On our altar today is a special frontal, designed by some of the counselors from Vacation Garden School. It shows a tree, constructed in a very meaningful way. The roots are made from handprints of the counselors, who are the oldest participants in the program. They have been part of VGS the longest, so they hold the history and have the strength to ground the others. The trunk includes the names of all the junior counselors, who connect the older and younger ones, and who lift up the campers to the sun where they can thrive. And the leaves are made from handprints of the campers, who are growing quickly, changing, and move around the most!
The counselors who designed this frontal did not know that the gospel for today would be about seeds growing into plants. In fact, they weren’t given a pattern or any clear instructions at all. They fashioned something beautiful that only they could have created – made out of the simplest of materials (a sheet, some fabric paint, and hands).
Their art and the process for making it is a perfect illustration of what Jesus was getting at in today’s gospel story. I’d like to open up this gospel for you by asking a few questions. I’m going to ask them first of the VGS campers who are present and then of the rest of you:
- What is the most important thing you did this week?
- How did you help someone this week in a way they will remember?
The preacher asked the campers for answers. Then people in congregation turedn to neighbor and shared answers for a few minutes.
Here’s the mysterious truth of how the Spirit works in and through us: We don’t know what our impact is, and we are often doing more than we know. In the smallest of actions, the briefest of conversations, the mustard-seeds of our weekly round, God is doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how.
As some of you know, I was a teacher in Wisconsin years ago. I had a class one year of exceptional students. Some of them were more outgoing than others. It was clear at the time that they were really engaged. They asked me to write them references when they applied to colleges. They’ve kept in touch with me through the years.
And then there was another student. She was quieter. She was always prepared, did great work, but was reticent to share much of herself with me. She was the only African-American student in the school. Twenty years after she graduated from high school, I heard from her for the first time. She sent me a message through facebook. It was a link to a blog posting. In the posting, she talked about the summer reading assignment I gave her and the other students before 11th grade. It was Dust Tracks on the Road by Zora Neale Hurston. It was, she blogged, the first time she had seen a book by a black writer on a reading list.
She is now teacher trainer and educational leadership coach in New York City
I tell that story not to brag, but because I know that everyone in this room has a similar story in them — or they will. God is powerfully at work in you. But I also know that you can feel discouraged, and that the news of the day often makes us wonder whether all this seed planting is worth the effort.
Today’s gospel reminds us, at a time when we need reminding, that small actions, hidden actions, quotidian decisions, have the potential to produce great things and transform lives.
Jesus’s actions were often “small”: He broke bread with people. He walked with them. He went to synagogue. He asked for water. He attended weddings.
He did not make grand entrances to the tune of “We are the champions,” but rather, arrived by fishing boat at dawn trying to avoid making a scene. He encouraged people to take their place in the ordering of community and know that God would work in them.
So what shall we do? What does our seed planting look like? Tutor a child, plant a garden. Honor each person you encounter. Treat each conversation as a holy moment. Show up when you don’t feel like it. Cut pictures out of National Geographics for a child’s art project. Send a thank you note. Do not assume you are too old or too young or too anything to be a blessing.
God is at work in you, my friends. As the poet William Yeats wrote, “Beloved, gaze in thine own heart, The holy tree is growing there.” Thank you to the campers, junior counselors, and counselors of VGS 2016. You are a blessing!