June 17, 2018: Seeds, Stories, Legacies
Scriptures Used: Mark 4:26-34
Jesus and his disciples are traveling around the Galilee proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of heaven. This isn’t an odd sight to locals – traveling and preaching is what rabbis do, and the good ones typically have a collection of students following them. This is your typical first century entourage.
Some follow Jesus because he is so different from many of his contemporaries. He preaches the same adherence to God as other rabbis; uses parables like they do; but for some reason, this guy seems to be fast and loose about where he does it. Good rabbis go to temples, public squares; Jesus goes into the wilderness and preaches from a boat.
His disciples wonder if all this is limiting his effectiveness. Earlier in the chapter, it says they ask him about the parables. I can hear this conversation in my head. The disciples have seen the crowds off, they come back to Jesus, probably in silence, and one – likely Peter – sheepishly walks up and asks, “Um…Jesus? Wouldn’t this go better if you were relatable? People want to be met where they are. And the parables …are a little much.”
Mark doesn’t give us numbers, but let’s say out of the thousands of people coming to hear Jesus preach, only one or two came up to him to take him up on the offer. So what is the human response? We must be doing it wrong.
I’ll be honest – I know what that feels like. To hope that everybody will come forward and want to join. I’ve talked to people on the street asking them to come to a show; tried to sell candy bars for a fundraiser; tried so hard to get the youth group to come to a youth rally. And being a pastor is a weekly hope that something in the sermon sticks to at least one person.
The disciples see the world changing so little, and their whole lives have been dedicated to Jesus who they believe to be the Son of God. Wouldn’t that be enough to even curb sin and evil? So, of course, Jesus feels this and speaks to it…in another set of parables.
He tells them three parables back-to-back, but in today’s reading, we will focus on the final two. The first is that the kingdom of God is like a person scattering seed on the ground, and it sprouts without that person understanding how.
That sounds odd, when you think about it. No one who relies on plants to grow simply walks around scattering seed. That’s not how agriculture works.
Anyone in the first century listening to Jesus would have heard this message and thought he was kidding, because they know that. So they would have been surprised to hear the next part: “when the grain is ripe, at once the sower goes in with a sickle, because the harvest has come.” The sower obviously intends for something to happen; otherwise, why own a sickle? It’s only useful for two things: harvesting grain or completing a Halloween costume if you are going as Death.
What is Jesus saying? That we should just go out willy-nilly throwing seed expecting to eat? No, because that’s not how agriculture works. But it is how the kingdom of heaven works. The kingdom of heaven comes about through the making of disciples, and that starts when we plants seeds, which are simply small acts of showing love to others.
Let me offer you a very recent example:
Last Sunday, Jet Anderson came to my office before worship and asked if he could do a fundraiser on Saturday, which was yesterday, for Sgt. Baker’s family. In my mind, I thought, “Oh no, I don’t know how many folks will show up. I’m not sure a week is enough time.” But, because Jet needed to hear from his church and his pastor that his idea was good, all I could say was, “of course.”
From Loran’s phone, Jet called me yesterday asking if I was coming. I headed up to the church to find a small crowd of dedicated folks under a tent. They told me about twenty cars had come. I thought, “great.” Then Loran said they had raised over $500. I thought, “what?” Before I could respond, she said some police officers were coming by after shift change to show their support. And somewhere along the way, our good neighbor Dan Eubank talked to a friend of his who brought his Slingshot, which is like a car and a motorcycle had a child that was raised by the Batmobile. I noticed more bills hit the bucket.
All Jet did was scatter seed. He talked to some people, who then talked to some people. Now, our church might be on the news for doing what churches do. Because one kid heard about a tragedy in his community wanted to put the love in his heart into action. God made Jet more a moment like this: social, without insecurity of saying or doing the wrong thing, a little boisterous, and the heart of a saint. A small action may still produce a harvest that we do not yet see.
Which brings us to the second parable. Jesus tells the disciples that the mustard seed, which is very small, is like the kingdom of heaven, because even small things can blossom into something good.
The mustard tree Jesus talks about is not like the wild mustard we know. It is more commonly known as the toothbrush tree in the areas it grows. They’re bushy, bristly, and honestly, kind of ugly. But then that’s only appearances. In the areas where it is native, horticulturists plant them for land reclamation. Their rugged nature helps them cover areas that have sparse soil, which also means they are hearty because sparse, dry soil is typically alkaline and poor quality. Their roots go deep searching for water, and when they grow, they offer coverage for birds and crawling things underneath them.
But think about that: they are resilient, can grow in the worst places, and are very useful.
Jesus says the kingdom of heaven, which is strong, resilient, and protects all those gathered in its shade. This does not come from a carefully tended bulb. It does not require lots of hovering and pruning. Just a tiny seed, planted with care, can become something big and wonderful that offers so much to life around it.
You see, it doesn’t take much to spread the kingdom of heaven. I know sometimes when I talk about loving our community, it sounds like a big investment of time and resources. But that’s not true. Many of the seeds we scatter in our lives come from things we don’t plan.
Whether or not you mean to or even want to, just by living you are scattering seeds. The other day, Emily and I were spending time with friends and one noted that their planters have started growing squash because the squirrels had deposited a seed. Squirrels are pretty resourceful creatures, but container planting seems a little advanced for them. But nonetheless, squash still grew. Many of our forests are products of this exact behavior where squirrels bury nuts for winter and forget where they put them, and so an oak grows in that spot. Many creatures spread grasses and shrubs and trees through their movements. If you’ve ever gone hiking through dense woods you’ve likely picked up a seed or two yourself.
That’s just how things work. What we do has consequences that we never think about. Which is also true of how we act, what we say, what our actions are, the stories we tell most often. They all affect those who receive them.
So, if we are going to spread something no matter what, isn’t it better to spread good things?
I want to scatter smiles, good times, and full bellies. Seeds of humility and hope; to believe that even the tiniest moments of showing someone love is worth the risk.
That’s the thing about these parables – to do the work of God is not to move the mountain or to feed the 5000. To bring about the kingdom of heaven is to have faith that the seed will do all the work. We just have to be willing to plant and sow. So if doing outreach scares you, or if you think it isn’t worth it, a kid with a bucket did a big thing yesterday. He planted seeds in our community.
Today is, of course, Father’s Day, and that is the perfect backdrop to talk about this, because many of the dads in our congregation have literally and figuratively planted seeds for the good of our church and other people.
So allow me to encourage you dads – whether caring for family or somebody you love like family – continue to think about how you can do good work just by being you. Continue to focus on what stories you tell and lessons you teach. The future generation always looks back for the material they need to move forward.
My friends, the good news of today’s parable is the hope of it all. The seeds will grow; the harvest will come. God is making sure of that. And, because our God is about relationships and community and love, God chooses for us to be a part of it. It’ll happen no matter what, and you are invited to be part of it. I hope you will continue to come to this place, listen to what God speaks to us, and take part with a belief that whatever you do in the name of God, in the name of Love itself, will have immense worth whether you see it or not.