The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 4th Chapter
Jesus 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.
A couple with their three month old baby were terrified, lost and stuck. There seemed to be no way out. They frantically dialed 911 and the police sent a K-9 unit to find them and rescue them. They were lost! LOST... in a corn maze. Now, it turns out they were only 25 feet from the edge of the maze but they didn’t know it. They couldn’t find the exit and then it got dark, the mosquitos were swarming and they had a new baby. In their fear, panic and hysteria, they simply couldn’t imagine that there might be another way out. They saw the lights of the farm, but in the cloud of panic... in their fear... they couldn’t think of a way out except by working their way through the paths cut in the corn and they had been trying to do that for over an hour!
They simply couldn’t calm down and think long enough to ask the question, “Is this a real wall, or is it just corn?” From our perspective, sitting here in padded chairs, with beautiful new, clear windows, free from panic, without fear, without mosquitos and without a crying newborn, we can say, “DUDE! Just walk through the corn toward the light!”
It’s easy to laugh at this family, and some amount of chuckling is pretty much unavoidable... at least it was for me... but we should probably not laugh so much that we fail to learn the lesson that they have so graciously taught us. We too get stuck, after all. We too, in fear or out of habit or in our panic can’t imagine another way out or a different path forward. Like the student in that old Far Side cartoon trying to enter the Midvale School for the Gifted, by PUSHING on the door clearly labeled with a sign that says PULL, we too can get stuck and lost in despair, even with the answer plastered RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF OUR FACES.
In the two parables Jesus tells in today’s Gospel lesson, he is trying to get the disciples then (and us disciples now) to stop for just a minute and actually SEE! Jesus, with these parables, is showing us that the sign on the door we’ve been PUSHING on with all our might until we’re ready to pop a vein in our temples, actually says PULL and the walls we are loosing our minds over are actually all just made of corn.
In both of the parables, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God happens mysteriously, surprisingly and overwhelmingly and it all happens IN SPITE OF US! In both parables, the Kingdom is like a seed. In the first parable the seed isn’t planted or sown, but THROWN is the best translation. It’s THROWN with abandon... everywhere in the EARTH.... and NOT in the dirt or the soil or the ground, but in the EARTH... the EARTH is the best translation, because Jesus used a word with that same double meaning. God’s Kingdom is not just growing in one small patch of holy ground in one particular spot, but God’s Kingdom is in all the EARTH... in the whole planet... all of creation is holy ground! And it grows all around us while you and I do the highly technical work of simply falling asleep and waking up again. The Kingdom of God is growing and building and flourishing all around us... IN, WITH AND UNDER all of creation and we don’t have any part in it’s growth. Jesus’s parables don’t ask us to GROW it... the Kingdom GROWS in spite of us... Jesus’s parables ask us, “DO WE SEE IT?”
Here in New England we’re on the cutting edge! Unfortunately the cutting edge doesn’t always cut in a pleasant way, and this is one of those times. We’re on the cutting edge of our culture and country becoming less religious, less connected with churches and other institutions of faith. We’ve seen it here with the five Episcopal and one Lutheran church we’ve come to call the K-6... the Kennebeck Valley Six. None of the six could afford full time clergy on their own. They were struggling with membership, giving, mission and money... and yet, these parables tell us that the Kingdom of God, like seeds planted in every bit of the earth, is growing... not from what WE do or don’t do, but because that is simply what God’s Kingdom does... all on it’s own. The question for us is NOT how we grow it, but CAN WE SEE IT? Can we see that the walls barring our way to a joy-filled future... the walls we have been fearing aren’t actually solid? Can we see that the answer is simply to walk toward the light through the corn? Can we see that the door we’ve been pushing on, and doubling down by pushing harder and harder actually says, “PULL”? Can we stop, take a deep breath and PULL instead of PUSH?
We can. Actually, I think we are! The Kingdom of God is a mysterious thing. It doesn’t work the way the world works. The world makes winners and losers. God’s Kingdom makes only winners. The world says there is never enough. God’s Kingdom provides abundantly to overflowing... a place for every bird. The world says we are stuck behind an impenetrable, unchangeable wall and an immovable door... the Kingdom of God says the walls are corn and the door says pull.
You know, the Kingdom of God isn’t done growing, right? Last Sunday when our K6 kid's program called Mustard Seeds gathered for the end of year celebration we read the parable of the Mustard Seed and the kids gathered up front here in the sanctuary and we talked about all the birds that had a place in the shade. There were red ones, yellow ones... ones that could soar like eagles and penguins that couldn’t even fly. There were young birds and older birds, whole birds and broken birds... there was even a place for Angry Birds... and even all those maddening, snickering pigs too!
The kids all bunched together here in the front of the church, all packed tightly together in a little ball... like a Mustard Seed... and then they grew. Holding hands they grew out around the sanctuary, but there weren’t enough kids to encircle the whole congregation. I asked what would God do with a tree that wasn’t big enough to include everyone? The kids told us that God would make it bigger! And it got bigger as the parents and grandparents joined in making the tree bigger until all the sanctuary was surrounded by this growing tree of the Kingdom of God. We looked around and all the chairs were empty. God had grown the Kingdom so large... kids holding hands with friends and adults and parents and grandparents... all surrounding the sanctuary. God had grown the Kingdom so large there was suddenly room for more birds to come and find the shade they are so desperately seeking.
More birds are coming. So when they come and we think that there are problems that can’t be solved and we begin to fear and panic and lose our ability to see.... let’s help each other remember, the walls are just corn and the door says pull. Amen.