“With Sighs Too Deep for Words – Seeds of Hope”

 I must be doing something wrong.  But I am perplexed as to what it could be.  This spring, as last spring, I went to my garden and scattered some seeds.  Sweet Alyssum, Nasturtium, California Poppy.  And what came up?  Nothing.  Just like last year.  Even with lots of rain.

We scattered packets of seeds of California Poppies around the statue of St. Francis at church.  And what came up?  Nothing.  Just like last year. Even with lots of rain.

Actually, there might have been a few new sweet alyssum plants among the leftovers from previous seasons.  Hard to tell. Lots of weeds, but that was last week’s parable.

Needless to say, I’ve become a bit skeptical when it comes to biblical stories about seeds.  Even that fabled mustard seed.  No birds are going to nest in anything I’ve planted.  Oh, there was one exception.  One year I was so late in purchasing a Christmas tree that I had to settle for a small living tree in a pot.  The boys never let me live that down.

After Christmas, I took it outside and planted it in the place where before had been a plum tree.  It had died and the yards-men came, cut it down, and hauled away the stump.  So, I figured that our little pine would be a suitable replacement.  That tree is now over fifteen feet high.  Yes, there are birds in its branches.

That little tiny tree five years ago I so lovingly planted, I wouldn’t have given you a nickel for its chances.  Surely the lawnmower guys or something else would have gotten it.  This luxurious pine tree by the garage is my substitute mustard seed.        And nasturtium seed. And poppy seed. And alyssum seed.

“Another parable Jesus put before the crowds, saying “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his fields; it is the smallest of all 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 nests in its branches.”[1]   

This week we have witnessed a beautiful flowering of the Tree of Liberty in the life of Representative John Lewis.  Several years ago, he had written a graphic novel March, in three volumes covering the civil rights struggle he so deeply was involved in.

To watch that historic footage of the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge on Bloody Sunday when John was almost killed by rampaging sheriff deputies is still heart wrenching.  Regardless of how many times I view it. 

Marchers were trampled by mounted horsemen.  They were bloodied by deputies’ batons.  They were arrested.  Most anyone else would have quit after such a rout. But not John Lewis.  Not the women and men who led that contingent of marchers.  They were not quitters.  For them, the promises of this nation were on the line.  This was existential survival for them.

“We do not k now how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”  These are the sighs and groans of those left injured on the side of the road that horrific morning.[2]

After the TV footage hit the 6:00 o’clock news and phones began ringing at the White House and in newsrooms across the country.  And a call went out across America.  Come march with us.  Stand with us.  President Johnson had told those leaders that he didn’t have the power to get the necessary civil rights legislation passed.  Martin Luther and Jessie Jackson said that they would “just have to get him that power.”  That led to the March to Montgomery. King, Jackson and Lewis decided they would have to drop the problem of white racism right on Governor George Wallace’s doorstep at the capitol.

Pastors, nuns, rabbis, priests – Christians, lay and ordained, came to heed the call.  Johnson realized he would have to send federal troops to protect the marchers.  The nation had been outraged by the brutality of the response by sheriffs.  As a result of those heroic marchers, Johnson now had the power.

Mighty seeds and marvelous stories have been passed down to us out of those struggles.  Another story, this a sports story is for you fans of the Clippers.

In the Sports section of the Sunday paper there was an item on the Clippers coach, Doc Rivers.  Coach Rivers told of a campaign trip with Andrew Young and John Lewis.  At the time Young was running for governor of Georgia.  Doc was then playing for the Atlanta Hawks. 

On this campaign trip, Andrew had given a speech at an all-white congregation.  Afterwards, as the party was boarding the plane for home, Andrew asked how they had thought speech went. 

It was a great speech.  The crowd went wild.  Andrew asked Doc, “And I jokingly said, ‘Well, Mr. Young, I thought the speech was great, but I don’t think you’re gonna get one vote from that church.’ And everybody started laughing.

“And John Lewis, he says, ‘Well, we’re not trying to get all of them.  We’re just trying to get one at a time.  And, eventually, it will be all of them.’  I thought that was just one powerful statement.”

