3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 4: 25-34
Today for my sermon, I’ve got a mashup for you of what’s helped me weed through the Gospel parable. It’s about:
A Mustard Seed
A Mustard Seed, Really?
We start with this quaint parable of a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds that grows into the largest of all trees or shrubs.
In the ancient near east, where Jesus lived, mustard would have been considered a weed. It was prolific, strong and persistent, like a dandelion. Once you had one, well, you know how it goes.
So when Jesus described the mustard seed as producing the greatest of all shrubs, you might imagine the reaction the listeners had. A jaw dropping. Oh I wasn’t expecting that. A couple giggles of disbelief. Two friends turning to each other in curious questions. Did he really say a mustard seed. A weed, the greatest of all plants? What about the sycamore, or the cedars or the oaks….
The choir has likely heard this before, it has been said, that through parables, and this one is no exception, Jesus “shocks people into a new way of perceiving God’s goodness.” Taking something familiar and then tweaking it slightly, has the capacity to open ears, minds and hearts.
It’s similar to when we sing new lyrics written to a familiar tune like we soon will do. We pay attention. It becomes simultaneously familiar and unknown. But that’s fitting because each day we take God’s promises into the newness of that day.
Jesus uses a weed to help the disciples understand the beautiful in-breaking of the reign of God - that what appears to be a small dead seed - is filled with life that grows into a persistent and sometimes pesky calling to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. The kingdom keep showing up….It’s that seed.
A mustard seed, really? The disciples query in their private conversation with Jesus.
What’s more is that we hear that the seeds are scattered, the sower sleeps, night and day, all the while the seeds sprout and grow. They will grow on their own, without our help, into something much larger and strong. We hear that the seeds grow into the greatest of all shrubs, that has purpose. A home for the birds. … Big large branches to give shade from the sun … Possibly even food or flavour for creation. Oxygen to breathe.
The mustard seed grows on its own. Persistently. Tenaciously. It’s not the big beautiful tree as is often imagined when reading this parable. It’s like a weed that takes over your garden. You might even try to get rid of it as you do with dandelions. But it just won’t go away. It’s here to stay.
Now onto Helicopters….
As I worked through this familiar parable this week, I kept comparing the parable of the mustard seed with helicopters.
Every year in late spring, the samara or as most people say - helicopters - begin to fall to the ground. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of seeds fall from each tree. You cannot stop maple trees from producing seeds. Some years there are more seeds than others. It doesn’t take long for the seeds to germinate with delicate new trees starting to grow in places where you would not start a maple.
In my cedar garden box where the tomatoes, peppers and beans live, there are at least 7 little maple trees sprouting. A place that is not for them.
Inside my perennial flower garden, also home to the cherry tree, more little seeds have taken root. Also not a place for them.
In the centre of the grass where the children run. Clearly not a good place for a seed to sprout.
In my small herb planter with the thyme, mint, cilantro and tarragon sprouts a the beginnings of a tiny tree. Again not a place not for them.
And yet the seeds fall to the earth and grow where they will.
The seeds are helped by the wind, squirrels and birds who carry the helicopter seeds to their new homes. And they begin to grow. To take root. To live. Fragile they appear yet abundant. The shoot emerges from the seed case. Tiny maple shaped leaves appear.
The reign of God is like helicopters sprouting in all the wrong places.
The seed fall where they may and plant where it will. On its own. In places where I would not see fit to plant. But the helicopter seed of the maple tree and mustard seed teach us something about how God sows and where and with what.
Abundantly and indiscriminately, in all places.
With the likes of a persistent weed.
God’s kingdom comes into existence and develops into more than we could ask or imagine, taking root in spite of the harshness of the world. Even when we sit passively, God is at work. And that’s grace we need to hear sometimes. God provides. Yes, God provides. Even when we stumble with how to respond to the world and life around us.
Even as God is planting and growing the seeds of the kingdom while we rest, this does not mean that people of faith are given a free pass to be idle or passive recipients of the kingdom…. Sometimes, yes, we just need to receive, but most of the time, life is found in the active living, giving, loving and tending.
Creation exists to create. And we are part of God’s good creation, growing alongside the other seeds.
Now Screen Time ….
The Waterloo Regional District school Board has been offering some online learning events to help children and parents through this challenging time. The expert in the field of all things online is a man named Paul Davis. According to Paul, the most frequently asked question by the grownups is about screen time for their young-ins. Obviously, our children are getting far too much screen time these days. (This will decrease with summer holidays on the horizon). But, iIt’s not just the children. Many adults are getting far too much screen time. Paul’s insights I find helpful.
