category: Musings, Sermon Starter

Seeds and Shovels

By Rachael Keefe

On the morning of my third Christmas, my brother woke me before the sun was up to tell me that Santa had come. We went downstairs in the dark and it was true. In my family Santa didn’t wrap the presents he left. Gifts for my brother were on the …

Seeds and Shovels

2016-09-30 11.13.45.jpgOn the morning of my third Christmas, my brother woke me before the sun was up to tell me that Santa had come. We went downstairs in the dark and it was true. In my family Santa didn’t wrap the presents he left. Gifts for my brother were on the left side under the tree and mine were on the right. I remember seeing a Barbie airplane and a few other things that were quite exciting. Then I saw her.

She was a dark-haired doll about a head shorter than I was. She was dressed in a red velvet dress with white lace. Her eyes opened and closed and her small mouth showed teeth. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that she was a walking doll. While my parents slept, I walked with that doll in a constant loop from the living room, to the dining room, down the short hallway, and back to the living room.

Long after my mother told me that the doll had been hers and wasn’t really meant to be played with, I saw the necklace she was wearing. It was a tiny globe hanging from a gold bow on a gold chain. Inside the globe was a little round thing that moved around when I shook it. My mother explained that the necklace had also been hers and it contained a mustard seed. Strangely, I don’t remember any further explanation. My young self was apparently satisfied with knowing it was a seed in there.

Many years later, I learned the significance of the mustard seed and wondered why my mother had given it to me. She wasn’t a woman of faith; on a good day she was agnostic. On all days she wasn’t fond of organized religion in general and Christianity in particular. It must have been hard for her when I fell in love with church and sought after God with the innocence and determination only found in young children.2016-09-30-11-14-10

I still have the doll and though her clothes are different, the mustard seed necklace is still there. I’ve wrestled with the mustard seed image over the years. Moving mountains or mulberry bushes seem an impossible task. Yet, I think about all that has happened in my life and what I was able to endure because of faith. Childhood trauma, depression, eating disorder, rape, divorce, coming out, homophobia in the church… so many things that if I did not believe in God and God’s love for me, I would not have gotten through them. These are mountainous things in an individual life.

I remember Dr. James Loder telling the class that faith is a yes or no question. One either says, “Yes, I believe. Help my unbelief.” Or “No, I don’t believe.” It isn’t a quantitative question. How does one measure faith, really? Maybe when we deem the mountains insurmountable and there are no trees growing in the sea, then we know that faith is absent. So when we see someone climbing out from under the weight of tragedy and pain or thriving in an impossible situation, then we know that faith is there.

It’s easy to see this in an individual life. But what of the wider Christian community? Where is faith when we are lulled into complacency or fail to act because we are overwhelmed? Mountains are moved one shovel-full at a time with many faithful hands pitching in. There is so much hatred and fear, violence and destruction, in the world. We can move this kind of mountain if we work together. I really do believe this is possible.

Lament is an appropriate response when we come up against a mountain that buries us. We can lament racism and every other ism and phobia out there, but if we do not endeavor to rid society of them, then we fail to recognize the power of faith to transform and create new life.

A tiny mustard seed grows into a sizable bush, such power and potential lies dormant within it. God has repeatedly demonstrated the power and potential of God’s steadfast love. As difficult as it can be, especially in an election season, to trust that God is present, mountains are movable, and mulberry bushes could grow in the sea, it’s far better dying slowly because the mountains of hate lie so heavily on us that there is no room for the breath of life.

Church, we can move mountains when we work together and trust God to lead us from lament to new life. There is no better message for a week when we will intentionally remember that people all around the world will gather at Christ’s table. We will be united in our desire for renewal and nurture and in the promise to live in the covenant of love that was broken and poured out for us. Maybe we should all come to the table with a mustard seed in one hand and a shovel in the other just so we don’t forget the power that lies within us and what we are called to do with it.

If you are looking for sermon help, here’s my other reflection on the texts this week.

RCL – Year C – Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – World Communion Sunday – October 2, 2016
Lamentations 1:1-6 with Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 or
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4 with Psalm 37:1-9 and
2 Timothy 1:1-14 and
Luke 17:5-10

Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

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About Rachael Keefe

Rachael is an author, a pastor, a teacher, and a poet. Her latest book (The Lifesaving Church - Chalice Press) is on faith and suicide prevention. She is currently the pastor of Living Table UCC in Minneapolis, and has launched a spiritual direction practice.

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