular person, just trying to make a difference in her own city.
Long before she became Mother Teresa, beloved international symbol of Christian life and ministry, Teresa was simply a nun from Albania who saw a need in one of the most desperate places in the world and went to Calcutta to be of help. Just a servant of God, trying to be faithful to Christ.
And a rich Italian playboy of the thirteenth century would have been unnoticed by history or anyone else except that he had a spiritual awakening and decided to follow the path of Jesus. Now there are statues of St. Francis of Assisi all over the world, and the movement of teachers and servants he founded has done wonderful ministry. But he was just an ordinary person, trying to be faithful to Christ.
These are beloved saints to us, people we admire and respect. The harvest of their lives is magnificent, and continues to have a great impact. But we’re looking back, from the harvest. The seed planted for their new creation was just as small as any of us to start.
We walk by faith, not by sight. So we do not lose heart.
It’s not likely we’ll produce such a famous harvest.
Those are remarkable people who somehow connected with their times and found a bigger stage. We probably won’t be remembered beyond our lives here except by those closest to us.
But that’s not the point. You are a new creation. The seed of God’s grace and love has been planted in you. You are growing into a force for God’s healing in your world, and if you’d look back at your path right now, you’d see that growth.
Like the farmer, you don’t know how it happens. But like Martin, and Rosa, and Francis, and Teresa, and millions of others, the fact that you’re just one person in a complicated, broken world, means nothing. God’s mystery is that you are needed, and you will be able to do what is needed.
We walk by faith, not by sight. So we do not lose heart.
You are a new creation. The seed is planted.
And you don’t have to wait for the harvest to hope, Jesus says. First the shoot breaks through the earth. Then there’s a stalk, then a head, then the full grain in the head. There might be long periods of time you can’t see growth, hope, promise. But watch: there will be signs.
And the promise will be fulfilled. There will be a harvest one day, feeding the world, breaking down walls of hatred and violence, healing all people. At some point the farmer sees the harvest is ready and gets the sickle. At some point there’s enough shade under the mustard bush that some birds decide to nest there. At some point the kid caring for the sheep becomes God’s leader for the people. At some point the person who saw a need in their own neighborhood changes something for the better. The harvest will come.
How, that’s a mystery. That’s in God’s hands.
But it will come: we walk by faith, and not by sight. So do not lose heart.
In the name of Jesus. Amen