June 13, 2021, Now Seeds – Start Growing! Mark 4:26-34 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
Jesus once said that the kingdom of God is in our midst – that it’s right here among us, right here inside us – but if we’re honest, most of us have a very hard time believing that. We struggle to believe the kingdom is right here, because we can’t see it. What Jesus means when he talks about the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, is the rule and sovereignty of God, God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. But it is so much easier for us to see the kingdom of this world, because the ways of the world are so discouragingly visible and tangible, all around us. God’s kingdom says the meek will inherit the whole earth; everything goes to the last and the least. The kingdom of this world says not on your life: survival belongs to the smartest and the strongest and the fastest. God’s kingdom says there is forgiveness for every sin, not seven times but seventy times seven times, as many times as it takes. The kingdom of the world, on the other hand, is very taken with the old rule of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Everybody wants justice, right? God’s kingdom says the last will be first. The kingdom of this world says first come, first served, and winner takes all. God’s kingdom says greatness is all about humility – if you want to be greater than the rest you have to serve them. That’s pretty crazy stuff, says the kingdom of this world. If you really want to be great you just have to get the money and the power and you’re all set. These are two kingdoms that couldn’t possibly be more different, polar opposites, really, and we know which one we see all around us every day.
So Jesus told a lot of parables to help people understand what kind of a kingdom it was that he was going around proclaiming all the time. How can I describe the kingdom of God? Jesus said to them. Well, it’s like the little bit of leaven you mix into your bread dough. It’s like a merchant searching the whole world for one tiny perfect pearl. It’s like buried treasure, hidden in a field. And this: the kingdom of heaven is like making a garden. The seed is scattered in the soil like fine sand, almost too small to see. Until it begins to grow. The kingdom of God is a living, growing, precious thing, and the thing is that most of the time it’s very hard for people to see because it is “here now” but it is also “not here yet”.
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary in Nazareth, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and ignited the spark of life that would grow up to be God in the flesh – that was the moment the seed of the kingdom was planted in the dust of our humanity and began to grow. And right off the bat, it wasn’t at all what people had expected, not a kingdom of swords and spears, not a kingdom of politics and domination and power. It was a kingdom that looked for all the world like weakness and powerlessness and humility. It was just as unrecognizable and unpromising as a garden in March in Norwood. Until it grew.
The people of Israel in those days were expecting a Messiah who would come sweeping in like a hero on a white charger and destroy the power of the Roman invaders and restore everything back to the “golden age” of Israel when David was king, and the great Temple at Jerusalem was the center of life in Israel, and everyone obeyed the Law of Moses and everything was perfect. We Christians make that mistake all the time. We imagine God – and us – using the tools and weapons of the worldly kingdom – money and celebrity and political clout – to establish whatever we think God’s kingdom on earth should look like.
But Jesus reminds us that the kingdom of God is in our midst right now, beginning to put down roots and growing in its own mysterious way. And it’s nothing like the kingdom we know. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of small beginnings, its seeds planted and growing in the hearts of his people, transforming us by the creative power of his own life, shared with us. As Paul put it, if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation. Everything old has passed away. See, he says, everything has become new!
But it’s very hard sometimes not to get discouraged with the ways of God’s kingdom, when we compare it with the speed and power and flashiness of the kingdom of this world. The tools of the heavenly kingdom are service and humility, mercy, forgiveness, grace, patience. Like the Jews hoping for an all-conquering Messiah, sometimes we’d really like some bigger guns to get this kingdom off the ground. That’s why Jesus had to keep reminding us what the strange, other-worldly nature of his kingdom was – like the smallest of all seeds, like a bit of yeast mixed into a big batch of bread, like one little pearl among all the treasures of the world. It’s hard to see it. It’s certainly not impressive in the eyes of this world.
But – the kingdom of God grows like seeds planted in a garden: first the shoot, then the ear, then the ripe grain in the ear, and then the harvest. The tiny mustard seed grows up into a tree and all the birds rest in its branches. The kingdom of God is in our midst, now, and it is growing. We don’t know how it works, but we’ve all seen it at work in our own lives in small ways – or sometimes not so small ways: touches of grace or kindness or compassion that bring light into a dark day, or bring hope into a hopeless situation, or bring comfort that allows some much-needed healing to begin. From small beginnings great blessings grow. The kingdom of God on earth started very, very small – one tiny baby boy in a little backwater village in a nation being swallowed up by the Roman Empire. It wasn’t a very promising beginning, and pretty unimpressive by any standards the world has to offer. But it keeps growing, though we don’t know how, and one day the realm of this kingdom of small beginnings will extend to people of every race and language and religion and nationality, to every child of God and to every last created thing on this earth.
There is a children’s story about Frog and Toad. Toad decides to plant a garden for himself. He digs up the ground and sows his seeds, and then he says to his garden, “Now, seeds, start growing!” When nothing happens, he exhorts them more and more loudly. His friend Frog comes by and tells him to stop shouting at his seeds or they’ll be too frightened to grow. “Let the sun shine on them,” Frog says. “Let the rain fall on them. They’ll grow.” But Toad is too anxious to listen to his friend. What if his seeds are too frightened to grow? So, he lights a lamp that night and he goes out to read bedtime stories for his seeds. In the daytime he plays music and sings songs for his seeds. Day after day Toad goes out and does everything he can think of to encourage his seeds to grow. But finally, Toad is all tired out. He goes home and falls fast asleep. He sleeps a long, long time, because he is so tired. While he sleeps the rain falls on the seeds. The sun shines on them. And when he wakes up, and goes out to look at his garden, lo and behold, the garden is full of little green sprouts! Then Frog comes by, and congratulates Toad on his beautiful garden. “Yes,” Toad replies, “It is a beautiful garden. But it was an awful lot of work.”
I share that story because I really like it, and also because it’s a good reminder that if we try to live in the kingdom of God according to the rules of this world, trying to impose our wills and our wisdom on the people and situations around us, trying to make the kingdom happen by force – even if think we are doing it for the glory of God – we will only wear ourselves out. The Church tried that kind of thing in a big, disastrous way in the Crusades, but we are tempted to do it in our own small ways still if we forget what Jesus has told us about his kingdom. We can serve our brother or sister, we can love them, we can pray for them, but the reality is we can’t fix a person like broken machinery. But God can make them new. We can forgive the person who hurts us, but only God can change hearts, theirs or ours. We can share about our faith with others, but only the Holy Spirit can give them the gift of faith. We can plants seeds but God gives the growth. To live in the kingdom of God is to live by faith and a lot of patience. We need faith, to trust that God’s timing is better than ours, to believe that growth and healing will happen. We need patience to wait on God, who brings the rain and the sun and the growth in his own good time.
The kingdom of this world might be compared to a huge factory, where everything is stamped and molded and regulated and on the clock, the bosses make the rules and enjoy the profits, and the weak and the useless are cast aside and trampled underfoot. But the kingdom of God, of which we are most fortunate and blessed citizens, is much more like a tiny mustard seed, which is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet it grows up and becomes the greatest of all plants, offering shelter in its branches.
“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord,” says the psalmist, “shall flourish in the courts of our God; They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be green and succulent; that they may show how upright the Lord is, my Rock, in whom there is no fault.”