This text begins Mark’s account of Jesus’ teachings. It is striking to me how Jesus’s approach to teaching differs from our own at times. Often times we are quick to jump to doctrine, drawing lines in the sand about what is right and wrong to believe, right and wrong to do. We try to draft dogmas and rigid rules. Sometimes too we talk in abstractions – focusing on aspects of faith and life far removed from people’s every day experience. This can be as varied as arguing about how many angels can sit on a pin, arguing about the metaphysics of the Trinity, trying to map out heaven, hell, or the end times. Finally, sometimes our teaching can become almost a political tract: very focused on either enforcing or upending the current system of things because we believe it upholds the right or oppresses the people.
In actual fact, each of these approaches to God’s message have their proponents who model this approach in Scripture, from Amos crying out against systems of injustice to the Teacher of Ecclesiastes waxing long about philosophy to St. Paul with his long drawn out treatises on theology to St. John the Revelator with his visions which popularly are understood to be depictions of heaven, hell, and the last days.
Their example suggest there is a time and a place for such approaches, and in fact there are brief moments Jesus focuses on each of these aspects of the journey of faith. But more often than not Jesus’ approach is like the one he uses here in Mark: focusing on the stuff of everyday life. Talking about planting seed, growing plants, rain, sunshine, and summer heat. Talking about families and work, everyday conflicts over income or land or inheritance. Telling stories that people can relate with, seeing themselves as a part.
There have been times as a Christian and a minister I have been drawn to all these other ways of approaching faith we see modeled in Scripture and by Christian leaders but more and more I am awe-struck by Jesus’s approach and drawn to it. On the surface, it seems simplicity itself. Yet looking back on the many sermons I’ve heard and talks on faith I’ve listened to it is the messages that follow Jesus’ model that stand out to me. I remember those down-to-earth examples which locate God in the dirt, rain, and sun I encounter everyday, in the conflict and joy of everyday life. I remember those down-to-earth messages whose stories I can find myself and those I love within.
The wisdom of Jesus’ example is so often these other approaches to faith can send the message both to ourselves and others that God is distant and far off – a law-giver or architect untouched by his masterpiece; an abstraction distant from my life; a far off Figure in heaven I will encounter bye and bye in heaven but not in the here and now in the dirt and mess of earth; a soon-coming King and Judge who in the meantime I see from a distance.
Instead by drawing on examples from our everyday life, Jesus invites us to see God as present in, with, and under our everyday existence. God is the One at work in the seeds growing in the earth, the rain falling from the sky, the sunshine and wind making things grow. God is the One at work in children being born, families being raised, and both love and justice being forged as once-broken families are healed and made new. God is the One present in those who are sick and struggling giving them at times healing and other times strength to persevere with humanity and integrity, even gratitude, all the days they have despite their illness on this earth. God is the One present in the cries for justice and space to breathe from those crying “I can’t breathe” as they are pressed down by the structures that oppress. God is the One giving me and you passion so that our 9-to-5 jobs do not become simply humdrum marking of time but in fact opportunities to shape our world through small acts of grace every day, nd also the passion to serve God in countless ways outside of work in our families, friendships, neighborhood, volunteer opportunities, and time helping out our communities.
It is Jesus’ way of reminding us as he does elsewhere in the Gospel not to worry when people speak with lofty language of the Kingdom of God being like this or that, here or there, or arriving at this or that time-table. We need not worry about that because Jesus’ stories let us in on the secret that the Kingdom of God, the life-giving transforming presence of Resurrection and New Life, is already present with, in¸ and throughout our lives. If you split a log, you will find it and if you lift a rock, you will see it there for the living One and Their Kingdom lies already within and through you.
For me, this reminder challenges me. First it challenges me in my talk of God to not talk so high and lifted up in my language that it makes God sound inaccessible. Instead I need to when I talk of God tlk about the stuff of my daily life and others. If people cannot walk away from my talk of my faith recognizing ways God is present in their own life, or seeing places near to their experience to look for God, I do God a dis-service. In God we live and move and have our being. God is nearer than the air that we breathe or the cool morning wind upon our flesh.
Also it suggests I need to be open to God every day breaking through in everyday ordinary things. In every blade of grass, every tree limb swaying in the wind, and especially every person I meet I have a chance to encounter the Sacred reaching out to me with arms of grace. This may mean I need in fact to speak less and more listen, look, and learn. As I do so, my vision of God, myself, and my world may be transformed. Yours can too.
And I ain’t whistling Dixie,
Your progressive redneck preacher,