Mustard Seeds, Yeast, Pearls and Representative John Lewis

EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

1 Kings 3:5-12
Psalm 119:129-136
Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Prayer of the Day: Beloved and sovereign God, through the death and resurrection of your Son you bring us into your kingdom of justice and mercy. By your Spirit, give us your wisdom, that we may treasure the life that comes from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

To what shall we compare the reign of God? It is like an invasive species that takes root in a fragile ecosystem, breaks down the existing harmonies, pushes out indigenous growth and transforms the local environment into something altogether different.

To what shall we compare the reign of God? It is like yeast falling into the dough set aside for the Passover feast, leavening the unleavened, corrupting the holy, raising up an unrighteous loaf from the sanctified mass.

To what shall we compare the reign of God? It is the value hidden in a barren and unpromising lot that only the keen eye of a speculator can see. It is land sold for three times what the seller thinks it is worth as he snickers to himself over the fine bargain he struck with the witless yokel-who is, in fact, walking away with a fortune.

To what shall we compare the reign of God? It is like a pearl so fine it smites the heart of a connoisseur who will gladly pay any price to have it-whatever the market might otherwise dictate.

To what shall we compare the reign of God? It is like a net thrown into the sea sweeping into its coils everything in its path for sorting, purifying and cleansing with fire.

Georgia Representative John Lewis, renowned and respected leader of the civil rights movement, died late Friday. Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama in 1940. He was the the son of sharecroppers and grew up in a region where legalized racial segregation permeated every facet of society and reminded him constantly that he was deemed a second-class citizen. Denied entrance to the all white Troy University, he attended and graduated from American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961. He subsequently received a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1967.

Lewis joined the first group of freedom riders traveling from the East Coast to the South to challenge interstate segregation. He was arrested in Birmingham and beaten at a bus stop in Montgomery. These events did not deter him from continued involvement. Within a mere two years, Lewis rose to become a prominent leader in the civil rights movement, chairing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. In March of 1965 Lewis was beaten by Alabama state troopers while on the front lines of the fifty mile march from Selma to Montgomery pushing for voting rights. That event subsequently became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

In 1986 John Lewis was elected to serve as Georgia’s fifth district representative, a position he held until his death. Known as “the conscience of Congress,” Lewis was a fierce advocate for civil rights, an ally of the underprivileged and a man of profound faith. His life and his words gave us a taste of what Jesus’ parables were all about. Here are a few words you might think of as “mustard seeds,” “yeast,” “pearls” and “buried treasure.”

“Selma is a place where we injected something very meaningful into our democracy. We opened up the political process and made it possible for hundreds and thousands and millions of people to come in and be participants.”

“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”

“It was not enough to come and listen to a great sermon or message every Sunday morning and be confined to those four walls and those four corners. You had to get out and do something.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a little agitation for what’s right or what’s fair.”

“You have to tell the whole truth, the good and the bad, maybe some things that are uncomfortable for some people.”

“Sometimes you have to not just dream about what could be – you get out and push and you pull and you preach. And you create a climate and environment to get those in high places, to get men and women of good will in power to act.”

“We must be headlights and not taillights.”

“The kingdom of God comes without our prayers,” says Martin Luther. He is right. God’s reign will come without your lifting a finger. But is that what you want? Do you want to be sitting on the sidelines watching the parade go by? Or do you want to be “in that number when the saints go marching in”? Do you want to be caught up in God’s redemptive design for creation, or throw your life away in a futile effort to resist change, suppress God’s revolutionary movement toward reconciliation and come to your last day only to find that there is nothing worth incorporating into God’s future? Jesus’ parables force us to see the reign of God in stark relief against the backdrop of a dying status quo. The story of Representative John Lewis testifies to a life caught up in God’s redemptive agenda, disrupting the orderly, stirring up resistance to an unjust status quo and pouring out everything in pursuit of God’s gentle reign.

Here is a poem by Angela Jackson honoring Rosa Parks, another mustard seed that got into the garden and fomented an uprising.

Miz Rosa Rides the Bus

That day in December I sat down
by Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I was myriad-weary. Feets swole
from sewing seams on a filthy fabric;
tired-sore a pedalin’ the rusty Singer;
 
dingy cotton thread jammed in the eye.
All lifelong I’d slide through century-reams
loathsome with tears. Dreaming my own
silk-self.
 
It was not like they all say. Miss Liberty Muffet
she didn’t
jump at the sight of me.
Not exactly.
They hauled me
away—a thousand kicking legs pinned down.
 
The rest of me I tell you—a cloud.
Beautiful trouble on the dead December
horizon. Come to sit in judgment.
 
How many miles as the Jim Crow flies?
Over oceans and some. I rumbled.
They couldn’t hold me down. Long.
No.
 
My feets were tired. My eyes were
sore. My heart was raw from hemming
dirty edges of Miss L. Muffet’s garment.
I rode again.
 
A thousand bloody miles after the Crow flies
that day in December long remembered when I sat down
beside Miss Muffet of Montgomery.
I said—like the joke say—What’s in the bowl, Thief?
I said—That’s your curse.
I said—This my way.
She slipped her frock, disembarked,
settled in the suburbs, deaf, mute, lewd, and blind.
The bowl she left behind. The empty bowl mine.
The spoiled dress.
 
Jim Crow dies and ravens come with crumbs.
They say—Eat and be satisfied.
I fast and pray and ride.

Source:  And All These Roads Be Luminous (c. 1998 by Angela Jackson; pub. by TriQuarterly Books). Angela Jackson (b. 1951) is an American poet, playwright, and novelist currently residing in Chicago. Though she was born in Greenville, Mississippi, she grew up on the South Side of Chicago where her parents moved with her and her four siblings in 1977. She served as editor of the journal, Nommo and has received numerous literary awards. You can read more about Angela Jackson and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation Website.

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