TEXTS: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Mark 4:26-34
A sower went out to sow . . . so goes many of the parables of Jesus. Jesus taught the people of his age using illustrations that the people of his age and society understood. The world in which Jesus lived was most definitely agriculturally based and even the people who lived in towns and cities of that day understood agriculture pretty well. In today’s multi-faceted, multi-tiered societies it is more common for people to be so divorced from the roots of agriculture that the concepts of planting and nurturing and harvesting from seed to plant to crop is not something that is understood much at all by the general population. Thank goodness we here in Long Valley are still surrounded by at least the vestiges of agriculture, at least to the point that most of us understand what Jesus talking about in his “farming” parables.
Another concern for us though is the fact that the whole idea of agriculture has shifted from wonder at the mighty works of God, to facts of science. In the days of Jesus the statement, “The seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” carried much more mystery and awe than it does today. In the days of Jesus people truly did not know how a seed became a plant or how a plant developed new grain, new seed. They simply knew that it generally did, and attributed such growth and development to the power of God. Today we have sliced and diced and dissected the act of germination and plant growth from the micro sub-cellular level to the macro level until we have come to believe that we know every element fully and completely. We understand germination at the cellular level. We understand photosynthesis chemically, genetically, biologically and in every other way, and in fact have shown that we can actually alter the very basics of a plant’s genetics to make it function as we want it to.
Yet I would suggest to you that there should still be a healthy level of awe in viewing the development of plant life, and a healthy level of praise to God for that development. For with all our science and technology, there is still much that we don’t understand; there is still much that we can’t control; there is still much we must leave to the mystery of God.
So, the kingdom of God is like . . . God’s eternal realm, God’s understanding and vision of the way things ought to be . . . is as if someone should scatter seed upon the ground, and would then sleep and rise, night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. The farmer plants the seed. The farmer might even tend the plants as they develop, but the sprouting, the growth, the maturing; they are all God’s business.
Over period years, agri-business might be able to develop a wheat stalk that averages only 15 inches instead of 20 inches, or a plant that germinates in 6 days instead of 9; but a farmer cannot plant a seed and tell it to germinate in 6 days. Not even an agri-business giant like Monsanto can watch a seed sprout and then tell the stalk to grow to 17” – no more, no less.
God’s kingdom needs sowers. God needs people who are willing to be constantly sowing wisdom and grace, love and justice into the world; and sometimes we have the ability to tweak, ever so slightly, the way in which God’s word, God’s planting, develops. But by and large, the Kingdom develops mysteriously, in ways that we could never hope to understand.
I have seen and been amazed by seeds of grace that I have witnessed sown by individuals and by congregations, seeds that seemed at the time sown hopelessly for naught in what we might refer to as extremely unfertile ground; and yet those bits of love, those Sunday school lessons offered to the 2nd grader who seemed to be paying no attention at all, blossomed, sometimes years later, into unbelievable crops of faithfulness.
When I was a student at the University of Evansville majoring in music education, I remember taking on a few piano students in order to supplement my income as a church organist and nearly a dozen other part time jobs that I had at one time or another. A family that lived close to us and who we knew well had a young son that they wanted me to teach. Even though he had not yet turned six, I agreed to take him on as a student. Kelly was every piano teacher’s nightmare. He didn’t practice. He didn’t seem to pay attention to me during his lessons. He was hyperactive and easily distracted. I was so happy to graduate and move on in my life and inform Kelly’s mom that I wouldn’t be able to teach him any longer. Well friends, you’ve probably guessed it. Kelly continued to dabble in music. He picked up the trombone in grade school. He got a degree music management. And he is still working at H&H Music Service in Evansville as a low brass instructor, sales representative to local schools and occasional instrument repairman.
He sees the plant sprout and grow, he knows not how.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds, yet it grows into a large bush. Now in the mustard seed parable, you may notice that the sower is not even in the picture much. In Palestine, just as in many parts of our own nation, a mustard seed is not something that you would sow, but is instead an invasive weed that seems to propagate quite happily on its own without any work or even encouragement on our part. Sure, as I noted to the children this morning, the mustard plant is where we get our condiment of the same name, so it is purposefully cultivated by someone somewhere. But in most places wild mustard is not cultivated. It is a weed and I’m pretty sure that it was so in Palestine in the days of Jesus. Hence, there are times when the Kingdom of God germinates and grows and matures even when we have nothing to do with it at all.
This past Tuesday evening the members of our Church Council and our Call Committee met with Rev Scott Schantzenbach to go over what we expect to be the final stages of transition here at Zion Church. We have completed work on the document known as the Ministry Site Profile, parts of which are now visible nationally to pastors who may be considering a move. A tremendous amount of work has gone into the creation of that document and we thank our Call Committee and Council and all of you who participated in surveys and discussions and such for all the time and effort that made it possible to be where we are at this moment.
The call process just that, a process. It takes time; it takes a lot of work; and there are many points that we as a congregation cannot control. We are at one of those points at this moment. The Bishop has approved our document, our “Ministry Site Profile”, and we must now wait upon the Bishop and the Synod Staff and thousands of unknown variables, until the Bishop sees fit to recommend a candidate to us. As Pastor Schantzenbach noted on Tuesday, there may be someone who is already interested in the position here. Someone in Idaho might see our posting and contact our Synod. The Bishop might approach someone herself. There is simply no way of knowing at this point where a candidate or candidates might come from or how she or he might arrive at our doorstep. At this moment, in this particular part of the process, it is largely out our hands. Our Call Committee will continue to prepare, developing an interview style and a set of “stock” questions, and making sure that we have informative materials ready to offer candidate, but the actual process of the candidate getting here is not within our control. We must sleep and rise, day to day, in hopes that the seeds that we have planted, or even a wild mustard seed that we had nothing to do with will germinate and grow.
I call upon you continue pray for our Call Committee and our Council, asking that God’s Holy Spirit direct and bless the process. I am a firm believer that amazing things can happen when we trust in the Holy Spirit, and I say that knowing full well that trusting in God and trusting in the Spirit are not the common ways of life in today’s world. We would much rather be genetically engineering our lives and even the process of transition and call, as our modern world with all its science and technology tells us we have the power to do.
The Kingdom of God is as if . . . . Let us pray for the continual coming of God’s Kingdom in this place. Let us trust in God’s Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us and even surprise us as we sow and reap, as we sleep and rise, as we work and rest not to our glory, but to the glory of God Almighty made known to us in Christ our Savior. Amen