By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 13, 2021
Mark 4:26–34 (ESV)
26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.
What is the Kingdom of God like? This is something we each deal with, we deal with it in our communities, in our Meetings, and in the Church. The reason we struggle with the idea of kingdom is because of our misunderstanding of the word. When we think of kingdom our minds begin to think of nations and governmental entities. Throughout history this has been our understanding. A king is a ruler within a monarchy, and this king presides over the government. The first image that our mind develops in this passage is this concept of government or nations.
Jesus begins this passage with the word kingdom. Everyone has an idea of what a king is. It can mean one who possesses the land. When Israel first came into the land of promise, they did not have a king. God was the one that possessed the land, and God gave that land to the people. But Israel began to demand a human king. This is a change in perspective. God is no longer seen as being the one that possesses the land, but the people. We own it and we need a human government. This perspective again changes when Israel lost the land because they yet saw themselves as a nation. Even though the concept of nationhood in those ancient times was couple with geography and the power of a nation’s god was also attached to the land, Israel did not loose sight of their God. God is no longer attached to geography. God dwells with the people.
Another look at kingdom has nothing to do with nations, but influence. The influence a person has over others represents their dominion. Though the United Kingdom is a relatively small island nation they have influence that stretches far beyond their boarders. Though Israel is in some places mere miles in width their influence over the people of the world far exceeds the geography they possess. How can this be? Nationhood is a construct of man. Governments are compiled by human minds and we as humanity submit to governmental influence. If a political construct can maintain phycological or physical control over a population they maintain their influence. But there are times where this influence wanes. When people stop trusting their political entities, when they stop believing that they have their best interest in mind that political entity loses phycological influence and their nation weakens. And this political entity must make a choice, do we exercise force or do we change directions to regain influence?
Jesus arrived on the historical scene during a time of political uncertainty. The Roman government was stretched. Its span in this era of history encompassed most of Europe and the areas that bordered the great sea. Israel was on the frontier of the empire. It was on the borderlands between the remnants of the late Persian empire and the lands connected to Rome. We do not always understand the instability of this small province because we live in a stable culture ourselves. When Jesus was born Herod was a puppet king of Rome. He expanded Roman influence by force and if he remained loyal to Rome, they allowed him autonomy. When the Magi from the east entered the land seeking the one born king of the Jews, this caused distress in the nation. Officials from Persia came into Roman territory to recognize an individual other than Herod as a possessor of influence over the people.
What is the kingdom like? Is it an empire like Rome or Persia? Is it dynasties like that of Egypt or a Hellenistic Republic? What is this sphere of influence that is to be ushered in by the messiah?
Jesus ask how he can describe the kingdom of God. Imagine all the ideas and concepts going through the minds of those listening to him. The Pharisees may have been promoting a theocracy because they were teaching the people that if only, they were more righteous then Messiah would come. Some may have been influenced by the Hellenistic philosophies. The Herodians took on the name of their political identity, they wanted the restoration of the dynasty of Herod, even though his rule was filled with marvels and wickedness. We can think of many concepts of what we think the kingdom should be, but Jesus does not describe anything that resembles the kingdoms of men. The kingdom is like a farmer that scatters seed on the earth. This farmer goes to bed n8ght and day, and the seed sprouts, grows, develops, and fills seeds, and then when the time is right harvest comes. This process occurs year after year, the farmer dedicates his life to this mystery yet he does not fully understand.
Even today we do not fully understand every aspect of plant life. What causes the seed to germinate? Is it the soil, heat, moisture, or a combination between them all? Why do the roots grow down? What causes the sunflower to track the light through the day? These are questions we continually ask and will until the end of time.
If we were to plant a seed on a hillside will the roots grow at an angle or straight? The roots grow at an angle, which suggests that gravity is what tells the seed how to react. But what if we remove gravity? This is why the research done in space is so important. When we can remove a factor that is common on earth, we can begin to see things from a different perspective. Scientist have taken plants into space and watched them grow. And by taking them into space they noticed some interesting things. Gravity does play a role but not completely. The roots of plants in space grow very similarly to those grown on a hillside. The plant can sense micro gravity within space and will grow accordingly. Meaning the roots will always slant toward the earth while the leaves will always grow toward the heat and light source. There are other factors at play, gravity and light are important but the soil is also important. Every plant needs some growth medium. This varies with the plant. Orchids do not need dirt, but they do need some sort of growth medium. Plants in space also need a growth medium to begin to.
The kingdom of God is like a farmer scattering seeds.
We do not know exactly how our lives will affect those around us. I want us to think back through our journey of faith. Who walked with you along that journey? If we are honest with ourselves, the sermons the pastor gave did not make the difference. I say this even though I hope that the words I speak will mean something. What really makes a difference in people’s lives is each one of us living our lives of faith authentically around others.
Salvation is a mystery. Seeds are scattered, words are spoken, various actions in response to the Spirit’s leading are performed for those around us. And all the various factors are combined and through it all we are moved from denying Christ to trusting him with every aspect of our lives. In each of our lives there is a story. A story that can be traced back through countless lives all the way back to the apostles. We might not know the complete linage, and that does not really matter. What matters is that seeds were planted and took root in our lives and we became part of the Lord’s harvest.
