In what way are you crazy for God?
Peter Seal, 13 June 2021
Ezekiel 17: 22–24; 2 Corinthians 5: 6–10, 14–17; Mark 4: 26–34
Growth and fruitfulness is a theme running through our readings.
The prophet Ezekiel is with, and speaking to, the people living in the pain of exile. He warns of bad times to come, but also offers consolation and a promise that their sufferings will end. Today we hear from Ezekiel how God will take a sprig of cedar and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. There it will produce boughs and bear fruit and become a noble cedar, offering shade to winged creatures. Here Ezekiel gives a sign of hope for a beleaguered people, living in exile a long way from home. Here is a vivid picture of restoration, and of new life – a picture we do well to hold on to.
In our reading from 2 Corinthians Paul begins with eternal words: walking by faith not by sight. And he says: we are always confident.
You may know, the word ‘confident’ comes from the Latin con fides, which simply means ‘with faith’. So Paul says to us today: I am always confident, I am always with faith. He speaks of walking with faith, walking with confidence; walking with faith as our companion.
In our everyday lives, there can be times when just getting up at the beginning of the day, and doing what has to be done, may feel like a serious act of faith. Sometimes simply putting one foot in front of another is an act of faith. We may be saying under our breath, I’m doing this confidently, con fides, with faith.
Sometimes simply putting one foot in front of another is an act of faith. We may be saying under our breath, I’m doing this confidently, con fides, with faith.
Paul seems to be suggesting that faith is a matter of movement, of progressing, of journeying. Faith is not a static state, not some sort of effort to keep things as they are – or more currently in our own day, to ‘return to normal’. As a parish we capture this sense of movement in our strapline Pilgrims on a journey. Pilgrims, you could say, on the move.
Paul goes to some length to communicate to the Corinthian Christians the basis of the faith from which he himself operates, the source of his motivation. He makes clear that he possesses two reference points in his life. He sees himself as within the presence of God, firstly, and at the same time always firmly planted in the realities of the world. I think this is potentially really helpful … within the presence of God, and firmly planted in the world.
You may recall, the Corinthians had been critical of Paul, accusing him of being beside himself, and out of his mind. In his clever way he turns this around and he feeds it back to them: ‘If I am beside myself, it’s for God; and if I’m in my right mind, it’s for you’. So, what a wonderful balance to aim for: a little crazy for God, but absolutely focused on the things that we have to do in our lives in this world. Perhaps we could challenge one another by asking, ‘Excuse me, but could I ask: in what way are you crazy for God?’
All this affects how Paul sees people. For him, because Christ died for everyone, each person is literally a ‘new creation’ in whom Christ lives. Here’s a big, inclusive, soft-edged theology which we as a parish embrace and seek to embody. You could say this is one way in which we want to be crazy for God. Madly inclusive, all-embracing; trumpeting aloud, ‘Everything belongs with everything else, everyone belongs to everyone else. No one is excluded, absolutely no one. We depend on one another.’ Yes, we might say, both to ourselves and to others, I’m a little crazy and I’m proud to be so. This is how I express my craziness.
For Paul, no one is just another person. Each individual is a dwelling place for Christ. Every individual becomes mysteriously and wonderfully renewed in Christ.
It may be worth remembering that Paul, the man who believes all this, had been through many tough times. He’s been through some appalling experiences. He’s travelled often in real danger. At times he’s barely escaped his enemies. He’s had to endure tough and hurtful criticism from many quarters, including from the Corinthian Christians he’s writing to. I guess if we were to ask Paul how he had managed to avoid bitterness or resentment he might answer: with Christ, con fides, with faith.
And so to today’s gospel. Jesus, it seems, had a particular habit. It’s as though he stood still, took a deep breath, savoured the scent of the air, opened his eyes wide, looked around him and said, ‘The kingdom of God is like …’. And from today’s gospel he says, ‘The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade’. Note the connection with Ezekiel and the sprig of cedar planted on a high mountain – the theme of growth and of fruitfulness.
Maybe our challenge is to try and acquire Jesus’ habit. To learn how to look around, and to really see and find words to say, ‘In our day, in this place, the kingdom of God is like …’. It’s as simple and as profound as that.
I was talking with someone who has been having a tough time. She told me of the seeds that she planted on her window sill, herb seeds. She described her joy at seeing them poke up though the soil and watch them grow. And she’s looking forward to eating them in due course, cooking with them. Her sermon might begin, ‘The kingdom of God is like the planter on my window sill’.
The Christian faith is itself a fertile seed, planted in the field of the world. We are the bearers of that faith, called to grow and to thrive wherever we find ourselves planted. Amen.