Third Sunday after Pentecost
TEXT: Mark 4:26-34
[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 …” He also said … “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 … it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs …” (Mark 4:26-27, 30-32)
In our gospel passage from Mark, Jesus speaks to his disciples—including us—about the Kingdom of God. Now, I don’t often give the kind of message where I say, “There are four important points here.” But, when I look at these two parables—both of them about seeds… Well, it seems to me that there are four important points here!
The first one is this: most of the essential things in life are invisible; but they are much more powerful than the things we can see. This starts with the Spirit of God, the Spirit that gives life. The Hebrew word for “spirit” is ruah (רוח), which means “wind” or “breath”—just the same as the Greek word pneuma (πνεύμα), which also means “spirit” or “breath.”
The connection is kind of obvious: without air—without breath—you cannot live. If you stop breathing, your spirit leaves you. Yet—just like the wind—you cannot see a person’s breath. Even outdoors in winter, what you see yourself breathing out is water vapor—it’s not really your breath. You cannot see your breath any more than you can see the wind. All you can see—if you look closely—is the rising and falling of your chest.
A similar principle extends to every facet of life. Consider love, mercy, self-respect. As concepts, these are kind of ethereal things. You can’t really see love—or mercy, or self-respect—as such.
But you can certainly see the evidence, or the results, of these things. You can see the impact they make.
Just as the breath of life is seen in the rising and falling of the chest, so can the love of God be seen: in the kindness of strangers, the acceptance of family members, the food on our tables. Likewise, mercy is seen in every act of compassion; and self-respect becomes visible when you treat yourself as a person who is far too important, too valuable, to destroy with materialism, substance abuse, or unhealthy habits.
One of the most important—and invisible—things in life is trust. Without trust a person cannot function. Without trust, you can never become close to another human being—or to God, for that matter.
And in fact, the most important thing we can do is to trust in God: trust in God that he will be our refuge and strength in times of trouble; trust in God that he will help us accomplish all the things he asks us to do; trust in God that he will give us the wisdom we need, the courage we need, the friends we need.
In the first parable we read today, Jesus teaches us about trust. You plant a seed, and it grows. Whether you are awake or asleep, the seed grows. It puts forth first a shoot, then a head, then the full kernel in the head. Through some unseen process, life emerges from the seed that is planted. In just the same way, abundant life emerges from the seed of trust planted in our hearts.
So, that’s point one: most of the essential things in life are invisible; but they are more powerful than the things we can see.
Here’s the second point: the greatest things emerge from the smallest things. The greatest accomplishments, the most successful lives—and, indeed, the Kingdom of God itself—all of these arise out of the smallest and least significant things.
Jesus speaks about this, too. He asks us to consider the mustard seed. It grows into a giant shrub, large enough for birds to shelter in—yet, it is tiny at first. Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is like the mustard seed; and I would submit that his own life confirms that truth. The kingdom of God works—God works—with and through the little things.
Now, that flies in the face of the way the world thinks about life. The world is impressed by everything that is big, and grand, and flashy: expensive cars, grand houses, tall buildings, gigantic stages and tremendous sound systems. The world is impressed by big money, big fame, big status.
But God chooses to work with that which is small: a poor carpenter’s son; simple fishermen; you and me. The Bible says over and over again that God loves the little ones, the humble ones—the people that others despise and reject. Scripture tells us that the most important things are the little things, and that—in the end—they will replace the big things. They will overthrow rulers, and governments, and corporations. They will demonstrate the emptiness of wealth and power.
The signs of God’s Kingdom are not big churches, big congregations, or fantastic wealth.
No. God’s Kingdom is shown in bread and wine … food and drink … cups of cold water given in love … things that can be found at the corner store and in most people’s refrigerators. Ordinary stuff for ordinary people.
To be sure, sometimes God’s work is done by famous, high-profile people: Billy Grahams and Florence Nightingales, Mother Teresas and Desmond Tutus; but most often it is done—and done well—by unheard-of people like you and me.
