Mark 4:26-34 * June 17, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus, our savior and Lord. Amen.
First of all, on this 4th Sunday after Pentecost, we also celebrate and give thanks for all of the dads in our life. Those that have been and continue to be fathers toward us in so many grace-filled ways. Happy Father’s Day.
We have two parables from Jesus before us today as we continue our journey through this season after Pentecost.
Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do? Hang on to that question for a few minutes. Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do?
And for clarification purposes – I’m using the terms reign of God and kingdom of God to refer to the same thing in today’s sermon.
I spent a couple days this week at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. So I decided that it would be appropriate to quote a professor from the seminary in today’s sermon. New Testament professor Matt Skinner reminds us about this general idea of Jesus’ parables. “Parables are comparisons, meant to cast two things alongside one another to provide analogy, contrast, or reflection.” Skinner believes. He goes on to share that, “Jesus’ parables … have a way of reordering conventional assumptions and values. They don’t explain how one is supposed to recognize the reign of God, but they make it clear that we will need to adopt or receive new ways of perceiving.” [www.workingpreacher.org]
The first parable in today’s gospel is unique only to the gospel of Mark. I think this is probably the case because it just might be the most boring of all Jesus’ parables. The seed is sown. The seed grows. The crop is harvested. Everything happens as it’s supposed to happen. Oh well…
I mean – the seed doesn’t grow into a BMW or become an apple tree instead of a head of grain. It simply does what God made it to do. And all of this happens while you and I are away taking a nap as the parable implies.
About today’s first parable, Professor Skinner says this. “It is the nature of God’s reign to grow and to manifest itself. That’s what it does. God’s reign, like a seed, must grow, even if untended and even if its gradual expansion is nearly impossible to detect.”
God’s reign – God’s kingdom – gradually expanding through dozens of children who are participating in Day Camp and Vacation Bible School at Good Shepherd this summer. Seeds planted. God growing them. You and I enjoy the harvest of young people living out their lives with the love of God at the center of who they are and everything they ever will be – simply because God has planted us to be together in Christian community through Good Shepherd.
The second parable today is a bit more complex than the first. The seed planted doesn’t just grow into something that we can harvest or gaze upon its beauty. This seed grows into something that will also provide shelter and security for other parts of God’s creation – “birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” The parable offers.
But the second parable’s seed is not seen as good by all. A mustard plant in Jesus’ time wasn’t a cash crop. In essence, it was kind of a noxious weed. Only bigger. And much more annoying. Think crabgrass that you can never seem to get rid of in your yard or a seemingly endless number of dried up thistle bushes rolling across the prairie.
Back to professor Skinner, while reflecting on the mustard seed and the kingdom of God, Skinner offers this insight, “the reign of God apparently isn’t much of a cash crop. Yet it grows. It is not easily eradicated. Good luck keeping it out of your well-manicured garden or your farmland. Better be careful what you pray for when you say, “Your kingdom come…”
As we celebrate Father’s Day this week, I’m also mindful that this day isn’t a day of celebration for everyone. For some, thinking about your father brings forth feelings of abandonment and abuse. For others, thinking of your father brings joy and comfort. And for others still, thinking about your father brings forth sadness and grief because your father is no longer alive and has already joined the great cloud of witnesses.
The father of one of our daughter’s closest friends died very suddenly this past week. Throughout our daughter’s lives, Wendy and I have tried to plant seeds of God’s kingdom. As parents, whether these seeds are growing or not is something we ever really know for sure. But God does. And this past week, we witnessed our daughter’s care and compassion for their friend following the death of her father in amazing and life-giving ways that we never dreamt possible. Our teenage daughters are becoming the “greatest of all shrubs” so that God’s love shines through them even when we least expect that it is possible for God’s love to shine. So that God’s love can give comfort and peace and shelter as they hold onto their friend in her time of greatest need.
I began today’s sermon by asking the question – Do the parables of Jesus reflect what God does or what we do?
Author Jeanne Choy Tate believes that “the parables aren’t meant to be understood, at least not fully,” she writes. “Their many possible meanings allow us the flexibility to apply them to the seasons of our lives.” [Christian Century, May 23, 2018, pg. 23]
I think there is truth in that statement. Because the parables are not about what we do, but about what God does. What God does through us as God’s kingdom comes.
I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted at one of our church’s seminaries. Seeds that will grow into the philosophers, theologians, teachers, pastors, Christian movement leaders of tomorrow.
I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted in young people at Day Camp and Vacation Bible School. Seeds that will grow into abundant harvests of God’s love that has no end.
I’ve witnessed God’s kingdom coming as seeds are being planted in my own family. Seeds that are producing mighty shrubs that provide shelter to dear friends during their time of unimaginable grief and pain.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s parables remind us that the good news of Jesus Christ does not remain buried in the ground like a dormant seed.
Through your savior Jesus, God is planting seeds in you each and every day. Seeds that will bring forth God’s kingdom in the world today – even though this world seems darker and more broken with each passing day – God’s reign is at work.
Whether you know it or not, or can even begin to grab on to this truth of God’s love for you today – God’s kingdom is growing and shining forth through you. Growing in you in amazing, transformative and life-giving ways.
Don’t be afraid to keep growing brothers and sisters. Seeds are being planted as God’s kingdom comes. May your continued growth in the kingdom bring blessing where God plants you. May we always keep growing. Amen.