6/14/2015 Third Sunday after Pentecost Text is Mark 4:26-34.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
The Gospel lesson for today is two parables, two stories, told by a master story teller, Jesus Christ. Jesus was a master with words. He had a way of telling the truth, the truth about God and His kingdom, in a way which was understandable and relevant to the average person. That meant that often he would use images that the farming and sheep herding folk who came to hear him were very familiar with as they involved their everyday lives.
Now, all of us are storytellers – even if we wouldn’t call ourselves such. Some of us are good at building a story line and embellishing the details, holding our listeners attention, and then bringing the story at just the right time to its climax. The best stories involve things that really happened to us. Yes, those stories may be exaggerated a bit, but they are based in the truth and not fiction. And while they may be told to our children to teach them something, they are usually told simply to entertain our friends with tales of “Guess what happened to me on the way to the church or the grocery store or the gym or any other place we happen to go?” I don’t think any of us can claim that when we are telling stories we are speaking in parables.
Jesus’ parables are the most amazing examples of storytelling power. They are more than a simple story of what happened yesterday. They do more than entertain an audience. They carry with them a powerful and life-giving message. This message is more than an instruction as to how to avoid pitfalls, or a morality lesson, window-dressed in allegory, although some of that can be found in Jesus’ parables. Certainly, the seed parables in today’s Gospel lift up the virtues of patience, honest work with the soil, and faithful waiting upon the Lord. But, there is more to these parables than the message lying on the surface, and it’s the deeper message that Jesus’ wants to get across to his hearers. For, beyond the surface, these parables give us an open invitation to look at the good things in life in order that we may understand something about God and become aware of the presence of God’s kingdom in our world and in our own lives. In telling the parables about the seed, its growth and the harvest, Jesus is announcing that the kingdom of God is at hand and he invites us to participate in the work of that kingdom in the here and now.
The kingdom of which Jesus speaks is not a stagnant place, opened to us only as a final residence upon death. The kingdom is alive now as God plants the seed of his word and the Holy Spirit upon our hearts. This seed is the seed of the kingdom. And the seed grows. And the kingdom grows.
God’s kingdom is like scattered seed. The miracle of growth is in the seed, not in how it is planted and how well it is tended. The kingdom grows on its own and isn’t built by us. It isn’t built by human hands for only God can give his kingdom and make it grow. And grow it will, but only at its own pace, a pace known only to God. The kingdom and its harvest can’t be hurried along by impatient gardeners. We don’t need to hover over the seed as if our presence and power will make it grow. Anyone who has planted a garden knows that constant watching of the seeds do not make them sprout. The power to grow is in the seed itself. You just plant it and go about your life – sleeping at night and rising by day – and one day, if there is life in the seed, it will sprout and grow and yield a harvest. Germination and growth is possible not by something inside the gardener; it is possible only by something inside the seed. The life in the seed is the gift of God.
The seed of the kingdom has its own characteristics, as the kingdom of which it is a part doesn’t conform to our landscaping schemes or blend in with our other shrubs. It’s like bittersweet, growing where it wills, often unruly to the human eye. It ends up large and inclusive, reaching out beyond our man-made walls and fences, property lines and off-limit zones, offering its benefits without restrictions, like a untrimmed and gangly mustard tree. We cannot build it or enlarge it or transplant it or enhance it. We can only ask God to give it. And that is something that God wants to do more than anything else. For, this reason Christ came. Christ came to plant the seed of the kingdom through his words and actions, and then lay down his life and rise again to nourish and sustain it – so that all who believe may not perish but share in the eternal life of this kingdom.
The parables of the seed are an invitation to us to participate in the work of God’s kingdom. The seeds which we sow by our acts of faith, hope and love in Christ are God’s seeds, empowered by God’s power to sprout and grow. It doesn’t take much of a seed to produce a good harvest. As seed as small as a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, has enough God power to produce a massive harvest. For, it is God who makes something happen so that his kingdom comes.
How does God do this? By taking what we do in response to his love of us and bringing good out of it. He brings good out of it which is all out of proportion to the original act. When problems and challenges look so big that we feel that there is nothing we can offer that can make any difference, we are invited and encouraged to go ahead and give things a try anyway. Everyone’s contribution counts. So, go ahead and plant little mustard seeds of love and faith in response to God’s gifts. It is amazing what God can do with a collection of little seeds. For, in the seed of deeds of faith and love in Christ Jesus is the power of God to bring forth his kingdom.
The parables of the seed are not nice little agricultural stories which have a sole purpose of telling farming truths to an ancient people. The parables of the seed are open invitations given to all who hear in every generation to rejoice in the free gift of God’s kingdom and to participate in that kingdom through lives of active waiting on the Lord. We simply scatter seeds in our care of families, in our service to our neighbors and our community, in our work in God’s church, in our acts of faith and love in God. Then we let God do God’s thing.
The parables invite our imaginations to soar, to go with the story with all its predictability and surprise, and then to take ownership of the message as we are invited to take the story home, to allow it to become part of our being and to bear witness to the God. For, the parables of the kingdom are stories at their very best, stories with both deep and surface messages told by the master story teller, Jesus Christ, who will do anything he can to plant in us the seed of his Father’s kingdom.
May the seed planted in us by Christ’s word and life-giving deeds, by the Holy sacraments and by the witness of others grow in us so that we may bear witness to the life we have in God’s kingdom. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.