4thSunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2018
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This parable of the grain from Mark’s Gospel is my most favorite. So this morning as my farewell to being your pastor, I get to share my thoughts about it with you.
This parable only shows up in Mark’s Gospel. The farmer plants the seed, says Jesus, and the seed just does its thing: bursting out to the ground, sending up the stalk, the head of grain beginning, and then filling out completely until it is ready to harvest and feed people. The farmer doesn’t know how it works. It just happens. Time after time after time. It just happens. This is what God’s kingdom is like, he tells us.
I think the first time I really noticed this parable was in Greek class. The Greek says that the seed sprouts and grows ‘automate,’ on its own. I was enchanted at the cognate, and with the idea. The farmer doesn’t worry about the seed, he sleeps and rises, night and day, while the seed comes to its fullness. There is no striving, or anxiety, or failure to plan properly, anything else that would cause the farmer to think he had failed. He just needs the proper seed. He needs to see it planted. And he needs to wait until it is ready to harvest.
In all the years I have been involved in the spiritual life: several as a spiritual director and as a student and professional pastor, one thing I have noticed is that people are anxious and worried about their life of faith. They worry that their faith is not enough or not strong enough. They worry that they don’t know how to pray. They worry that they don’t know their Bible well enough. They worry that the wrongs they have done or the good they have not done is going condemn them and separate them from God forever.
As a pastor, I have been part of groups that strategize about church growth, worry about the future of the church, wonder what happened to the church they loved. What do we have to do now? What are we doing wrong? There is so much hand-wringing. I don’t think it’s wrong to worry about the future of the church, or to be concerned that you are being a faithful follower of Jesus, and learning more and more how to do it well. But I think this parable can give us some comfort.
At almost every funeral here, I have brought out the baptismal font and the Christ candle, symbols of baptism to testify that the entrance of a loved one into Jesus’ arms is the closing of a circle that began at our baptism. If we think of faith as a gift that God plants in our hearts, instead of a lot of theological technicalities that we have to agree with in order to be God’s people, then we can think of the seed of God’s love being planted in our hearts in our baptism. That seed of God’s love and our response as trust in that love grows like the grain in Mark’s parable. It opens and begins to reach for the sunlight and the air. It stretches out into the full stalk, and then bears its fruit as it was destined to do. We do not know how it works, only that it does. Like the farmer, we rise and sleep through the years, as the seed of God’s love grows up into yearning for community, longing for greater understanding, wanting to be useful and caring in our families and our lives. Being part of a church community gives us the tools to enrich what is already at work, like being watered in a dry season. It gives us support to teach our children and to learn and increase our understanding of how God is at work in us day by day.
As the church strays from the simplicity of staying tuned in to God’s Word as its source and Jesus and his ministry as its center, it falls away and is reborn. It is God’s church and when we are in harmony with God’s presence in it, it will grow and thrive. The parable tells us that.
I think this parable can be a big relief. It is not what we do for God, it tells us, it is what God has already begun in our hearts that is growing and flowering into it full maturity. We can rest in knowing that the kingdom of God is like a tweet that gone viral, as my friend Laurie says. It is out of control – like the mustard weeds in the twin parable we have before us today. It will grow as it was created to do, and we can just go with it, letting it lead us into new adventures, new learning, new companions on the way. We can trust that God is always at work to bring us into the fullness of life that God intended, and that it won’t just be us, it will include all the people we touch and love as we work together with God to create a world of justice and equality for all people.
So this is my charge to you as I leave you today. Let that love lead you. Let it reassure you that you are God’s Beloved, called and invited into God’s family, right here among you. Let that belovedness be what leads you as you set out for what’s calling you now, and trust that as the seed contains everything it needs to bear its fruit, so God has already given you what you need as well. Love each other as you see each other through the eyes of the God who has gathered you into this blessed communion. And be ready to dare whatever you must to answer that call that you will be discerning.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor and grant you peace. Amen.
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