Pastoral Letter | June 15, 2018

This week I would like to reflect with you on the gospel of Mark. Specifically chapter 4:26-34. It is an amazing passage about how God works in mysterious ways, both in creation and in our lives.

Bishop N.T. Wright, the former bishop of Durham in the United Kingdom who now does research as a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrew’s in Scotland writes, “The contrast of outward appearances and God’s strange hidden design is of course the subject of several parables, not least, those in Mark 4. The seed grows secretly; the man who planted it doesn’t know what’s happening to it, which is ironic since he does every day, what the seed is doing, going to bed and getting up.” Every one of us contemplates being the master of their own design and demise. But the truth is God the Creator does his best work with creation and us, in secret. We are receiving blessings of growth, nurture and hope without our full comprehension every day. God continues to bless us with opportunities; experiences and new relationships that help us grow in ways that are beyond our comprehension. We may not see what God is doing but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing something. N. T. Wright puts it well when he says, “Training the eye to look at things with faith and hope is not just a matter of Christian obedience. It is the way to overthrow prejudice and to see God’s kingdom in unexpected places and people.”

Herbert O’Driscoll who is the former rector of Christ Church, Calgary, and a former warden of the College of Preachers in Washington, DC, and dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, once wrote, “We constantly forget that God comes in little things to which we accord no significance at the time. Whenever our Lord begins to speak about the kingdom of God, we may be sure of two things. What he is saying will sound very simple, it’s images will be very familiar… Jesus points out how human participation in the process of nature is very largely one of spectator.” I would describe this as an active spectator. After all, the farmer prepares the land, scatters the seed and gathers the harvest. But as Herbert O’Driscoll says, “In between those times, the rhythm of life goes by.” Jesus seems to be reminding us that we are not in control of everything in our own lives. The sanctification process is one of cooperation whereby there is active listening and awaiting the guidance and direction of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the universe.

The story of the Mustard Seed reminds us that God often starts with the small things and by his divine blessing they can grow into something extraordinary. This is true in our lives when we begin the process by searching our God’s divine direction. For example, we may have a small conversation that turns out to be a huge blessing in someone’s life, especially when that conversation happens at a time in their life when they are ready to grow.

In church life extraordinary spiritual movements can begin with a tiny bible study or small house church that grows into a large congregation of believers. I remember hearing about one church under the pastoral guidance of Dr Terry Wardle who was the former pastor of Christ the King Church in the United States. His church began in his living room with 12 to 15 people and grew to a congregation with over 1000 weekly participants. God often starts small. The world may see these beginnings as insignificant, tiny, and unimportant. But God sees every seed as the beginning of a new and great experience. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be a part of something like that?

Every single one of us is invited to be part of something much larger and more extraordinary than we could ever imagine. We are invited to participate in the idea “Thy Kingdom Come”. We have a significant role is God’s divine direction for a better world. There is no such thing as a small insignificant, irrelevant, unappreciated person. Everyone is precious and can make a difference. Herbert O’Driscoll puts it well, “Sunday School teachers can wonder if his or her efforts are making the slightest difference. Parents can lack confidence, wondering why they seem to be abject failures with their children. And years later someone says thanks for a single afternoon, a fleeting encounter, a slight exchange of conversation, a forgotten insight shared.”

Never give up. What might start as small could well be part of God’s bigger plan for a new and extraordinary moment that changes the lives of loved ones.

Blessings, Fr Stephen