Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sermon; 3 Pentecost/Proper 6B; Mark 4:26-34

Last week we were introduced to the beginning of the long, green Season after Pentecost.  Last week we heard Jesus dealing with family issues, attacks from Pharisees and talking about an unforgivable sin which, in turn, has to do with how we see God acting in the world.  Last week was the beginning of our journey into the challenges and mystery of being a disciple and, if I remember correctly, I said that this journey of mystery, change and growth was going to be the anchor to which my sermons were attached.

This week we are given our first opportunity at examining that mystery with a couple of kingdom parables; and you all get to be active participants in this exploration.

Chapter 4 of Mark, from where today's gospel comes, is mostly dedicated to Jesus teaching about the kingdom of God in the form of parables.  These parables do not have easy explanations, sometimes have multiple explanations, sometimes have no explanation, and always involve the mystery of the kingdom.  And that's appropriate since, according to one source, the word “parable” can also be translated as “riddle” in this context.  These kingdom parables, then, are riddles for you to ponder and find meaning.  Like the Grinch, we need to puzzle and puzzle, sometimes until our puzzler is sore.

So . . . let's start puzzling.

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground.  The seed sprouts and grows, the farmer knows not how; first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain.  And when it is time, the farmer goes out to harvest his crop.

What do you hear in that parable?
What stands out to you?
Where do you see the kingdom of God in this parable?

Now let's take a look at the parable of the mustard seed.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds that eventually grows into the greatest of all shrubs; so large that birds can make nests in its shade.

What do you hear in that parable?
What stands out to you?
Where do you see the kingdom of God in this parable?

Now let me give you a few things to consider.  There have been plenty of arguments that have arisen because of this parable.  Is or is not the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds?  It depends.  Globally, no.  Locally, most probably likely.  Does it really grow to be the greatest of all shrubs?  Not really.

I do a bible study at Rogue Retirement Village over on 'A' St.  We are going through Matthew at about the same pace as we are going through Revelation here, and last week we got to Matthew's own section of kingdom parables, this being one of them.  I pointed out to the group that Jesus could have been exaggerating here to make his point – sort of like sometimes I’ve been known to do.

Over in Chapter 4 of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great tree that was visible from all the earth, providing food and shelter for all.  That tree, however, was cut down, those who had been fed and sheltered by it fled, and the King left to live with the beasts of the field.  Daniel interpreted the dream as his kingdom that would be felled and the King punished if he did not change his ways.  Nebuchadnezzar did not repent and looked out on his kingdom with selfish pride.  That selfish pride of what “he had created” led to his punishment.

Jesus could be recalling that piece of Scripture and saying that God's kingdom is not a towering, dominating force made by human hands or through our selfish pride, but that God's kingdom is a small seed that grows into a mighty . . . shrub.  I can imagine Jesus saying this with a wry smile and adding, “Think about how that being the kingdom of God.”

As with those gathered here today, there are a variety of interpretations of these two parables, and there are a variety of meanings attached to each aspect of the parables.  And, if anything I’ve said about the parable of the mustard seed has given you new insight, then you will also understand that interpretations of parables can change over time in order to have an impact on those who hear them in the present.

That said, I think there are two overall points to these two parables.  The first is that we really aren't in control of how the kingdom of God grows.  We can plant the seeds of the kingdom, we can nurture it along, we can reap the rewards, but there is no magical formula for making it grow.  That's part of the mystery.  And that should disabuse of of the idea that there is a one-size-fits-all magic bullet for church growth.  What works in one garden won't work in another garden.  What works there may not work here.  We need to know what kind of seed we have planted, and then work to make that one grow.

The second is that the kingdom of God starts small.  In these two parables, it started with seeds.  And in Scripture, it starts just as small.  God began with one man, Abraham, to make a great nation.  God used one prophet, Elijah, to stand against all the prophets of Baal.  God became incarnate in the person of one man, Jesus, born in a manger.  Jesus chose twelve unlikely men to change the world.  Jesus sent one person, Mary, to announce his resurrection.  The kingdom of God starts small, but through the mystery of growth and a little help from us, it will eventually grow to offer a home for all.

This is both annoying and good news for us.  It's annoying because, in some respects, there is nothing we can do about the growth of the kingdom.  It's annoying because, even though the kingdom starts small and grows into a mighty shrub or a large harvest, we can't sit back and watch it happen; we need to participate in its growth by tending to it.

It's good news for us because God promises that the kingdom will grow.  It may start small, but it will grow into that which God desires.  And it's good news because we, like the disciples, are the seeds of the kingdom.  How we grow and change over time reflects how the kingdom grows and changes over time.

As we move through this season of growth, what do you hear in the stories of God?  What stands out to you?  What causes you to grow a little?

And, most importantly, where do you see the kingdom of God in the world around you?



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