Ordinary 11 B – June 17, 2012 – A Genetically Modified Church
During the past two weeks I have used church architecture to give some meaning to the triune God and the church — the body and blood of Christ. I believe buildings, like songs and words, say a lot about the people who use them. Like the architectural elements that define a building we who make up the church are beautiful, purposeful and strong.
Today the gospel, complementing the passage from Ezekiel, offers us another metaphor for the kindom  of God — the mustard seed. In Ezekiel’s words the planting of strong trees is a reference to the restoration of the Israelites and the monarchy of King David after the exile. (Interestingly, the people who escaped an Egyptian monarchy, not only established their own monarchies but worshiped God as sovereign. This is a topic for another time) The trees in Ezekiel symbolize hope for the establishment of a new kindom of God.
The image of every winged creature nesting in the trees provides a cosmic scale for the action of the God, the creator and protector of all. The planting of trees, even today, is a symbol of hope for many societies. The Israelites were not looking back to the status quo where one voice controlled all voices. They were looking ahead.
In the gospel the author tells of a mustard seed planted in the ground which will quietly grow into strong bushes. (Mustard seeds grow into bushes not trees.) This parable is a reference to the disciples and their trust that the often perceived insignificant mission of Jesus was the foundation for the emergence of a new kindom.  Notice also that Jesus does not describe that kindom. He just talks about planting seeds.
How does the parable of the mustard seed help us understand the kindom of God today? First a word about seeds. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described different opinions about the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) often referred to as transgenic organisms. 
Why should we be concerned? In the United States as in other countries our diets depend on biotech crops. On one hand the use of genetically modified seeds can be profitable to small farmers especially in developing countries. Some say transgenic seeds are essential for feeding the growing global population. Others claim these engineered seeds may be harmful to us and the biosphere. Further, some biotech giants, like Monsanto, have a history of fraud and market manipulation, human rights violations and legal attacks on small farmers. 
These reports give us good reason to support our local farm markets.
The mustard seed story needs updating. If it is a reference to the kindom of God gradually unfolding in our time how do genetically modified seeds fit into the story? Easy. We do not live in the first century. Our understanding of the church is not the one experienced by early Jewish Christians who may have listened to this very parable. It is not even the church familiar to our grandparents who used real seeds to plant crops in their backyard gardens and sprawling fields.
Ours is a church that has also been engineered and modified over time. We are no longer what we used to be. The world we live in is no longer a Medieval one. Some believe that returning to the church of yesterday will attract more members. This is not what surveys are telling us about religious behavior in America. Religious practice is fluid and diverse.
Before the Second Vatican Council Catholics claimed to have the truth, all the answers. The documents of the Council now emphasize the church as a mystery, a church that is a dynamic and ever evolving community. The Catholic liturgy is an expression of our mystery.
How does a mystery plant itself in the public square? What kinds of seeds are we sowing? Are they seeds of despair? Are they seeds of hope and potential?
Our task as a church is to produce alternatives to the difficult situations that plague people. Our strength is found in an open minded reflection on the word of God. We lend an attentive ear to the needs of humanity. We show a willingness to endure opposition and a courageous attitude that accepts diverse opinions.
The first day of summer is just days away. As we see, smell and taste all that has cropped up from seeds once planted in the ground can we imagine the possibilities for the church?
1 The word “kindom” is used in place of “kingdom.” It is a reference to a community of “kin” that cares for its members.
2 Fuller, Reginald H. and Westberg, Daniel. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: Liturgical Press. 2006 (Third Edition), pp. 198-202.