Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 17, 2018
Proper 6 (RCL Proper 6, Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Shelter of the Mustard Bush

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. 

Happy Father’s Day!

This year I feel like I’m seeing more advertising for Father’s Day but it’s a widely shared perception, that Mother’s Day enjoys more prominence than Father’s Day. This perception is supported by the data.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the total spending in this country projected on Father’s Day gifts will reach $15.5 billion this year, compared to the total spending of $23.6 billion for Mother’s Day gifts.[1]  This may be due to a number of factors, but I wonder if it is because as a society, we haven’t spent a whole lot of time exploring positive masculine role models.

Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest and spiritual writer, appreciated the gifts of feminism over the years and noticed a gap in parallel work on men. He has dedicated decades of his ministry to exploring male spirituality.

In one of his talks, he tells a story that he saw on a documentary about a region in Africa where elephants were acting a little strangely. These elephants were stomping on cars and pushing over trees - not to eat the leaves but just for the sake of pushing over trees; they were also killing other animals which isn’t typical elephant behaviour. So the authorities sent experts in to figure out why these elephants were behaving like this.

After some investigation, they learned that due to poaching and disease, the old bull elephants in this particular area had died. The young teenage male elephants were left to their own devices and were getting out of control and becoming neurotic. The experts decided to bring in old bull elephants from neighbouring regions to engage the young teenage elephants. Everyone watched with bated breath.

When the young male elephants were pushing over trees and stomping on cars, the old bull elephants would wave their ears or make some kind of bellowing noise or raise their trunks as they watched the teenage elephants’ behaviour. The teenage elephants looked over as though they were being told: “this is not how adult male elephants act!” Within a matter of weeks, the teenage elephants’ destructive behaviour stopped.[2] 

Richard Rohr proposes that initiation - at any age - can catalyse a shift in male spiritual development. The rite of male initiation marks a transition from the first half of life, which he characterizes as a journey of ascent and achievement, and the second half of life, which he characterizes as a descent into the inner journey of introspection, integration and the transformation of pain.

It allows men to be propelled from an outward-oriented psyche conditioned by competition, emotional disconnection and self-sufficiency, towards an inner journey resulting in a generation of spiritually mature men who are able to serve as ‘elders’. These elders are then ready to help other men prepare for entry into the second half of life.

He says: “We all need someone with inner authority who can let us know we are ok, that what we are going through is normal, and what battles are worth fighting. Sometimes we just need to hear from someone who believes in us, but who believes in us enough to challenge us. Strangely, in their presence, the assurance and self-confidence are there, almost by magic.”[3]  Richard Rohr suggests that mentors can accompany men in their journeys towards wholeness. He says: “we need a man to be in solidarity with us, so that we can learn what it means to be in solidarity with ourselves.”[4]

At the end of a chapter on male mentors, he shares his own experiences of mentorship - both of being a mentor and of being mentored. He describes a conversation he had with an older Franciscan priest when he was beginning his ordained ministry. The older friar told him: “Richard, I want you always to trust your intuitions. Promise me that you will always trust them, even if they are wrong once in a while. The direction is right and I will personally fight for you in the background if it ever comes to that.” Richard Rohr reflected on this conversation saying: “One spiritual father can make up for a hundred negative ones. He was God for me at that point.”[5]

This exchange with his mentor was a moment of deep healing and growth. A moment where the voice that lies deep within each of us and speaks to us quietly was affirmed as a sacred voice. And that affirmation of the deepest sense of who we are is an essential part of our healing and growth.

