*This sermon was written and presented by Rachel Smith at Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship on June 14, 2009. Thanks Rachel for these wonderful stories and reflections.
31How can we picture God’s kingdom? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”
33With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything
“Sweetie, you cut it like this see. Real thin so you can almost see through the skin. My great-grandmother held up an apple peel that was nearly as clear as tissue paper. I went back to widdling my peel away taking most of the apple’s fruit with me. This exercise is one of the first and most vivid memories I have of who my great grandmother was. At her table, I was stuck somewhere between wanting to please her and at the same time wondering why it mattered if my peel was thin or not. Looking back I now marvel at her patience with me. For what I now know about her is that she almost never wasted. Waste pained her. I laugh now at the amount of black bananas I had on cereal at her house, or the times I would catch her going through the garbage to re-use tea bags that she was sure had just one last cup in them. So in remembering the peeling skills of a six-year-old, I am sure letting me help her with the apples was an exercise in love indeed.
It was this stewardship. Her unending desire to get the most and the best out of what was that kept me quietly intrigued with this wrinkly ancient woman throughout my childhood. And as a teenager, when I began to seek out my own identity, I felt very strongly that this woman, this anomaly could help me. And so, I sought her out.
Once I got my driver’s license I began driving once a month to my great uncle’s home to visit with her. Mostly, the time was spent sitting on the couch looking at photo albums or talking about old family memories. I didn’t exactly know what the significance was then, however, it seemed important, so I kept doing it.
Eventually she became increasingly frail. She moved into my grandmother’s home with my grandmother and great aunt, who were able to care for her full time. My hour drive to visit grandma became a ten-minute trip. In some way I considered this change an answer to prayer.
What I had realized on these ventures out to see her was that I had an expectation. One that that this great steward would help me become a steward of myself. And so I kept visiting. And we had a good time. Sometimes we sat on the swing, sometimes I pretended to read her the Bible and made up my own verses “ about walking through the valley of the shadow of incontinence, yeah I will fear no catheter.” We called it the Queen Rachel version of the Bible. And while this was a good time, a cherished time, I didn’t have any mind-boggling revelations.
And time went on. And a part of me resigned. I thought to myself, well, you’re on your own kid, no bedside wisdom, no midnight hour confessions, no prophetic treasure maps pointing the way to self-discovery. I guess there’s no trick. You just live.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10
6Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7We live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
So that’s what I did. I lived. I just figured everyone was supposed to do what he or she had to in order to figure “it” out… whatever it was. And what I chose to do was become a social worker. I started in foster care, “living” through the eyes of the abandoned child. Did I mention “living” could get very confusing. Many formative stories and experiences were made during this time. One experience in particular stuck out to me. It was the story of Daniel.
Daniel was 8. He had a sad story like most of the other kids. He came into foster care after burning his own house down at the age of four. He had been left alone for days and started a fire as a means of escape.
He and I had spent the last two years figuring each other out and trying to get him in a safe, stable home where he could stay. And on a sunny day in July it seemed as if all of our laboring had worked. Daniel was getting ready to be adopted by the family he was living with. I came by to visit and he gladly showed me his last quarter’s report card filled with straight A’s. “Miss Rachel” he said. “Can we celebrate this by going out to eat…. Just you and me?” “Sure Daniel sounds good,” I said.
Now if you know anything about children who have had to scrounge for food. The one place they love to eat is the Golden Coral. It is a neglected child’s utopia. So there we sat in the Golden Coral.
Even though Daniel was supposedly the one with food issues, I was the one who started stuffing my face first.
“Miss Rachel” he said. “Aren’t you going to pray?” “ Well I suppose I should. Would you like me to?” “Yes,” he said. We took hands and I sat across the table somewhat embarrassed by my oversight. I started to pray. “Dear God I said. Please protect Daniel. Help him to become a man. Amen.” That was it, a nine word prayer that seemed like a good place to start in the midst of a very confused little life.
The next day I was driving through the community and saw there had been a horrific car accident. I felt unusually curious about the sight, but it didn’t appear to be a car I recognized, so I stopped rubber necking and went to my office. When I walked in the door the phone was ringing. I answered and amidst screams I learned that Daniel was in that crash and so far there had been at least one fatality.
