It is good to be back. I had the privilege of taking three weeks off this month. The first week was the generous gift of a sabbatical week when the entire staff got the week off and the office was closed. The second week we visited family in Denver and had a lovely time in the mountains. The third week I spent working on projects in my back yard.
When we bought our house two years ago, the back yard needed a lot of work. Along the fence there were a couple pallets piled with debri. I’ve slowly gotten rid of the pile, and during my first week off I cleared away the last bit of the junk.
Of course, what did this leave behind? A big patch of raw dirt, like a sore in the middle of my lawn.
So, I bought this magical bag. It has a combination of grass seed, mulch, and fertilizer. Oh yes.
I spread the magic substance onto the raw patch of dirt and watered it as directed on the package.
I watered twice each day during that week. Do you know what I got? Wet mulch. Very exciting…not.
The second week came and we drove to Denver. We had a wonderful time visiting with family and driving through the Rocky Mountain National Park. We ate good food and laughed alot. I read a couple books and drew some pictures.
You know what? I never thought about that patch of mulch.
Then we arrived home. I stepped into my back yard, and guess what I found.
A beautiful carpet of fresh green grass! Now, that was very exciting!
Isn’t that interesting? When I was worried and focused on the patch, nothing happened. When I went away, the miracle of growth occurred.
I wonder if, perhaps, that is part of what Jesus is getting at with the parable we’re reading today?
In Mark 4:30-32, Jesus said,
We’ve been learning all summer that parables are simple stories, about ordinary things, that are not designed to give us clear, rational answers to theological questions. They are designed to make us scratch our heads and lean in a little closer.
One thing we do know about this parable is that Jesus is trying to tell us something about the Kingdom of God.
When Jesus says “The Kingdom of God” I think it might be like saying, “The Operating System of the Universe.” This is how things really are.
The Gospel of Matthew gives us a little clue as to why Jesus told parables. He quotes Psalm 78:1–4 (NRSV)
You see, here is the first thing I think we need to remember about the parable.
Jesus isn’t starting a new movement. He’s reminding us of how things are.
He says, “for those who have eyes to see, let them see, and those who have ears to hear, let them hear.”
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
The Kingdom of God is like a bag of magic mulch.
You plant it in the ground, and then it happens.
God’s creative energy is always working, underneath it all, whether we pay attention or not.
Now, notice the purpose of the seed.
It grows up to be a bush that provides shelter for the birds.
This is the second thing I think we need to remember.
The Kingdom of God is about providing for the welfare of all creation.
This amazing miracle of life doesn’t grow up to be worshipped, so that the world can say, “Wow, what an amazing mustard plant, or what an amazing patch of grass, or what an amazing raspberry bush.”
No. It grows up to play its part in the goodness of all of creation. The mustard plant provides more than just shade for birds. It also provides, well…mustard. It is a spice that makes food taste good. It also has medicinal purposes.
It contributes to the welfare of creation.
And then it dies, and its seeds go back into the ground and another cycle of the mustard plant happens.
And this is how the Kingdom of God works.
The kingdoms that we build
are all about us. We build walls and laws that protect us from the people who are not like us. We build monuments to how amazing we are. We build armies to eliminate those who are not like us.
And our eyes are shut, and our ears are plugged.
But, to what shall we compare the Kingdom of God?
It is like a mustard seed.
It is like yeast in the dough.
It is like any seed that is planted in the ground.
It is like my backyard.
Sometimes I sit in my backyard and marvel.
I see that miraculous little patch of grass that grew when I wasn’t looking.
I see the raspberry bushes and the mulberry trees, and the cone flowers that feed all the animals.
I watch the fiery red cardinals, and the bright yellow finches, and jet black crows and listen to them talk and sing all day.
I watch the playful and mischievous squirrels as they chase each other in the trees and as they taunt my daughter’s dog and get him to run back and forth through my flower beds.
I see the little toads hopping around, and the occasional turtle strolling along.
I see the spectacular monarch that found the milkweed that we saved for it. I watch as her eggs hatched into caterpillars and the monarch continues.
Sometimes I sit and take this all in and think, “This just happens. This would happen with me or without me. What a privilege to be part of this.”
I just wonder if this isn’t part of what Jesus wants for us when he tells us that the Kingdom of God is like a seed.
Open your eyes, he says, and see what God is doing all around you.
Open your ears and hear the rhythm of life.
Stop fighting against it, and learn to dance with it. Learn to be part of it, and part of everything, not just your own thing.
I came across this quote from Henri Nouwen that gets after what I’m trying to say.
When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.Henri Nouwen
I honestly don’t know everything that Jesus was trying to teach with this simple parable. But I think this is one important piece of it.
In a moment, the Messengers are going to sing a new song for us. It is based on Psalm 46:10, where the Psalmist says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
Be Still Prayer
One of my favorite teachers, Richard Rohr, developed a prayer around this Psalm, that he calls the Be Still Prayer. I encourage you this week to sit in your back yard, or in a park nearby, and use this prayer.
Here’s how you do it. You first start by saying the whole thing. Take a couple deep breaths and then leave off a piece.
This is the song the Messengers sang after the sermon.