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wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon, by Pastor Joel

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

Fathers' Day

June 16, 2024

Ezekiel 17:22-24

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17

Mark 4:26-34

A researcher at the University of British Columbia recently published a study exploring the connection between happiness and small acts of kindness.   In the study, nearly 400 young adults in Vancouver were asked first to report their number of social interactions over three days, and how lonely they felt during that time. Then, every day for two weeks, they were required to initiate one of three actions – a regular act of kindness, like calling a friend; an anonymous act of kindness, such as donating to an online charity; and taking just a personal break, such as going for a walk. The paper reported that the people in the study who practiced what researchers call the regular acts of contact – the ones where they had contact with the people they were helping – felt less lonely. And they felt less lonely even after the experiment was over.

Now is that surprising? I don’t think so. There is a tonne of research showing that healthy social connections increase our happiness and decrease our loneliness. And what could be more helpful than providing care to someone who is in need?

But I think it still bears pointing out. Because while we perhaps know intuitively those acts of kindness are good for others and good for us, we don’t always practice them deliberately. We lift weights in the gym, or go for a run – because we know it is healthy. But practicing acts of kindness like a workout may fall from our minds – jogged only when we read a study reminding us.

I thought of that study – and the power of those small, caring acts- when I read the story of the mustard seed in our gospel this week.  Jesus uses the parable to describe the Reign of God. A small seed is scattered on the ground, takes root in a miraculous way, and grows into a great plant. And, Jesus says, this smallest of seeds becomes this great, living, growing plant – that puts forth large branches, so birds can make nests in its shade. 

This parable has been interpreted to be speaking about the followers of Jesus, who come to believe, and share their belief, and so others come to believe, and so on, until the crowds have gathered to hear the gospel and the church pews are full. From one believer come many.

But perhaps it is even more powerful to think of the seed as action. When we scatter our acts that cause harm – when we gossip, or tear down, or walk over others – what does that seed produce? Surely, it is a sickly plant, that devours itself, and grows poorly. 

But if our acts are kind – if we are generous to strangers, and caring to friends, and careful with our judgement – well then, we are a seed like that little mustard seed that grows into something beautiful and strong. We have created shade for those who are thirsty. That small seed, as the research paper showed, grows inside us as well, and brings us comfort and joy.

I think this is an important discussion. Because the parable of the mustard seed cannot only be about God’s gospel growing by the number of people who believe. We can believe a lot of things, and do nothing with that belief. We can sit here on Sunday, reciting words by rote, then go home and pack the gospel away until the next Sunday. 

But what does that create? That is a plant that may grow large – by giving people what they need in the moment - but what would it offer the world? Not flowers to bring joy, or seeds to grow more plants, and not shade. Its branches would be too brittle to hold the birds.

The parable of the mustard seed represents not just the reign of God, but the life of the gospel. A living seed tossed into the world falls where it will, and grows true. It is the sum of our actions that creates that growth – the seeds of our acts of kindness that grow, and spread.

Indeed, this Sunday, we honour the fatherly influences in our lives, those who provided shade for us to make a nest. Now, I imagine when we consider our father and uncles and step-dad and big brothers who provided that space for us, it likely the constancy of many small acts that created that bond for us. Knowing we were protected and cared for, someone to pick us up when we needed a drive, and cheer for us on the sidelines of our successes and failures. These are the people that give space for our own seed to grow. For me, I find that as my children grow, they also offer me shade and comfort – by helping me build a deck, or by leaving birthday gifts to show I am loved and remembered. In this way, we all become stronger together, connected but individual, like the branches of a tree. 

So, perhaps we might try that same experiment of kindness that they did in Vancouver.  Go home today and think about how you feel: Is the gospel just words, or are you truly embodying them? Try that one act of kindness, to a person, every day for the next week.  Today you can start with that fatherly influence in your life.  Tomorrow you can tell a friend why you admire them. Ask the cashier at the grocery story how they are doing. Compliment a neighbor on their garden. Invite someone to dinner. Consider how those actions make you feel; what difference you think they made for the people who received them.  I will look forward to your reports.

But this is what I imagine: those acts of kindness will be a seed to inspire more acts. Those acts of kindness will make you feel warm inside; the act of offering comfort will make you feel comforted. By loving, you rceive love. 

In this way, you are not just believing the gospel, but you are incarnating it. You are feeling it. You are experiencing the presence of God.    

Go forth, and be a mustard seed.  Amen

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