~ Sermon ~ Sunday, June 17th, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
I was driving down County Road 700 North in Ripley County, Indiana, when I saw this solitary form out in the middle of what appeared to be a recently planted field of about 100 acres. I slowed down and could tell that it was our neighbor, Ron, a grain and hog farmer, who also happened to be the church’s organist. It looked to me like he had lost something perhaps off a piece of farm equipment. Not being in any particular hurry, I stopped to see if I could help.
As I walked across the field I could see that he was kneeling, but he wasn’t looking directly down at the ground rather he was looking down the length of the field. As I approached he looked up at me and said, “I’ve been doing this for years and it never ceases to amaze me!”
Then I saw what he saw, a hundred acres, row upon row of soybean seedlings most of them just breaking the surface of the blue clay soil of southeastern Indiana.
On the back page of our worship folder there is a photo I took of a tiny balsam fir seedling that had taken root in a crack in a ledge high in the White Mountains of northern New England. If I were to give this photo a one word title it would be “Tenacity.” As I was preparing for today’s message I thought of this photo and wondered if Jesus had come in our time in a little northern out of the way UP town, might he have used the image of the fragrant balsam fir or the tall white pine or perhaps more in keeping with Jesus’ imagery would it have been the Juneberry, a tree that doesn’t grow to much of a height, for such was the illustration of the mustard seed Jesus intended. The kingdom of God is like unto a fir seedling, clinging to life in a crack of the rock . . .
Seeds. In chapter 4 of Mark’s gospel we hear Jesus speaking a fair amount about seeds. The chapter begins with the “Parable of the Sower” and seeds scattered indiscriminately over all conditions of soils. And in today’s reading we have two more parables involving seeds.
Mark is right up front about his understanding of Jesus’ ministry, he informs his readers in the first chapter 14th verse: “Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news.’”
And here in chapter 4 Jesus, teaching in his preferred style, the story, says, “The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground. . .”
The mystery of growth. Though the farmer would “sleep and rise night and day, and the seed sprout and grow, the farmer does not know how.” Ron bent low in his field marveling at the miracle of life, the mystery of growth. None of it our doing. We can work with God but not without God! Ron can prepare the soil, which in that blue clay took a great deal of careful timing and groundwork! He can purchase good seed. He can make sure his equipment plants the seed the proper depth but in the end he cannot bring about the sprouting and growth. That lies with the mystery of God within each seed.
We live in an age when the mystery and surprise of life including God’s power are being squeezed out of our consciousness. This parable asks us not to close our imaginations too quickly, because there is a dynamic in life that is mysteriously beyond our comprehension and intellectual grasp. Jesus is perhaps suggesting that history has been made ready, just as fields are made ready to be planted. And now the reign of God has burst into history in the person of Jesus. If this is the case, that the reign of God has come among us, why are we often so nonchalant about it? Jesus uses the second parable to speak to this.
“With what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable (story) will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed . . .”
The mustard seed was a common metaphor in Palestine for “the smallest thing.” The plant could grow as tall as a house, the birds seem to love its tiny black seeds. Like the mustard seed, the followers of Jesus are a ragtag bunch, full of doubts, full of fears, unable to comprehend much of what Jesus is doing and teaching them. And the coming Kingdom of God into human history rests with them?
Jesus seems to emphasize, “Yes, you are this scruffy seed through which the kingdom of God will be proclaimed and given form in this world.”
Jesus lifts up the grace and power of God to accomplish this, if God can take the smallest seed and make of it a great plant that provides sustenance and shelter for others, imagine what God can do with the seed of the gospel residing within each believer! It is at once a humbling and exhilarating parable for the followers of Jesus in any age.
Our passage closes with a bit of mystery. Earlier in chapter 4:11-12 “And [Jesus] said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables, in order ‘that they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand, so that they may not turn and be forgiven.’””
Jesus uses these words to add emphasis to the parable of the sower. He seems to be saying that he uses parables to guard against too many people comprehending what he is saying, which always struck me a bit odd. Why wouldn’t he want as many as possible to “get it?”
It has been suggested that Jesus is looking for hungry hearts, those really longing for the bread of life, those for whom the world’s answers are not adequate. In all these parables in the fourth chapter of Mark, the seed is the foremost image. Indeed, it is often important throughout the Biblical story. Ezekiel uses it, John uses it, Paul uses it. It is an enduring symbol of life growing out of what seems not only small but dead. Out of the most insignificant beginnings, God creates a mighty wind that will blow throughout the entire world. Through these “seedy” parables, Jesus invites seekers in every place and age to consider joining in this kind of journey.
What seed(s) of God’s goodness, mercy, grace, justice, peace are lying dormant in our hearts?
Isn’t it time to bring them forth into the light and nourish them with care?
It is amazing at the potential God has placed in each of us, in every church and fellowship of believers where ever we may gather together.
Are our hearts hungry enough to receive the word and to allow it to grow?