Forbes Magazine just introduced their inaugural class of 50 Over 50: 50 women, entrepreneurs, leaders, scientists and creators, achieving their greatest career accomplishments over the age of 50. Their stories are inspiring. Kim Ng is the General Manager of the Miami Marlins. She is the first woman to run a major league baseball team. Before obtaining this position, more than ten other ball clubs turned her down. She notes that while rejection is hard, her dreams remained. Teresa Hodge served 70 months in federal prison for mail fraud. After her release, she co-founded Mission: Launch, a nonprofit that works with financial institutions to assist the formerly incarcerated in getting access to capital to start businesses. Teresa notes that most of her fellow inmates wanted to be good citizens, wanted to be able to care for their families, but upon release, they were not able to obtain the resources they needed to connect to their dreams. She’s making that connection happen, making dreams a reality.
These inspirational women shed light on the connection between our Scriptural passages. The Lord said to Samuel, “…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The Lord knows our heart, our gifts, our dreams, so much so, that the Lord knew, after passing on one son after another, that Jesse’s eighth and youngest son, David, was the one to be King over Israel. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed. A mustard seed is .05 inches in diameter. Yet, it grows to be one of the largest garden plants. Mustard bushes can be 20 feet tall with a 20-foot spread. They can even reach 30-feet in height under ideal conditions. .05 inches to 30 feet tall! These dreams in our heart can become reality, and so much more.
Now, when I preach, I make a point of not explaining the process I went through to prepare the particular sermon. In fact, a telltale sign of a new preacher is that they spend a good five minutes explaining all they went through to prepare the sermon, and so, then, they need less material to fill out the rest of the sermon. We might hear about how halfway into their sermon writing, they realized they had been working with the wrong passage of Scripture. Or, perhaps they experienced a flat tire on the way to work and then a pastoral emergency came up and then the power went out. Or, perhaps they felt no connection to the Scripture whatsoever and the clock was ticking down to Sunday morning. Well, as much as I believe in getting to the point instead of explaining the preaching process, today I am going to talk about my process because something happened to me while I was preparing this sermon, which I believe is worth reflection.
After organizing my thoughts around the Scripture and this new 50 Over 50 list, I realized something about the idea that I was formulating. My idea was that if we are willing to explore our God-given innate gifts and we are open to God stirring our hearts, we can be inspired to make our dreams come true. But then I realized that this assumption about making our dreams a reality comes from a position of power. Others in our worldview make their dreams come true. Why shouldn’t we? In fact, if it happened for them, aren’t we entitled to achieve success ourselves? But here is the stark reminder for our little corner of the world, a place which holds a great deal of power. Not everyone has the societal power to make their dreams come true.
Now, I want to distinguish here between fantasizing about something we might want to do in life and fulfilling our role in life based on our innate gifts. As an example, I might fantasize about starring in a Broadway musical. I am a dancer. I spent many, many years training. If I had put my whole heart and soul into it, might I have made it to Broadway? Well, I love to dance, but probably not…I’m missing that singing gene! More importantly, I think being a professional dancer was not who I was meant to be. For me, fantasizing about dancing on the big stage is something different than fulfilling my role as a priest. I believe being a priest is who I am, the role I am supposed to fill, and I believe all of us have that something, that who we are meant to be in this world. But, not all of us have the societal power to live fully into our innate being. This gap introduces a large, societal issue that we should reflect on and discern what role we might play in effecting change.
For this morning, let’s return to Scripture….to God knowing what is on our heart and the tiny mustard seed growing into one of the largest garden plants. What God knows in our heart beyond our innate gifts is our personality, our demeanor, our disposition, our innate goodness, and the hurts and disappointments that darken that goodness. Perhaps you’re familiar with the Cherokee Indian legend about The Two Wolves. “One evening, an elderly Cherokee Brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.’ The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ‘Which wolf wins?’ The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’”
I know the sadness and loss of this past year. I know, also, that Christ’s resurrection, the gift of new life, is ever-present and nourishes us into wholeness. Naming sadness and loss is important for healing, to protect us from feeding resentment. Just like goodness, resentment can grow from a mustard seed, but not into a living, thriving plant, into a barrier from moving forward. Through Christ’s love, we can free ourselves from the resentment that crushes our soul. We can put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We can assume the best in one another, not the worst. We can see the good around us. We can remain outward-focused and strive to make life the best for all. We can feed the innate goodness that God has implanted on our hearts. Amen.