Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mustard in the Parish

The Search Committee made a decision today and the Vestry concurred as did the Bishop.  I'm going off on a three-week vacation, planned for over a year, so when I get back, I'll just have time to pack up my things and move out.  Ah, the life of an interim. Today's sermon owes it theme to It's Margaret.  I initially had a different plan, but because of no decision, I had to scrap it and this is the result.

If you ever go to Napa Valley in California in the early part of the year (winter here), you’ll see fields of cheerful yellow flowers of the mustard plant.  The mustard helps replenish the soil in the vineyards. In fact mustard will grow just about anywhere.  It can grow as large as a small tree and birds do roost in it. There are some forty different types of mustard plant, but only about three of them are used for cooking—And it’s quite amazing how many types of mustard can be made from these three types of seeds.

God makes the mustard plant in many different varieties, and what is true for plants is true for us humans.  Just look around this church. The color of our skins may be pretty much the same, and most of us claim to be Episcopalians, but scratch the surface and you’ll find an incredible variety of people.  People prepared for this particular time in their life by all their life experiences—where they’ve lived, who raised them, their basic personality, and lots of other factors.

But to get back for a moment to the mustard, just look at all the kinds of prepared mustard you can find in any supermarket.  The data on mustards comes from a blog that I read written by It's Margaret.

There’s Dijon Mustard: made with brown and/or black seeds, seasonings, and the juice of unripened grapes, or white wine, or wine vinegar or a combination of all three.

There’s Bordeaux Mustard: Made with unfermented wine grape juice, usually pale yellow in color.

There’s Beaujolais Mustard: Similar to Bordeaux, but made with different grapes lending a deep burgundy color.

And how about Creole Mustard: Brown mustard seeds are marinated in vinegar, ground and mixed with a hint of horseradish into a hot, spicy mustard.

Or Meaux Mustard: Roughly crushed, multi-colored mustard seeds mixed with vinegar and spices.

There’s German Mustard: Mild to hot, spicy and mildly sweet. It can range from smooth to coarse-ground, pale yellow to brown in color.

There’s English Mustard: Made from both white and brown or black seeds, flour, and turmeric. If your mother was like mine she had a tin of Colman's mustard in the cupboard.

There’s Chinese Mustard: from mustard powder and water or wine mixed to a paste.

There’s Sweet Mustard: sweetened with honey, syrup, or sugar, and can begin with a base of hot or mild mustard seeds depending on personal tastes.

Then there’s American Mustard: the mildest-flavored mustard, made with white mustard seeds mixed with salt, spices and vinegar, usually with the spice called turmeric added to enhance the bright color. This style was first manufactured in 1904 by George T. French as "Cream Salad Mustard," and has become the standard for yellow mustard in America.

But that’s not the end, there are Flavored Mustards, where the addition of various individual herbs, spices, vegetables, and fruits result in such mustards as horseradish, chili, lemon, raspberry and even blueberry flavored mustards. There are literally hundreds to choose from and make, limited only by your imagination.

Look around the church this morning. What kind of mustard are you and what kind of mustard is your neighbor?  I would guess that some of you would never use any kind other than French’s.  Others would only use Dijon or a German mustard.  Or maybe you use French’s on hot dogs and Dijon on ham.  The choices are out there.

And choices are what is on all our minds this morning.  I’m sure the word has gotten around that the search committee couldn’t make a decision this past Thursday.  I’m sure, because word has gotten back to me about qualities of the two candidates that should have been held in confidence.  Let me assure you that the committee has two wonderful candidates and that is the problem. It’s a wonderful problem.  It is hard to choose when half the committee likes French’s and the other half likes Dijon.  I’ve spoken to the Bishop and he is happy with either candidate and is the Deployment Officer.  So you can see the dilemma.  Today they’re going to meet again.  On the advice of the diocese, I’m going to put on my consultant’s hat and sit with them to help them through the process.

Are there other choices?  Sure there are, but none of them are as satisfying as making a decision now.  By the way, it is the Vestry, in consultation with the diocese who would decide what to do if the search committee really doesn’t make a decision. One option would be that you and I would have to put up with each other for another six months or so while the committee gets new names and makes a choice.  But you’ve already got two good candidates, and I don’t think Jesus is going to apply for the position.  You could take a break for six months and then get a new search committee together. In the meantime you could figure out how French’s and Dijon work together to bring about God’s kingdom.  The Vestry could ask the bishop to appoint a priest-in-charge for two years and then if you and the priest decide it’s a fit, the priest could be made permanent, otherwise you start another search.

I think the better option is to do like the Roman Church does and lock the committee into the chapel until they can go downstairs to the fireplace and send up some white smoke.  Do keep them in your prayers this afternoon. So yes, there are choices, but remember the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard plant.  There are many varieties of mustard, and God loves them all.  The choices that we make to bring about God’s kingdom are ours to make, and God needs our help to make them flourish.  Whatever choice the search committee does make will be a good one.  They’ve prayed every time they’ve met and you have prayed for them too, every Sunday.  Discernment is not an easy thing to do.  Remember Paul’s words. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!”  New birth is hard, for us humans, but Ezekiel speaks of God taking a sprig from a cedar and planting it on a high mountain where it will grow and flourish.  This mountain is the place where God’s mustard seed will take root and grow.  Amen.

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