A Sermon for 17 June 2018 – 4th Sunday after Pentecost
A reading from the gospel of Mark 4:26-34. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ 30He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet 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.’ 33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Let me tell you about a man. A good man. Likely living out in the suburbs. A caring husband. A supportive father. A really good dad. Every Saturday afternoon you can find him on his front lawn. You see, he’s been to Ace a zillion-times, but each week when he gets up on Saturday morning – wishing he could go enjoy a round of golf instead of heading to hours of pee wee baseball or travel soccer; he knows he’ll be back out there. On the grass. Because once again he has awoken to a front yard full of dandelions. He’s certain the Home Owner’s Association will cite them for a front yard that brings disgrace – and spreading-dandelion-seeds to every other neighbors’ yards. This will be the week, he dreams, when at last those stubborn things will be under control. Banished from his property. Relics of the past. He pops open his eye with the first sip of morning coffee. Peeking out the front door, his heart sinks at the sight of the happy yellow heads smiling in the sun. As if overnight, the little buggers have multiplied. No matter what he does: how he yanks, what he sprays; the dandelions return. Day after day tenacious. Like an itch no scratching can subdue. Some things just cannot be stopped. . . . According to Jesus, God’s kingdom is like that.
The other day I saw a friend who is 4 ½ months pregnant. I saw her too on the day she had been at the doctor to confirm the little gift was on it’s way. She was slim and trim and excited, day one. Looking great; a radiant glow already. Four weeks later, when the nausea and debilitating headaches were almost under control, I saw her again. You have to know she’s a petite little woman. Standing maybe around 5 feet-two-inches tall. When I saw her week four after the doctor’s confirmation, the pudge was forming. Just slightly – only those in the know would notice. A month ago, she showed up in her first maternity shirt. Certainly, starting to show. And just this week, after an ultrasound and in anticipation of an amazing gender reveal party to come; she’s starting to freak out. She’s already gained 25 pounds. Even the ultrasound tech accidentally told her: “you’re having a really big baby!” Only to correct herself with proper hospital etiquette. “I mean: your baby’s really healthy – growing very well!” From a tiny little spark to over 25 pounds put-on by week 19. Something so small it only can be seen under a microscope, miraculously growing to something as bulging as a giant watermelon. . . . Jesus said, God’s kingdom is like that.
The tiniest seed produces a bumper crop. Something small and seemingly insignificant, wildly expands to be huge! In the book Revelation of Love, 14th Century Christian mystic Julian of Norwich put it this way: “At the same time, (the Lord) showed me something small, about the size of a hazelnut, that seemed to lie in the palm of my hand as round as a tiny ball. I tried to understand the sight of it, wondering what it could possibly mean. The answer came: ‘This is all that is made.’” Julian continues, “I felt it was so small that it could easily fade to nothing; but again I was told, ‘This lasts and it will go on lasting forever because God loves it. And so it is with every being that God loves” (Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich, edited and translated by John Skinner; Image Books, 1996, chapter 5, pp. 9-10). Four centuries later, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn” (source unknown). The seemingly smallest, most insignificant thing does not escape God’s favor. The teeny-tiny shall become gigantic! God alone knows how such a little thing grows and grows and grows. God’s kingdom is like that.
Automatically expanding. It just happens, proclaims the parable Jesus told. Totally on its own. It’s uncontrollable – like God’s love. Like wildfire that rips through brittle fields. Something small becomes gigantic. Mighty all on its own. Tenacious. It cannot be stopped. The parables of Mark’s gospel insist that the kingdom of God is just like that.
Earlier in the fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark, Jesus tells about various kinds of soil. Conditions that certainly can impede the seed’s growth. But even in the most ideal conditions: we can properly add nutrients to the dirt. We can plant the seed. We can ensure the water and place it in proper relationship to the sun. But we cannot make a little seed grow. Trust me: I’ve tried a billion times – sometimes to great success. God’s kingdom is like that. The reign of Christ’s Way around the world, according to Jesus’ parables from Mark, is automatic. The Way of God shall expand. Despite the daily news reports that everything is so bad. After all, what the news reports is the anomaly: the acts that have happened contrary to the daily norm. It’s not news to report about neighbors who get along day in day out. It’s not news to report about the simple courtesies that take place in schools and stores and sites of employment. In a city like metro Nashville, if there are something like five violent crimes a day, at the same time there are like a million-and-a-half daily acts of kindness, compassion, consideration. Generosity begets generosity, Jesus’s words profess in the verses right before the part of the gospel read aloud today. Calm too is contagious. Goodness breads more goodness. Like the pay it forward trend where one act of unexpected kindness is passed on to another who in turn goes on to perform another unexpected act of kindness. We can’t make all the chain of events happen. We can hinder them, for sure. We can block; and depending on the current state of our hearts, we can try to stamp them out. Nonetheless, one beneficial act leads to another. Experiencing love makes us love. Which might be why, according to the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus instructed his followers not only to love those who love us back, but to love our enemies. To do good to those who hate us. To bless those who curse us (Luke 6:27-28). In other words, to live in this world as the ferment. The leaven of love that has the potential to transform hates and hurts. Showing an alternate Way which gives witness to the reign of grace. The presence of self-giving love. The tenacious, ever-expanding kingdom of God.
A few years ago, when I was in the Baltic country of Estonia to organize what would become an annual international mission trip; our Christian hosts took us to the old city of Tallinn. On the way into the inner square, we walked by an old church building, once under siege by Soviet forces. Though in 1918 Estonia had become an independent nation after lifetimes of living under invader’s rule as far back as eleven hundred years ago; in 1940, the little nation of about 1.4 million people again found themselves under military occupation – first of the Soviet Union and subsequently of Nazi Germany. Free at last in 1991, the eldest of our Christian hosts told stories of how it had been. Their church building demolished in the occupation – bombed out by the Soviets, they had to gather on the sly. Stealing away to each other’s homes for worship. Praying in basements. Hiding physical evidence of their Christianity. They found a way to carry on the faith despite its illegal status according to their foreign occupiers. In the 20th Century; communism had come, and communism had gone from that little country. The Christian faith remained. It didn’t look the same, they had to alter beloved practices. Still, followers kept hope alive. Once again to build a magnificent facility, supported generously from funds sent by Korean Christians who knew too what it was like to continue following Christ despite the ways of those around them. . . . God’s kingdom is like that. Irrepressible. Automatic. Ever-expanding despite any efforts to stamp it out. The reign of grace knows no end. Tenacious. According to Jesus. God’s kingdom is just like that. Forever it shall stand! On this, we can depend.
Glory be to the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit. Amen!
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