KOH2RVA: Day 349

AJCES Melissa BrooksSomehow I got myself on the Mustard Seed mailing list, which means I get the e-mailed prayer requests of the Mustard Seed Sunday school class. It’s been a good way for me to keep up with the concerns of this large, vibrant class, and to pray along with them for the needs of their classmates, family, and friends. But on Monday I got this announcement from class member Mark Roane:

Good afternoon ‘Seeds,

As many of you know, our church has been helping out at the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, located at 2124 N 29th Street in Richmond’s Church Hill Area. This coming Friday, August 23, 2013 a group will be doing some interior painting at the school from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. If anyone is interested in participating, please contact Chuck Dean.

Thanks

When I got that email I put it on my calendar to drop by the Cooper School on Friday to see how the work was going, but when I got to the office yesterday things were even more piled up than usual. I wasn’t able to get away. And then at 3:57 p.m. I got this email from Mike Maruca, Head of School.

Jim:

I’m going to recommend that Our Lord put your congregation in charge of housekeeping and hospitality in heaven.

A small group was over here today and what they did was really something else. A lot of seemingly small stuff that makes all the difference and makes us look good—in the best sense. My debt to [First Baptist Church] only grows.

Blessings,

Mike

I don’t know that any of the members of that “small group” were members of the Mustard Seed Sunday school class, but I wouldn’t be surprised, because this is how it often happens:

1. One person becomes aware of a need and lets others know about it.
2. One of more of those others is moved to do something about that need.
3. The need is met in a way that makes a difference in the lives of still others.

There are kids from the housing projects in the East End who will come to the Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School on the first day of school not knowing that Mark Roane sent out an email to the Mustard Seed Class, not knowing that some of those “Seeds” responded, not knowing how much time they spent at the school or exactly what they did—knowing only that when they walk into that building they feel special, as if someone cares about them and their future, a feeling they may not have anywhere else.

Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Mustard Seeds. Thank you for the ways you allow yourselves to be used to make things on earth a little more like they are in heaven. We cannot know how far these simple acts of kindness will reach, but Jesus said the Kingdom is like a mustard seed:

It starts small and grows.

KOH2RVA: Day 282

BakeandTakeOn Saturday afternoon, June 8, I slipped into church briefly to pick up some books from my office and bumped into two women wearing vinyl ponchos and carrying cookies. It was Vicky Nicholau and Susan Bethel, just coming in from the “Bake and Take,” which is part of the way they are bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, this year.

It doesn’t sound like much, does it? Baking cookies and taking them to your neighbors? But these Kingdom-Bringers are learning how quickly the door swings open when you are carrying cookies, and what sweet conversations can ensue.

Here’s the letter Vicky sent out the next day:

Thanks to everyone who weathered the pouring rain Saturday to bring your cookies to church. And, a special thank you to Karen, Krista and Susan for helping me deliver to the many businesses on Broad Street.

Lots of sunshine followed us into a beauty salon, Direct Auto Insurance, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, the U-Haul office, an auto shop, two private homes and several other businesses. Everyone was so happy to receive their treats and one business gave us a small donation. We also invited three children to join us at Vacation Bible School the week of June 24. The woman at the U-Haul told us she listens to Dr. Somerville on TV each week (I invited her to join us “live” one Sunday).

How blessed we are to have the opportunity to share God’s love and abundance with so many.

Thank you for being a blessing to others!!

Praise Be to God!!

Vicky

As I said, it doesn’t sound like much, but then again a mustard seed doesn’t look like much, and yet Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven was just like that—a small thing that grows to become more than you can imagine. Who knows how the seeds of the Kingdom were sown as these cookies were delivered and these conversations were carried on, and who knows what results might come from something as simple as a Bake and Take?

God knows.

The rest of us will have to wait and see. Better still, we can find our own ways of scattering the seeds of the Kingdom. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be something as simple as sharing vegetables from our gardens, giving away free lemonade on a hot day, inviting neighbors over for a backyard cookout, or taking the time to listen to someone who needs to talk. As I often say, “There must be a thousand ways to bring heaven to earth.”

Find one!

KOH2RVA: Day 270

joyI talked with someone yesterday who wants more.

He didn’t put it that way exactly, but I could tell that—for him—the success of our year-long, every-member mission trip has been less than satisfying. He talked about volunteers reading to second-graders, and people building Habitat houses, and others who visit the homebound. “All good things,” he acknowledged, but he wondered if any of those things were having Kingdom results.

At first I felt a little defensive. I thought about some of those people who have shared their KOH2RVA stories with me, and the joy on their faces as they talked. “Are you saying we should stop doing that?” I asked, “That we should focus only on saving souls?” But he quickly countered, “No, not just that, but that, too.” And that’s when I began to realize that what he wants is the full Kingdom experience.

