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Seedy Beginnings

Scripture Reading – Mark 4: 26-34

In the reading from Mark we find that Jesus addresses his disciples and the crowds in parables. In our reading this morning Jesus uses parables to explain about the ‘kingdom of God’.

26Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man 27who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. 28The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. 29When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!

30“How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? 31It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, 32yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”

33With many stories like these; he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. 34He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.

 

 

SERMON – Windsor Park United Church

“SEEDY BEGINNINGS”

Mark 4:26-34 / June 17, 2012

 

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

 

IT’S MORNING.  SOME OF US MAY STILL FEEL A BIT TIRED, NOT QUITE ALERT.   SO LET ME STRETCH AND AWAKEN OUR MINDS A BIT BY STARTING OFF THIS SERMON WITH A RIDDLE.    ARE YOU READY?    PLEASE DON’T YELL OUT THE ANSWER, IF YOU KNOW IT, UNTIL I FINISH?  “WHAT IS STRONGER THAN GOD, MORE EVIL THAN THE DEVIL, POOR PEOPLE HAVE IT, RICH PEOPLE DON’T NEED IT, AND IF YOU CONSTANTLY EAT IT, YOU’LL DIE?”

 

THE ANSWER IS ‘NOTHING”.

 

LITERALLY, THE WORD PARABLE MEANS ‘A RIDDLE’.  THEY ARE STORIES THAT LEAVE THE LISTENER WITH THE RESPONSIBILITY OF FIGURING OUT JUST WHAT THEY MEAN.   JESUS TOLD MORE THAN 40 PARABLES DURING HIS MINISTRY.    AND HERE WE ARE, SOME 2,000 YEARS LATER, STILL PONDERING WHAT JESUS MUST HAVE MEANT WHEN HE TOLD THE STORY OF THE ‘WEDDING FEAST,’ OR ‘THE DISHONEST STEWARD’’, OR ‘THEGOOD SAMARITAN,’      SOME THEOLOGIANS HAVE POINTED O UT THAT WE CANNOT FULLY COMPREHEND THE PARABLES OF JESUS UNTIL WE SEE OURSELVES IN THE STORY.

LIKE A SMALL CHILD, RECOGNIZING HERSELF IN THE MIRROR FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, WHEN WE SEE OURSELVES REPRESENTED IN THE STORY, THEN WE FINALLY GET IT.  THEN WE REALIZE THAT WE’RE THE SNOTTY YOUNGER SON WHO RAN AWAY WITH HIS FATHER’S FORTUNE.  WE’RE THE LEVITE WHO PASSED BY THE BEATEN MAN ON THE ROAD TO JERICHO.  YOU MIGHT EVEN BE THE WISE MAN WHO BUILT HIS HOUSE UPON THE ROCK, AND I MIGHT BE THE FOOL WHO BUILT MY HOUSE ON THE SAND.  ONCE WE SEE OURSELVES IN THE STORY, THE STORY TAKES ON A WHOLE NEW MEANING, AND THEN WE UNDERSTAND.

 

OUR GOSPEL READING HAS TWO PARABLES; I’D LIKE TO CONCENTRATE ON THE SECOND PARABLE.    MANY OF JESUS’ PARABLES  HAVE TO DO WITH SEEDS AND SOIL AND PLANTING AND HARVESTING. THIS ONE TELLS US THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS LIKE A MUSTARD SEED.

“WITH WHAT CAN WE COMPARE THE KINGDOM OF GOD, OR WHAT PARABLE (WHAT RIDDLE?) WILL WE USE FOR IT?  IT’S LIKE A  MUSTARD SEED, WHICH, WHEN SOWN UPON THE GROUND, IS THE SMALLEST OF ALL 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.”

THOSE WHO TAKE EVERY WORD OF THE BIBLE LITERALLY HAVE A BIT OF A PROBLEM WITH THIS PARABLE, BECAUSE MODERN AGRONOMY HAS SHOWN THAT THE MUSTARD SEED IS NOT THE SMALLEST OF ALL SEEDS.

IN FACT, THE ORCHID SEED IS AS SMALL AS A SPECK OF DUST.

