Remarks from Pastor Alan Sherouse at the Service of Remembrance and Homegoing for First Baptist custodian, Derrick Emanuel Weeks, June 3, 2016 at Jerusalem United Holy Church in Reidsville. Derrick’s obituary can be found here. Thank you for continued prayers for his family.
It’s an honor to represent the staff and congregation of First Baptist Church of Greensboro to express our sympathy to all of you family and friends, and also our gratitude for the life of our friend and colleague, Derrick Weeks.
Derrick worked with us from October 2014 until his diagnosis in recent months, and we have been praying for him and you in these days of loss. As part of our building staff, Derrick was known for his careful work, but even more as a kind friend to those of us that worked with him. He was especially appreciated downstairs in our weekday preschool, where he is remembered as a “gentleman” who always looked out for and took care of the students, parents, and teachers.
One thing I noticed about Derrick from my vantage point was that he loved to work outside around the grounds of our church. I remember Rosemary Kellam – our Operations Director – commenting from time to time on how much pride Derrick took in the flowers. Part of his work was taking care of the beds by the entryway filled with annuals – “annuals” because their life cycle is one year. Those flowerbeds had never looked as good as they did in the years that Derrick worked here, Rosemary has said. I’ve thought about that many times as I’ve walked past those beds since Derrick’s diagnosis and passing.
Jesus observed such things in his world, too. In the gospel of Matthew, he relates it this way: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
A tiny seed. Planted in the earth. A fragile process. Easily neglected. Sometimes overshadowed. In Matthew, as the story of this mustard seed is told, Jesus has just told the parable of the weeds, suggesting that the Kingdom of God will not overtake evil or interfere dramatically with sin and injustice. It will let the weeds grow up untouched around the flora. The mustard seed is so often surrounded by weeds.
I guess our lives can feel like that sometimes. And so this parable of seeds and planting is ultimately an answer to the question: what difference does it make? Our efforts? Our work? Our labor? Our seemingly small lives? Even Jesus had people wonder about the consequence of his own life. Those closest to him wondered about his effectiveness at times and questioned his strategy every now and then.
It’s easy for us to feel small. But one biblical scholar has explained it this way: “While it is the characteristic of mustard seeds to be small, it is their characteristic also to be alive.” That’s the thing about the kingdom of God Jesus proclaims – though it can seem little, still it is alive. Alive in us. Alive in our work in this world. Alive in Derrick.
Jesus tells us how the smallest of seeds will one day become the greatest of trees, where the birds of the air will nest. It’s an echo of the Old Testament, where the prophet Ezekiel envisioned God’s reign as a great cedar, where all kinds of birds – all kinds of people – would come together in serenity. Of course, mustard seeds only grow into stubby little mustard bushes, about 2 to 6 feet high. It would take a miracle for this small seed to grow into an enormous tree, just as it would take a miracle for God’s kingdom to reign from our small efforts.
But that’s what Jesus expects. Jesus proclaims that through the smallest of things, God will miraculously transform all violence into peace, all fear into security, all pain into rejoicing. One day, loneliness will open up to a realm where all are in community. Homelessness and brokenness will give way to a kingdom with many rooms – space enough for all. Tragedy will be no more, as God works to create a new heaven and a new earth. The smallest of seeds will become the greatest of trees, with refuge and space abundant.
The kingdom of God is little, but it is alive and working in this world not through dramatic action, but through small things. Like a life faithfully lived. So we can all walk by the places Derrick worked and lived and see things growing today. In fact, Rosemary was telling me this week me that those flowers – the “annuals” only supposed to last a year – have lived longer than anyone would have expected, because Derrick took such good care of them. Botanists would tell you they would only last for a season. Derrick Weeks knew they had life even beyond that. And of course, God knows that even when they die they will yet be reborn. The smallest plant will become the greatest tree where all can find rest in the love of God: you, me, and Derrick our brother even now.