Today’s sermon is a guest sermon from Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker, who you can find on twitter @ReedmanParker:
GOSPEL: Mark 4:26-34
…3[Jesus] 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.”
Parables. Those ever elusive illustrations that Jesus used throughout his ministry to teach people about God and God’s kingdom. These simple stories often begin in the same way: “The kingdom of God is like…” and use a variety of literary devices to get the point across including charm, humour and exaggeration. Jesus liked parables – a lot! There are 40 parables recorded in the bible. Which means there were probably more that were never recorded in the big book of our faith. Jesus’ stories from every day life made what he was saying accessible to his audience. At the same times, parables are also a little like riddles, it takes some time to figure them out!
Today we encounter not one, but two parables about the growing, sprouting, spreading of the Kingdom of God. Living in an agrarian and agricultural culture, it makes sense that Jesus would use illustrations and imagery that would be familiar to his audience: the sower and the seed make sense.
But I’m not convinced that these parables are as accessible as they once were. And it’s possible, if Jesus were here with us, he might not talk about scattering or sowing seeds.
If Jesus were here with us, he might say that the kingdom of God is like a video that goes viral…
We are all familiar with youtube, and what it means for something to go viral, right?
Whether it is a clip from a famous movie, to a stunt that a group of kids are performing in the back yard, or a recipe video.
Going viral is when a video that is posted on the internet is widely shared, or spread through internet sites such as youtube, social media like twitter and facebook or over email.
I’m not talking about malicious viruses that invade our computers or videos that are posted on the internet in order to harm or defame others… What I am talking about is how technology has transformed the ways in which we communicate with one another and how we are able to spread and share information all over the world with the click of a button – actually, we don’t even use buttons anymore now that we have touch screens…
Which brings me back to that little mustard seed… not so unlike that unsuspecting video that makes it way onto youtube and before you know it, it’s being featured on the nightly news, or your inbox is filled with video clips of the awe inspiring and the humorous moments of life.
For Jesus to compare the kingdom of God to a mustard seed seems a little strange, who’s ever heard of anyone wanting a mustard tree? – PAUSE – after some research on the topic, it turns out, not too many people. In the ancient near east very few people would go out of their way to plant mustard because it is very hard to control. You know the saying, it grows like a weed? That sums up mustard. Once it gets into the ground, its spreads and takes over entire plots of land. Jesus’ comparison would be akin to saying the kingdom of God is like a dandelion. Not too many people like dandelions precisely because they are incredibly difficult to control. We try to contain them… get rid of them… but they keep coming back: growing and spreading and showing up in the most unexpected and unwanted of places. Who wants that?
As it turns out, God does.
The message and meaning of the parable is this: There is an incredible growth of God’s reign in the world. We can talk about the incredible growth of God’s reign in a person’s life, in our own lives. The focus of the parable is growth, explosive growth, enormous growth. Each parable has a unique contribution to make to our understanding of the reign of God, and this parable focuses on the incredible growth that is part of the reign of God. *
God’s love… God’s reign in the world is growing like a weed.
God wants our lives and our faith to grow and spread in much the same way: uncontrolled, unruly and unaffected by any limits or controls we might be tempted to place on it. – And we do get tempted! We don’t like weeds. For starters, they are not very pretty. Not to mention, they are impossible to tame and grow when and where we want!
In the church, we tend to confuse God’s kingdom with the church, which can quickly become our kingdom. And we tend to see growth only from a numeric point of view. How much, how many, how often?
That’s NOT what Jesus is talking about. In this parable, Jesus is pointing out that the way God’s kingdom… God’s Word… God’s will grows in our hearts and souls and minds… in our whole beings.
Jesus is describing that the way God’s kingdom will grow, will not be in the ways we expect. In fact, it will be in the most unexpected and even undesired ways that the seed is planted, grows and spreads to far reaches that on our own we never could have imagined.
Most of the time, when something is posted, the person who has posted it has no idea whether or not it will get 5 hits – you know, from your parents and grandparents and your best friend – or 5 million hits. But what you do know, is that it is scattered out there in the world, waiting to sprout and grow in ways we do not yet know.
And the key to growth? Scattering seed with wild abandon. The key to growth is a willingness to risk failure. That’s right, in order to risk growth of any kind, we must first be willing to fail.
One thing we know from the scriptures about the Kingdom of God, is that it is not dependant on our getting it right – or even getting it at all – even the 12 disciples get extra help when they don’t understand.
In God’s kingdom seeds are sown… faith grows out of those seeds… those small, seemingly insignificant seeds that are scattered in the richest soil and within the rockiest and seemingly inhospitable ground and left to grow. Somehow, those seeds, our faith, sprouts, grows – not because of anything we do, but through what God in Jesus is doing through us.
* http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_seed_growing_automatically_GA.htm Accessed June 16, 2012.