SO WAS JESUS MISTAKEN, OR WAS HE LYING?    OR WAS THE POINT OF THE PARABLE NOT THAT IT WAS THE SMALLEST OF ALL SEEDS, BUT THAT SOMETHING SMALL CAN GROW INTO SOMETHING GREAT?     WAS JESUS PERHAPS SAYING THAT A SMALL BABY THAT WAS BORN IN A HUMBLE STABLE WOULD GROW UP TO BECOME THE SAVIOUR, AND PEOPLE WOULD FIND COMFORT AND SECURITY AND PURPOSE IN HIM?     COULD JESUS HAVE BEEN SAYING THAT THIS CHRISTIAN CHURCH, WH ICH BEGAN WITH JUST A TINY GATHERING OF FEARFUL FOLLOWERS WOULD ONE DAY BECOME A GATHERING OF MORE THAN 2 BILLION WHO FIND THEIR HOPE IN HIM?  OR COULD THIS PARABLE MEAN THAT IF WE ONLY HAVE FAITH THE SIZE OF A MUSTARD SEED (THAT’S ANOTHER TEACHING OF JESUS), OUR FAITH WILL MATURE AND GROW, AND IT WILL BE ENOUGH TO BRING US FULLNESS OF LIFE.    THAT’S ANOTHER CHARACTERISTIC OF JESUS’ PARABLES; THERE MAY BE MORE THAN ONE LIKELY EXPLANATION.   ALL OF THOSE SCENARIOS MAY HAVE BEEN PART OF JESUS’ THINKING WHEN HE SAT DOWN AND TOLD HIS HEARERS THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD WAS LIKE A MUSTARD SEED.  WE DON’T KNOW.   JESUS DIDN’T TELL US.

WE ARE, AT LAST, LEFT TO FIGURE IT OUT FOR OURSELVES, AND MAYBE THERE IS NOT A WRONG ANSWER – AND MAYBE THAT IS AS JESUS INTENDED IT.

SO, FOR TODAY LET ME SUGGEST THAT THE SEEDS, THE MUSTARD SEEDS, ARE PEOPLE.     THE MUSTARD SEED IS A PERSON – PERHAPS YOU OR ME –

ANYONE AT SOME POINT THEIR LIFE WHEN HE OR SHE FEELS SMALL, LIFELESS, DEADENED  – LIKE A SEED, NOT YET PLANTED, WE LACK WHAT WE NEED TO FIND NEW LIFE, GROWTH AND VITALITY.

 

WE HAVE SUCH SEEDS THAT COME INTO WEST BROADWAY COMMUNITY MINISTRY.    PEOPLE WHO ARE ISOLATED AND ALONE – FEELING DEAD INSIDE – SMALL, LIFELESS, DRIED UP AND HARDENED TO THEIR EXISTENCE IN UNPRODUCTIVE, UNFRUITFUL WAYS.     ELLEN WAS SUCH A PERSON.      SHE FREQUENTED THE COMMUNITY MINISTRY DROP IN ON A REGULAR BASIS TO GET SOMETHING TO EAT AND TO GATHER WHAT SHE COULD, USUALLY CLOTHING, FROM OUR GIVE AWAY BENCHES.     MORE OFTEN THAN NOT SHE WAS HOMELESS, COUCH SURFING FROM PLACE TO PLACE AND SOMETIMES, QUITE LITERALLY, LIVING ON THE STREET.     NOT ONLY LIVING ON THE STREET, BUT LIVING OFF THE STREET SELLING HERSELF TO SURVIVE AND TO ENGAGE IN THAT TERRIBLE HABIT OF ‘SELF-MEDICATING’   – TAKING HER DRUG OF CHOICE – CRACK COCAINE – AS AN ESCAPE FROM THE REALITIES OF HER PRESENT EXISTENCE AND TO FORGET THE HORRORS OF A PAST FILLED WITH ABUSE AND PAIN.

 

 

ONE DAY, A FEW YEARS AGO, ELLEN CAME INTO MY OFFICE.

HER FACE WAS BLACK AND BLUE, HER NOSE BLOODY.

THE PERSON SHE HAD BEEN STAYING WITH HAD BEATEN HER AND THEN HAD THROWN HER OUT ON THE STREET.    AT THE SAME TIME, THE ONE PERSON IN THE WORLD SHE CALLED HER FRIEND HAD ALSO ABANDONED HER IN HER TIME OF NEED.    ELLEN HAD HIT THE PROVERBIAL ‘ROCK BOTTOM’.   SHE CRIED, ELLEN CRIED HER HEART OUT THAT DAY IN MY OFFICE.  TOGETHER WE PRAYED AND TALKED AND EVENTUALLY SOUGHT OUT POSSIBLE RESOURCES IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD TO HELP HER TO LEAVE THE UNSAFE, INSECURE, AND LONELY LIFE SHE HAD BEEN LEADING.

