The persistent power of bees, seeds and trees

SERMON

Sunday 13 June

1 Samuel 15.34-16.13

2 Corinthians 5.6-10, 5.14-17

Mark 4.26-34

The persistent power of bees, seeds and trees                  ©Suzanne Grimmett

I had bee hives when I used to live outside the city, and they were a source of fascination to me. The total commitment to the life of the hive, the skill and artistry of the different roles of the different bees and then the miracle and mystery of honeycomb and honey that all of this endeavour and organisation produces amazed me. We know now that the disappearance of insects across the globe is cause for great alarm as their role in the building blocks of life is so critical that, without them, all the web of life is threatened- no wonder it is often known as insectageddon.

Insects are one example of the interconnection and, indeed, interdependence of life. The pandemic is another, rather brutal, reminder of the fragility of our global shared existence. Yet even as we recognise the fragility, we can also be drawn to wonder and awe when we consider the intricacy and complexity of life on this planet. There is a power at work here that should keep us humble as we consider the abundant mystery and gift of life.

There is something of this in Jesus’ parable. The seeds sprout, the sower knows not how. The tree grows from the tiniest of seeds and is now a haven for a diverse array of other life in increasingly complex forms. Jesus tells us this is the way of the kingdom- the way of God’s will be enacted on earth. It is a mystery, but not in the sense of mystification. As Catherine Keller notes, too often the church has hidden behind “it’s a holy mystery- don’t ask questions” as a means to camouflage the power drives of those who don’t want to be questioned.[1] No the mystery of which Jesus speaks is a mystery of becoming; of growing into fruitfulness, spaciousness and generativity. The mystery of God can be found in the open-ended possibility of the interactions and interdependence of all life, joined to the loving power of the one who holds everything in being and becoming. Indeed the Greek word for Genesis, the first book in the Hebrew scriptures which tells of the creation of the heavens and the earth and all living things, literally means “becoming.” If we are to be people of God, indwelt by Christ and inspired by the Spirit, we need to understand faith not as settled belief but as a lived process of being that is essentially relational and open ended, making of life both adventure and mystery.  As we hear in 2 Corinthians, “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.” Perhaps at the heart of the mystery is not only the God who holds all in life, but who we are becoming and what together, in partnership with the Spirit of Christ, we may co-create. Perhaps the real mystery is the power that makes all this possible.

And what is this power? We are quick to use terms like “almighty” to describe God, along with images of conquering armies and kingship. Like Samuel, we might be quick to size up those who look the strongest or the most impressive as possessing power and give to them authority and priority. But this kind of thinking is what has lulled the world into ignoring the silent earthly disappearance of insects, deeming such small creatures as unworthy of concern and missing their critical place in the relationship of things. What if power was to be found somewhere else entirely?

The novel, “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd tells the story of an adolescent girl’s desire for freedom and liberation from shame and abuse. The bees in the story leave a kind of honey trail of symbols that lure the teenage Lily into a vision of greater possibility for life and love. Even in her first encounter with beekeeping, Lily learns some important lessons about life from the beekeeper which she describes here;

I hadn’t been out to the hives before, so to start off she gave me a lesson in what she called ‘bee yard etiquette’. She reminded me that the world was really one bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places. Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot; wear long sleeves and pants. Don’t swat. Don’t even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates while whistling melts a bee’s temper. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.[2]

There is much wisdom for our own lives that can be drawn from that paragraph, but the “above all” should capture our attention. Above all, love, because every little thing wants to be loved. God’s power is love, and it is love that gives us all the courage to grow and become more than we might anticipate or imagine. We cannot grow without it anymore than we can of our own abilities bring the wheat to harvest or implant a seed with all it needs to become a tree of great branching shade for all. I love the way our Collect for today says with wonderful circularity, “Without you we are unable to please you”. Without goodness we are unable to be good. Or in other words, we cannot disconnect ourselves from the source of our being and expect to reflect that source. The sacred lines of relationship are what enable us to be part of the cocreation of the kingdom; a kingdom that may grow from the tiniest of seeds…or the least likely person.

But how do we stay connected? An obvious and important answer is prayer. Prayer is the way we tend the sacred connections to the divine life within and amongst us. This is not the prayer of many words or requests, but rather in simplicity and trust invites God to pray in us and through us in prayer that may say nothing but includes everything. This kind of prayer aligns our will with God’s will which always empowers and expands us. You may doubt yourself and your abilities, you may be constantly tripped up by the reminder of your failures or inadequacies. The God who holds all in being and relationship would pray in us a prayer that opens us to possibilities that we could never imagine for ourselves. This is why Jesus uses so many metaphors from the natural world of growth and life; when we abide in the source of life like branches on a vine, we will be given the courage to accept that we are accepted… and our lives will bear the fruit of that love.

The teenage Lily in the novel learns from the diligent, persistent ways of the bees and the love and acceptance of the beekeeper, that life can open to possibilities that would enable her spirit to be free of the burdens and shame of the past. She began to see that her own temptation to draw back into smallness and insignificance was the opposite of life and vitality. She discovers a greater force to be found not in the kind of power, but in the purpose of a life given over to love- not just any love, but a persistent, steadfast love. August, the beekeeper tells her;

 And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love—but to persist in love.[3]

Persistent love- the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Love that reaches out to friend and stranger, to the downtrodden and abused, and even ultimately to an enemy. Love that erupts into justice and will settle for nothing but the truth. Love which is like a never-ending spring of life that wells up to heal us and flow out to others. Love which is the lure to open up possibilities for new life and growth, turning an empty field into a rich harvest and tiny seeds into trees of breadth and vigour. Love is what creates a home and strengthens the sort of relationships that broadens to shelter others. Love is never for itself alone but always is extending its reach to enrich, empower and bless.  Or put it another way, it is the power that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

So may we turn from the love of power to the humility of love. May we know the kind of persistent love that gives us each a purpose grand enough for our lives, and is strong enough to lead us into the holy mystery of our own becoming towards all the unknown possibilities we may create together.

+Amen.


[1] Keller, Catherine, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 2008) 128

[2] Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees (New York: Penguin, 2002)

[3] Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees (New York: Penguin, 2002), 288–89.

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