“A Parable of Life”
Mark 4: 26 – 34, June 17th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these words from the gospel according to Mark, chapter four, verses twenty-six thru thirty-four.”
26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.
29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?
31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet 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.”
33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
“Having listened to the reading of these ancient words, let us now open our hearts and minds, to the Parable of the growing seed, and that of The Mustard Seed, as we seek out their meaning to us in the Twenty-First Century.”
“A Parable of Life”
Jesus was a gifted teacher and he had charisma that attracted the people of Jerusalem and throughout Palestine. The people were hungry for a leader. They did not all understand whom Jesus was, nor did they have a grasp on the new and refreshing message of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. Yet, they flocked around him and followed him trying to absorb as much of him and what he said and did, as they could! I must assume, we, the people of the Twenty-First Century, we are hungry for what Jesus offers. The problem with us moderns is we have had the teachings of Christ, shoveled at us in so many different and sometimes in so many meaningless and superficial ways! It didn’t mean much when we heard it the first time and we still don’t get it the fifth or twentieth time either! So why, why, O why, ought I open my mind and heart to this old teaching again, you ask? I ask myself this question every time I struggle with this whole concept of teaching you something so vital as how are we supposed to get to Heaven? What can I do? How do I get there? That is just the problem! My question, the question that Pastors, Preachers ask themselves every week, are probably not the question you need an answer to!
Now this puts us in an awkward way doesn’t it! Most of us either believe we are going to heaven or we don’t. If you are wanting to go to heaven but are not yet sure about how you get there, keep listening to your heart and following the teachings of Christ and you will one day arrive. All too soon, I might add! If you are sure you know the way, please, please talk about that with others. It sure would lighten the burden for pastor’s around the globe!
But, are not your questions way more practical than that? How do I live without my precious loved one? How do I find hope when the world I loved as a child has been thrown into such chaos, disorder and confusion? Or is it that preverbal why question? Why did this or why did that happen or not happen? I am afraid only a very enlightened Holy Person, or someone with a ‘really’ big EGO would dare to try to answer one of those ‘why’ questions.
Let me suggest to each one of us that we look at our time together slightly differently this morning. Let us simply allow our time of worship together to be, a time of renewal and an opportunity to revitalize our spirits. I mean that ‘spirit’ that each of us nourish which cares for our personal needs. There is nothing wrong with caring for oneself, and a time of prayer and a time of renewal through hymnody and worshipful music, can really help. There is a catch, however. You must become willing to allow this to happen for yourself. The Spirit of God that we all seek; the spirit of renewal will only fill our hearts and revive the spirit of hope within us, if we allow it to! I hate to be simplistic, yet, as individuals we must accept our responsibility in this matter.
The ultimate question we all hold in our minds, probably subliminally, meaning we may not be conscious of the central point, or the real concern at hand! The question I propose to you is this: “We all want to find heaven here on earth, and most of us are discontent because no one has told us how to accomplish this.” That is the question needing answering: We want to know how to be in the presence of God while we still walk, talk and interact with each other! Now the answer to this question will indeed fill you with hope, if you are willing to listen to the answer.
Perhaps, the early Israelites were seeking the same answer to that subconscious question as well. Based on what we know, the oppressed people of Israel were looking for a Messiah. Their understanding of such was to be a conquering hero. This suggests to me, they were looking for a more-earthly heaven. A heaven which would free their sons and daughters to live a life, free of the oppression of the Romans. This first parable, ‘The Parable of the Growing Seed’, one of several which Jesus taught to the gathering crowds. He was striving to give them hope, hope that would relieve them of their earthly burdens and fears. Jesus, like modern day preachers, was struggling with how to open the heart of a discouraged people. ‘With this in mind’, Jesus taught them with his perplexing parables, seeking to offer them the familiar while seeking to teach them the holy message of God. A message that was meant to up-lift them, and give them new hope, new promise.