John Lewis knew that politics was a game of addition.  About continuing to build on what was possible.[3]  It is as a seedling patiently unfolding at first two leaves. And that’s how resistance would melt away.  “Nearer and nearer draws the time…”

That little Seed of Hope, the Kindom of God, had its birth with John Lewis organizing sit-ins at lunch counters – that little seed grew into a great tree of accomplishment.  It was watered by Gospel values and Gospel hope.  At the Capital, John Lewis will rest in state, the “Conscience of the House.”  A man who was the offspring of share croppers.  He was a man noted by friend and foe as a Christian gentleman — a strong man who never compromised his values, and in the process did not demean others.

John Lewis’s well-lived life has become a mighty oak under whose shade we all, black and white, can briefly find refreshment, until it is time to pick up and resume that march towards Freedom Land.  Always processing toward a greater equality, a greater freedom and a greater compassion.  God has surely nurtured the seed that was John’s being and life, and inspires today. That is the Kindom of God –  as my friend, the Rev. Mike Kinman, aptly terms it.  It’s about the birth of a community in the Spirit where all are kin.

Recently, featured on “Morning Joe,” was Jennifer Palmieri, introducing her new book, She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man’s World.

She begins the prologue by recounting the small beginning of the Women’s Movement.  A seed planted, if you will that would eventually grow into such a mighty plant.  The Vote.  The right of independently owning property, Title IX, careers in science, politics and mathematics.  And to think that a previous presiding bishop in the Episcopal Church was a woman.  Not just any woman, Catherine Jefferts Shori is a PhD marine biologist.  It’s marvelous we have had such women’s leadership.  Through the struggle for full personhood, God has given life and breath to this movement.  The flourishing of these women is the Kindom of God,

It’s about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez standing up for herself and all women as she called out the despicable behavior, the piggish sexism of Republican Congressman Ted Yoho.  The vulgarities he spat at her on the steps of the House, she read into the Congressional Record.  Her assertion of her God-given dignity and the dignity of all women members of the body was a cultural earthquake. These women are going to take no more…stuff…from the lewd and crude crowd.  And the stars in heaven rejoiced.  This is an astounding moment in God’s unfolding Kindom.  And from Ted’s fellow Republicans, silence.  Crickets.  The Kindom is grounded in RESPECT.[4]  My God, are we ever at a new day, and it is glorious to behold!  For women and men alike.  Fathers, take care in how you raise your sons.  And for the Ted Yohos of the world – women and their supporters will remember your behavior on November 3rd.  Just sayin…

Look at those amazing women mathematicians, those unrecognized women who calculated the trajectories of the first trips to the Moon. Only recently have they received the accolades due their accomplishments.  We’re talking of the dark ages back in the time of slide rules.  I bet many reading this haven’t a clue as to what a slide rule or a log table is, let alone what to do with them.  They’re now in the Museum of Science and Industry.

In Alaska I knew a woman who had been part of the corps of female pilots who transported military aircraft from factories to air bases.  The flew the largest aircraft for delivery, maintenance and modification.  They flew them across the Atlantic to bases in England.  They trained the men who would become fighter pilots. These were the members of W.A.S.P. – Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.  Sometimes, flippantly called the “Fly Girls,” these women pilots quickly proved their mettle.

“In 1944, during the graduation ceremony for the last WASP training class, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Henry “Hap” Arnold, said that when the program started, he wasn’t sure “whether a slip of a girl could fight the controls of a B-17 in heavy weather.”

“Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men,” Arnold said.[5]

I believe what those first ordained women in my denomination asserted early on, “If a woman was fit to bear our Lord’s body at birth and to receive his body from the cross, she is certainly fit to bear his body at the altar.” Of course, I didn’t start out with such a view.  I believe I was the stupid jerk who said, “I’m all in favor of women’s liberation – as long as I don’t have to change.”  Fortunately, some kind, and some not-so-kind, women quickly disabused me of that notion.  I’m still a work in progress.  Ask my wife.

Ms. Palmieri tells of the very early beginnings of the women’s movement.Early on, a small innocuous beginning, a very small seedling sprang forth on July 1848 when “four women sat at Mary Ann M’Clintock’s kitchen table in upstate New York to draft the Declaration of Sentiments and accompanying resolutions that were to be presented at the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls later that month.”  In that august group were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Mary Ann’s two grown daughters Elizabeth and Mary Ann.[6]

This dream was put to paper in a time when women had absolutely no legal or political power. Women’s suffrage was even considered by many women as perhaps a step too far.

