Mark 4:26-34 • June 17, 2012
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Happy Father’s Day. Being a father is the most challenging while at the same time rewarding vocation that any of us who are fathers will ever be invited to live out. I give thanks each day for this calling and pray for strength and guidance as only God our Father can give.
Author and commentator Garrison Keillor has an interesting insight that I can relate to as a father of daughters. I had to laugh when I first heard Keillor say, “The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan.”
It seems fitting on this Father’s Day weekend that our gospel reading comes from the fourth chapter of Mark. It’s sometimes known as the seed chapter because it contains three parables from Jesus that all involve seeds. I’m especially drawn to the second parable because it calls us to plant, to rest and let God do a little work, and then to harvest. But before we get too far into that, let’s ask a question that all of us have probably asked at one time or another – “What is a parable anyway??”
I like Pastor Eugene Peterson’s response to that question in his book Tell It Slant. Peterson wrote, “The parable is a form of speech that has a style all its own. It is a way of saying something that requires the imaginative participation of the listener. A parable is not ordinarily used to tell us something new but to get us to notice something that we have overlooked although it has been right there before us for years. Or it is used to get us to take seriously something we have dismissed as unimportant because we have never seen the point of it. Before we know it, we are involved.”
Too often, I think followers of Jesus use the parables as a way to solve a problem or set the record straight or prove a political or moral point for something. I don’t believe that’s how Jesus intended us to hear the parables or use them in our life of faith. I don’t believe that Jesus taught with parables in order to give us black and white answers to questions. I think Jesus taught in parables to invite us into deeper conversation and ever unfolding questions about life and faith and everything in between. I think Jesus taught in parables to invite us into deeper relationship with God and each other as children of God.
The second parable today is my favorite. It’s known as the Parable of the Growing Seed. It’s the shortest of all the parables and only found in the gospel of Mark. As with many parables, it has an agricultural theme, which to be honest, causes a bit of a stumbling block for many people, especially people like me who have little experience or understanding of anything dealing with agriculture.
But I think Jesus is calling us to plant in this parable. What does this parable have to do with the world in which you and I live today? Sometimes parables are like the story of a first grade classroom where the teacher is reading the story of the Three Little Pigs to her students. The teacher comes to the part of the story where the first pig is trying to gather building materials for his home.
The teacher reads, “…and so the little pig went up to the man with a wheel barrow full of straw and said ‘Pardon me sir, but might I have some of that straw to build my house with?’”
The teacher stops and asks the class, “And what do you think the man said?”
One enthusiastic boy in the class raises his hand and says, “I know! I know! The man said, ‘Holy smokes! A talking pig!’”
So if we can only follow Jesus by knowing how to plant seeds and harvest in the same way a farmer does, I, for one, am in trouble. I’d be the one at harvest time saying, “Holy smokes! It’s time for the lawn mower!” When in fact a combine may be what we need.
I never afraid to admit that I’m a city kid. In fact, my cousins from Napoleon often called me a city-slicker when we were growing up. I’m born and raised in western North Dakota, but only have a few memories that connect me directly to farming.
I remember checking cattle a few times with a friend of our family’s who’s an Angus rancher in Logan County. I never did figure out what we were checking on when we checked cattle or if what we were checking on ever did in fact get checked.
I’ve also spent a few afternoons checking wheat fields with my father-in-law. He farms several thousand acres of winter and spring wheat in north central Montana. I’m not sure I know any aspect of my life in as much detail as he knows every inch of every crop in every field that he farms.
And one of the most tragic experiences of farming in my life was my attempt one morning to milk cows on my uncle’s dairy farm near Kintyre, North Dakota. It is one of the longest and most difficult mornings that I can remember.
Even though I am a native of North Dakota and consider myself a child of the North Dakota prairie, my story is not centered in the world of farming and agriculture. My story involves reading books and teaching; playing guitar and enjoying music; or enjoying a good cup of coffee that’s accompanied with engaging conversation.
The culture in Jesus’ day was largely agrarian. The culture that you and I live in today is pretty removed from an agrarian culture like that of Jesus’ time.
You and I may not plant seeds like a farmer, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t plant seeds. As fathers, we’re invited to plant seeds all the time. As parents, Wendy and I are planting seeds constantly in our daughter’s lives. Seeds of forgiveness and love for all of God’s people. Seeds that model the importance of hard work, taking time for rest and play, and caring for God’s creation. Wendy and I can’t control how or when or why these seeds grow, but they do. And each and every day, we get to experience and celebrate the abundant harvest. A harvest in our children that is greater than anything we could have grown or constructed on our own.
People of the resurrection, you and I are called to plant seeds, to take time for rest and play, and to live in confidence that the harvest will come. The good news of the resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ is that the harvest comes. Brothers and sisters in Christ, never never stop planting. Amen.
- “With what can we compare the kingdom of God?” (worryisuseless.wordpress.com)