Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
June 14, 2015
Mark 4: 26-34
“Growing In Truth”
“Hear now the parable of the Mustard seed as written in the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 4, verses 26-34.”
He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 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.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
“Allow this parable, spoken by Jesus so long ago, to open your heart and your mind to true possibilities!”
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My mother came home from a long hard day at work and as she walked into the living room she spotted that her new, soft cushioned chair, was badly stained. Three of us children were standing there as she said: “Tell me the truth, who ruined my new chair.” You could have heard a pin drop as all manner of thing, breathing and even the flutter of an eyelash stopped. Everyone knew this chair was very, very, special to our mom. The pursuing details of this moment are not crucial for us to review, yet as I look back, I realize today that even in innocence, the truth is something one needs to grow into.
The outcome of my mother’s request for the truth, is a very long and sketchy memory. That’s the truth of it. There are however, many, many encounters that I and millions of young folks have and have had with their parents that are firmly in our hearts and in the hearts of countless children. There are a multitude of encounters with parents or guardians when the truth was requested; and there are a variety of responses to such requests. The truth is, the answers given are not always solidly based in fact. Unfortunately, many will conger up the simplest, or lamest excuse or white lie trying to avoid the all too exposing and or embarrassing of truths that underlies the reason for the inquiry in the first place. Surely, my remarks are only conjecture and no one here is following my logic as we all are void of this inexcusable behavior of telling a lie!
Before we go too far with this conversation we need to consider this question: “What does telling a lie have to do with the parable of the mustard seed?” Actually, it is quite obvious once you make the connection. A mustard seed is a tiny little seed, yet it grows into a shrub three or four feet high. A small little white lie starts very, very small, yet, as the teller well knows many more infractions of the truth are often necessary to support the premise of the first small infraction, until eventually a web of mistruths, falsehoods and bold faced untruths are uttered in defense.
John Dominic Crossan, a prominent theologian gives us some thoughts regarding the mustard seed that will point out a very central point in this conversation: “The point, in other words, is not just that the mustard plant starts as a (notoriously) proverbially small seed and grows into a shrub of three or four feet, or even higher, it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract birds within cultivated areas where they are not particularly desired. And that, said Jesus, was what the Kingdom was like: not like the mighty cedar of Lebanon and not quite like a common weed, [more] like a pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties. Something you would want in only small and carefully controlled doses — if you could control it.” (The Historical Jesus, pp. 278-279).
Anyone who has ever told a little small white lie knows, that seemingly innocent lie is something you can justify as you intend to use it only in very “small and carefully controlled doses” just as Crossan has pointed out. However, a lie, much like the mustard seed has the potential of being a “pungent shrub with dangerous takeover properties.” That innocent white lie is only a reasonable choice if you can control its effect, but only “if you could control it!” Crossan puts it across very clearly when talking about the growth of a small mustard seed: “it is that it tends to take over where it is not wanted, that it tends to get out of control, and that it tends to attract…” Consider for a moment what one tiny untruth can do in the midst of the ‘real world’ life that we are each individually and as a community living into. What unwanted realities might one attract with even a small lie?
Take for instance a situation like that of my mother’s favorite chair. Clearly, even my foggy memory of the event had her chair stained or soiled in some way. Clearly, in my mother’s mind, someone had knowledge of the truth of what had happened. Any attempt for a cover-up or avoidance scenario by anyone involved or having knowledge of what had occurred would ultimately be found out, eventually. Most everyone I know, whom is now a responsible adult, knows this to be true. The one foolish enough to attempt such a falsehood in the face of an overworked, tired mother, at the end of her workday, would surely feel the full wrath of her rage once they were found out; and the punishment would then most certainly far exceed the misdeed! Lies, even little ones are not welcome by parents from their minor children, we all know this to be the truth!
