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The Rector’s sermon for June 17, 2018          


                                                                                                          

1 Samuel 15:34—16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17; Mark 4:26-34



 

The kingdom of heaven is as if one scattered seed, and while he slept the earth produced… The kingdom of heaven is like the mustard seed that grows into the greatest of all shrubs…The kingdom of heaven.  What is it like?  At one point Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is here…now.  Do you ever think about the kingdom of heaven being here…now?

 

We live in a world that is so fractured, so full of terrorism and horrific crimes.  We look for goodness and we find disappointment.  We seek peace and we find war.  And by now we must realize that no politician, no government, no institution can fulfill the promise to keep us safe.  The evil in the human heart will not go away on its own.  For all of our culture, education, scientific progress, we seem to be stuck when it comes to human nature.  We are broken.  We cannot find the kingdom, at least not on our own. So what does the future hold for us?

 

Our first glimmer of hope is the church.  Even though evil continues to exist, we live our lives as if the kingdom does exist…even if we only catch a glimpse of it.  How?  Well, we donate food to various agencies, yet we know stomachs still growl on, no matter what we do.  We pray diligently that wars will cease and people will treat each other better; yet, evil prevails more often than not.  We teach love and forgiveness, but hate and vengeance mock our every word.  We want to think that our hard work in the church will pay off.  We hope that our efforts will do more than give us a temporary warm feeling.  We hope that we really can make a lasting difference. Yet it seems that no matter how eloquently we speak the love of Jesus, the screams of hatred drown us out.

 

So what do we do?  Where is the kingdom of God?  Do we throw up our hands and turn in despair?  Do we keep going, hoping that in just a little while everything will change?  Do we turn inward, resting within our safe church community and give up on the world?

 

Before we give up, however, hear Jesus’ words in these parables:  The kingdom of heaven is as if one scattered seed, and while he slept the earth produced… Could we find a simpler parable from Jesus than this one? We might even wonder if it should count as a parable.  We can look at it from every side and find no emotion, no angry workers demanding an honest wage for an honest day’s work.  We find no weeping father running out to give a death-grip hug to a son returning with less-than-honorable motives. There’s no cry of anguish from a bridesmaid who forgot to stop for oil.  We don’t even find the disappointment of watching a plant sprout up, only to see the thorns choke it off.   All those other parables evoke feelings and emotions.  But this one?    We find only a farmer who tosses seed on the ground. He doesn’t even seem to do it right.  Jesus makes no mention of plowing or preparing.  He just “[scatters] seed on the ground” and the seed simply grows into a plant—exactly what we expect a seed to do. We see no drama, no threat to the growing plant.  No thorns, birds or rocks get in the way.  We expect a story teller to weave a tale about how a storm threatened the crop but it survived.  Yet, Jesus gives us only a parable about a man who plants seeds that grow into plants. We could even mock such a boring story with words we’ve used in similar situations: “That’s about as exciting as watching grass grow.”

           

And as if that’s not as unexciting as Jesus can get, he speaks a second similar parable, but at least we have a twist. A tiny mustard seed grows into a tree that shelters the birds. Well, this is a little better; we can see the contrast and find some inspiration: great things can start small.  We enjoy those kinds of stories: unpromising beginnings that flourish in the long run.  Still, no one would confuse a mustard tree with an oak. Mustard trees might reach 10 feet, but they usually don’t.  Jesus’ audience would know better.

           

So, we have two parables that might flunk a story-telling contest. Seeds grow into crops, and a mustard seed produces a mustard tree. Ho hum.  Yet…the kingdom of heaven… is like…

 

Despite the seemingly unremarkable nature of these parables, we can find genuine hope.  Consider this:  while the parable seems to focus on “the seed”, look at it again.  Jesus says, “someone” scatters seed on the ground…someone who possibly doesn’t know much about farming…someone who doesn’t do the kind of preparation we might expect…someone… In today’s Old Testament reading, Samuel is tasked to find a new king, and the one whom God chooses turns out to be a someone…not the strongest, the tallest, the handsomest, or even the most qualified by the world’s standards…the new king turns out to be just like the someone who would scatter seeds.

 

And over time, the efforts of that someone come to pass; crops grow... a simple shepherd becomes a great king.  The idea of “someone” acts a lot like the church itself.  We scatter our ministry on the ground. We don’t always know what we are doing.  We don’t always put as much work into it as we might. We don’t know how God will use our ministries.  We can’t force anything to happen, but we find promise in the parable that despite the shortcomings of “someone,” the seeds still produce a crop.

           

But, even in the promise, we might find frustration.  No one can eat the crop until it has fully grown. We know the potential of the crop, but we can’t eat it until it ripens.  In the parable, the farmer sees the growth, recognizes the stages of the development of the plant, but has to wait for the harvest.  Waiting is so hard, isn’t it.  Even if we are starving now, we still have to wait.  Yet, we see in the fullness of the harvest the promise of God’s new creation…the kingdom of heaven... someone… is still planting seeds…  Christ started something new.  The church plants the seeds of His grace from His ministry.  Jesus’ death and resurrection became the seed that the church plants into the world.  We cannot control the growth or speed up the harvest.  Yet we can claim the faith that the harvest will come.  God will bring in a time of peace, of wholeness, of justice.  We call that the kingdom, or reign, of God.  And the parable of the mustard seed paints the image of birds nesting in the branches.  That image teaches us about security, about nurture, about community.  The mission of God’s people is to become the means by which God provides security.  God will continue to work through God’s people for that security. God’s reign…the kingdom…will offer that security.

           

Just as the farmer has to wait for the harvest, so we must wait for God’s time to bring in this reign of peace, wholeness and justice.  Yet, we starve for it now. We may want at least to nibble on the half-formed grain now.  Yet the parable calls us to wait.  We wait, but we do not wait passively.  We plant our seeds.  We do our ministry.  We feed the hungry.  We build our homeless shelters.  We stand up for those who have been kicked to life’s curb.  We speak our words of peace into the wind of violence and hate. For now, we see only the tiny stalk that has popped up from the ground.  We see the budding crops that we can’t yet enjoy.  The harvest has not yet arrived, but we trust that it will come in God’s time.

 

We cannot bring the crop to maturity on our own. We cannot start the harvest until the crop is ready.  Yet we trust that God will use our efforts and our ministry in the final gathering.  And we take heart that the harvest will come.  Nothing can stop God’s will for peace, wholeness and justice.  Our seeds of ministry will bear fruit.  So we press on to do our ministry in hope and trust, and in His time, as we watch the seeds sprout, the kingdom of God will come...on earth as it is in heaven.


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