Because the Kingdom of Heaven is bigger than all the good deeds we could do and all the lost souls we could save. Jesus struggled for the words to describe it. He used to ask regularly, “What is the Kingdom of heaven like, and to what shall I compare it?” He faced the difficulty of explaining a heavenly reality to people who had never had any experience of heaven. And so he said, “It’s like finding a treasure in a field.” “It’s like watching a tiny seed grow into a tree.” “It’s like a lost son coming home.” It’s like that, but it’s not that.

It’s much, much bigger than that.

When I talk about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, I always have that bigger reality in mind. So while the Kingdom of Heaven might be like someone reading to second-graders it’s not that. It’s bigger than that. But that’s a sign of the coming Kingdom—a parable if you will.

I think what my conversation partner was saying yesterday is that he wants God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, which is just what I want, and just what Jesus wants, and if we are all feeling a kind of “holy impatience” until it comes that’s probably just what we are supposed to feel. It keeps us thinking, working, hoping, praying, sighing, longing,

For heaven on earth.

KOH2RVA: Day 152

ChildrensBooksCollageA couple of weeks ago I bumped into Emma El-Khouri in the hallway at church. Emma is how old: Five? Six? Anyway, she’s an adorable first grader, and I squatted down to talk to her about the Bible I would be giving her during the Sunday morning service. This is something we do at First Baptist: we give first graders a Bible, and Emma was looking forward to getting hers. She assured me that she could already read.

“Well, then,” I said, “this is what I want you to do: take your new Bible home, read it, and then next Sunday you can come back and tell me how you liked it.” She nodded and smiled as if she had already planned to do that (and, honestly, she probably could; that girl is whip-smart).

“I have a whole shelf full of books at home,” she said.

And that made me think of something else.

I had read something just the day before about children who don’t have any books at home—not even one. Can you imagine how deprived you would be if you never got to enter the magical world of story through the pages of a book?  It’s a big part of the reason First Baptist is sponsoring a book drive. On Valentine’s Day we hope to present every child at Glen Lea Elementary School with a book of their own.

And so I asked Emma if she would like to help.

“There are some children in our city who don’t have any books,” I said. “Do you think you could go home and find one on your shelf that you could give away?” She nodded again. “And,” I added, “do you think you could pick one of your favorite books, one that somebody would really like and not just one you want to get rid of?” She nodded again, a little more slowly this time.

This was going to cost her something.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if Emma went home and did exactly that. I think lots of people did that, because last Wednesday night at church I was almost run over by two shopping carts full of books being pushed down the hall by some of our youth.

“Wow!” I said. “Are all those for the book drive?”

“Yes,” they said. “And this is just the first load!”

It seems like a little thing: to put a book in the hands of a child who has never owned one. But the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, Jesus said. It’s a small thing that grows and grows. Who knows how Emma’s small act of kindness may change a life, how the little girl who gets her beloved book may come to treasure words and language and the One in whose name the book was given, and grow up to be the poet laureate of Virginia, writing poems about mustard seeds that become trees where the birds of the air can build their nests?

Maybe this is exactly how the Kingdom comes.

Sowing Seeds of Love

mustard seedIt sounds a little corny, doesn’t it? (or a little wheaty, or a little barley, depending on what kind of seeds you use), but at the end of my sermon on the parable of the mustard seed recently I suggested that the seed of the Kingdom might be love.  The more I’ve thought about it the more true it seems.  When we say loving words, when we do loving deeds, we sow the seeds of the Kingdom.  If we could learn to love this city, love the people we meet, love the planet we live on, then the Kingdom would come, on earth as it is in heaven.

If a kingdom can be defined as that place where a king rules, then the Kingdom of God is that place where God rules, and since God is love (1 John 4:8), the Kingdom is that place where love rules.  Right?

I was thinking those thoughts on the Monday after I preached that sermon, while I ran down Monument Avenue to Monroe Park and headed back on Main Street.  Somewhere along the way I saw that someone had chalked the word LOVE on the sidewalk, using multicolored sidewalk chalk.  The letters were big and bold, and I could almost imagine that the person who did it had heard my sermon the day before, had taken me seriously, and decided that one of the ways to sow the seeds of the Kingdom in this city was to write the word LOVE on the sidewalk where people walking along with their heads down would see it. 

I saw it, and it made me smile, to think that someone was out there sowing the seeds of the Kingdom.  Maybe you’re out there doing it too, in your own way, and maybe soon enough the world will begin to see the fruits of your labor:

Love.