 

A COUPLE OF MONTHS AGO I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO TALK TO HELEN DURING ONE OF HER VISITS TO OUR DROP IN.

SHE CONTINUES TO BE A REGULAR VISITOR.     SHE SAID, “I’M  HAPPY TODAY.  I DON’T KNOW ABOUT TOMORROW BUT I’M REALLY HAPPY TODAY.”     I ALREADY KNEW THAT ELLEN HAD STOPPED TAKING HARD DRUGS, WAS NO LONGER LIVING ON THE STREET OR EARING A LIVING OFF THE STREET.    SHE HAD RECONCILED WITH HER DEAR FRIEND AND NOW THEY WERE INSEPARABLE AND WERE LIVING TOGETHER IN A DECENT AND AFFORDABLE APARTMENT.     SHE TOLD ME, “A FEW DAYS AGO I WAS WALKING DOWN THE STREET JUST A FEW BLOCKS FROM HERE, WHEN I SAW A WOMAN LYING ON THE SIDEWALK.

IT LOOKED LIKE SHE WAS HAVING A SEIZURE.      I BENT DOWN BESIDE HER TO SEE IF I COULD HELP.  I HEARD SOMEONE SHOUT, “LEAVE HER BE – SHE’ S NO GOOD.

WE’D ALL BE BETTER OFF IN THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD IF SHE DIES.”       I COULDN’T BELIEVE PEOPLE COULD BE SO COLD.  I TOUCHED  HER SLIGHTLY AND BEGAN TO RUB HER ARM.   I WAS AMAZED TO FIND THAT HER SHAKING STOPPED AND SHE BEGAN TO BREATHE MORE NORMALLY.”    ELLEN GOT SOMEONE TO CALL AN AMBULANCE WHILE SHE CONTINUED TO SPEAK TO AND COMFORT THE AFFLICTED WOMAN.      ELLEN LOOKED AT ME WITH TEARS IN HER EYES AND SAID, “AS I LOOKED AT HER LYING THERE I THOUGHT –THAT WAS ME ONCE – THAT WAS ME.    AND IF NO ONE HAD HELPED ME WHEN I WAS LIKE HER WHERE WOULD I BE TODAY.”

 

“WITH WHAT CAN WE COMPARE THE KINGDOM OF GOD,” JESUS SAID,”…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.”

 

ELLEN WILL TELL YOU THAT BEING PART OF A COMMUNITY THAT WELCOMES WITHOUT JUDGEMENT, OFFERS SUPPORT WITH COMPASSION AND UNDERSTANDING, THAT NURTURES AND NOURISHES IN A VARIETY OF WAYS HAS LED TO A MEASURE OF TRANSFORMATION FOR HER.

I LIKE TO THINK THAT FOR ELLEN, THE COMMUNITY MINISTRY WAS THE SOIL THAT ENABLED CHANGE AND GROWTH WHICH IN ITS TURN ENABLED ELLEN TO REACH OUT TO ANOTHER IN NEED.

 

WHERE ARE YOU IN THIS PARABLE?     ARE YOU THE SEED?  ARE YOU THE SOIL OR THE WATER OR THE SUNSHINE?   I THINK AT DIFFERENT TIMES IN OUR LIVES WE FIND OURSELVES ANSWERING THOSE QUESTIONS DIFFERENTLY.  WE FIND OURSELVES SITUATED DIFFERENTLY WITHIN THE PARABLE.

WHAT DOESN’T CHANGE IS THE MYSTERY OF GOD AT WORK IN US AND THROUGH US FOR THE NURTURE AND CARE OF OTHERS OR IN AND THROUGH OTHERS FOR US – TO ENABLE SUCH TRANSFORMATION AND GROWTH.