Consider the history of your story. You might not think much of your life. You might think you are unremarkable. The truth is you are a miracle. You, being in this place currently is a mystery and a story worth hearing. Sure, you might seem ordinary but you have overcome obstacles, you have faced trials that those around you know nothing about. You have found a source of strength that has helped you face life’s difficulties. The things that could have broken you completely, the scheme of the powers of evil were somehow foiled, and instead of you sitting helpless and hopeless you are sitting here. Does this mean you are perfect; no, we continue to struggle but the mystery of the kingdom of God is flowing through our veins what was sent to destroy us is not taking root because we have faith. We have faith that the same Spirit and power that rose Christ from the grave is active in our lives and though we stumble, He will lift us up to glory.
How did we get here? For some of us we were born into a family that had faith and we just grew into it. For some of us we did not have family that encouraged us yet some one scattered seeds and they took root. Some of us have face abuse and neglect that would make even the strongest among us stagger. Yet each of us in our own way moved into a life and lifestyle that is not defined by what we were but who we are in Christ. We made that move gradually like the mystery of a growing plant.
The story does not stop there. Something took root in us; the life of faith began to grow and as it grows, we take on a form dictated by the center of who we are. This is our heart. We are warned to guard our heart, not because our heart is filled with passions that we should not reveal, but we guard it because our heart is where the essence of who we are resides. Our hopes and our dreams spring forth from our heart because this is the place the Spirit of God resides in each of us.
I want us to again consider our lives. Do we realize how much influence we have? Jesus continues to teach us, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth.” I want us to stop and consider the mustard seed. It is a small seed, granted it is not the smallest of all seeds. I am not saying that Jesus is wrong, but we need to consider who he is talking to. We do not gather seeds unless we intend to use those seeds for a purpose. In ancient times, due to the amount of labor involved in obtaining seeds they did not take the time gathering seeds for things that would not be used to feed their families. What Jesus is meaning is that it is the smallest seed that the people in this agriculturally based community are going to gather for personal or commercial use. Today because our economy and lifestyle has moved beyond subsistence, we can take the time and energy to harvest other seeds. We can even use land that in ancient times would be used to grow either food or herbs for growing things of less nutritional value. We have lawns that and landscapes, we have people that make a living growing plants that in agriculture might be considered weeds. And we purchase these things. Often in agriculture the smaller the seed is, it is most likely a weed. I say this because we have spent countless generations selectively breeding plants so that the fruit of those plants will provide what we or our livestock need to live healthy lives. This usually includes larger seeds because it makes gathering the seeds especially from a dirt floor easier to collect.
The mustard seed is a small seed. Jesus uses this seed as an example because it seems small and insignificant. We can often think of ourselves in this way too. You may not have the flashiest testimony. You might not sense a calling to vocal ministry, and because of this you do not see yourself as having a major role within the church. I want us to stop thinking that way.
While I was in school, I took a class that focus on the life of prayer. One of the exercises that we did in this class was to write a spiritual autobiography and a timeline of significant events in our lives. If you have never attempted this, I strongly encourage you do, because it will reveal amazing things to you. It will show you that during the most stressful times of your life God was doing the greatest work in your spiritual development. But it will also reveal other profound things, those people who encouraged you the most. While I considered my spiritual autobiography, I found that the most important people that encouraged my faith were not the pastors in my church, but my grandfather, my great uncle, and an elderly man within my home church that was not related at all. As I grew different people took prominence in my spiritual development. In all my years I have had many exceptionally good pastors, but when I look at the most influential people in my life only one of the pastors made a significant mark.
Outside of my hometown not one of those people would be regarded as heroes of faith, but each of them was important to me. My great uncle spoke out of the silence every meeting for worship, and he said the exact same thing. “I thank God for what he has done for me.” At first is though what has God done for you? My great uncle never married. He lived and died as a poor Kansas farmer, but one day he told me his story, while I was reading the instructions of a game I bought. He told me about his life in the amphibious army during the second world war and how he was saved certain death through God’s providential hand. My grandfather showed me simple faith. In all my years I never saw my grandpa worried. This sounds strange, because there was a great deal happening through my childhood that caused many farmers to worry. The 1980’s were not favorable for the farmers of Kansas, there were several years that it was more profitable to till the crop under than to take the time to harvest it. Yet in my grandfather all I saw was joy. He would whistle while he worked and would break out in the strangest songs I had ever heard. And the only Sundays, I did not see him in church were the Sundays that he was visiting my aunt out of state.
Seemingly insignificant individuals encouraged my life just like a seemingly insignificant seed represents the kingdom of God in Jesus’s teaching. Jesus goes on to say of the mustard seed, “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” This is the most significant aspect of this parable. Why did these people influence my life to such a degree? The reason is because their example of faith became a refuge to me. When I was anxious, I longed for my grandpa’s songs because they seemed to take away my troubles. When I wondered if God cared, I listened to my great uncle’s testimony. If I heard him praise God for what he had done for him, I had confidence because if this man that I assumed had nothing could praise God I figured I could continue to trust God too. These small seeds grew around me and provided the haven for the seedling of faith to take root in my own life.
But what does this say about the kingdom? It tells us that what is important to God is not what humanity regards as important. We are worried about the policies our elected officials are enacting and Jesus is talking about seeds. This tells us a great deal. The most important thing for us to do is live our lives loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. The kingdom of God does not revolve around the election cycle, but it revolves around ever interaction we have with the people that intersect our lives every day. Those we vote is less important than the conversation we have with the people sitting in this room. The kingdom of God is not connected with geography or politics it is focused on the encouragement we as people of faith give to those people around us that might at this moment be struggling and trying to find a reason to continue to live. You are important, because you bear the image of God, and are loved so much that God himself came to live, die, and raise again to give us hope.
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