Jun 17, 2018

“The Kingdom Of God Is Like…A Seed?” - Mark 4:26-34

“The Kingdom Of God Is Like…A Seed?” - Mark 4:26-34

            On Fathers’ Day, the lesson is about the perfect father.  I bet you know who it is.  It’s God.  And Mark let’s us know that God is working for us round the clock.  That means there’s no reason to be discouraged.

            Several years ago, a company conducted a special advertising campaign.  Thousands of post cards were sent out with tiny seeds glued to their backs.  The caption went something like this.  "If you have faith in our product even as small as this mustard seed, you are guaranteed to get excellent results and be totally satisfied."  Signed, The Management

            A few months later, one recipient of this promotional piece wrote back to the company.  “You will be very interested to know that I planted the so-called mustard seed you sent attached to that card.  It has grown into a very healthy bush producing wonderful tomatoes!  Turns out, what you sent was a tomato seed, not a mustard seed.  Ha!  Ha! Ha!”

            It just so happens that our Gospel reading for today is about that very thing.  It’s about seeds.  In it, Jesus tells two back-to-back parables about seeds.  That’s right, he talks about itsy, bitsy, insignificant seeds.

            Jesus says that given time, God can do remarkable things even with tiny seeds.  With them, God is able to produce something even more wonderful than tomato plants.  That’s because the seeds Jesus is talking about end up producing the very kingdom of God.

            So, what’s going on here?  Why is Jesus talking about seeds of all things?  What’s his fascination with them?  And how do seeds connect to the kingdom of God?  Wouldn’t a fine pearl or a treasure hidden in a field be a better illustration of what God’s kingdom is like?  After all, most of us city slickers don’t spend much time with seeds.  Many of us leave all of that to farmers and gardeners.  But since Jesus is the one doing the talking, we’d probably better take a closer listen.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            Jesus is just finishing speaking to a great crowd of people who have gathered by the sea to listen.  The crowd is so huge that he has to get into a boat so all can hear.  There, he preaches and teaches as one with authority.  And the people are captivated by what he has to say.

            After a while, Jesus grows tired and wraps things up.  The church service by the seashore comes to an end.  Jesus sends them on their way with a blessing.  The crowd breaks up, and many of his listeners go to get a bite to eat before heading home. 

            But a small group remains behind.  They have something on their minds.  Something has been puzzling them.  They waste no time.  They get right to the point.  “Jesus what is it with those parables of yours?  What’s the point of them?  What do they mean?  Can you help us out here?  We’re struggling to understand what you’re trying to tell us.”

            Jesus replies.  “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables.  You see, God works in mysterious ways.  Sometimes, it’s hard to see God at work in our world.  Sometimes, it’s hard to understand what God is doing.  These parables are meant to help open eyes.  They’re meant to help people understand.  You see, God isn’t just out there somewhere far away.  No, God’s realm is right here.  It’s in plain sight for those with eyes to see.”

            Jesus looks around him for inspiration.  He sees a farmer off in the distance scattering seed.  Then, he turns back to his audience and begins his first parable.  It’s only found in Mark’s Gospel.  “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.  So, just as you can count on seeds to grow, you can certainly count on the coming reign of God.”

            In this parable, all the farmer does is plant some seed.  Then, he waits.  He’s done all that he can do.  It’s now out of his hands.  All he can do now is turn it over to God.  Trust in God.  Let God take it from there.  That’s because it’s God who gives the growth.  Yes, God is able to take our tiny and meager efforts and bring about miracles of abundance.

            The farmer gets up to check every day.  Eventually something happens.  Something miraculous.  The stalk slowly begins to appear.  Then the head.  Then the full grain.  The farmer looks and sees that the grain is almost ripe.  It’s almost time for the harvest.  And according to Jesus, that harvest of grain is a miracle.  That harvest is a gift of God.

            Next, he picks up a tiny mustard seed.  It’s becomes a visual aid for his next parable.  And that parable is also about God and God’s kingdom.  “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

            Yes indeed, just look at the mustard seed.  Look at how small it is.  How tiny.  It seems insignificant.  Something easily overlooked.  Yet, with it, God can do amazing things.  God can grow it into a large shrub with tons of branches.  There, birds of the air can rest in the shade.  Even build their homes.  And there they can sing their beautiful songs. 

            That’s what God wants for you and me and the entire world.  Yes, that’s what God desires to do for us.  In this troubled world, God is busy building a new world.  A world for those who are worn slick with the way the present world is going.  A place where we can get some rest.  A place where we can recharge our spiritual batteries.  A place that feels better than home.  That’s what God’s working on.  That’s the kind of realm that God is building.  A world that at times looks no bigger than a tiny seed.  But it’s a tiny seed through which God intends to work great miracles.  A tiny seed that carries God’s grace.  It’s none other than the church.  Yes, through the church, seeds of love are scattered.  Through the church, God miraculously works to build a new world.  A truly amazing world.  And God’s growing it right here in our very midst.

            Most of us know of the legend of Johnny Appleseed.  As it turns out, that legend is based in fact.  His real name was John Chapman, and he worked in a greenhouse.  Now, he really loved apple trees, and he just couldn’t stop himself from planting them all around his hometown in Massachusetts.  He wanted people to enjoy them as much as he did.  Then, he began traveling all around the United States planting apple trees.  And everywhere he went, he gave apple seeds away until the day he died in 1845.  Johnny’s work must have made God smile, because God also wants this world to be a more loving and beautiful place.  Simple acts of kindness are the seeds God lovingly grows for us.  Yes, God takes those seeds of love and kindness and transforms the world.

            What God does with those simple acts of kindness goes far beyond our wildest dreams.  Here’s just one example.  In the city of Philadelphia there was a little third-class hotel.  Into it one night there came two tired elderly people.  They went up to the night clerk and pleaded.  “Mister, please don’t tell us you don’t have a room.  My wife and I have been all over the city looking for a place to stay.  We didn’t know about the big conventions in town.  The hotels where we usually stay are all full.  We’re dead tired and it’s past midnight.  Please, don’t you have a room?”

            “Sorry, I don’t have a single empty one.”  But when he saw their desperation, he was moved to continue.  “That is, except for mine.  I work at night and sleep in the daytime.  It’s not as nice as the other rooms, but it’s clean.  I’d be happy for you to be my guests for the night.”

            Through thankful tears the wife said, “God bless you, young man.”

            After breakfast the next morning, the couple asked their waiter to fetch that night clerk.  The clerk said he hoped they’d had a good night’s sleep.  “Yes,” they gratefully replied.  Then the clerk was knocked off his feet with what the man said to him.  “You’re too fine a hotel man to stay in this place.  How would you like for me to build a big, beautiful, luxurious hotel in New York City, and make you its general manager?”

            The clerk was at a loss for words.  He thought there might be something wrong with his hearing.  But he finally stammered, “It sounds wonderful.”  His guest then introduced himself.  “I’m John Jacob Astor.”  So, the grand Waldorf-Astoria Hotel was built.  It became one of the largest and best in the world.  And the night clerk became a respected hotel man.  A humble act of service led to this unforeseen act of grace.

            It’s thought that Mark writes this Gospel for his tiny congregation.  People who were feeling discouraged.  People who were wondering if they were making any difference at all in a world dominated by the cruel Roman Empire.  He writes to tell them to keep at it.  God works.

            And like the people in his little church, Mark today is also telling us to keep on keeping on.  That God still works.  That God’s kingdom is coming.  And that God will take the seeds of love and kindness that we sow and build something marvelous.  Indeed, God hasn’t given up on us.  So, surely we shouldn’t give up on God.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.