May 6, 2018

“Mission Awareness Sunday”

Passage: Psalm 22: 6-22 and Matthew 13: 31-32

At the March Ladies Aid Meeting Kathy Spruit did devotions on Parables. So when we were researching ideas for this service we came across an order of service on the Presbyterian Website.

She first told us that a parable is simple story used by Jesus to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. One third of Jesus teachings were in the form of parables. There are 50 different parables mainly found in Matthew, Luke and Mark. A parable is made up of a physical idea that is turned into a spiritual meaning. Many of the stories are about agriculture, fisherman and people who worked the land.

Jesus was the greatest teacher ever. He wanted people to know who God was, what God was like, and what life was like in His kingdom. Jesus wanted to change the way people thought. He used real life stories in his parables. . Parables used common, everyday people and situations to teach things that are difficult to understand.

It is sort of like this: A kindergarten teacher could say that 5-1=4. This is truth. But for young children who do not yet understand subtraction, she might say, “I had 5 apples on my desk. Yesterday Sam ate one of my apples. Now I have 4 apples left.” The apple story is a parable about subtraction.
Parables are classified and the one we are going to use today “The Story of the Mustard Seed” is a Kingdom Parable.

We first read about this parable in Matthew but references are also made to this parable in Mark and Luke.

Kingdom parables have similar elements --
1. Kingdom of heaven = earthly sphere of profession of faith
2. A man = Christ
3. A field = the world
4. A seed = Word of God
5. Growth = spreading of the word and church growth
6. The presence of evil = birds, weeds, air and yeast

When you hear the word mustard, you probably think of the spicy yellow stuff you put on a hot dog.

A mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds there is. But when it is planted in the ground, it grows up to be one of the largest plants. It can look more like a tree than a plant. As Jesus said, birds even come and rest in its branches
From our scripture reading we see that the mustard seed in the parable grows to be a huge tree, representing the tiny beginnings of Christianity when just a few disciples began to preach and teach the gospel. Eventually, the kingdom grew to huge proportions, encompassing the entire world and spreading over centuries. God’s Kingdom continues to grow today.

Today on this Mission Awareness Sunday we must stop to think about faith, our place in the universe and helping our neighbour.

There are over a billion people in our world living in poverty. In a world of abundance, we wonder why this happens and where God is in tragedy, and what we can do about it. We can think about our corner of the universe and what we can do to help our global neighbours as an expression of our faith.

How can we as people of the global north best help the peoples of the developing south? Many efforts have been made to solve problems and promote development.
There was the Green Revolution, designed to banish world hunger. They tried to change financial situations through helping developing countries to develop an economic system. Good governance practices were pursued as the one key to social and economic progress. Experts said that better education of girls was also the solution for achieving social and economic progress. And there have been periods when progress was defined by forgiving national debt or preserving the environment.

There has been considerable progress made in many developing countries. But we still spend vast amounts of time, energy and money trying to find out what works best. International development aid by all countries now amounts to one hundred and sixty billion dollars a year. That’s more than half of the entire annual budget of the Government of Canada.

What then as Canadian Presbyterians can we do to do good in the developing world. What is our capacity to make a difference with our annual mission budget of about four million dollars?

What do the scriptures tell Christians about our responsibility to people in developing countries? How can we deploy our small resources and make a big difference?

Today we reflect on the well-known parable of the mustard seed as a possible solution. The mustard seed wasn’t a seed that farmers planted in their gardens. It just grew in the fields. But Jesus chose the mustard seed to illustrate how something small and undervalued can grow and serve…grow not for its own sake, but for the sake of the birds of the air, giving them a place to rest, to observe, to recover.

The parable of the mustard seed is often interpreted to represent the power of faith, the spread of the Kingdom and the growth of the Church. From its small and humble beginnings, Christ knew that Christianity would flourish and grow in the world, standing as a tall and welcoming faith, giving people a place of shelter. Our Church’s support for international development mirrors that vision of the small becoming big, of modest investments making a difference in people’s lives, of giving people a better and safer home.

I am going to touch on a few activities championed by PWS&D that provide an example of how we help other people rest and recover.
In Ghana, there can be a tendency to attribute unfortunate, unexplained events such as a crop failure or the death of a child to witchcraft, with disastrous results for the women involved. Based on rumours, a woman can be called a witch, subjected to abuse and forced to flee to a camp for outcasts. And there they find the results of the mustard seeds that we have sown.

Working with the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, women have access to vocational training for themselves and elementary schooling for their children. In their home villages we support education about human rights, respect for women and knowledge about the health problems people once believed that witches caused. Sometimes it takes years, but eventually many women can return to their homes, their families and their communities. It’s a big thing we are accomplishing with only small contributions.

