Yr A ~ Pentecost 4 ~ Mark 4:26-34
You may recall that I like to call parables thought bombs. If you read a parable and something doesn’t make your head explode with curious wonder you’ve read it wrong. Parables never tell it straight. Like Emily Dickinson would say “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant!”
Tell it slant.
The reason you can’t tell a parable straight is because there is no straight! As soon as you dip your toe in the ocean of spirituality you are out of the straight realm and into the slant.
The first of our two parables today talks about seed that is planted and then harvested. But the thought bomb is that the usual middle parts are missing. There is no tending of the garden. There is no nurturing the growth. A seed is planted and then it grows – but the sower knows not how! The sower is oblivious.
The second parable tells us never to underestimate the power of the tiniest little seed. Our intuition tells us that for something so staggeringly and overwhelmingly important like the love of God and the kingdom that God lavishes upon us it should require some massive amount of input in order to bring it to life. We should have to go through a multi-year training process or an intensive boot camp, or make some sort of dramatic change in our lives like selling everything we have. You gotta invest a lot to get a lot, right? Apparently not. Not in God’s economy. The tiniest little seed is enough to bring forth the kingdom.
These are kingdom parables. What do they reveal about the kingdom? Well, they reveal that the kingdom can spring from seemingly nothing and it can happen and exist without us having a clue. The kingdom is all around us, whether we’re aware of it or not. And we’re back to one of my favourite verses: Genesis 28:16 where Jacob says, “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it!” And then, mysteriously, the sower happens to notice and what do they get? A harvest!
Now, let’s be careful here. It doesn’t say a person was walking along the road and noticed a bountiful field and went in and harvested. Somewhere along the way a sower had to sow. They didn’t do anything to earn the harvest, but they were aware of their desire for a harvest or they wouldn’t have planted – even if they don’t think they planted all that much, and didn’t do a lot after they planted it.
We can’t control what happens with our faith journey, or anyone’s faith journey. And we can’t guarantee or predict a harvest. All we can do is lovingly sow seeds. The rest is kind of a mystery.
Do I think seeds have a better chance of growing if a sower lovingly tends them? Absolutely!
Should we make every effort to nurture the seeds we plant? Absolutely!
But is our tending the deciding factor in generating a harvest? Absolutely not! It’s a mystery!
That’s the thought bomb. It goes against our understanding of how good things happen. We’re supposed to earn things, right? Perhaps with humans – but again that’s not how God’s economy functions.
What do these parables suggest about God’s character?
They suggest that God is love, and that God loves whether we’re aware of it or not. God’s love is absolute and constantly pulsating and flowing – gushing even – and when we tune it in, when we realize it, when we notice, we reap a harvest, even if we only planted a little seed.
What does one need to “do” to “earn” the kingdom in these parables?
The kingdom is already here, all around us, waiting to be claimed, waiting to be noticed.
The seeds we’re sowing are seeds of awareness and openness. And one of the main ways we do that is through the rituals and activities that we do at church.
Today, Sunday worship, is planting seeds of awareness and openness. This physical church building that people see as they pass by on the street is a seed of awareness. The fancy new sign we’re getting is for seed planting. The strawberry supper next week is for seed planting. It’s not really a fundraiser – it’s an awareness raiser.
Every time we have the privilege of spending time with kids here we are planting seeds of awareness and openness – awareness of the Jesus story – openness to the Holy Mystery that we call God.
Every time we have a program calendar learning time, bring in a guest speaker, gather for a discussion – it’s all seed planting.
We’re sowing awareness, openness, and love!
You might argue that all those actions are tending the seeds already planted, and I’m ok with that. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re in charge of anything. We can tend our gardens all we like but God does the growing – and we know not how it works.
And then hopefully over time we awaken to that kingdom that surrounds us and we claim it as our own. That’s the harvest. That’s a reason to celebrate.
And that’s what we’re about today – celebration Sunday. We’re celebrating the harvest of God’s kingdom. It’s our chance to pause and be grateful and be aware that we have been given so much. Those seeds that we’ve faithfully sown have mysteriously grown and we celebrate the fruits they have produced.
The potluck we’re going to share in is a celebration of our awareness of God’s kingdom.
The games at the picnic are a celebration of God’s love.
The music we sing so joyfully is a celebration of God’s harmony.
The sacraments we participate in – like Tegan’s baptism today – are a celebration of God’s presence in a physical, tangible way.
The Spirit that gushes around, between, and through us all is a celebration of God’s light, and love, and energy in this place and in these people.
We are the harvest!
We are the harvest of the seeds of awareness and openness we have sown.
We are the ones who affirm that surely God is in this place.
Our celebration is our noticing! It’s harvest time!
But we need to be clear that we’re not harvesting once and for all. We aren’t talking about a golden ticket into the kingdom of God that once we get it we’re set for life.
The kingdom never fades and is always present, but we are all too human, and we get distracted, and we stop noticing from time to time. We stop being present to the very Presence that is enfolding us.
This is why I think Jesus uses sowing and harvesting metaphors in his thought bombs because they’re seasons – there’s a rhythm to it – it’s not once and for all but it is over and over.
So today is our harvest season and we’re celebrating – but today (and every day) is also planting season! We are constantly in need of sowing the seeds of awareness and openness to the kingdom that is all around – a kingdom we can never earn because we already possess it – if we’d only notice, and reap the harvest – and in the harvesting we are planting more seeds!
And that brings us to another wondrous, marvellously mysterious paradox of faith.
Today we proclaim this spiritual truth and tell it slant ~ our harvest is another planting!
Our harvest is another planting!
Happy celebration Sunday!