Pentecost B – 4, Lectionary 11, ‘18
Trinity Lutheran Congregation
Caroline Lewis wrote about today’s Gospel reading – “The earth produces on its own.” Thank God, literally, she says.
At this time of the year I tend to believe that. The earth produces on its own. Around here, at least we just have to look around. Green everywhere. Flowers blossoming. Vegetable gardens growing. My uncle used to say that on hot days like today the corn was growing so fast you hear it. I think I heard it once.
Yes, thank God for creating a world where the earth produces on its own.
Of course, after the thanking comes the trusting and that is not always so easy. I might trust that things will grow, but not always in the places or in the way I want them to grow. The volunteer elm tree that snuck in next to the fence, all of a sudden three feet tall. The raspberry bushes that keep showing up in the middle of the yard and garden. Not to mention the things we have decided are weeds because we did not put them where they are.
On the other side, we don’t trust the grass, the tomatoes, the flowers to grow without help. Fertilizer, mulch, weed killer are applied. As thankful as we are, we mess with the things that produce on their own.
Trusting is harder than it sounds. It’s hard enough when it comes to plants and yards. When it comes to the issues of life it’s even harder. It’s hard to trust leaders when facts don’t seem to matter any more. When profit is the goal. When reality is up for grabs. It’s hard to trust the system when those who already have seem to get more.
It’s hard to trust when we all have personal reasons not to trust, experiences in life that call into question the reliability of loved ones, friends, family, life. We have all had those experiences.
Some of our kids are going to Camp Wapo today. This past week at our Wednesday Night Supper we talked again about how the trip to camp two years ago almost ended in a tragedy. They had stopped at McDonald’s in Baldwin when an empty truck broke loose and how the because of the truck that broke loose and crashed into the booth where they were eating. They still won’t sit near a window at any fast food places. It can take only a second for trust in the simplest things to evaporate.
Trusting that the earth will produce on its own is one thing. To trust in other people, even to trust in God’s kingdom, God’s reign can be a whole other thing. So often there is simply too much evidence to the contrary.
And yet, that is, in part, what today’s words from Jesus are about. In two familiar parables Jesus teaches his disciples and us about trust. Not so much trusting other people or the things we build, like the brakes in trucks, but in God and God’s reign in the world.
The first parable Jesus tells is about seeds that grow on their own. No other gospel includes this story, maybe because it’s boring. There is no suspense to the story. Everything goes just as it should, according to plan. The seeds simply do what they’re supposed to do. They are planted and they grow and they produce. The sower sleeps and rises night and day, and the seeds do their thing.
Jesus’ message - When it comes to the reign of God, it will grow on its own. It will take root, whether it’s in your heart or in the world, and it will grow and produce. Maybe so slowly and subtly that you won’t even notice, until the fruit is ready for picking. But it will grow and produce.
I wonder if the disciples found this comforting. They so often misunderstood Jesus and what God was about and they stumbled around the countryside with Jesus and maybe they tried too hard. Only to find out that God’s reign, like a seed, will grow, it has to grow, even if it not cared for and whether they tend to it or not.
And, we have the parable of the mustard seed. This parable is in Matthew and Luke. In their telling of the story, however, the seed becomes a great tree. Not so in Mark. In Mark it grows into a shrub. There was nothing grand about the mustard plant in Mark.
When and where Jesus lived the mustard seed was not something people would plant or tend to. It was plentiful and could pop up almost anywhere. And then it would start spreading. I think of the weeds in our yard that spread – creeping Charlie, Creeping bell-flower. Annoyingly tough.
The mustard only grew into a large shrub. Nothing like the mighty cedars of Lebanon mentioned in Ezekiel. The mustard plant could grow and be dense, but it was not impressive in any way.
In telling his disciples about the Kingdom of God Jesus uses an ordinary plant that would just show up, then take over inch by inch. It was an everyday plant that most considered a nuisance. Maybe like the asparagus that used to grow wild along the country roads in Wisconsin that was mowed down every summer.
As annoying as this mustard plant was, it provided shade for the birds to make their nests. It didn’t become a plant that could be sold for money. It had some medicinal uses. But it mainly became a shelter for the birds.
This basically annoying plant in this parable tells us some things about the Kingdom of God. It gives us the opportunity to think about God’s reign in new ways, as parables often do. It is a way of pushing us to look at greatness of God’s kingdom in a whole new way. The greatness of God’s reign is not like a giant majestic cedar tree. It is a simply shrub that spreads. That provides shelter for birds. Not for royalty. Not for the rich. But for birds. Which just a few chapters before this one were not exactly desirable – they kept eating the seeds before they had a chance to grow.
The Kingdom of God messes with the ways that society works. It upends everything we hold on to when it comes to boundaries and values and control. And most of all, it gets into everything. And it resists the ways we try to tame it.
So, what do we have? In this parable, the kingdom that Jesus proclaims, the kingdom he brings in to the world is not majestic; it spreads on its own, where you might not want it. It lets in those who, like the birds, might not be desirable. And it is not anything we can control. The Kingdom of God comes in to overturn the way things are. It comes to take over. And to change, to transform the kingdoms of this world.
That doesn’t sound so good. Unless you are even just a little dissatisfied with the way things are.
If you are not OK with the assumption of scarcity that is behind so many fears and decisions today. If you’re not OK with living in a world of fear and inequality, and unfair justice. If you are not OK with children be separated from their parents.
If you’re not OK with any small part of that, these words of Jesus offer hope. Because into the midst of all that creeps, the Kingdom of God. Sometimes an annoying invader. Sometimes a slow and at times un-noticeable change that hardly seems to matter. Sometimes bringing change that is not easy.
From that little seed of hope comes life, new life, the life that Jesus brings into the world. A life that comes through death. That makes all things new even when you don’t see it.
The thing about this hope is that it doesn’t just make you feel better, it doesn’t just cheer you up, it somehow inspires action.
This is a hope we can trust. It brings new life even out of the dark tomb of death. We might not be able to summon the Kingdom of God or control it, it just comes. But we can anticipate it and even help to prepare the way for its growth in our midst.
Where do you see the Kingdom of God coming in?