Last Sunday, on June 10, Marco Antonio Munoz, a 39-year old Honduran man strangled himself in a holding cell. He was separated from his family after he had crossed the United States border into Texas at the beginning of May. Marco, his wife and his 3-year old son crossed the border seeking asylum. When the Border Patrol agents informed them that they would be separated, Marco grew agitated, so they moved him to a jail about 40 miles away. A month later he was still there and last Sunday he took his own life.[6]

The controversy over this policy of separating families as a deterrent to undocumented immigration, denounced by the United Nations as counter to human rights standards and principles, has centred on the damage done to the children of these families.[7]

The tragedy of Marco’s death expands our awareness of the extent of this policy’s impact on parents; in this case a person who was stripped not only of his agency and voice, but also of his identity as a father and husband, stripped of his ability to protect and support his young son and wife, stripped of his ability to be present with them, to receive their love and to love them through the tumultuous journey of seeking asylum.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus offers us a parable comparing the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. To Jesus’ listeners, the idea of comparing the kingdom of God with a mustard seed would have been blasphemous. He compares the kingdom of God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, to the tiniest of seeds.

In fact, in our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel, God takes a sprig from the lofty cedar and plants it in Israel in anticipation that it will become another mighty tree, a promise for the nation’s future. The 250 references to trees in the Bible are not evidence of their abundance, but rather of their scarcity. The Palestinian world is arid and trees are scarce. The cedars of Lebanon represent the finest of earthly materials, materials that Solomon uses to build the first temple in Jerusalem.[8] 

Jesus, in his subversive way, instead of comparing the kingdom of God to a rare, majestic, beautiful tree; he chooses to compare the kingdom of God to a scrappy, tenacious bush that is actually kind of invasive and pretty common. Depending on the precise variety of seed, it would produce a plant that would normally reach between 2 and 6 feet in height, compared to the 80 feet that a cedar can reach. Matthew and Luke both change the word ‘bush’ to ‘tree’ in their accounts of Jesus’ parable, unsettled by the image of this invasive bush and use the word tree to try to make it fit a little better into a more appropriate image for the kingdom of God.[9]

But in both cases the sign that the full potential of both the mustard seed and the cedar tree has been realized is that it provides shade, shelter and a resting place to the birds. A place where the birds can make their nests because it is spacious and sturdy, inviting and inclusive. One scholar notes that the reference to birds making their nests in the tree is a reference to the gathering of Gentiles to the God of Israel.[10]  Birds are also symbols of faithfulness and trust, evoking images of vulnerability and freedom.

For Jesus, the kingdom of God is not a rare occurrence, but something happening all the time, everywhere, beyond our control, driven by God’s inexorable, unquenchable desire for the renewal of all creation. God relentlessly affirms our potential to be individuals and communities and societies of compassion. God invites us to build a kingdom characterized by our care for one another, our encouragement of each other’s growth and healing, and our listening and affirmation of the divine in each other.

God invites us to trust in God’s provision promising us that slowly but surely the world will be overcome by the invasive and unstoppable nature of God’s love, mercy and justice.

May it be so.


[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/business-40260169

 

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzWglqNlPOQ

 

[3] Rohr, R., & Martos, J. (2005). From wild man to wise man: Reflections on male spirituality. St. Anthony Messenger Press.

[4] Rohr, R., & Martos, J. (2005). From wild man to wise man: Reflections on male spirituality. St. Anthony Messenger Press.

[5] Rohr, R., & Martos, J. (2005). From wild man to wise man: Reflections on male spirituality. St. Anthony Messenger Press.

[6] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/10/us/border-patrol-texas-family-separated-suicide.html

 

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/un-calls-on-us-to-halt-separations-of-migrant-families/2018/06/05/3fca8a12-68a7-11e8-a335-c4503d041eaf_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.28fd1c3c84cd

[8] Ryken, L., Wilhoit, J. C., & Longman III, T. (Eds.). (2010). Dictionary of biblical imagery. InterVarsity Press.

[9] Bartlett, D. L., & Taylor, B. B. (Eds.). (2010). Feasting on the Word: Year B. Westminster John Knox Press.

[10] Bartlett, D. L., & Taylor, B. B. (Eds.). (2010). Feasting on the Word: Year B. Westminster John Knox Press.