Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sermon - Pentecost 4 - Mark 4:26-34

Mark 4:26-34

So the city of Fort Worth needed to fix a leak right where the water comes in to the meter in front of my house. Of course they didn't tell me anything about it, just started digging up the little area of grass surrounding the meter – right out there by my mailbox. When they were all finished I had a brand new, non-leaking water meter. But where there was once some grass, now there was just dirt. I thought they might fix it – but I got tired of looking at it and decided to replant the grass myself.

I don't know much about horticulture or agriculture or even what the difference between those two really is. But I know that grass grows from seeds. And if you put the seeds down in some nice soil, and give it water, that those seeds ought to grow. And sure enough, a couple of weeks later, I've got some new grass peeking out from where I put the seed.

So it is with the kingdom of God. Jesus uses two seed parables today to illustrate different aspects of the kingdom. Or we might also say, of God's kingly activity in the world. For so often we have a tendency to make the kingdom of God all about us, or even about our work. But it's really always about him, what he does, how he acts, how he saves. Especially in Christ. Let's consider Mark's 2 seed parables this morning.

First, the Parable of the Growing Seed. A short parable, with a couple of points of comparison. Often in these parables we think of the seed as the word of God and the sower as God himself. But here, it seems more that the sower is not God himself, but a messenger – maybe a preacher or pastor. For the key is that the seed does what it does – mysteriously. It works according to its design and purpose, and the sower “knows not how”.

It also happens over time. I don't think there's any species of plant, in which you can plant the seed and watch the mature plant just pop right up before your eyes. It takes time. There's a process. First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear. All in good time. All in God's time.

There are some implicit accusations here for us, Christians. For one, we aren't always so content to live under the mystery of the kingdom's working. Sinners want control and information. We don't want to just blindly trust, but we want to know the how's and the why's of God's activity, or seeming lack thereof. We want to taste the fruit that is forbidden, and know good and evil, know what it's like to be like God.

But imagine a gardener who tried cutting open seeds to figure out their workings. Imagine him dissecting and examining and poking and prodding around in the seed, and then expecting the seed to grow. Or trying to tinker with the seeds and make corn grow cantaloupe or beans produce broccoli.

No, he plants that seed and goes about his other business. He rises and sleeps, day and night, blah blah blah. And lo, and behold, when the time is right – the growth comes. He knows not how.

And by way of a brief tangent - Perhaps here's also a small word of warning to our scientists who would seek to unlock the mysteries of life, the genetic code, the functions of the cell. While on the one hand God has given us the ability to study and understand much of the world he's created and put in our care – and we are even commanded to manage and rule it well. On the other hand, the astonishing design of life ought to bring us to humility as not only the heavens but also the microscopic world declares the glory of God, the creator. We know much more about how seeds grow, for instance, than we did hundreds of years ago. But the more we've learned, the more mysteries surface. And we're still far from being able to bring about life in the first place. All of this ought to humble us in our studies, and elicit a sense of awe at God's marvelous work of creation.

And finally, we ought to proceed with special care when it comes to tinkering with human beings in particular. Breeding plants or dogs or even creating new hybrids may bring stewardship questions, but when it comes to human beings we're in a different ethical ballpark, for humans are made in the image of God. And there is such a thing as “playing God”.

This first seed parable also indicts our sinful lack of patience with God's kingdom. I check the progress of my patch of grass every day- but it doesn't make it grow faster. The plants God designed come forth according to his design. So also his kingdom – as its word has effects that may take weeks, months, years to come to fruition. You may live to see those fruits or not, but no matter. Faith trusts the promise. God's word never returns void. It accomplishes his purpose. But on his timetable, and not necessarily on yours. How long, oh Lord? As long as it takes. In his good time.

Jesus also reminds us that there is a harvest time. Here is both a warning, and a promise. God's plan has an endgame, history has an expiration date, Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead. He'll separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares, and bring his harvest, his people, into his garner forever. This fallen world of suffering won't go on forever. Such is the kingdom of God.

And then take this second parable, perhaps more familiar, the parable of the mustard seed. One of the smallest seeds, but it grows one of the biggest plants – a huge bush with branches enough to accommodate all kinds of critters – nesting birds and whatnot.

Here the point is simple: the working of the kingdom starts small, but has great effects. It may begin with simple water and a few words, but it ends with a child of God living a life of faith and inheriting eternal blessings in the kingdom to come. It may begin with a simple preacher sent to proclaim Christ, and it may end with a church or churches where many believers continue to gather long after he's gone. It may start with one sinner who repents and is forgiven, and end with a multitude of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Or even better, that by one man, salvation comes to the entire world. It started small – with a promise of a seed of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent. God preserved his promise through the ages, and the ups and downs of Noah and Abraham, and the tribes of Israel, and the kingdoms of David and Solomon, through exile and back, under Greek and Roman conquest. They would sleep and rise night and day, through the centuries, as God nurtured his promise. And then Gabriel announced to Mary, that she would bear that offspring. And you'll call him Jesus.

Those who looked forward to him in faith are saved, and those who have not seen and yet have believed are greatly blessed. The good news of this God in the flesh would start with a small band of about 120 disciples, and go forth from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. That believers from every nation would flock to this church like the birds nesting in the safety of the mustard bush.

And he, Jesus, also compared himself to a seed:
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  John 12:23-24

Yes, the seed of the woman so long promised would indeed crush the serpent's head, but by the bruising of his own heel: The seed had to die. Just as the wheat falls into the earth and dies – so Jesus suffered, died, and was buried. But death could not hold him, and he sprouted from the grave with new life – not just for himself – but the fruits of his resurrection bring a resurrection to all who are in him. We haven't seen the complete fruition yet. But we will at the final harvest.

Until then, we live in our baptism, dying and rising daily in Christ. Until then, we are nurtured at his table, toward the fruits of faith in God and fervent love for one another. Until then, we too cast seeds as we are able, according to our own stations and vocations, and sleep and rise night and day – in the peace that knows not how God works, but trusts him to do it nonetheless. Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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