Seeking the Kingdom

Posted on 17 Jun 2018
  • Mark 4: 26-34

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his is the time of year with all the photos of graduations, proms and even some weddings where I am totally shocked that someone I thought was still about 7 years old is now going into high school, or graduating from college.  ‘Whoa, wasn’t I just changing their diapers a few years ago?  Time has flown,’ Or, has it?  It takes time for things and people to grow.  While I have been living my life and moving into an older life, time has not stood still for any one or any thing.  Meanwhile, many young children I have known—these young seeds have moved into adulthood with their gifts and talents, making their way in the world.

In Mark’s gospel this morning, Jesus tells two parables about seeds.  The first is about a sower who scatters seeds on the ground not knowing when, where or how they’ll grow.  The second parable is one we have heard many times.  It is about the mustard seed, which Jesus compares to the Kingdom of God.  Both parables reveal something new each time I read them—something surprising and always challenging.  This morning I would like to talk about the seeds Jesus speaks of and how, as they are compared to God’s Kingdom, they are central to Jesus’ message. 

I love the way that Jesus juxtaposes the idea of seeds as a metaphor for the Kingdom of God because seeds in both of these parables cannot be controlled.  Take the seeds of the sower.  He has scattered them on the ground and that is where the sower’s control begins and ends.  As any good gardener knows, one can plant seeds, carefully water and fertilize, but the key transformation happens mysteriously underground, beyond our observation and control.  Time passes without observable changes, and like the photos I spoke of earlier of those little children, suddenly, life emerges in a dramatic way.

For me, this is what Mark is saying about the Kingdom of God and perhaps about faith as well.  We all have conversations in and out of our churches about God, preachers preach about the scriptures, people hold adult forums in which they dig deep into what we believe scripture is saying to us in our present day.  And it is like that underground seed, which is planted, growing in the depths of the earth—there is no finite discernable road map for what eventually grows as plant or faith or Kingdom.  It happened underground and it slowly shows itself in the world.

It is how Martin Luther experienced the success of his Reformation.  He expressed it this way: “I simply taught, preached and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing.  And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses on it.  I did nothing; the Word did everything.”  Well, I think Luther sells himself short in a big way.  His Reformation was extremely difficult to say the least and he suffered greatly during the movement.  He truly spoke truth to power at considerable, personal cost, and his truth is reminiscent of a seed that settles in underground and with a lot of time, grows unnoticed until there is a powerful emergence.

Life as people knew it changed dramatically in Luther’s time as God’s Kingdom had come right up to the people.  God was present throughout all of the Reformation, all the strife and change. That is how God’s Kingdom works here on earth.  It is sometimes a growth that happens without notice and then it is simply there.

The past couple of weeks have been very difficult to digest and come to grips with.  The devastation of places like Hawaii with a multitude of fires and the destruction of people’s homes.  There have been over 4,000 deaths since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico six months ago.  The deaths continue due to failures of medical and other critical infrastructure.  The increase in suicide rates have markedly increased in light of two celebrities who died last week by their own hand.  This issue has plagued our culture for many years.  Inside York Prison in Niantic last week, two women died.  One of a heart attack and one of suicide.

And it is exactly these sad stories that remind me of Jesus’ Kingdom of Heaven parables.  Why?  Because these parables about the Kingdom are so counter-intuitive.

Jesus’ second parable this morning, is about how the ‘kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that starts out tiny and insignificant and grows to become the greatest of all shrubs.’  Really?  This ‘shrub’ is a major nuisance; once it takes root it can take over a whole planting area.  Even the idea of birds seeking shelter from the elements in the mustard bush has been viewed negatively.  As John Dominic Crossan puts it:  “The mustard plant tends to take over where it is not wanted, it tends to get out of control, and then it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired.”

So why in heaven’s name would Jesus compare the Kingdom of God to a seed that grows into an unpopular shrub that attracts the wrong species?  We may think that the Kingdom of God should look polished, beautiful, and powerful—something surreal, unreachable.  Jesus brings none of that.   He is the crucified one, who hobnobs with the most undesirable people, who is suffused with mercy—not power.  Jesus came to bring a different Kingdom.  Not one that has allegiance to wealth, self-centeredness, and systems based on intimidation and climbing over others.  The kingdom of a human engineered world will not save us, no way and no how!!

No, Jesus brings in a kingdom that looks a lot different than the one we see on a daily basis.  It is chock full of those undesirable birds that keep flocking to the same creeping bush and they aggravating those who deem them undesirable.  As Lutheran theologian, Nadia Bolz-Weber says; “When God could no longer be contained by heaven, heaven came to earth.  The love God had for the world God created overflowed the heavens and became incarnate from the person in Jesus Christ.”

He healed the sick, he dined with sinners, he listened to Samarians (yikes,) and he preached good news to the poor.  These were not pretty people in a car or L’Oreal commercial.  These were the lowest of the low in their culture.  The Kingdom of God is found in the absolute run-of-the-mill, everyday, ordinary, boring, irritating and undesirable people.  People of God.  People God absolutely loves and created to love.  We are all those people.  We are just like the addicted and homeless in our streets.  We are just like the runaway teenager escaping an abusive home.

We are in all actuality like the migrants who are trying to enter our country.  These are no less God’s beloved, trying to live one more day.  We see the stark choice put before them.  So many can stay in their country and be murdered or throw ourselves on the mercy of the U.S. knowing how horrible it could all end up.

There are seeds of hate, resentment, and fear being sown at the border.  They are not of the God that I know and love and want to serve.  Jesus rejects all of this in the world he lived in.    He rejects what is happening with the people at the border today.  The horrible situations in our world right now are reality.  Our challenge as Christians is to do everything we can to change them.  Let us make our voices heard…. and not in any partisan rant but in calling out the evil committed in our name.  Jesus calls us to do that and the one bright light I see is that Christians across the whole spectrum of denominations are doing just that.  They are sowing sees of justice and love by speaking out and bringing the Kingdom closer to the way Jesus envisioned it here on earth.  This week can we sow our own seeds of love and justice by speaking up to those in power?

With God’s help we can.      Amen