Today’s lesson, which contains two parables, reminds me of one of the lesson I learned about while working with clay. People of that time knew all about clay and pottery, every household had big and small vases and jars made with pottery which was essential to daily life. There is even a scripture about clay. Something about “We are the clay, and you are the potter.” Way back in the time of the prophet Isaiah. /Isaiah 64:8/ Dear old Isaiah was prophesying, urging and proclaiming to God, ‘have mercy upon your people, for they are the product of your handywork!’ /Isaiah 64:9/ Isaiah was pressing God by reminding the Creator: “It is You, O God, whom forms us and molds us and creates us in ‘Your’ vision, as the Master Designer, to be the finished vessel, of which You, Our God, blessed for the work of Your ‘kingdom’ here on Earth!” In the clay imagery, we are very pliable in the hand of our Maker. However, we see the potter’s wheel, it is the clay that is molded in the hands of the Potter, not the clay which molds itself! In today’s imagery we have a slightly different image to grapple with. In this parable, we are more like ‘Johnny Appleseed.’ We simply scatter the seed, like any good farmer would do, and what happens after that… it is not up to the farmer nor you or me. The very nature of creation via Mother Earth, nourishes the seedlings and causes them to grow. In the parable, it is the farmer that harvests the seedling, which in the case of the parable, is grain.
Stepping out of the parable to seek out its parallel meaning, as all parables have, we shall see that there are several ways to view the lesson. One is in the image of a farmer planting a crop. In this we are the farmers and we are planting the seeds of God. We are telling the story of Jesus to others, just as the Apostle Paul did when he journeyed to Corinth and the other cities surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. In the case of Paul, he came to realize that once he had told the story of Jesus, it was the Spirit of God which nurtured the new converts along the path of faith. As his voyages continued there were more seeds of knowledge and hopeful exhortations, which he was able to offer. Yet, it was each seedling’s personal relationship with the Spirit and ultimately with Christ that caused them to grow to Christian maturity. When viewed in this light, we are compelled to keep spreading the seed, the very words of God; allowing the Spirit to do its transforming work with those whom receive and accept God’s offer through Christ.
In a slightly differing view, the parable of The Mustard Seed, reminds us that God can take the smallest of seeds, the smallest of our sincere efforts, and grow them into a mighty bush, a huge successful and plentiful ministry, reminding each and ‘every’ one of us that we must not give up trying! Sometimes it seems ‘hopeless’ this whole thing about following the will of God and trying to be like the early Disciples and spread the message of God’s love and mercy through Christ! And yes, oh yes, sometimes it is exhausting and the road to heaven seems long and far, far away. Yet, we are encouraged by Jesus himself through this simple mustard seed parable. We are the seedlings of ‘little faith’ when we do not trust in the transforming power of God. Nor ought we judge our own efforts through the results we see, for God sees with a different eye toward perfection!
Having gone this far, into this lesson, it is time for us to ponder a simple, yet profound question. Are we, are you more like the parable of the growing seed, or do we, do you identify more easily with the parable of the mustard seed? Or perhaps we can see ourselves in either parable? One pastor tells us that by “Investing our lives in the church that seeks to bear witness to God’s realm of peace and freedom and justice in this world requires us: to step out in faith, so that what we’re doing will eventually bear fruit – even if we may not see it. It means recognizing we’re in over our heads, but we can trust that God is working in and through us constantly.” /Alan Brehm/
The Parables offer us life itself! They offer us a way to live with hope! John the Baptist proclaimed: “The Kingdom of God is at hand!” The ministry of Jesus was when God walked in our midst, Jesus, the Christ walked amongst us. The God of Abraham and Moses is here amongst us now. The Living Spirit of Christ is present and here with us now! What if my message to you today is that signs of hope, signs of life, within God’s Kingdom are all around us! “What if we (send you) to go out and to look, (what if I charged you to go out to look) for those places where’s God’s kingdom is sneaking in, or spreading out, or taking over little corners of our world?” /David Lose/ The pastor that first put forth this charge, he was challenging his listeners to have a little faith, have a little hope, that the Living God, is truly here amongst us! And if we are willing and if we take the time to look, we will find evidence of God’s handy work. Yes, indeed, the harvest is plentiful! The seeds that good Christians like you and me, the seeds that we have scattered, there are some of those seeds which God has blessed and nourished and they are now doing the ministry of Christ, for surely, “The Kingdom of God is at hand!
Let us be reminded, on this Father’s Day, this time when we lift-up those whom parent us, let us be reminded that we are the seedlings that our Father in heaven has scattered. We are the handy work of the Architects of Creation! We have been blessed. Get up, leave behind your doubts and look around. Don’t seek out the half empty glass of water. Seek rather the abundant glass of water which is half full! The Love, the grace and the mercy of God is at hand! “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”