He suggests dividing screen time into three equal categories; education, consumption, and creation.
Education - strictly learning (for adults that might be working)
Consumption - doing some of the things you enjoy such as a show on Netflix or a movie, or concert, a game on your Nintendo, etc…
But the third part is really important.
Creation - give back. Taking what’s in their heads/our heads and giving back. Such activities as coding, blogging, robotics, creating a website…
As I’ve gone about my week, pondering the reign of God as told through this parable of the mustard seed, I’ve been wondering about how this threefold structure of education, consumption and creation unfolds in relationship to the reign of God.
I am going to stretch this a little further.
Even aside from technology, this equation might be helpful for other parts of life. My hunch is that we spend too much time in the consumer mode and not enough in the creating and learning. It’s so easy to fall into the consumer trap. Not just with what we buy, but in fact, even church can become consumeristic and that’s not helpful or spiritually fulfilling. Vibrant discipleship involves learning and being creators. If we are consuming then it becomes a performance that we rate. And we don’t come to church for a performance but to be transformed by the power of God working through us and our community. We are learners along the way, and creators with God through the spirit. That’s what makes for the most vibrant community of faith.
Yes, I know I am preaching to the choir.
And you know, I think the wider church is doing this, but I don’t think we’ve fully arrived.
Moving from the consumer paradigm of life which includes church to a creator paradigm - is the pathway of a spiritually vibrant life together.
While consuming helps us to relax and unwind, it might also contribute to languishing.
Creation and learning have to do with flourishing.
The giving back, the creating, connecting, growing, contributing and putting into action …. Are part of the reign of god.
For myself, I know some of the greatest fulfillment and sometimes frustration is found in the learning and creative phrases, and the consumer phase is more of a relax and unwind mode.
But what does this have to do with the Mustard Seed as this level of active participation seems to be missing from the parable. A lot seems to happen even as the sower rests.
In the wake of the horrific events in London this week, we are trying to make sense of it all. Our hearts grieve for our muslim neighbours who are traumatized by these racist and Islamophobic aggressions that can cause people to live in fear. Our hearts grieve for the 9 year old child who lost his family, and for all who are traumatized. We are concerned that someone in our community could become so radicalized and filled with hate that they go to such violent ends. This surely isn’t how God intends us to live.
My former preaching professor, David Jacobsen, suggests, the seeds of the kingdom grow into the bouquets that are placed at memorials by people standing in solidarity and support at times of tragedies such as these.
Yes, God is planting seeds of the kingdom in the midst of such tragedy. Yes, God is Good and God will continue to be good and God’s goodness will not come to an end. It will continue to be planted and grow even as hatred tries to silence and squash the life out of it. But it cannot. Still, God’s goodness emerges from the hardest places.
From the deepest griefs and sorrows.
Even from the wounds.
God’s goodness emerges. Like a tiny seed of the kingdom.
Because the seeds fall into all these places that we think are too ugly for God’s beautiful life…..
We wonder, even as God is planting seeds of the reign of God in our midst what can we do in such situations? We also want to contribute to the good. To plant seeds of the reign of God. To create.
Some of the pictures I’ve seen from my London friends speak of many walking in togetherness on the streets of London against hate and toward peace. Signs are in windows and on lawns.
Many churches add a message to their signs that speak out against hatred, and to support our neighbours muslim neighbours. I’ve done that a my former Toronto parish after the Quebec mosque attacks, and now our St. Matthews sign now has some words of support for our Muslim neighbours. It’s important to be clear that we stand against such hatred.
Some people attend prayer vigils or walk together to show solidarity.
Some people reach out to their muslim friends. If you don’t have any, you could likely write a letter and send it to the mosque.
What I did was send a few messages to the muslim people I know. To check in and acknowledge how difficult it must be to deal with such acts of hatred and to show some kindness in the midst of it all.
A mustard seed.
A Mustard Seed, Really!
A mustard seed, really?
Yes, a mustard seed is only the beginning. Hold a small seed in your hand. That’s all God needs to start something beautiful and life giving in the world.
A tiny mustard seed.
As our hymn of the day sings, The Earth is Full of Wit and Wisdom….
Earth is full of wit and wisdom, sounding God’s delighted laugh,
From the tiny roly poly to the tree top tall giraffe.
In this great and strange creation, with a breath God give us brith:
Born of soil to live as steward, called to love and serve the earth.
And now we sing our hymn of the day which can be found in the hymn package.
Earth is Full of Wit and Wisdom.
Jacobsen, David. Commentary on Mark 4: 36-44. www.workingpreacher.org, 2021.