Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, June 16, 2024

YEAR B 2024 pentecpst 4

Pentecost 4, 2024
Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4,11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Mark 4:26-34

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

These are some of my favorite parables in the whole New Testament.  My musical partner and I have written several songs about them, and I’ve preached on them many times.  So I might have said everything I have to say about this reading.  Which means, some parts of this sermon will sound familiar to long-time listeners.  Let’s think of it as a “refresher sermon.”  So let’s start here . . .

It’s no secret that my wife is an avid gardener.  In the darkest of winter, she starts planting seeds in our basement, watering and tending them daily, until by early spring there is a small army of seedlings ready to come out into the world.  I am well aware that this all doesn’t “just happen.”  We have to plan overnight trips around the seedlings’ schedule.  And once they’re in the ground, it all just keeps going and going, with beautiful flowers and tasty vegetables all coming up in their due season.  But it’s a lot of work on her part.  And don’t even get me started on the effort that goes into those dahlias!

But not all the plants work this way.  Some things just grow.  A few years ago, she planted one bronze fennel plant, and the next spring there were about a thousand mini fennels growing all over the bed.  And the other beds.  And in the crack in the driveway.  And every year she actively digs up the dandelions after they’re done blooming, and the next year there are just as many. The daisies cannot be contained, and the sunflowers from the dropped bird seed are going strong.  All these kinds of plants are just out there doing their thing, without any help from the Mother of Seedlings.

As I’ve now learned, there are different levels of involvement when it comes to growing things in one’s garden.  Sometimes raising plants means 24-hour-a-day involvement.  And sometimes raising plants means they’re going to grow whether or not we tend to or even notice them.  So, in today’s gospel lesson, we want to be careful that we don’t mistake the dahlias for the dandelions.

Jesus said, "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. The earth produces of itself . . . .”  The kingdom of God is like someone blowing dandelion seeds across your lawn, see?  Scatter these seeds on the ground, go to sleep and get up, and presto!  Harvest time.  But, of course, that goes against our basic principles of how life works—at least to us.

We have convinced ourselves that anything worth having is worth working for, right?  If lawns were truly maintenance free, I don’t know if people would have lawns, to be honest.  All the while, a field of dandelions is actually quite beautiful.  But maybe the reason we hate dandelions is because there’s no pain, and therefore no gain.  We want to work for what we have so we can be proud of the results.  Dandelions don’t need us to raise them, so we don’t want them around.  We want to be able to point to the fruits of our labor, to be the ones responsible for the harvest when the time comes.  

But Jesus says, someone scatters seed on the ground, and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows, and they do not know how. The earth produces of itself.  The farmer in the parable, the one sowing the seed, has nothing to do with this process at all.  She throws out the seeds and goes to bed.  Hear it again: The earth produces of itself.  This crop Jesus describes is going to grow, with or without her help.  All she has to do is show up at harvest time and cut it down.  And in our way of thinking, that just ain’t right, because plants are not free.

And then Jesus has the other example, one of my favorite parables: “The kingdom of God 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."

Now here’s one we can get behind, right?  Tiny little mustard seed grows into a big huge tree that brings shade to the whole neighborhood.  We often use this mustard seed analogy.  Fits with our thinking.  The Little Engine that Could kind of thing.  Underdogs, David and Goliath, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it’s all the same . . . Don’t underestimate something just because it’s smaller than the others.  If you’ve ever seen my wife’s anger at squirrels and groundhogs, you know what I’m talking about.

We resonate with the idea of a tiny little seed growing up into a huge gigantic tree.  It just fits with all our stories of human endurance, and strength of character and stuff.  Incredible things can be done if we just put our minds to it.

However, what Jesus says about the mustard seed is nothing like that.  Jesus says, 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.

A mustard seed does not grow into a towering redwood.  It is a shrub.  Mustard is an aggressive sprawling species that takes root and spreads out in an ugly tangled mess.  A scraggly bunch of mustard shrubs coincidentally gives off the same bright yellow of the dandelion.  And they require just as much work when it comes to raising them.  One tiny seed and before you know it you’re the French’s Mustard Company.  The point is not that the little seed grows into a towering beauty of symmetrical tree-ness.  The point is that this tiny seed grows outward and covers everything.  It’s sprawl cannot be stopped.  The kingdom of God invades every aspect of every thing!

And, once again, there is no “raising” of the mustard shrubs.  Nobody can walk by in a couple months and say, “Look what I raised!”  The seed is planted and the planter no longer matters.  Plus, the seed in the parable is thrown on the ground!  Not even planted in the earth.  In neither of these cases is there any room for pride of accomplishment.  And that’s really the underlying point.  The kingdom of God is like this: YOU do not raise it.  YOU do not control it.  You do not do anything.  It happens in spite of you, when it comes right down to it.  The kingdom of God happens for your benefit, but is out of your control.  The kingdom of God is like a field full of dandelions.  The kingdom of God is like weeds, and fennel, and chipmunks.

And so what does that make us?  What is our part to play in this kingdom?  You know, what about us growing the kingdom of God here in Massillon?  Jesus said of the mustard seed, “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."  You and I are making our nests in the shade; that’s what we’re doing.  We don’t plant it; we live in it.

The kingdom of God is all around us.  Growing while we sleep, invading every inch of creation.  And you and I are like little birds that build our nests in the shade God provides.  We don’t need to be out there planting mustard seeds.  We need to be inviting the other birds to come and rest in the shade.  Come into the kingdom of God and you will find rest for your souls.  The kingdom of God is beyond our power, totally out of control, and invading every inch of creation, just as God intended.  It cannot be stopped, no matter what we do.  Thanks be to God!


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