Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sermon from May 5, 2013; Rural Life Sunday; Psalm 67

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 67
“The Size of an (Orange) Seed”
May 5, 2013

Theologian Gerhard Frost wrote “It is appropriate to give thanks to God over a plate of food because it took a whole universe to produce it.” That’s a good quote for today since we are celebrating both Communion and Rural Life Sunday.

Most likely it was not a big city that produced the bread and the juice that we are soon to receive. Chances are the grain of the field and the fruit of the vine were created in rural communities, like ours.

After all, with cow pastures, lakes everywhere you look and wildlife always on the verge of reclaiming the land we are a rural community.

There are over 15,000 Agriculture related jobs making up 40% of our employment, contributing 33% to the gross regional product, creating $700 million in revenue.

Let’s not forget, we have over 8 million citrus trees on 65,000 acres, making Highlands County the 3rd largest citrus provider in the state. Which means that if someone in the United States is drinking a glass of orange juice, there’s a good chance it came right from our own town.

Which makes one wonder: if Jesus was alive today, and the Gospel stories took place here in Sebring, would Jesus have used orange juice for the Last Supper?

Because after all, Jesus was a rural boy, a small town guy who lived simply among the people. He would have been in Hammock Park, on the shores of Veteran’s Beach and hanging out with the patron’s of the Blue Crab.

Today is Rural Life Sunday. I can’t lie to you, I don’t know much about what rural life really means in terms of working the land, getting my hands dirty and depending on the sun and the rain.

I can imagine. I can watch movies and read books, but I can not personally tell you about silos filled with grain, of cows that needed milking every morning no matter how tired you were, nor about the danger of horses that kick.

But what I can share is the community aspect that exists in such a place as ours. See, there is no “I” in “Rural.” In a rural community, it is often more about the “U” and the “us.” And that’s a beautiful thing.

Let me give three recent examples. The other day, while going to lunch, I stopped at Griffin’s dry cleaners. I was greeted by Irene and after a friendly conversational exchange, she said “Come here, I want to show you something.”

In the back of the store was a cage with two bunny rabbits that had been rescued after their mother died. Irene and the woman next door are taking turns caring for them until they are big enough to be set free somewhere along Dinner Lake.

Where else but a small town can you have an unexpected conversation like that?

Afterwards I went to Brisas del Mar for lunch. Within minutes a family just began talking to me. Turns out it was one of their children’s birthdays and soon we’re all singing “Happy Birthday” together.

Where else but a small town can you experience that?

Days later, I’m at Publix, carrying a fresh basil plant around the store. A woman comes up to me, smiling and asking questions about it and comments on my Emmanuel UCC shirt. As she says goodbye, she states “WE are all united in Christ.”

Where else but a small town can you experience that?

That sense of community; that openness and genuineness that comes from living in a small, rural setting.

Of course, to truly experience these things it means that the concept of time has to take on a new meaning. In order to see bunny rabbits, sing happy birthday and share the Good News, you have to be able to stop, to engage, and to talk.

It also means being able to see beyond the “I”, being able to see the “you”, being able to see the “us”, being able to see the “all.”

There is no “I” is rural, but there sure as heck is a “U.” We witness that sentiment in today’s scripture.

It’s a communal prayer for blessing, a testimony that God is the Lord of all Creation. As such, God bestows gifts that enhance our existence.

God gives us all “enough”; God gives us that what makes life good. God does not give so that just you and I can be blessed, but so that all of us, all the peoples of the earth can be blessed as well.

Now this can sound so simple, it can sound so cute. But do not be fooled: what this psalm is saying is radical and revolutionary.

By saying “all the nations” it means all the nations, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of who you are and where you are on life’s journey.

Note what is missing from Psalm 67. Just like the word “rural” there is no “I.” This is a communal song if there ever was one.

The word “peoples” appear 5 times; “us” appears 4 times. “Nations” appear 3 times; “earth” and “all” each appear twice.

This is a song written by a small, communal group of folk who live and work and worship side by side by side, and in God, the individual “I” moves into the sacred “us.”

“Us” meaning people like Irene who will say “Come see what I have.” “Us” meaning a family who say “Join in celebrating a birthday.” “Us” meaning a stranger in a store who becomes, if even for a moment, a neighbor.

The “us” that Mary Alexander and the folks at Good Shepherd Hospice reach out to each and every day.

The “us” that the Agriculture Extension reach out to who get up early each morning, who get their hands dirty, who bring millions of dollars of revenue into our town.

The “us” that the Tourism Development Council reach out to, who are looking for a lake to fish, a place to stay, for a chance to be alive in a way that a big city may not always be able to provide.

Country roads, productive land, good neighbors, the ability to pause, be gracious, and to say “Yes sir” and “No ma’am.”

This is the “us” that exists in rural towns like ours. This is the “us” that the Israelites found in God.

A belief that they did not have to be big and mighty, they did not have to possess skyscrapers and corporate logos to influence the world and to transform it for the better.

But that as small, as communal and as intimate as they were, if God blessed them, then God would also bless the world…

…Do you recall the lesson Jesus teaches in Luke 13:18-19: “What is the Kingdom of God like?...It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

The Kingdom of God starts off small, rich in possibilities, part of creation.

We here at Emmanuel UCC, located on Hope Street, may not know what a mustard seed looks like, but we sure as heck know about orange seeds, and how they grow, the fruits they produce; their color, their taste, their fragrance, and the economy they create.

We can also be God’s orange seeds. Being planted, growing and sharing, praising and blessing.

As we grow, as we continue to welcome the birds of the air, we grab onto the vitality which we have, not just to offer praise for all that God has done, but to be a blessing to all those around.

We get to play our role in sharing the Good News with all the people of the earth, so they can not only experience, but celebrate God’s blessings as well.

Now, as we come to the end of our message, as we prepare to celebrate Communion, there is a prayer I’d like to share, one that was passed on to Jim Sparks’ by his brother-in-law:

-“Back of the loaf is the flour.
Back of the flour is the mill.
Back of the mill is the wheat
And the shower, and the sun
And the Father’s will.”

Amen and amen.

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