 

ALL OF THIS TALK OF SEEDS – OF NURTURE AND GROWTH – REMINDS ME THAT IT IS FATHER’S DAY TODAY.   FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO ARE FATHERS – LITERALLY – OR IN YOUR BEING IN A ROLE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND CARE FOR A CHILD THIS PARABLE SPEAKS TO YOU AS WELL.  FOR OUR CHILDREN ARE ALSO LIKE SEEDS.    AND OUR PURPOSE IS TO NURTURE THEM, ENCOURAGE THEM, PROTECT THEM AND GUIDE THEM UNTIL THEY GROW UP TO BECOME THE GREATEST OF SHRUBS.   AND WE DADS START OUT WITH GOOD INTENTIONS, BUT THEN STUFF HAPPENS:

WE HAVE TO WORK LONG HOURS TO PROVIDE FOR OUR FAMILIES SO WE DON’T HAVE TIME TO PLAY CATCH.   HAVE YOU LISTENED TO HARRY CHAPIN’S ‘CAT’S IN THE CRADLE’ LATELY?

WE DON’T LIKE OUR KIDS’ MUSIC, SO WE BUY THEM AN IPOD SO THEY CAN LISTENTO IT WITHOUT BOTHERING US.    WE SPEND HOURS TAKING CARE OF THE LAWN AND THE GARDEN AND TENDING TO REPAIRS TO THE BACK YARD FENCE, BUT WE IGNORE THE SHRUB THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US TO CARE FOR.   I LOVE THE STORY  HARMON KILLEBREW TELLS, THAT HE AND HIS BROTHER WERE PLAYING FOOTBALL WITH THEIR DAD IN THE YARD, AND HARMON’S MOTHER YELLED OUT THE WINDOW “YOU’RE TEARING UP THE GRASS!”  KILLEBREW’S FATHER SHOT BACK, “WE’RE NOT RAISING GRASS, WE’RE RAISING BOYS!”

 

ASSUMING FOR A MINUTE THAT THE MUSTARD SEED PARABLE CAN SERVE AS A TIMELESS REMINDER TO FATHERS, THESE ARE AMONG THE THINGS THAT I ALSO BELIEVE TO BE TRUE FOR DADS:

THAT THE BEST WAY TO LOVE OUR CHILDREN IS TO LOVE AND RESPECT THEIR MOTHER;  THAT THE BEST  GIFT WE CAN GIVE OUR CHILDREN IS A SENSE OF SAFETY AND SECURITY AS THEY GROW UP.  I BELIEVE THAT IT’S MORE IMPORTANT TO GIVE THEM OUR TIME, NOT OUR MONEY.   IT’S MORE IMPORTANT TO BE RESPECTED BY THEM THAN TO BE  LIKED BY THEM.   IT’S MORE IMPORTANT TO ENCOURAGE THEM IN THEIR INTERESTS THAN TO REQUIRE THEM TO SHARE OUR INTERESTS.   THAT MEANS, DADS, THAT IF YOU WERE A HOCKEY GOALIE BUT YOUR SON LOVES THE VIOLIN, YOU BETTER LEARN TO LOVE THE VIOLIN!

 

 

AND FINALLY I BELIEVE THAT OUR RESPONSIBILITY REACHES BEYOND CARING FOR OUR OWN CHILDREN, AND JESUS EXPECTS US TO CARE FOR ALL CHILDREN, EVERYWHERE.   IT WAS DIETRICH BONHOEFFER WHO SAID, “THE TRUE TEST OF A SOCIETY IS HOW IT CARES FOR ITS CHILDREN”  TAKEN TO ITS LOGICAL EXTENSION, IT MEANS WE CANNOT JUST BE PROUD THAT OUR KIDS RECEIVED A GREAT EDUCATION WHEN OTHER CHILDREN RECEIVE A POOR EDUCATION.  WE CANNOT BE SATISFIED THAT OUR CHILDREN GET FULLY NUTRITIOUS MEALS WHEN SOME CHILDREN GO TO BED HUNGRY AT NIGHT.   WE CAN BE PROUD THAT OUR CHILD HAS A SPACIOUS BEDROOM, BUT SHOULDN’T WE ALSO BE CONCERNED THAT SO MANY CHILDREN GO WITHOUT A DECENT HOUSE TO LIVE IN.

 

SOMETIMES WE ARE THE SEEDS, SOMETIMES WE ARE SOIL, SOMETIMES WE TEND THE GARDEN AND SOMETIMES WE ARE THOSE WHO ARE TENDED.     BUT ALL OF US ARE RECIPIENTS OF GOD’S GRACE POURED OUT IN MYSTERIOUS POWER TO SPROUT, GROW, NURTURE, AND MATURE US INTO THOSE WHO BRING GOD’S LOVE TO BEAR TO OTHERS IN WORD AND DEED.    SO MAY IT BE THIS DAY AND ALWAYS.  AMEN.

Categories: Sermons