Jesus spoke to people in parables, stories which allowed them to access what they were ready for of his message. Many parables concerned the kingdom of God which Jesus announced as he began his ministry. Jesus had the ability to connect with his audience by using scenes from everyday life that would be familiar. This inevitably involved reference to agriculture as that was a major occupation of many of the population. Two such parables are in the Gospel passage for 17 June. They challenge us to do our part in sowing the Word of God wherever we find ourselves in the world.
The Bible passages of the day were Psalm 92:1-8, 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 and Mark 4:26-34. My reflection from the noon SLT service follows.
According to Mark, when Jesus returned from the wilderness after his temptation his message began with: ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near.’ We know that Jesus did and said many things, too many to fit in a world full of books according to John, but within all those things there is a recurring theme of the kingdom of God.
Talking about kingdoms would not have seemed odd when Jesus was teaching as there were many kings around, each ruling their given area and often going to war in an attempt to seize more land. However, Jesus was not talking about a physical kingdom which covered a certain area of land and had borders, passport control, taxes and so on. The kingdom of God is better thought of as the kingship of God, the rule of God in this world.
As this idea of God’s kingship – God active reign in which all that is wrong will be put right – is such a huge one with many facets, Jesus used parables to help his listeners to understand. Many of these parables are very famous and often they relate to agriculture and nature as the two in today’s gospel passage do. We may not all live in farming communities but it’s possible to relate to Jesus’ stories as most of us have some experience of growing seeds.
Planting things is quite exciting and is an activity children are often encouraged to engage in, perhaps growing some mustard and cress or some grass in an empty eggshell. Children will be given basic instructions, plant the seeds, keep them watered and wait. All that is needed to make a plant is contained in the seed which is planted. The little gardener doesn’t need a degree in horticulture in order to grow something. It’s in the very nature of seeds to grow if they possibly can. All the child can do is look each day and wait for the exciting time when a little shoot of green first shows above the soil.
On a much bigger scale, the farmer – then and now – does the same. The seed is scattered by hand or with a machine and then it’s up to the seed to grow. Whether the farmer stays up all night and worries, whether he or she talks to the seeds or not, there is really nothing that can be done to change things. The farmer has to trust that the seed is designed to grow and it will grow in its own sweet time. The farmer needs to exercise patience. Going out each day and digging over the area where the seed was planted in order to check on progress would do more harm than good.
The kingdom of God grows like the seeds. It has a built in ability to grow once sown. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained that the seed is the word. People learn about Jesus and that grows faith in the hearers. We don’t necessarily understand how it works but we know it does. There is little we can do to speed up the process; all we can do is trust that God knows what he’s doing.
This requires a lot of patience. We may look at ourselves in which the seed of faith has been planted and wonder why we are seemingly little different from how we were in the past. We may struggle with the same sins, the same weaknesses. We may see no evidence of spiritual growth, much to our frustration. That’s also true of the farmer who might sleep and wake and look at his field for many days without seeing anything change. The change is going on out of sight. The results will show eventually because, as Paul tells us, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old has gone and everything has become new.
And what about your family, friends, neighbours, colleagues? We’re called to share what we have been given but maybe you’ve tried to share the Good News with no result. Maybe things even seem to get worse. No green shoots, just brown barren earth is all there is to see. However, we can’t know what is going on under the surface. Each of us has our own sphere of influence in which we can plant the word of God. We do it by what we say, how we pray and how we live – the choices we make, the way we spend our money, the help or kindness we offer to others. That’s our part; the growth is up to God. Like the farmer we need patience and trust in the process.
The second parable addresses the issue of how small our efforts seem. Mustard seeds are really tiny but grow into big plants. However, that growth takes time, a lot of time. When you think about it, it’s really amazing that water, carbon dioxide and sunlight – such insubstantial things in many ways – can combine to grow a very real, solid bush which can hold birds’ nests.
The bush would never grow unless the seed was sown, of course. If a gardener simply focused on how small a seed is, it’s unlikely that she would bother to plant it. It’s the picture on the packet which gives hope that, despite our doubts, the seed can grow into something much greater and more beautiful than the way it looks at first.
Jesus shows us a picture of the kingdom of God in his own person because we see God – compassionate, just, loving. That’s what will grow as the seeds of faith are planted by us all wherever we have the opportunity. That’s what the kingdom will be like. Everywhere that God reigns, his character will make a difference, overcoming all that is broken in this world.
We are probably more fortunate than many Christians as, even if we feel isolated in RL as we do what we can to sow the word, we know that we belong to a worldwide family whose members are planting seeds everywhere. Our own efforts are part of that corporate effort which goes on in RL and in SL.
We gather together here in order to be sent out and scattered. Here we should gain confidence and inspiration for another week of serving God wherever he has placed us. If coming to church is an end in itself, there’s something wrong. I suppose it might be like going to the Garden Centre and buying packets of seeds which are then safely stored away in a drawer. Far better to open the packet, spread the seeds and wait to see what grows as a result, however long it takes.
I wish you happy gardening or farming this week wherever you find yourself.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor