(This was a dialogue sermon--participation of the congregation was invited.)
An important part of the bedtime ritual, when our three children were young, was the bedtime story. Then years later the ritual continued with the grandchildren. Those words, "Once upon a time or long ago and far away", created a special place, a sacred space to let go of the day's work and enter into a place to listen and rest.
Jesus was a master storyteller as he spoke in the language of the people. He spoke of seeds and sowing, a lamp under a bushel basket, bread and yeast, a camel going through the eye of a needle, fig trees, precious pearls, lelies of the field and sheep and shepherds. He gave those around him snapshots of everyday things. He gave them pictures of the material so they might see the spiritual. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, "These stories offer us a sense of connection, a handle on mystery, an invitation to wonder".
We tell and retell the stories of Jesus every time we gather together in worship, by the singing of hymns, reading scripture, in prayer and the communion. Within these acts of regular worship hopefully, we come to see the DIvine mystery in things. And we come to see our place within the DIvine mystery of all things.
Today, we have two short stories or parables, both about seeds. So, let' discuss/dialogue together, let's be theologians together and discover the truth for us in these stories of common things.
Listen again as I read Mk. 4:26-29 - The Growing Seed.
What kind of gardener is this, scatters seed, doesn't prepare the ground, doesn't tend the garden. He goes to bed and rises, the seed sprouts and grows. How? He doesn't know. The earth produces of itself. Do we not tend the garden? Do we just trust the process? Let God be God, there's no need to worry.
At our house we have different styles of gardening. Bob tends and fusses over his nine rows, and it's survival of the fittest for my small section. And with the harvest we enjoy the bounty of delicious produce with much to share.
We may hear in these scriptures--the importance of small beginnings. Jesus began a movement long ago in a small corner of the world that is still today transforming lives.
We may understand this to be about spiritual growth and intimacy with God, how God loves, adores, welcomes us into relationship. Or is it about grace? God's unearned, unmerited gift and favor being the soil in which the seed comes to life and grows.
Now the second story is from Mk 4:30-34 - The Mustard Seed
This may be a metaphor for those small, insignificant things which seem to be of little value bringing forth something of huge size. How could something so large grow from something so small? Does God's spirit and grace determine the results?
Mustard seeds were common in Jesus' land; they germinated rapidly into a hardy plant, rapidly taking over an entire garden. Seeds are the enduring symbol of life growing out of what seems so small and so lifeless, so dead. All around us small beginnings often yield and surprising outcomes.
In the Gospel story from Mark, Jesus' first words are, "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near".
What exactly is the kingdom of God? In all Jesus' teachings, the Kingdom is never defined. He spoke of it often usually in stories as we have today.
How then do these two stories give us hints or clues about God's kingdom? I wonder how these stories lead us into the mystery of God coming near?
Many times the parables of scripture are completely confusing to us and we wonder why Jesus didn't speak in language we could all understand. Perhaps it's because these stories were politically incorrect, it was dangerous to speak in this subversive language. People wer expecting a grwat moment of renewal. They believed Israel would be rescue--lock, stock, and barrel. God's kingdom would explode onto the world stage in a blaze of glory. "No", Jesus said, "It's more like the seed growing in the soil, silently, powerfully coming to be."
Or, it's like the tiny mustard seed which grows into the biggest of all shrubs; birds of the air nest and rest within its shade. Think of the giant sequoias in California. They grew from a tiny seed, something like an oat flake. It is now estimated that those trees weigh over 2000 tons each. How many birds have nested in those trees?
Can it be that God's intended kingdom will eventually offer shade and shelter to the whole world?
I wonder what the Kingdom of God might be like for us today?
Are we bold enough to really mean it when w pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"? How dare we not!