"Seeds of Change"
Second Sunday after Trinity
2nd After Trinity Mark 4: 26-34
‘Seeds of Change’
He also 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. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
The news that the Kingdom of God was among us was the principal news that Jesus brought. This is the Good News of the Gospel. It is the news that our God is not remote and removed from us in some distant sphere. Instead, God is in our midst, active in our daily lives, offering us gifts of freedom and fullness of life.
Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom of God but he never defined what it is. Instead he spoke of it in parables, inviting those listening to him and us to use our imagination to grasp his meaning. These two "seed parables" draw attention to the hidden and mysterious nature of the kingdom. It grows through a power greater than ours and its fruitfulness is beyond our expectations.
The kingdom of God is difficult for us to understand it is multi-faceted, like a diamond. It can’t be explained simply and fully, no more than God can. As St Paul says, who can understand the mind of God? But many aspects of it are revealed. Here the emphasis is on the quiet but certain ways in which God goes about the divine project of the world’s salvation. We may be worrying about the state of world affairs and how if ever we will be free from the Pandemic, but God takes everything into account and does not panic.
Jesus loved to use images from farming and nature: how simply they show how faith is nurtured and grows. Just give the image of the farmer sewing seed a moment to sink in. Imagine how an un-scientific middle-eastern farmer and those listening to Jesus two thousand years ago were in awe of the wonder of “growth”.
There will always be something hidden and mysterious about the kingdom of God. At best we get occasional hints as to what it may be or where it can be found. The first parable reminds us that while we live our ordinary day-to-day lives, the kingdom continues to grow we do not know how, or even give it much thought. We are not consciously doing anything to bring it about but the power of God beyond our understanding is always at work. This is a consoling teaching for Christian communities under persecution, or for those who live in a secular environment, or those whose church attendance numbers are diminishing. Whatever our circumstances God is still at work, bringing about the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
The second parable is also about seeds – a mustard seed, which Jesus uses to explain how the Kingdom will grow.
The farmer does not make the seed grow. In all honesty he does not even understand how it grows. Each seed holds the secret of life and growth within itself, and no man or woman has ever created anything in the full sense of the word. Human beings have discovered lots of things, rearranged lots of things, developed lots of things, but created a living thing from nothing – No we cannot do that, only God is creator. So it is with the Kingdom of God, we cannot create it, for it is God’s. We can certainly hinder its growth, and we can help it on its way, but behind it all is the power and wisdom of God.
Nature’s growth is imperceptible. If we watch a plant every day we cannot see its growth taking place – it is only as we see it over time that we notice the difference. So it is with the Kingdom of God. There is not the slightest doubt that the Kingdom of God is on the way if we compare, not today with yesterday, but this century with the centuries that went before. Take the Christian reformer Elizabeth Fry as an example. When she went into Newgate prison in 1817 she found 300 women and numberless children in 2 cells. They lived cooked and slept on the floor, crowded like animals begging for food and money. Thanks to the determination and faith of reformers like her nowadays things like that in Britain would be unthinkable, the Kingdom of God is on the way ~ things are constantly changing lives for the good.
I wonder if any of you have ever had an Endoscopy. The Dr says ‘we need to see what is happening inside you, so we will just put this little tube down your throat and look on the screen.’
It is at that point that you wished that you had not gone to the Dr’s in the first place. Why can’t he tell what is wrong with me by the colour of my tongue, the whites of my eyes or my other symptoms? And so it is with God. People look at our outward appearance and treat us to their verdict based on our appearance, our accent or on what others say about us. But God looks inside us to the core of our very being – the place we call our soul. He may have to go carefully, picking his way through the debris of our lives, carefully clearing the ground, knowing it has to be there somewhere because he sowed it in the first place, that small black speck, tiny like a mustard seed, a seed of faith.
We look at winter fields which are brown and bare and may think that they are empty, but all sorts of things are going on out of sight. We have to wait for the right time in spring to see the first green shoots.
Jesus spent time in the carpenters shop, he spent time in prayer, he spent time patiently waiting for the spring to come, for the right time to be ready to begin his short time of ministry.
Whenever we think of a ‘miracle’, what usually comes to mind is an instant miracle. But there’s also the slow-motion miracle – the miracle of growth. When we pray and see no sign of an answer, we have to keep believing that God is still at work
We live in a world that is fixated on size and success. Business have targets for growth. The growth of the national economy is scrutinized by the experts and carefully encouraged to grow. Much of our world is ruled by huge multinational conglomerates and many of our churches are anxious about the lack of growth, and declining attendances.
As we begin to think about the easing of restrictions from the Pandemic and how church will be there are some things that could hinder the growth of the Kingdom of God. As many of us have been at pains to point out over the past months, if we go back to everything just as it was before the pandemic I think we will continue to see a steady decline church attendance in this country. We have predominately elderly congregations and many find it difficult to accept change. There is of course the other danger in leaping in and making radical changes that will alienate the faithful and may fall at the first hurdle. What to do? In order for the Kingdom to grow we must be prepared to meet the needs of the 21st century, we have to offer a range of service styles and times and use all manner of communication to reach out to people. There is never a ‘one size fits all’. But most important of all nothing will happen at all if we neglect to pray. The seed sown into the ground will never shoot if it is not watered, and so it is with the Kingdom of God .
Sunshine and rainbows, buttercups and sparrows, Wild Church, and Messy Church, Alpha courses and Confirmation Services, Zoom ministry and prayer groups these and so many more are signs of God’s creative will and the coming of the Kingdom.
It takes commitment and patience to see these things as signs of God’s reign here on earth. But it matters that we do for God’s Kingdom, the one we pray for every time we say the Lord’s prayer, will come and as Jesus said it is already here. What we have to do is to keep on praying and to nurture the small seeds of faith until that day when the world will see the glory of God.