(The Lindenwood Youth, Rev. Andrew and Rev. Sarah at Bethany Hills)
Keynote, CYF Bethany Hills Camp: Secrets of the Kingdom, Preached: June 8, 2012
+Matthew 13: 31-32 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field, it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make their nests in its branches.
Today is our last day at Bethany Hills for this year. We’ve entered our last hours of CYF conference on this holy ground.
This is a place of wonder. The hours I have spent at Bethany Hills with all of you over the past week will stay with me forever. All of my memories are filled with joy.
I’ll remember David Kenny clobbering my husband Andrew with shaving cream and covering his head during our backyard games.
I’ll remember Erin Aulfinger praising her friend TJ Hunt for his fun attitude and loving, Christ-like personality.
I’ll remember Carolyn Mallet leading us in prayerful singing of “They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love”.
I’ll remember fighting all of you for the last of the chicken nuggets.
I’ll remember the sweet sounds of the serenading last night.
I’ve seen each of you lift up your friends with praises about their hearts of ministry. I’ve watched you get lost in the joy and freedom of your youth. It has been an honor to walk with you through this week of camp. After this week of worshipping and studying God’s word and building the kingdom within this community, we’ve come to the final lesson.
All week, we’ve been on a journey through the secrets of the kingdom. First, we explored the language of the kingdom in bold, raw, prayer. Then we wrapped our minds around the generosity of the kingdom through the parable of the landowner. Then, we adjusted our lens as we look for Christ in the world, and we realized through the parable of the sheep and the goats that when we serve the least of these, we find Christ within them.
Today’s parable talks about the sacredness of a tiny, black seed that grows into a wild and powerful bush and we are reminded that God works through the smallest beginnings to reveal the kingdom here.
Everything that is good and compassionate and love filled and Christ-like begins with a tiny gesture, and these small beginnings blossom into God’s beautiful plan.
I want to leave you today with one question: what is your mustard seed?
We are about to go back to our busy lives across Tennessee, but before we leave this sacred ground, I hope all of you will take some time to reflect on the seeds of hope and ministry that God has created in you. Because all of God’s good ministry and mission begins with a tiny mustard seed.
This week at camp, we’ve seen Andrew in his element with all of you. He loves working with youth, this is his most authentic ministry. But it all started with a few small gestures when Andrew was growing up.
Now, let me you tell an embarrassing story about my husband…
When Andrew was a little boy, he encouraged his mom every single day as she pursued her dreams. They grew up in Lancaster Pennsylvania, and for the first few years of Andrew’s life, his mom stayed at home to raise him and his little brother. But, when Andrew turned 7 years old, his mom decided she was ready to pursue a career. She decided to go to law school. Every single day of this journey was a grand gesture. She was keeping the house together, she was raising two young boys, and, she was driving 2 hours each way every single day to her law school so that she could attend class.
Andrew recognized the stress and the exhaustion of his mom, and he decided to bring a little daily ritual into her routine. Every single day, when she would leave the house for law school, Andrew would dart out of the house in his pajamas and run down the driveway after her car and shout:
May the Force Be With You, Mom!
Andrew’s encouraging spirit and ministry all began at age 7 with this little gesture. This was Andrew’s mustard seed.
And now, Andrew continues his ministry of encouragement and building people up.
So, again, on this last day before you head back into your world, I urge you to think about this: What is Your mustard seed?
I remember my mustard seed moment. I was five years old. I was monkeying around one night as a babysitter watched me and my brother. Just as she turned her head, I climbed up on to the kitchen counters and slipped off, shattering my arm into pieces. I went into emergency surgery that night. I spent the next year of my life in surgery after surgery, hospital room after hospital room.
But every single day, this sweet, gentle nun would visit me. She made me feel better. She prayed with me. She encouraged me. She was the first woman minister I had ever met. As I watched her, I started to wonder if I too, could do ministry when I grew up.
One afternoon, after a particularly inspiring visit with my nun friend, I turned to my mom and I said:
How much to nuns make?
That was my mustard seed.
No matter how it comes to you or when you start to realize it, each and every one of you has a call from God to bloom and grow and provide a tall and sturdy ministry here in this fragile world. But what will it be? How will you serve? What will you offer? Again, I invite you to ask yourself this question: what is your mustard seed?
May 23rd marked one year since Joplin was bruised and beaten by a tornado. When the tornado hit, camera crews and news channels and reporters swarmed the streets, capturing images of houses torn apart, trucks turned over and families huddling in shelters. Anderson Cooper highlighted the damage in a broadcast. Newspapers splashed photos of this event on their Sunday Morning centerfold. And our very own disaster relief organization showed up to serve as well. Week of Compassion is known for building sustainable, long term recovery programs in places devastated by disaster.
The Executive Director of Week of Compassion, Amy Gopp, describes pulling in to the parking lot of First Christian Church, Joplin, last May after the tornado. She greeted two faithful ministers on that gravel driveway, and I imagine their ministry in Joplin began with small, simple gesture like cooking a meal. I imagine them making a pot of soup chicken noodle soup for the volunteers.
I imagine ladle after ladle, that soup nourished the relief workers, the displaced families, and the local churches who rallied to help Joplin. Ladle after ladle of that chicken noodle soup, Week of Compassion and First Christian Church nursed Joplin back to a place of strength.
The news crews and Anderson Cooper and every reporter in sight slowly started to back away from Joplin. We were on to the next big story and the centerfolds in the newspapers reflected the immediate story of the week. But Week of Compassion remained in Joplin.
As the months went on, I know soup ladles were replaced with wreaths that First Christian Church hung on the FEMA trailer doors. The ladles turned in to food pantries and clothes closets for families in need. Those ladles turned in to long term relationships with Disciples Volunteering and Joplin, Missouri. Youth groups and Mission Trips continue to gather in Joplin to dig through debris and rubble so that hope may be resurrected there.
That first act of ministry in Joplin from Week of Compassion when Amy Gopp arrived was a mustard seed. And their first small gesture of ministry from Amy Gopp and the ministers of Joplin grew and spread into a ministry that will bring grace and hospitality and relief to our brothers and sisters in Joplin every single day until Joplin is thriving again.
Today is the day I invite all of you to pray through this question: what is your mustard seed?
I have seen so many of your gifts. You lead worship with passion and thoughtfulness. You build the beloved community without reservation. You study God’s word with the faithfulness of all good leaders. You have generous spirits and compassionate hearts and wisdom beyond your years. As you spend your final hours here at Bethany Hills, take a moment to yourself. Listen to God. Pray for your call in this world to be revealed.
And never stop asking the question: what is MY mustard seed. Because this is how God’s kingdom breaks forth among us. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Sarah Taylor Peck. All Rights Reserved.