On my way to the hospital I drove in the valley of the shadow of a life flight helicopter. I was a scared. And what I had in those horrifying moments were the thoughts of my Golden Coral prayer. It was an accidental anointing. I had prayed an acknowledgement that Daniel was to become a man.
And Daniel is becoming a man. I saw him last month. He is nearly 6 feet. The family friend who was driving the car saved him. In the accident her body landed on his absorbing the impact. She died. He walked away physically unscathed but had another break in his heart. Daniel was the first place I had a taste of anointing, though I didn’t recognize as such then.
Some years went by and I moved farther away, but this story along with the stories of hundreds of other confusing little lives, did not leave me. And so, sometimes in the midst of confusion it’s a good time to pack up and visit home. There I can reconcile myself with the world.
2 Corinthians 5:11-17
The Ministry of Reconciliation
11Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
Well the truth be told “the old had come” on this trip home. My first night back an elderly aunt of mine died. My mother and I spent the first day of my visit making funeral arrangements. That evening I found myself in the car treading back to my Promised Land… Grandma’s, the place where patience and understanding abound.
By this point I was tired from a busy and mournful day. And also tired from knowing that soon I would not be making this trip anymore. By now my great-grandmother was totally bed ridden and often had difficulty sustaining the energy to even talk. In a wave of pre-emptive grief, I began crying as I pulled up to the house. I walked straight in and fell crying into the lap of my secret prophet. My grandmother and her sister were there. Nobody said a word. To my embarrassment I was frozen there in her lap crying…more helpless than that little girl who couldn’t figure out how to just cut off the peel. It was time to say goodbye.
It was time to say goodbye and all my hopes for clarity and direction had gone unanswered. In fact, life was getting more confusing every day. What I had from her was love, and memories, and jokes, but not the blessing or instruction I was looking for. And in some ways I think that is what many of my tears were about. I knew we were at the end and I wanted my anointing.
And just then as if she knew what I came for, my great-grandmother called over her daughters, put my face in her hands and said: “This is our daughter.”
And there it was, in four words, the unknown “it” I needed from her.
She died two months later. And this will remain my sweetest memory of her. “This is our daughter.” I didn’t know what it meant. But I knew it was my anointing.
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.”
The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down [a] until he arrives.”
12 So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.
Since the couch with my great grandmother and the Golden Coral I have started to see the seed which Mark chapter four remarks. Things have become less confusing and much clearer as I feel this verse enter my own life. For what I feel growing in me is recognition of the space that knows I am anointed and also at times an anointer. That not only do I carry seeds of faith with me, and a horn of oil ready to recognize the work of God happening in someone else. But I also fall on the couch of a frail woman and grieve, desperate to be anointed. It is with this revelation in mind I will close with one last story.
Steven entered my office last year. The first thing I noticed about him was missing fingers. Ones who were wrapped so tightly by an abusive parent they had to be amputated as a toddler. And now at the age of six Steven came to see me because he was in foster care and that’s what the grown ups said he was supposed to do. He didn’t like talking about too much of anything the therapist handbook would say was “relevant.” In fact if a painful topic came up he would often remark “Miss Rachel, I ain’t here to talk about all that… I just want to have a good time!”
We did have some good times, and some bad ones over the year. And like all kids that I get to work with for any amount of time a little piece of them feels like they belong to me. They become my little flock, the little people that I have some responsibility for. And so it was a great honor to hold Steven’s stories in my heart, to laugh with him, and to hold his hand while he proudly tried to overcome the terror of walking across the playground’s balance beam… amongst other terrors.
And one day it was Steven’s time to move on. He found what he called his “forever family”. Only his forever family lived half way across the country. So on our last day, Steven and I walked that balance beam together one last time. “Miss Rachel,” he said. “Do you believe in God?” “Yup.” I said. “And Steven if you don’t mind I think I liked to talk to him before you have to go. Do you mind?” “Nope.” He said.
And so we stood there looking at the sky with the sun in our eyes. “God” I said. Give us the courage to work through new things and the courage to miss the things we have lost. Please protect Steven and his family and the families he loves and is leaving behind. And help him grow into a man.”
Only this time I stood there as an anointed one, anointing another. Steven a new son, and I a new daughter. My heart resounding with the words we say so often to one another. “ Now go in peace”