A sermon for outdoor worship on June 27th, based on Mark 4:26-29
This season we’re exploring some of Jesus’ parables as found in the Gospel of Mark. Today’s parable is sometimes called the Parable of the Seed Growing Secretly. It is only found in this gospel.
Although the parable is unique, the topic isn’t; many of Jesus’ parables begin in this way: “The kingdom of God is like…” or, “the kingdom of God is as if…” Which begs the question – what is the kingdom of God, and why do we need to know what it’s like?
The Greek word basileia, traditionally translated kingdom, could just as easily be read as realm, reign, rule, or sovereignty. Today, we sometimes use the word kindom instead. So when we’re talking about the kingdom of God we’re talking about the place, or the time, or the ways, or the loving community in which God’s desires for us become fully realized. How can we work towards it? How can we recognize it? How can we receive it?
This topic is mysterious, and Jesus devotes a lot of his teachings to it. Each time, he describes the kingdom of God with a story or a metaphor. Even Jesus can’t tell us exactly what God’s kingdom is; only that it’s sort of like this; or sort of like that.
In this case, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God is as if someone scatters seeds, and then ignores them. Meanwhile, the seeds sprout and grow. The earth produces a stalk, and then a head, and then a full grain for harvest.
One commentator said that we don’t talk about this parable much because it’s boring! There’s no drama in this story. I wonder if it may still be a helpful message for us, boring or not, in this culture that encourages us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and demonstrate our self-worth through achievement, and prove our morality through sacrificial effort, and continuously improve ourselves through the relentless force of our own will.
I invite you to consider a moment in your life when things went right without your forcing them to. You abandoned a task only to discover that someone else eventually completed it, maybe even better than you could have. You gave up on a problem only to have a solution drop into your mind a few days later. You stopped fighting with someone and something shifted, in yourself or in someone else, or both, for peace, for healing, for good.
I’m not suggesting that the key to life or spiritual health is to stop trying altogether. But I do think we can get trapped into thinking that our determined efforts are the only solution to problems; problems that are often much larger than us. We forget to leave any room for other folks to take a role, or for the Holy Spirit to intervene.
Of course, allowing anyone to help us, human or divine, means letting go a little. It means not being in total control. The outcome may be a little different than what we had in mind. The time frame may not really meet our expectations. That seed which Jesus said grew so well on its own — how many days and nights did it take to sprout and grow and bear grain, to be ready for the harvest?
This parable of the seed that grows secretly reminds me of one of my favorite prayers. It was written by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, paleontologist, theologian, philosopher and teacher. He writes:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our God the benefit of believing
that their hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”
Please pray with me. God, we long for all things to be good, to be right, to be how you would have them be; or at least, how we would have them be. Help us to work faithfully in your fields as we are called and also to recognize opportunities to rest, to ask for help, to embrace uncertainty, to wait for an outcome that is beyond our capacity to reach alone. May we wait for the seed to sprout, for the stalk to grow, for the grain to ripen, for the harvest to come, through your grace, and with your kindom, and in your time. Amen.