Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Kingdom of God Comes in a Parking Lot

Its almost summer. And it’s the third week of Pentecost. In the ancient middle east, this would be time of first harvest. For us, with our very short growing season, its really the end of planting time. Our vegetables are still pretty small and we have some lettuce and peas just ready to pick. For the early church, these first few weeks after Pentecost were the very beginning of the Jesus movement, just as followers of Jesus were forming community.

I guess it makes sense to read Jesus’ parables about growing things, this time of year.

I always laugh a little at the parable of the mustard seed. This parable doesn’t make much sense to me. I mean, I’ve seen a mustard plant—maybe not the same kind as Jesus is talking about—and they are kinda small. At the largest, they are a small, spindly shrub. The seeds are small, but the mustard plant is not really the “greatest of all shrubs,” not even by Palestine standards. I always wonder if maybe the writers of the gospel were never farmers themselves and got the plant wrong. In the U.S., mustard is mostly a weed, expect the stuff grown to flavor that yellow stuff on your hot dogs.

But, no matter what plant Jesus was talking about. The point of the parables is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like other kingdoms. Not like Rome, with pomp and fanfare, with wealth and power, with violence and oppression. Not even like the empires of our day, with bombs and red carpets, private jets and giant estates.

It comes like wheat in a field and vegetables in your garden. Like whatever that mustard plant is—small, ordinary things. It comes to farmers and gardeners, to slaves and peasants and villagers. It comes in ordinary flesh and blood, in the backcountry, in the small towns, in the back streets. It comes small and it comes silently and it comes in ordinary moments. It comes in fragile soil and regular work.

While the world around us tells us to look to the headlines, to look to the political and economic figureheads, to look to the rich and powerful—Jesus tells us to look at the gardens and to look in the forgotten places. God works at the grassroots, where everyone least expects it.

God’s kingdom is being built in the remote mountains of Chiapas in southern Mexico, where the Mayan people are building schools and communities. God’s kingdom is being built by farmers in India who are reclaiming land. God’s kingdom is being built here in Grays Harbor too.

We are building a community garden in Westport, working together and growing food for our little growing community. When I see people coming together, working to build something different, working to build a place where people are valued in a place where so many people are struggling, I see Jesus’ parables come alive.

Its been a crazy two weeks in Aberdeen, as I’m sure you know. In this little town that for most people is on the edge of the world, through incredible odds, a small group of homeless men and women, most of them well under 40, are building a new world. I know that sounds almost fantastical. But its true. The kingdom of God is not coming with great fanfare or at the hands of people with great power. But it is coming in a tiny parking lot,

Its coming in the 22 people who chose to try a completely different kind of community, in a tent city, and its coming in the dozens of volunteers who helped them move in the wet and cold.

Its coming in the messiness and craziness of trying to build community,

Its coming in the faithfulness of new leaders,

Its coming in the courage of people who have lost everything and still demonstrate to the world what new life looks like.

 Its been growing in the dark along rivers and back alleys. Its been growing in the hearts of community members. It is growing, we pray, we hope, into great change in our community.

And its not respectable. It’s downright scandalous—especially if you talk to some folks in Aberdeen. 

Its like that mustard plant, or whatever it is—a shrubby weed. Bringing new life and flocks of crazy birds and messiness. God’s kingdom comes in the weeds.

In our Bible study for Pentecost, we are reading through the stories of Acts, the history of the early Jesus movement. It was pretty scandalous too. A bunch of Galilean fisherfolk build a community that took care of each other. A community where all were fed and no one was hungry. A community that faced terrible odds in a world of terrible poverty. A community that welcomed outcasts.

That is the kind of community that God’s kingdom is all about.

About people that those in power say are nobody leading new community. About a community coming together to honor the dignity of every human being.

God’s kingdom is growing—God’s kingdom is coming, my brothers and sisters, coming in the here and now, coming in the harbor, coming to you, to us all.