The staff at PWS&D have seen firsthand what can be done with just a little. As part of the sustainable livelihoods project in Malawi, a woman named Sara was loaned five dollars. She invested it in a small retail business and netted two dollars. With this small profit she bought a set of dishes. Those dishes meant that each member of her family could now have their own plate rather than eating from a common pot. A five dollar investment significantly improved her family’s health.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world—ranking number 170 of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Malawi is a country where we Presbyterians have many historical bonds – over half of our mission budget is spent here and where your support is directed at the poorest of the poor. Set on a scorched landscape where rivers have become dried up riverbeds, children rise each morning, often with nothing to face but a day with no programs or resources or toys. Some schools are so poor there are no chairs or desks or chalkboards… just teachers left to their own resources.

And of course, there is death. In Malawi, one in every one hundred pregnant women die, and you may have to beat those odds many times over because you may be pregnant often. Nearly three in every one hundred babies die. These women and children are victims of high rates of adolescent pregnancies, unskilled birth attendants and poor emergency care.

But change is happening in these difficult circumstances, through your support, along with funds from the Government of Canada. Community organizers teach about good nutrition and early warning signs in pregnancy. Groups are formed for men to learn about their responsibilities to their wives and newborns. Women are encouraged to move into hospitals weeks before their delivery dates and when that can’t happen, bicycle ambulances are provided to get them to the hospital for delivery.

In the hospitals safe and private delivery rooms are being built and good quality neo-natal care given. The death rates have dropped dramatically. In some areas there have been no deaths at all, and in others the numbers are well below the national average. Together, through PWS&D, we are helping save many lives and truly carrying out the gospel’s call for social justice.

PWS&D is also the agency of The Presbyterian Church that co-ordinates refugee sponsorship. Over the years, PWS&D has helped many congregations including our Presbytery of Seaway Glengarry to support the displaced of the world as they build new lives in our country. To refugees, sponsorship by churches is a life-altering event, not just for them, but also for future generations. And it is all built on the thousands of small contributions that people like you have made to support the work we do together through PWS&D.

The scriptures clearly support feeding the hungry, and giving them resources that are a necessity of every day living.

Christ urged us to live in the present, and that means responding to very present needs. We often think of the support for those refugees we have brought to Canada. But we need to play a vital role in providing relief for those who stay behind. The United Nations reports that the number of refugees uprooted from Syria has surpassed four million—over half of these refugees are children. We cannot begin to help most of them. But we can help some of them. One of PWS&D programs provides food vouchers to Syrians who have fled to Lebanon. One of the men we helped named Abdal says, “I am not allowed to work here. Without the vouchers, my family would have nothing to eat. You have wide hands. Thank you for not forgetting us.”

There are many things we’ll never know or how to solve every problem in the developing world. But, we are blessed with enough knowledge to act in a faithful and effective way toward our global neighbours.

Seeds are a miracle of life. They are the sign of what is possible. They speak to the abundance that God intends for the creation. The seeds we sow in gardens and fields are meant for blessing. The seeds we sow in our acts of compassion, healing, peace-making, and justice-seeking, small as they seem, like the mustard seed, are also meant to bless. The seeds we sow are intended to produce a harvest far beyond the tiny seed we start with.

We know that through doing small things, through our generosity, people’s lives will be made better. In many cases, you and I won’t see the result. But just as the early Christians sowed their small mustard seeds knowing that a Church and a faith would grow from them, so we can make our own contributions to mission such as Presbyterian Sharing, PWSD or the Syrian Refugee fund, knowing that in our small way we are truly accomplishing big things and advancing the Kingdom. Please share the good news about what our Church is accomplishing in Christ’s name with your families, your neighbours and your colleagues

Seize the Day Inspirations

A friendly look, a kindly smile, one good act and life’s worthwhile.
You may be only someone in the world but to someone else you may be the world.
Four things you can’t recover
• The stone after the throw
• The word after it’s said
• The occasion after it’s missed
• The time after it’s gone
No act of kindness is to small. The gift of kindness may start as a small ripple that over time can turn into a tidal wave affecting the lives of many.
Peace is a daily, weekly, monthly process gradually changing opinions, slowing eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures. John F Kennedy
Let us Pray

Thank you, God, for the everyday miracles that your presence brings to our lives: the ordinary acts of love, faith, and kindness that become extraordinary, the perspectives that change, and the new possibilities that emerge. Amen.
Worship Source Resources for Mission Awareness Sunday taken from PSWD website and created by Rob Robertson.