Proper 6: June 13, 2021
The Third Sunday After Pentecost
Year B: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
Listen to what Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading today:
“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”.
“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;”
From the outset of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God. And Chapter 4 of Mark that we hear part of today is often described as the “famous parable chapter”, all of which seem to point to the kingdom of God or the reign of God. Jesus offers the parable of the sower, the parable of the lamp under a bushel basket, and the two parables we hear today, the parable of a growing seed, and the parable of a mustard seed.
What was the point of these parables 2,000 years ago? And what do they have to say to us today. These are just some of the questions that the Gospel of Mark raises.
The seemingly simple is of course that these parables invite us to see the planting of God in our own lives.
We hear two agricultural parables to explain what the kingdom of God is like.
The first parable is about someone scattering seed on the ground – that person who scatters it sleeps and rises, sleeps and rises, but the seed sprouts and grows. There’s no indication that the seed was even being watered.
Think about that. It’s a bit scary, really, because whoever scattered the seed wasn’t in control of it. We like to be in control of our lives, of what is happening in our lives.
Mark’s Jesus basically tells us that we are anything but in control of lives. We’re not in control of what grows or where it grows. It’s not up to us. We are powerless to control the Kingdom of God, we are unable to dictate who and how people come to the Kingdom.
That’s uncomfortable because it makes us feel vulnerable. God’s reign comes apart from our efforts.
Then there’s the mustard seed. Mustard seed is like a weed, it’s nothing that we want in our beautifully tended gardens.
We often assume that Jesus’ parables served as illustrations, so we treat them as they were designed to make difficult concepts easy to understand, seemingly simple on the surface. Showing how God can break into our lives and grow within our lives like the weed that is the mustard seed is pretty obvious.
What isn’t obvious?
The parables Jesus offers are seemingly simple on the surfaces, but they are also deceptively difficult. All of Jesus’ parables invite us to an ever-deepening dialogue with Jesus.
They often serve as a tool for confrontation and are intended to help us break through what we cannot hear from Jesus. That’s the deceptively difficult part of this Gospel, really of any of Jesus’ words to the disciples and to us. We hear this explanation of the reign of God, of the kingdom of God, but do we ever really focus on really, truly hearing anything else in this parable.
“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it.”
Parables can break open meanings of things when we least expect it.
God’s action in our lives is undeniable. It has been revealed by Jesus to the disciples and to us.
But, how do we hear and respond to God’s action in our lives? How do we hear and respond to Jesus’ parables, especially as we look around the world and wonder why the preaching and teaching of the Gospel doesn’t bear more fruit? What do hearing, seeing, and understanding these parables mean in this passage and in life?
Without our truly hearing and responding to these parables, the deeper message is lost.
You all know that my hearing isn’t the best as it isn’t for many of us. But our physical inability to sometimes hear isn’t what I’m talking about. The Hebrew verb “to hear” often carries the connotation “to obey” and can be translated quite accurately that way.
Are we hearing God, are we obeying God in our lives? Are we truly listening to what Jesus is telling us in this parable?
Sometimes, that answer is pretty firmly no. In our society many have a sense that we have no need for anyone or anything that doesn’t square with what we already believe to be the truth.
But hearing the word of God requires openness and receptivity – openness to God and a willingness to hear and obey, the opposite of a hard heart. Without openness and willingness to obey, the hearing required to truly listen to the parables is impossible.
Cracking open the parables would enable us to engage the whole of life, to learn how to communicate with others and relate to others; to know our origin, our tradition, and what we need for living. The parables are pointers. They do not point to Jesus as much as they point from Jesus, from how he lives his life, and how his life is shaped by the Reign of God.
We all listen to so many voices for guidance, but do we listen to the most positive voice of all, God?
Who does Jesus listen to? What does Jesus do?
Pretty simple answer. To God. Jesus shows a world where those who are “other”, are the ones chosen to carry on his work. His disciples and followers were, by the world’s standards, small men – fishermen, unlearned, most likely illiterate. One was a despised tax collector. They were simple people, ordinary people. Some of his band of followers were the very rejects of society. This, of course, is based on the judgment and standards of quantity and wealthy and education and worldly power.
Jesus pushes the boundaries and that’s what these parables call us to do: that when we hear the seed growing parable, the parable of the mustard seed that we must allow God in and must trust in God to allow growth and show us the way.
How do we live into that inclusive reality? How can we teach by our living a present and future where God’s house is a house of prayer for all people?
In the midst of a culture that idolizes and prizes success, we must remember that our success as the Body of Christ depends on our ability to maintain the standards illustrated by Jesus. That can be difficult to be sure, but something we must always seek in our lives, and do it again and again when we fail.
Remember that Jesus is always working to bring about God’s will in unexpected and marvelous ways, like the things that can grow from the tiniest seed, but it’s sometime difficult to know the ways of God when we see the senseless violence in the world around us.
This past week, a number of clergy participated in a conference call with our Bishop about the ever growing issue of gun violence. Part of what I pray for as an outcome of this work is a collective religious voice to stop what is happening across our country in communities large and small. We talked a lot about the need to find common ground with a variety of religious leaders. What that really points to is the need to listen for God’s voice among us, not our own individual voices. As I said before, God’s purpose in our lives is beyond our understanding and control. We are called to listen closely, to hear God’s will in our lives and allow seeds to be planted. God’s will be done.
Ultimately, we must trust God. “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear. To such is given the secret of the kingdom of God.” Let us hear what God is calling us to do to be the mustard seed in the world, a pesky weed that spreads the kingdom of God.
 Mark 4:26, New Revised Standard Version
 Mark 4:30-31, NRSV
 Brian K. Blount, ”Jesus as Teacher: Boundary Breaking in Mark’s Gospel and Today’s Church”, Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 2016, Vol. 70(2), pp. 184-193.
 Mark 4:33b, emphasis added.
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.