Mark 4: 26-34
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 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.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise to you Lord Christ.
Message “Get Out of My Shade!”
I am so thankful for our Pride celebration last Sunday. As Candace and I talked about our experience of worship last Sunday afternoon, we both agreed that we were so proud to be church last week. There was beautiful and honest sharing. We sang songs of welcome and heard words of Scripture of God’s love and the call to love one another. I’ll be honest, it was one of my proudest moments as a pastor. But there was one thing that just really, really bothered me last Sunday. It wasn’t the bad comments that Pastor Emily and I received on social media for celebrating Pride Sunday. It wasn’t even the fact that I didn’t preach, because I didn’t need to, HR from the LGBTQ Center and our own young adult Anne, preached powerful messages instead.
What bothered me so much was that hot, shiny, fiery ball of gas in the sky. The sun was just bearing down on us bringing the heat of the day as we continued to worship last week. I don’t think I ever said it out loud, but with Pastor Emily and I sitting over here on this side, I thought a time or two, “Pastor Emily, get out of my shade!” I mean it really wasn’t mine, but I was desperately holding onto it as long as I possibly could. After I walked around and greeted many of you after worship last week, many of you kept commenting and I kept thinking, “Wow, it feels so so so much better in the shade! What a difference the shade makes!”
“The Lord is your shade,” writes the psalmist. “In the shade of its branches, (the cedar that God will plant) will nest winged creatures of every kind,” we read in Ezekiel. When the mustard seed grows up “the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Are you sensing a theme in these Scripture readings? As I began to work on this week’s message, I started as I often do, with a reflective reading of the lectionary Gospel text in a Lectio divina sort of way asking, “What is shining or glimmering in this readings?” I’m not sure if it was the experience in the hot sun the day before or the fact that I really experienced the shade of God during worship, that phrase spoke to me. God makes a nest, a dwelling place, a refuge, a safe place, a shade for us to be protected, safe, and cared for.
Isn’t this what the prophet Ezekiel was attempting to proclaim? I mean the earlier verses of Ezekiel are about judgment, but God offers something new, some hope, a place of rest and shade for every kind of bird. Because of God’s actions, all the trees of the field will know God. When God takes a twig, something small, from the grand cedar tree, God will plant it on a high mountain so all can see its growth. When it grows into a grand cedar, not only will the many diverse birds live under its shade, but all will know about the God who planted it.
While this beautiful poem and imagery is not expounded upon much in Ezekiel, we can see connections here between the twig in this passage and the branch in Isaiah pointing to a coming messianic figure; planted on the high mountain of Jerusalem. It’s important to note that this twig brings something new out of the old. Out of Israel comes the messiah. It’s the new cedar tree with new shade for all the birds of the air. And it all starts with something small, a twig. Does that sound familiar?
What Ezekiel seems to be moving us toward is the coming of Christ, the Messiah, becoming the shade. Then we find Jesus in Mark 4 using a similar metaphor. The smallest of seeds will “become the greatest of shrubs with large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” It’s just like this mysterious yet grand, beyond our imaginations, Kingdom of God or Realm of God. It brings shade, life, hope, refuge, and safety. A little twig, a small seed, tiny revelations of the Kingdom, can all bring about a shade big enough for all.
It’s kind of refreshing on this rather warm day, or at least during this morning that is quickly warming up, to hear readings all about the shade. We heard about cedars providing shade on a high mountain, branches being a shelter, and lush, green, beautiful fruit of the earth providing respite from the burning sun. You know those moments when it’s so hot you can taste the heat in the salt of your sweat, you can feel the life breath and energy being sucked out of you as you feel the sweat dripping down your back. All you want is some water to drink or pour over your head and maybe a little, say it with me, shade!
In the heat of the day, there’s nothing better than standing under a towering tree full of branches and leaves. You cast yourself on the cool grass below, you feel refreshed, protected, and cooled. You could stay there forever and ever.
Jesus tells us that this is what the Kingdom of God is like. It’s shade for the weary and tired. It’s shade for the beaten and scared. It’s shade for every kind of bird, where we can be planted, nurtured, cared for by God’s own presence. The Kingdom of God is shade for all people.
If I’m really honest with myself and all of you, that’s what I experienced last Sunday. It was a Sunday that brought a little piece of the Kingdom of God, the realm of God, that provided safety, rest, and refuge, and no, not just because I didn’t have to preach, but because of the honesty, vulnerability, and openness of the messages that HR and Anne brought to us. I thought I was providing a shade for our siblings in the LGBTQ community, but in reality, as I sweltered in the hot sun of early June, I was provided shade, I experienced a little, tiny piece of the Kingdom.
It was refreshing that in a denomination that is so often not a shade or even in a American church culture that does not provide shelter and safety enough, we were given shade. It feels like the way of the modern American church tends to be a recognition that while we have the challenges of the hot sun beating down on us, in whatever form that may take for our lives, culturally, politically, spiritually, emotionally, just life in general can be hard sometimes, the church often says, “Get out of my shade” rather than, “Come join me in this safe, cool, refreshing place.”
What do you think? Are we a church that creates shade or do we tell others to get out of our shade? Are we Christians that invite others into the shade or do we tell everyone else to get out of our shade?
Thinking back to last Sunday, what we offered was so important. According to the Grant Halliburton Foundation, 39% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months; 71% of LGBTQ+ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year; 71% of LGBTQ+ youth in the study reported discrimination due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity. While that’s all really hard to hear, here’s the good news and a challenge from the study; 98% of LGBTQ+ youth said a safe space for them would valuable. Where is the church in all of this? Are we providing shade or saying “Get out of my shade”?
It is my hope and my prayer that we will continue to be a church community that provides refuge, safety, refreshment, and shade for everyone. When we not just worship as the church, but as we live as the church, as family, we bring with us every part of who we are, our success and failures, our joys and struggles, our hope and fear. When we gather as the church, it is my prayer that you receive a little shade on the journey, no matter where you or what you bring with you on the journey. In reality though, it’s not a shade that I provide or you even provide, it’s who God is and what God offers to all of us.
What we can do though, is become people who invite others into the shade. The Spirit of God moves deep within each of us inspiring us, inviting us, and challenging us to invite others into the shade of the Kingdom of God. Let’s not tell anyone to “Get out of our shade,” because it’s not just ours, it’s everyone’s, given to us by God and we can participate in this new creation of God’s Kingdom as we offer an invitation, hospitality, and welcome, where we provide safety for anyone at risk, and where every bird of the air can find rest, refuge, and hope.
As I close this morning, I want to invite us into a prayer practice of taking a moment to simply rest in God’s shade. While it’s warm, most of you are already enjoying the shade, so I invite you to place your feet flat on the earth below you, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and just take a moment of silence to rest in God’s refuge, embrace, care, nurture, and shade.
Slow us down, Lord!
Ease the pounding of our hearts by the quieting of our minds.
Steady our hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.
As we journey in these beautiful lives you have given us, lift our eyes to your mountain with the cedar high above.
Help us to know deeply that you watch over us moment by moment and breath by breath. You are our shade.
Slow us down, Lord, to rest in you. Inspire us to send out roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values of love, hope, joy; so that we might invite others into this shade with us.
-Inspired by and adapted from a prayer written by Orin L. Crain; jesuitresource.org