First Congregational Church
June 17, 2018
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Fathers Day
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
All I’m really asking for in life is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy. They told me I was gullible ... and I believed them. What if there were no hypothetical questions? Have you ever noticed that a flashlight is a case for holding dead batteries? Is it my imagination, or do buffalo wings taste like chicken? I planted some bird seed. A bird came up. Now I don't know what to feed it.
There is something magical about each of the seasons with which we are gifted, but there is something majestic and artistic this time of year, about the stand of pine trees on the east side of Highway 31, just south of County Line Road, south of Joyfield Road. That stand of trees is beautiful any time of year, but yesterday, they were resplendent in their stateliness and variegated colors of green.
There was a Facebook story this week about a project in Kenya that is working to replant forests that have been lost over the years. The company behind this idea uses charcoal dust (a waste product) and nutrients to form a little ball, about the size of a gum ball, to house a seed. The little balls of potential can be hand sown, thrown out from scooters, slingshots, airplanes and helicopters, all at the huge price of two cents a seed ball. The dusty, dark coating helps to repel seed eating insects and animals and protects the seeds until rains fall to soak the clay ball and stimulate the seeds. Since so much of Kenya’s heating a cooking is done with wood, this seems like an amazingly great idea.
There is something also magical about the amber waves of grain that will soon begin to dot our landscapes, too. Robert Flugham reminds us of our Kindergarten lesson: that the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why. Of course we can understand the science. But when we look at a wheat field, there are so many individual stalks of grass, that we don’t see the individuals but the mass effect. And yet, each and every stalk of wheat, that produces so many more tiny seeds of grain, each of those are little miracles; so many little miracles that we don’t even see them as such.
Before we get to the scripture passage for this morning, I wanted to first offer a little caveat. Most often we hear of this passage with reference to a mustard seed. In using the version from The Message, not only is the passage more fun, but it uses a pine nut for the mustard seed. Really any kind of seed would probably fit the illustration, but pine nuts, which come primarily from pinyon trees in the U.S. southwest, take only 10-15 years to grow and provide a crop, once they reach their 33–66 feet.
Mark 4:26-34 The Message (MSG)
Never Without a Story
26-29 Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!
30-32 “How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we use? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it.”
33-34 With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.
Thank you, Bill. A number of years ago, there was a list going around of things that God is like. God is like…Coke: the real thing. God is like...Hallmark Cards: caring enough to send God’s very best. God is like...General Electric: bringing good things to life. God is like Scotch Tape: You can't see God, but you know God's there. God is like...Allstate, because you're in good hands with God. God is like...VO-5 Hair Spray: holding through all kinds of weather.
Jesus went a little further with this God is like gist - in regards to the kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom of God is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls. The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. Ten times in the book of Matthew, Jesus filled in the blank of the kingdom of God being like something with which we - or the people back in the day - we would be familiar.
In our Mark passage, however, Jesus makes the link of God’s kingdom with a little tongue-in-cheek humor. The kingdom of God could have been likened to the cedars of Lebanon that grow to 130 feet, if Jesus wanted to impress the folks. But, probably, for reasons of humor and absurdity, or even to see who was really listening, Jesus used the smallest of seeds.
According to a professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, “Parables are comparisons, meant to cast two things alongside one another to provide analogy, contrast, or reflection - usually a reflection similar to the distortions that appear in a funhouse mirror.” Yet a preaching professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI contends that, “Scholars cannot agree what the key element is here: is it the power of the seeds, the inactivity of the farmer, the mystery of how seeds do what they do?”
Regardless of what any seminary expert might think, even the least among us, having listened to a number of good sermons, would surmise that the last thing Jesus was probably intending was that there is nothing for us in this analogy but to walk away from the passage singing “Que sera, sera–whatever will be, will be.”
There is a splendid sense of connection when you plant a tomato or a six-pack of pansies that you, together with God, and trust in wind that won’t destroy and the right timing of rain and sunshine, help make the conditions right for nurture and growth - whether it’s a garden or field or classroom or even in a discussion with someone who is struggling in one way or another.
We have to be watchful, too, for the afflictions of pests that can sabotage our efforts, pests like inflated ego and thinking that we are 100% correct on any moral or spiritual issue. There is no farmer in the world that will not pay attention to the fields and crops and herds and flocks - to make sure that he or she is doing the best of their ability to aide in the growth of their charges. And yet, there is such joy to see the tiny take root and sprout and even flourish.
There are plenty of times when the winds of wrath, the flames of ferocity or the waters of worry can threaten a crop. But when we stop to take note of the gardens and fields around us, we can find ourselves stymied by the abundance of gift and grace.
The video clip, that was no longer than maybe three minutes, featured a woman with cancer sitting next to her husband in a café, thinking it was an interview for a GoFundMe page. She has four children, no insurance and stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. Her fear was in how she was going to make sure her children would be cared for. Little did she and her husband know that outside the cafe, 200 people were waiting to surprise them, each with a $100 bill.
Is not known if each individual provided their own $100 bill, but there were children in the line that day, too. It was what came at the end of the video that was the real harvest. as the music rolled on, the screen said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” “A kind gesture can reach a wound only compassion can heal.” “There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”
Not all of us can add a $100 bill two another person’s garden. Not all of us can help another person attend their garden. But all of us can do what the Japanese call “forest bathing.”
We can sit in our backyard or in a nearby park, stand long enough in one place to ‘take note’ of what God is doing. We can kneel down and rub a dog’s belly. We can visit one who doesn’t have a lot of visitors and find a joy that will overflow our heart. We can watch and admire the joy of young brothers having fun, squealing with delight, even when such moments end in over-exuberance and tears.
Maybe Jesus had no other purpose then to point out the marvelous in the abundance and even the grace that ultimately is God’s. Seed and soil, sunshine and rain are entirely different elements, but they come together to make something ‘new under the sun.’ Perhaps we can bring together kindness in unexpected places, healing where there is only brokenness, selflessness among human beings for whom selfishness is our default instinct, courage where fear would be more reasonable, generosity when our first impulse is to keep the best for ourselves, life where there was only death.
A small boy was at the zoo with his father. They were looking at the tigers, and his father was telling him how ferocious they were. “Daddy, if the tigers got out and ate you up…” “Yes, son?” the father asked, ready to console him. “ …Which bus would I take home?” May we all take note that we are surrounded by endless gifts of grace and abundance as we pray and go out into this week, knowing that God will provide for our ways.
God of Grace and Glory, we thank you for those individuals and groups of individuals that planted seeds in or tended our hearts in partnership with you to help our lives unfold in miraculous and multiplied levels of grace and joy and mercy and love. Help each of us to continue to grow into your world as a cedar of Lebanon, a mighty oak of love, a safe refuge for the weary, a source of life and comfort for the meek and a welcome home for God’s little ones. We may only see the seeds, but help us to rest in your vision of patience, waiting for the unfolding of all you have meant for us to be as people after your heart. For the tiny and the grand, the seen and unseen, the simple and complex, in all manner of life, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.