Whenever we pour some coins into an outstretched hand, or help a person whose car is stalled in traffic, or give a can of beans and a box of macaroni to the Food Bank, or make a loaf of sandwiches for the homeless centre, or deliver “Meals on Wheels”, or pick up old candy wrappers and pop cans strewn in the park … All these little things—all these acts of care—are God’s work. Out of them grows the Kingdom of God.
God’s Kingdom is found in the bread we break; in our Sunday fellowship; in the meals we share at home. God’s Kingdom is made real whenever we look into the eyes of another person and see a fellow human being who is loved by God.
So, that’s point two: the greatest things emerge from the smallest things.
Here’s the third point: living faithfully means focusing on good, not on evil. It means believing that good will triumph over evil. It means not being Chicken Little. You remember her. Chicken Little was the picture of anxiety. She thought the sky was going to fall in, and she ran around hysterically, warning everybody, fretting and worrying.
We all know people who are just like that. All the time, they focus on the darkness and evil in the world. Unemployment, drug addiction, crime, pollution, war, environmental collapse … all these things haunt their waking hours. They are insecure about the future, and terrified of the present. They live with hearts full of fear: fear of failure, fear of losing what they value, fear of being alone, fear of death … and fear of life!
By focusing only on what is bad, they rob themselves of any chance for happiness. And the more they look at the bad, the worse it seems.
Jesus urges us to keep our focus on God, and on his goodness. If we do that, our lives will begin to shine. We will become radiant—“children of light,” as the Scripture says (Ephesians 5:8). We will not only discover God’s light within ourselves, we will bring light to others, as well.
So, how can we do that? How can we keep our focus on God? Well, there are several ways. One important way is by making time every day for prayer and Bible study. Another way is by taking note of the simple and ordinary miracles that surround us.
For example, now that the weather has turned nicer, I’ve been spending more time walking outdoors. And as a result of that, I have found myself paying attention to trees … that’s right—trees!
I think it is absolutely remarkable how trees grow. Did you know that a white spruce can grow up to 24 inches in a year? That means you can plant a four-foot-tall sapling today—and in only 15 years, it will be over 30 feet tall.
How do trees do that?
Corn, too, is remarkable stuff. You know about this if you grew up in southern Manitoba—or in a place like Taber, Alberta. You put a little seed in the ground in the spring, and—with the right conditions—by harvest time you have a plant that is over six feet high, and which contains literally thousands of kernels of corn.
How do they do it?
Growth is a remarkable thing. And growth is what our gospel lesson today is about: growth from a tiny seed to the largest of plants; growth which seems to occur as if by magic. You plant a seed. You provide some water and nutrition, you cultivate the ground.
But in the end, what happens is beyond human control. It is, ultimately, beyond our understanding. It is a miracle: the miracle of God—the miracle of life.
How can you stay focused on God? Look at the goodness in daily life—like loving families, and relationships that work. Or people who go out of their way to help strangers. Or parents who put their children first. These things do exist, you know! Look around, and you will see people working together, playing together, supporting one another. Focus on the good things—not on the bad—and you will be cultivating God’s seed growing in your heart.
So, there’s the third point: living faithfully means focusing on good, not on evil.
O.K. Here’s the fourth and final point: God is the Author of all good things. It is God who sows the seed and provides for its growth into the Kingdom of God. Each one of us is called to be God’s field. So allow yourself to be good ground for the Lord. Open yourself up to him. Worship him daily. Pray. Read your Bible. Cultivate your heart with his Word by studying it, thinking about it, acting upon it. Allow yourself to be God’s field—and remember, this is most easily done in the company of others who also want to be God’s field, who want their lives to be the place where his Kingdom grows.
And remember that the best things are invisible. Usually, the most important things look pretty insignificant to start with.
Listen to what Jesus is telling us: if you live faithfully by focusing on the good and opening yourself to God, he will do the rest. God will be your protector and shield. He will bring you into the fullness of his Kingdom. Even in the midst of trials, even in the midst of woe, God will give you peace and joy. And at the end, he will welcome you into the eternal realms. This is what Jesus has promised us—and this is the gospel we preach. Thanks be to God for it.