Proper 6, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 14, 2015
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, Psalm 20, 2 Cor. 5:6-17.
God Gives the Growth
Seeds, sickles, sprouts, soil, birds, grain, weeds, wheat, trees, branches, vines, coins, sheep, bushels—Jesus uses the ordinary things of life to tell stories of the Kingdom of God. He illustrates his stories with images that would have been familiar to his hearers, and to us. Indeed, he uses these images to point to important truths about the nature of God. He doesn’t sit and expound on theological theories about God that sound like they came out of a seminary classroom. He speaks to us out of his human experience, and ours.
What might these brief, yet pithy parables have to say to us about Gospel living in the kingdom of God, about faith, and about dying to old ways of being in order to receive new life in Christ?
Mark’s account, the earliest of the four gospels, was written in a time of great turmoil, right before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans. Christians were persecuted because they worshipped God over the imperial Caesar. In fact, anyone who did not go along with the power-crazed, often brutal imperial rule was oppressed. It seemed that the powers of evil were mightier than those of good. and the people began to lose hope. Through the stories of Jesus, the gospel writer brings hope and courage and life, a vision of a different community where people practice mercy, justice, and peacemaking. Jesus proclaims a radically new way of being in the world, where true power comes not from might or the sword but through humility and service. The humble mustard plant grows into a mighty bush that provides shade and comfort to many. Seed is scattered lavishly and freely, and through the grace of God is transformed into a plentiful harvest. The kingdoms of the world may come and go, but the reign of God remains forever, and out of the smallest seed of faith comes new and abundant life.
What does this mean for us? How are we to live in the Kingdom here and now? First, we are called to be lavishly generous sowers, liberally scattering the seed of the Good News to all, trusting that it will find good soil and bring forth fruits of righteousness and peace. We also are to reject the value system of our culture that promotes garnering wealth and power over service and community, and is often indifferent to oppression and exclusion of those on the margins. We are called to walk in humility with our God, remembering our dependence on him. Time and time again, God confounds the wisdom of the world by bringing great abundance out of the most humble offerings we make of ourselves, and the mustard seeds of our lives.
This Gospel also teaches us about faith. Have you ever watched the progress of seeds as they grow? When I was a little kid, our teachers used to give us pumpkin and other seeds to take home and plant in little pots. We would dutifully plant them, and put a Popsicle stick in the soil to train up the plant when it began to grow. It seemed like nothing every happened, and it took forever. I would get impatient and dig the seeds up to check on them, and they never grew after that! I think we are sometimes like that with our faith—we want God to hurry up with the Spirit’s work in us, and we feel like we need to control the process. Growth in Christ can’t be hurried. It needs to gently unfold in God’s good time. It happens by grace. Just as the seed takes in the water from the soil and sends out tender sprouts, and then stalks, and then unfolds branches and luscious fruit, so in the dark mystery of our own soil God unfolds the life of Christ in us, and through the Spirit, helps us to grow. It doesn’t take huge faith, even faith as tiny as the mustard seed, when it is offered to God, brings abundant growth.
Faith is also walking ahead into the unknown and trusting the light on the path immediately in front of us. We may not be able to see the twists and turns of the path very far ahead of us, but we know it will be all right, because God goes before us. We find our way, though we know not how. We trust in what we can’t yet see, in what will be revealed. In the parable, the person who sowed the seeds trusts in the process, and behold, one day, the seeds have sprouted, though he knows not how. One of my favorite stories about this kind of faith, which I have never forgotten,, comes from the book The Hiding Place,” the true story of Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch woman who was instrumental in saving many Jewish people from Nazi extermination by hiding them in her home and sneaking them to freedom. She later survived imprisonment in a concentration camp and went on to share her story of the power of faith and forgiveness. When she was a very young girl, she witnessed the death of a baby. It was her first experience with the reality of death, and it left her shaken. If that baby could die, then so could her mother, her father, her sister! Unable to sleep at night, she cried to her father, “You can’t die, you can’t!” He sat down by her bed and said “Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam on the train, when do I give you your ticket?” She thought about it, and said “Why, just before we get on the train.” Her father responded: Exactly. And our wise Father in Heaven knows when we are going to need things, too. Don’t run ahead of him. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need—just in time.” In God’s own time, we know not how, the seeds of faith and hope will grow in our hearts and give us the strength and courage to overcome fear, just in time. .
In a sense, seeds have to die in order to grow. The seed can’t grow unless it is buried in the ground. The soil it is buried in is empty and barren. And then gradually, slowly, life begins to appear, the sprout, the stem, and then the new plant. So it is with us. When we follow Christ, we have to give up old ways of being in the world, of self-sufficiency, of being guided by our own desires and wants. This is really hard, and it feels like death. We have to go into the dark ground, we have to walk the way of the cross and share in Christ’s suffering and death, we have to take the step of faith and trust, When we do, we will find that resurrection lies beyond death, both now and in the life to come. When we step out in faith, we find that when the seeds are buried in the dark ground, God, in the mystery of grace, will bring about wonderful growth. When we step out in faith, we find that God will heal and transform us and give us new hearts to love. When we step out in faith, we will find newness of life. That is what Paul means when he says “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!” This is all gift, all grace, because we can’t bring it about ourselves, in our own strength. It can only happen by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us.
So what are we called to do now? I believe we are to be the sower, generously and liberally scattering the seeds of the abundance of God’s love in the barren places of our world. We are called to be seeds, sprouting and growing and flourishing, and sharing the good news of Christ with the world. We are called to be good, rich soil, nurturing the seeds with prayer, sacrament, and fellowship with our dear friends in the Body of Christ.
Friends, we are called to walk in faith. We can dare to dream big dreams and hope wildly, to hold a vision before the people, to boldly proclaim the Gospel and trust that God will provide what we need as we seek to follow the Spirit’s lead. We can let go of fear and the need to have certainty of the way ahead, to take the road that might lead through trackless wilderness, knowing that nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ.
We are called to let go of our old ways of being in the world, so that we might become a new creation, not only as individuals, but as the branch of the vine that is Holy Child and St Martin Church, and to become a beacon of faith and hope and joy in the world. Amen.