Looking where you want to go – June 17, 2018
Look where you want to go.
Bishop Gary Woolsey (God rest his soul) was a motorcycle enthusiast. Once a year, he would invite his motorcycle gang, otherwise known as a club, to church for a Blessing of Wheels service. At one such service, he shared about the importance of looking where one wants to go when riding a motorcycle. To check out if my memory was serving me well, I googled and discovered that yes indeed, “look where you want to go” is considered a key principle for motorcycle riders. The principle is simple: you go where you look.
The classic example refers to potholes. If you see a pothole up ahead, you’ll say to yourself: “don’t hit that pothole,” but if you keep your eyes on the pothole, the odds are you will hit it. It’s called “target fixation” and it works because the motorcycle, like a golf club, a bow, or a baseball bat… become extensions of our bodies and naturally move towards whatever we’re looking at. To arrive at a destination safely, you have to look not where you’re going, but where you want to go: staying on the road, instead of steering into the ditch; avoiding the potholes; navigating through the next curve. Looking where you want to go is a good principle of course, not only for riding but for our whole lives.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus points his followers towards an imagined time and place that he called the kingdom, or the reign, of God. Jesus often described this concept, this dream, where God’s will is made fully manifest through parables. Parables are short stories that reorder conventional assumptions and values and thereby encourage us to adopt or receive new ways of perceiving. Parables are about reconsidering what we think about the world. They encourage us to see differently, to orient us in the direction of God’s will for human life and indeed the whole world. Jesus’ parables re-order human community in life-giving ways that turn the current order on its head. The kingdom of God is what the world is like, or will be like, when God’s will and God’s ways are fully operative. If we want to go towards God, then we can look to parables to help get us there.
Today we hear two parables describing the reign of God that feature seeds, common enough items in rural Galilee. “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprout and grow, he does not know how.” The reign of God is not, apparently, about particularly onerous work. All one need do is scatter the seed, and then… nothing… no watering, no tilling the soil, no weeding… just scatter seed and go about the regular patterns of sleeping and rising. The parables goes on: “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” In other words, the reign of God won’t be stopped. Once seed is scattered, the mystery of growth happens, all by itself. We might not even notice until the time of harvest has come.
It’s not the most interesting or dramatic of Jesus’ parables. One commentator flat out describes it as boring. Everything is, quite simply, as it should be. Unlike the more famous parable of the sower where the type of ground matters a great deal, in today’s story, as long as seed is scattered, it doesn’t matter what kind of ground it lands on. There is a ubiquitousness to this parable that offers the encouragement that “God’s reign, like a seed, must grow, even if untended and even if its gradual expansion is nearly impossible to detect.” “It is the nature of God’s reign to grow and to manifest itself.” (Working Preacher) If the reign of God is so self-generating, does it mean that we don’t have a role? Hardly. Seeds have to be sown. If we want growth, then we need to look at the seeds we sow. What kind of seeds could we sow if we want growth in our own hearts, our own experience of God? What kind of seeds could we sow if we want growth in the impact of our presence in the neighbourhood of St. Andrew’s Heights? The good news of this parable is that even if it looks like our work doesn’t amount to much, we are not to give up. As one commentator describes, “… even though our testimony to the gospel appears insignificant or even fruitless, Christians should not be discouraged or give up.” (NIB, 578) The flourishing of the seeds we sow is not up to us.
The second seed parable is much more well known: the kingdom of God “is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth…” The reign of God is a very small thing that contains within itself great potential for ubiquitous growth. The parable continues: “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs…” In Jesus’ time and place, the mustard plant was a common and sturdy weed. It could grow anywhere and start multiplying. It would be hard to keep out of a beautifully manicured garden or a cash crop, and hard to get rid of once it was there. It was more of a pest than a blessing. The reign of God is, therefore, pretty ordinary… maybe even annoying, messing up our carefully planted garden. It’s the smallest seed that transforms itself to take over every inch, eventually transforming a whole landscape.
The parable doesn’t, however, end there. The good news of God in Christ might manifest in little things, the smallest seed, sown anywhere, but it doesn’t end there. The kingdom of God “is like a 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.” The reign of God is not about itself at all… the reign of God is the seed that ultimately provides shelter and rest for little ones. As one commentator concludes: “… There is no gospel in which Jesus remains buried in the ground like a dormant seed.” (Working Preacher) Instead, Jesus points towards something greater. Jesus calls us to focus on the world beyond ourselves. When God reigns, growth is not for its own sake, but for the sake of providing for others… “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
This year we celebrate 60 years as the parish of St. Andrew’s and today we ask God’s blessing on one aspect of our commemoration. Outside our front doors we have added a bench, a little free library and a bike rack. In the scheme of the world, these are small things that we offer to God and to the community beyond our doors, in the hope and promise that they will be seeds that will grow. These items can remind us and all who pass by, that there are times when we need to sit and rest awhile… that we can give freely to others and never want for a new story… and that non-motorized forms of transportation matter for our health and that of our planet. Moreover, these items encourage us to look out into our neighbourhood, to continue sowing seeds of God’s love beyond these walls. They help remind us to look down the road, into the next 60 years, looking to where we want to go.
Through parables, Jesus points to a way of being that is as different from the way of our world today as it was in Jesus’ own time. If we want to move towards the world Jesus proclaims, the kingdom of God, then we have to develop our ability to look towards it, to recognize it in the distance or right in front of our noses. We have to focus not on those things that might trip us up or steer us into the ditch… we have to look where we want to go… into the eternal love of God, here and now. As we go, we know that we don’t journey alone and that whatever may come along the way, we can always look to God for guidance, strength and peace.