June 14, 2015 – From small beginnings

Pentecost 3 June 14 2015   Ps 92, 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13, 2 Corinthians 5:11-17, Mark 4:26-34   From small beginnings

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From a tiny little seed… grows the largest of shrubs – big enough to give generous shelter and plentiful shade to the birds of the air.

But what’s this got to do with the kingdom of God? What do mustard seed and birds in trees have to do with God’s kingdom?

And – a seed grows secretly, day and night, bringing forth a harvest all by itself. The gardener has no clue how it grows…

I love the image. But again I’m wondering… A seed grows all by itself – the gardener doesn’t do anything but reap the harvest. There’s nothing here we’re even told to do or believe…. How can this be a parable for the kingdom of God?

The parable of the mustard seed isn’t so hard to understand on one level – Something big grows from something very small.. Somewhere else Jesus talks about a little yeast makes a large batch of bread… We get the concept…at least…

Till we learn that mustard was considered a nuisance weed by farmers… As still today. Mustard can take over a whole field quickly once it gets started… Now the kingdom of God’s starting to sound a little dangerous…

Biblical parables work in different ways. Sometimes a parable can be just another name for an allegory…Or for a proverb… Or a riddle. A parable literally means a saying that comes along side of – in parallel. A parable suggests a parallel way of looking at things, alongside of something else. But somewhere in any Jesus parable there’s pretty much bound to be something designed to mess with minds… and cause us to see, hear, and believe…differently.

At the end of our gospel reading we’re told “With many such parables Jesus spoke the word, as they were able to hear it…” And…‘He didn’t speak to them except in parables….’

He did explain everything to disciples in private…we’re told… But we have only a very few of those discussion transcripts preserved in our gospels… And if anyone’s sure they understand all the parables, it’s a very safe bet…They don’t understand at all… The parables of Jesus are meant to leave us wanting more explanation. But the best attempts at explanation… don’t over explain.

Maybe there’s a bit of like Father, like Son here. God never gave Adam and Eve an operator’s manual telling them how to take care of the garden. God let Job wonder a long time what’s going on… never really explaining except in a long string of parables…that say in so many words… I’m God and you’re not… Even when he restored Job’s fortunes, God didn’t explain much.

And as I read God’s book, it sure seems designed to prompt pondering and prayer…and more questions… much more than simple answers.

Not that God never gives simple answers. God gives a simple enough answer to the prophet Samuel, who doesn’t immediately comprehend God picking an eighth-round draft choice to be Israel’s king – the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse, the one considered too young to even be invited to the grown-up’s dinner table – getting anointed to be next king. What’s going on, Samuel wonders. And God tells him, speaking in the royal third person: ‘The Lord doesn’t look at what people look at. People look on outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

A thousand-some years later, the apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth to apply this to ourselves. We’re made in the image of God. Like God, we too should look to see each other’s hearts, not outward appearances.

Which isn’t hard to understand on one level. Even in high school we’d sing along with the Temptations, “Beauty’s only skin deep… yea, yea, yea…I know beauty’s only skin deep, oh yea...”

Of course that didn’t stop me or any guys I knew… from trying to date young women whose beauty was most apparent on the outside…We knew what the song meant on a superficial level. And we probably didn’t really want to know deeper meanings… yet…

Now, as grown ups, we know God sees differently. We know God sees the heart, and we know outward appearances are often misleading…

We probably also know Jesus speaks in parables to get us listening deeper. And parables are designed to make us pause and ponder. Take a longer, slower, more careful look at life… and life decisions…even those that seem tiny as mustard seed… Remembering even the smallest decisions can grow into something big…

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Often when I feel closest to the kingdom of God… When I’m listening best and seeing most clearly… On those rare and happy moments when even the right words seem to come without much trouble…Inevitably this will feel more like divine accident…than because of anything I’ve done…

In such blessed times it seems like it’s all a matter of stumbling into the right patch of good dirt…Where the seed grows all by itself.

Earlier in this same chapter Jesus tells a longer parable about seed that falls in four kinds of ground, and three out of four times, the seed won’t grow. The seed, Jesus explains to disciples, is the word of God… The different types of ground represent different conditions of the human heart. On the hard packed garden path or on rocky ground or on ground thick with thornbush… the seed just won’t make it. The word won’t be heard.

We hear all this in one of our few surviving transcripts of Jesus briefing disciples on the meaning of a parable. Jesus tells us the seed that falls on rocky ground represents those who receive the word of God with gladness, then fall away when things get difficult. (And we remember – Jesus’ first round draft choice disciple, Simon, nicknamed Peter, meaning Rocky…)

But wherever hearts are ready seed will grow. And rocky Simon Peter, even after he falls away three times in one night…Still gets more chances…

So will you and I.

And I remember… Someone gave us a bag of tulip bulbs last year as a present. They sat outside on the porch for months. We talked about where to plant them every now and then. But never quite got around to planting.

Till finally one day in December…Just before the snows started in earnest… I must have had a feeling…this might be the last chance…I took all the bulbs, put them under an inch or two of dirt at the edge of the lawn, over in the compost heap area, covered them over with leaves.

Sometime this Spring…probably early May… here comes stems poking up… A few days later, petals… A few days later one opens… Then another… and another… Bright reddish orange tulips…

And all I did was put them in the ground and cover them… The bulbs knew how to do all the growing by themselves…

Yes, bulbs need sun and rain and good soil. (And Jesus’s earlier parable in this same chapter covers all those conditions…) But planted in good ground, flowers know exactly how to grow and bloom…

And so do we.

I remember watching Rohi growing inside her mother before she was born… I remember watching her grow ever since…

I know we all need loving families…We all need enough to eat, clothes for our bodies, roofs over our heads… and it helps a lot to have a decent job and good friends…

And we know God knows all this… Because Jesus says “don’t worry about your food, clothing, and shelter… Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. And all these other things God knows you need… will all be given to you also.”

I know this… We have these words taped on our refrigerator. It’s a favorite verse for Reah and me. Our daughter Rohi knows this verse by heart also.

But I still forget… to believe it sometimes.

Just like I know Jesus tells us “unless you become like little children you won’t inherit the kingdom of God”… I know it. I believe it…

But still I sometimes forget to believe…

Which is probably why Jesus keeps talking to me… through the voice of our daughter… and the voices of all our children… speaking parables of love…

Even after I’ve been impatient with her, even though she’s been praying for me all day as I struggle to do my work… Still Rohi keeps encouraging me… Even when I’m acting hard of hearing…

Till, finally I hear… at the supper table, last night, as she tells me again, “Daddy I love you. Daddy, I will take care of you. Don’t worry, I will pay all your bills.”

This is a lot like the voice of Jesus for me… Speaking his parables of love.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.