The Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
I was lucky enough to have grandparents: my Oma and Opa, that ensured I grew up in a church community. Dedicated and patient enough to pick me up every Sunday in their red Mini Cooper, the Frisby’s made our way to church. The roots of my mustard seed run deep. I am a 16th generation Episcopalian – or as my Oma likes to say: her last hope of an Episcopalian in the family. So far so good, Oma.
We came to St. John the Evangelist about 14 years ago, drawn by the magnificent blue stained glass windows, the ceremony, community and commitment to justice. We each became involved in our own fitting ministries: my 5th-grade self in Godly Play, Oma and Opa in OWLs and the Altar Guild. My Opa was most known for his bread ministry many of you may have received.
Godly Play turned into Youth Group, starting in 6th grade with Wednesday night movies that turned into an incredible foundation of unconditional support. One of the many formative experiences from my time in Youth Group came the summer after 9th grade. Our first big mission trip was to the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota. We stayed in a church, learned about the history, community and offered helping hands when we could. Our stay also overlapped with Fathers Day, my first Fathers Day without my dad who had passed away the previous August. This year will be the 10 year anniversary of his passing.
We were invited to attend the Fathers Day Pow wow on the Reservation, though beautiful – full of singing, dancing and celebrating – it was difficult for me to experience. In tears, I looked to my safe adults, my youth group leaders, Jean Hansen and Longkee Vang, who had also lost their fathers at a young age. Their unconditional love and support turned a painful situation into a time of growth and strengthened my branches and deepened my roots.
Seven years filled with Wednesday nights in the Fireside Room, Sunday mornings in the Green Room, summers at Episcopal Youth Music Camp, spring and fall weekends at TEC and a summer pilgrimage to Juneau, Alaska. My time in Youth Group, formed through laughter, tears, conversation, many hugs and all the experiences that made it special to us, raised my branches to the sun, ready to embrace the elements beyond the fertile soil that is this community.
I came back after the wind, rain and sun of college further strengthened and grew my branches. I came back to this fertile soil to spend Sunday mornings with my Oma and Opa and to reconnect with the community that helped raise me. In the storm that has been this pandemic, where some of our leaves may have withered, the soil continued to nurture. In May of 2020, when Jered made that faithful call to my mom’s phone number asking how we were doing, it projected a sprout of opportunity with Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light. After a summer of volunteering, followed by a 9 month Fellowship, next month I will be a full time salaried staff member. Getting paid to work in the field I majored in – which is pretty incredible for Peace Studies with an Environmental Justice focus.
Later that summer, I was blessed with another call, this time asking if I would lead one of our Youth Groups. The memories and fondness for the ministry that raised me with values based on unconditional love, support, fellowship and so much more was asking me to take my turn to be a safe adult. To return to my roots, to strengthen other branches. Now I don’t know how much branch strengthening has been able to happen with the Rite 13 group over Zoom, but it starts small. Just like the mustard seed. Hopefully, though, I’ve been able to share a bit of my experience with God with you.
I find my connection to God in nature. That is my home that is referred to in 2 Corinthians when it says, “Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord”. In the wildness (not wilderness) of the world is where I feel connected to the spirit. To understand the epistle, when it says “at home with the Lord,” I had to think of the universe; of water. And honestly, the story of The Giving Tree.
The Giving Tree, a beloved children’s book by Shel Silverstein about unconditional love and sacrifice… with some hints of sexism and greed, and a horror story of self care. Constantly giving until there are no more apples, no more leaves, no more branches. Not very sustainable, in my opinion. Though I have my qualms with this story, it can offer an understanding of our relationship with the mustard seed. How our work, however small it might be, can thrive and not lose our leaves, as long as we’re connected to an ecosystem of support, like St. John’s, we stay connected to our values, to our roots. To be nourished, and nourish in return.
I have been involved in the Stop Line 3 movement since November when construction (destruction) started on the Line 3 replacement pipeline. Line 3 aims to bring tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada through the heart of some of our best lakes, wild rice beds and watersheds, threatening water, treaty rights, and the safety of our climate.
It started with going to local protests, learning more about what this movement was all about – what has been building for 7 years that I’m just now paying attention to. Humility set in as I learned about this fight Indigenous women have led for years. How the system has failed them every step of the way. As I learned more, I kept thinking, “well everyone else knows about this too, right?” I was wrong, of course. My experience is not universal, and I had to go outside of myself to welcome others in.
It evolved by accepting the calls to go to the frontlines. There I was met with the selflessness of the water and of those protecting it. Water protectors practice a level of selflessness, like The Giving Tree, I had not seen before. There is no boasting or centering of the self – those that protect the water are acting beside ourselves – for God, the creator, for life. It is a level of selflessness I had never seen so clearly.
Most recently I attended the Treaty People Gathering at the headwaters of the Mississippi, where the pipeline is proposed to drill under the stream that reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Together, thousands of people raised a collective moral voice to honor treaty rights, to protect the water and future generations. A call for the end of extraction and greed. We rose together and it felt like a rebirth. We continue to rise.
The themes of humility, selflessness and rebirth, lessons from the childhood story, The Giving Tree, and 2 Corinthians, are also themes in the parable of today’s gospel. The foundations of the interconnectedness of all life rely on the call to do what’s right. To act selflessly and with humility. To come together with the support of our communities. The interconnectedness and support of nature is a mystery similar to the Kingdom of God. The mustard seed that starts from something so small, grows to hold and care for a much larger community. Seeds are kind of a mystery aren’t they? You don’t always see all the process that goes into the plant it grows to be. The same is true with people. All of the experiences, love, hardship and the thousand little things that go into the person we become, we don’t always see it as it’s happening.
Unlike The Giving Tree, we don’t have a greedy little boy taking our apples, or leaving us as stumps. We are able to give and receive, nourish and be nourished, and we all have a role in that. I was nourished by the Youth Group and am able to give in return. I was given guidance to work with an interfaith environmental justice non-profit and am able to lead the Creation Care team in return. The mustard seed that is this community at St. John the Evangelist continues to be a source of growth for me, it is for you too.
So, to the youth graduating, ready to extend your branches to the wildness beyond, you make up the branches of this mustard seed. You all have your own beginnings and stories over the past years that have helped to form the people you are today. The laughter, tears, conversations, hugs and experiences will support you on your journey to whatever is next. The giving of this community, the nourishment of this tree, will never run out.
May your journey be a blessing, may the unconditional love and support of this mustard seed guide you. May you bring the gift of being a safe adult, a leader, a beloved community member with you always. May your branches always remember the roots that nourish them.