God gave force and power to that seedling, for with in each human breast is the movement toward fulfilment.  This was a force that could not be squelched. This drive to fulfillment is God’s mighty power moving towards completion of what each person, each woman, each man is meant to become. It is what Paul means by “perfection.”  The unfolding and renewing of God’s Kindom.  “Nearer and nearer…”

This incipient movement is a seed that has become the largest coterie of women ever to serve in congress.  It has blossomed into the many who offered their candidacy for the presidency on our nation.  These women let loose in our world are like that song, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”  You can find them in labs pulpits, and in cockpits.  You can find them in congressional offices – yes find them elected.  You can find them in class rooms and find them with stethoscopes.  You can find them most any place you’d care to look   And, we are all the better for it.

God’s power budding forth in each, brings forth a miracle. To paraphrase a line from a favorite hymn, “nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be, when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.”[7]

Every evening I look forward to the PBS News Hour with Judy Woodruff. (Did I mention that she is a national treasure?  But that’s another sermon).  At the end of the newscast she has a segment devoted to those we have lost as a result of COVID-19. 

I find Judy’s stories are precious seeds in my soul packing a wallop. They are motivation I need to get up and do whatever I can do to stop this pandemic where I live.

Here are a couple of their stories:

“Postal worker Jesus Collazos was known for taking the time to greet every neighbor along his mail route in Arlington, Virginia.  The 67-year-old spent over two decades with the U.S. Postal Service, after immigrating from Colombia in 1978.  Jesus and his wife raised his two children in a home he first discovered along his route.

“The proud grandfather loved posting family photos on social media always with the simple caption: “Life is good.”[8]

“Lynika Strozier never gave up on her dream to become a biologist.  As a child, she was diagnosed with a severe learning disability, but went on to earn two master’s degrees in biology and science education.  She became a researcher of plant DNA at the world-renowned Field Museum in Chicago, and a science professor at Malcolm X College.

“Fun-loving and friendly, Lynika was at home in the lab as she was out with friends, or watching horror movies with her grandmother, Sharon, who raised her.  Lynika was 35 years old.[9]

As I allow these stories, these seeds budding forth with abounding Grace, to rest in my heart, watered by prayers of gratitude, they blossom into the desire to do my part, to be a faithful citizen ot this grand Republic. Wear my mask.  Remind others gently to wear their masks. Social distance. Stay home as possible.

I lift up in my Facebook posts – diatribes and urgent pleas — the urgency of combatting the COVID-19 scourge that has taken so many precious lives.  And simply give thanks for the lives that those they have touched.  And their memory is a reminder to give thanks for each morning that I still have an opportunity to sally forth into the struggle.  Always a happy warrior.

I now close, giving Rep. John Lewis the “Last Word.” It’s called “Necessary Trouble.”  Our Lord would have known all about “Necessary Trouble,” as would his followers down through the ages. John Lewis has been a marvelous scion sprung from the Tree of Liberty.  For his life and sacrifice our nation is greatly indebted.  Never, never discount the power of God welling up in the human breast.  Look at the mighty miracle that was, and that lives on, in John Lewis’s testimony.  And what a mighty tree it continues to be.  We all, black and white, first nations folk and those who have come lately – we all can rest in those branches.  The glorious Kindom of God.”HH    JJJJKK

Necessary Trouble

This is the way another generation did it, and you too can follow that path, studying the way of peace, love and nonviolence, and finding a way to get in the way.  Finding a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.

With all sainted troublemakers down through the ages, let us say, AMEN.

[1] Matthew 13:31, Revised Standard Version.

[2] Romans 8:26, Revised Standard Version.

[3] Mirjam Swanson, “Rivers reflects on civil rights icon, politician Rep. Lewis,” The Inland Valley Daily News, Sports Section, p. 2.

[4] Luke Broadwater and Catie Edmondson, “Ocasio-Cortez Defies Sexism by Shaming It on House Floor,” New York Times, July 24, 2020.

[5] Susan Stamberg, “Female WWII Pilots: The Original Fly Girls,” Morning Edition, NPR, March 9, 2010.


[6] Jennifer Palmieri, She Proclaims: our Declaration of Independence from a Man’s World (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2020) 2.

[7] Arthur Cambell Ainger, The Hymnal 1982, “God is Working His Purpose Out” (New York: Church Hymnal Corp.)   534.

[8] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/in-memory-of-5-more-u-s-victims-of-the-coronavirus.

[9] Ibid.

July 26, 2020

Pentecost 8, Proper 12

“With Sighs Too Deep for Words – Seeds of Hope” The Rev. John C. Forney

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