Jesus preached about and talked about a lot of issues. The mustard seed was just one aspect of a parable directing us to a conversation about the kingdom of heaven. Clearly, Jesus didn’t want us to focus on the negative aspects of growth. Only when following the logic of John Dominic Crossan do we get into all that can lead us astray, or distract us, from the achievement of our desired goal. Growth, new growth is critical and vitally important! Therefore, to get to heaven we need to follow the positive lead of Jesus! Consequently, we need to be sure as we grow, as we work with the youth in our community that we are feeding the positive attributes of growth. Without any debate or discussion we must close ranks and all agree, fully recognizing that lies will cultivate the wrong side of our personalities and the wrong side of the new growth we anticipate from our youth. Striving to have integrity in all areas of our life will help us to grow in truth thus growing in our likeness to God! This is what we want for our youth!
We know Jesus taught and said many things. Much of which is contained in the gospel accounts in our Bibles. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” /John 14:6/ In this passage from the 14th chapter of the gospel according to John we hear the written belief that early followers of Jesus believed as truth that the only way to heaven was to follow in the footsteps of the man Jesus, thus living the life he lived, the way he lived it. Hence, if we are to set positive examples for our children, we need to do so by following also in the footsteps of Jesus. Even a scholarly non-believer will raise Jesus up as a teacher, a prophet or a spiritual leader, worthier of being used as a positive example. As we follow the good model of parents and firm up our intolerance of lies we need to purposefully replace this with good positive methodologies for handling difficult and yes sometimes embarrassing moments.
There is a lot to be cleaned as well from ancient writings, regarding the value of truth, from the Old Testament. The book of Ecclesiastes, attributed to Solomon, either as the writer or at least central character, specifically in chapter 12, verses 9 through 10. “Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly.” Here the writer is raising once again the value of using words of truth. The time period of King Solomon was a turbulent time. A time that modern Christians like you and I would find disturbing, stressful and a most difficult period in history to live. Yet, writers are lifting up in praise the teacher Solomon who was believed to be a wise man, a man of truth. To realize that wisdom and truth were used in conjunction with each other, even back in Old Testament times, speak loudly to the importance of being truthful in our time.
In our scripture lesson, this morning, the parables from the mouth of Jesus are in response to questions about how to get to heaven. Surely we all want to get to heaven, and yes we know we ought not to lie to our parents or condone lies from our children. The first parable speaks of scattering seeds on the ground. Somewhere we have heard we shall reap what we sow. So here again we might want to consider what quality of seeds we are planting, especially in the hearts and minds of the youth in our care. For the parable goes on to say, that the seeds will grow until they are ripe with fruit and then they will be harvested. The parable is meant to follow the parallel of the journey to heaven, thus the Kingdom of God. When we are harvested, when we arrive at the gates of heaven, we will bear the fruit of the seed that was planted. The truth is that we know farmers set aside the worthless fruit and only bring the good produce of the crop into the barn. We must assume that Jesus would expect the knowledgeable listen to draw this same conclusion. To get to heaven we must plant good seeds, nurturing them properly, so that when the time comes there will be a lot of good fruit to harvest!
Let us not take lightly the positive wording of the parable of the mustard seed. This writer did not put into Jesus’ mouth a negative connotation about how the bush from a mustard seed would often grow wildly in areas where it was unwelcome! Rather the parable praises the growth of the mustard seed, saying: “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.” /Mark 4:32/ One must conclude that these parables come together, as Jesus intended, to paint a full picture of the journey into the kingdom of God, thus paving the way for the journey to the gates of heaven!
You and I, as responsible children of God, we know that lies and untruths will not help our efforts to find our way into heaven! Let us be sure we pass this knowledge to those we interact with and those whom are in our care. Now and then, it hurts and it can even be embarrassing to tell the truth! Yet, nothing short of the truth is worthy. If we find ourselves weaving and dodging the technical truth, we must catch ourselves and right that wrong! Remember the truth is the truth! It is our responsibility to be the powers of example in our time that will cultivate and nourish and yes, plant new seeds in the very hearts and minds of those around us. This is especially truth of the youth, the children that come to us.
We all want our children to grow and to become the cultivators of this our faith and this our community. All we need do is continue growing in truth, planting good seed along the way, and then as a result, we, and those that follow us, shall find the pathway to heaven!