Let's back into today's lessons. Let's start in an unusual place, a place we usually only mention briefly: the psalm appointed for today.
Close your eyes and imagine that someone is offering this psalm as a prayer for you. This person cares about you as much as or more than anyone else; the person praying this prayer for you strongly and deeply prays for you and for good to come to you.
1 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble, *
the Name of the God of Jacob defend you;
2 Send you help from his holy place *
and strengthen you out of Zion;
3 Remember all your offerings *
and accept your burnt sacrifice;
4 Grant you your heart's desire *
and prosper all your plans.
When we read these words, when we hear them read as a prayer for ourselves, we realize that someone knows us well enough to pray a prayer that lights up our lives, that fills us with hope, that makes us thankful for the prayer alone, not to mention its fulfillment. It is a wild set of propositions: our heart's desire, our plans prospering, our offerings remembered, help from a holy place, God defending us, God answering us in when we are in trouble.
Who knows us well enough to pray for us in this way? Only God, don't you think? The psalmist, whoever wrote this psalm, obviously had some sense of God's will. Otherwise such ideas would not have been recorded and would not have survived the test of time.
A couple of weeks ago we conducted our second Instructed Eucharist, detailing, in place of a sermon, the background of our words and actions during the Holy Eucharist.
Do you remember what the introduction of the Eucharistic Prayer was called? It's called the susrum corda. That means, literally, lifted hearts. When we come to that part of the service I say,. "Lift up your hearts," and you respond, "We lift them unto the Lord."
Lifted hearts is an image that it is quite simple to absorb. It straightens our spines and raises our hears and our eyes; it includes our spirits, our feelings, our physical energies and our vision of what life can hold for us in faith. This lifting of hearts is something we yearn for and contribute to and yet need God to fully realize. And that is what this psalm is about and what our readings this Sunday are all about.
Our hearts are lifted indeed by today's readings. Our Hebrew Bible reading is about the calling of David by God. We all know this story: David's older brothers were all passed over, and God directed Samuel to anoint David who was merely a boy. God told Samuel, "...the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."
This explanation lifts our hearts in two ways. One way is that tells us plainly that those who enjoy the promises in Psalm 20--you remember, our heart's desire, our plans prospering, our offerings remembered, help from a holy place, God defending us, God answering us in when we are in trouble--aren't always the most mature, the tallest, the best looking, the most fit. God sees more deeply into the souls of people than that.
The second explanation is this: since we aren't the tallest or the smartest or the best looking or even the most mature--except chronologically--this tells us we still have hope of enjoying God's favor.
And boy oh boy do we have hope! Hope and faith are distinctly intertwined, and today's Epistle makes it clear that "...we walk by faith, not by sight." This tells us that we can more depend on the eyes of our faith and the understandings of our hope than we can depend on our human abilities of discernment. Because what God has planned for us exceeds all that we can ask or imagine, according to the third chapter of the letter to the Ephesians.
Having these thoughts in our minds, the calling of David, and the walking by faith, we look for other signals that perhaps someone with attributes such as our very own might be called. And the evidence of that we find in our Gospel.
The Gospel of Mark offers evidence of our importance to God and our potential contribution to God's kingdom by using the most mundane analogy. He compares doing God's will with the planting of seeds.
Now we all know that in this post-industrial world that we live in, the planting of seeds is a rare occupation. Kids do it in school. In Sunday School even. Some of us grow tomatoes. Others are even more ambitious. But few of us are truly dependent on plants from our gardens.
But when plants are discussed in the Bible, the opposite is true. Plants are life. Plants are reliable, compared to livestock or game. Plants sustain people.
When Jesus speaks in the Gospel reading of the life cycle of grain, he is not referring to some tomato plant on a window sill. He is talking about life and death. And he is talking about the vital importance of such a simple task as planting, watering, tending and harvesting syustenance.
This is a process we can understand, even if we don't tend our own garden, so to speak. Jesus is talking about our faith, and how we nourish it, tend it, care for it, and put it to work as spiritual fuel for the life we've been given. It is as elementary as first grade and as elemental to our survival as people of faith as water is to a person dying of thirst.
Jesus takes the planting analogy and introduces the mustard seed, "which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."
This is both exciting good news and a warning. Every choice we make can inform our faith. It can enhance our faith or build it. Every act, every step, can help or hinder our spiritual growth. There are other Gospel analogies which Jesus offers that lay down the two-edged sword aspect of these readings. Yes, something so simple is wondrous, treasured, beloved. Yes, handling our faith carelessly, indifferently is likewise, perilous, deadly to the soul, fraught.
We all need to know our life is full of mustard seeds. We should plant them and tend them and help them along. We should treat all of creation this way, but especially the seeds of our faith.
As we celebrate God's great gifts and God's greatest gift in a few minutes here at our annual parish picnic, let us give thanks for all the good in our lives and do our best to follow Jesus' example, doing good for God's sake.