The Earth Produces of Itself

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4th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B; Sunday, June 17, 2018

Ezekiel 17.22-24; Psalm 92.1-4; 12-15; 2 Cor. 5.6-10 [11-13] 14-17; Mark 4.26-34

Pastor Renee Splichal Larson

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground …

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed …

The Kingdom of God has its beginnings in the ordinary and everyday, the small and insignificant.

Let’s think for a moment about seeds. Most seeds are so small. When I plant my garden each spring, I place each tiny seed into the soil. I water where I planted and then go about my days the following week.

I sleep and rise and sleep and rise, but I check the garden each day for signs of green popping up through the soil. Even though I know I won’t see any green that first week after planting, I can’t help but check anyway in anticipation of the growth.

Day one still looks like day 5 on top of the soil; it looks as if absolutely nothing is happening. But then, all of the sudden, towards the end of the week I see lots of tiny plants pushing their way up through the dirt.

Every year I am amazed by the simple fact that I can put a seed into some dirt, throw a little water on it, and it turns into all kinds of food. It is not in my power to make it grow, yet it does. I cannot make it produce food, but it does.

Jesus tells us there is a lesson in this. He shares two short parables, or stories. He tells us, “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.”

First, what is the Kingdom of God? … you may wonder. We pray for God’s kingdom to come every Sunday in worship together. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” What is it we are even praying for?

There is a Taize song I love, which goes like this: “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit, come Lord, and open in us, the gates of your kingdom.”

The Kingdom of God is not a place, but is lived out in the people of God. It is anywhere there is forgiveness and reconciliation. It happens when some finds healing. The Kingdom of God is like sobriety after being deep in addiction. Jesus and his Spirit bring the Kingdom of God here on earth, as it is in heaven, as it is lived out by you and me.

The Kingdom of God can seem hidden, or as insignificant as a seed. It can feel ordinary, like someone planting a garden in the spring. This is hardly how one might expect God to show up in the world: seemingly insignificant and ordinary. Yet, isn’t this what we proclaim each Christmas? … that the embodiment of the Creator of all that is, comes to birth in the world through an infant named, Jesus?

One of the most powerful lessons of the first parable Jesus shares, is that no matter what, the seed will grow. “The earth produces of itself …” Jesus says.

I hear this as such good news. We sleep and rise, and despite our successes and failures, God is working to bring about goodness and wholeness. Even when, on the surface, it appears as if nothing is happening, we trust that God is tending the seeds of faith and peace. God’s kingdom will come with or without us.

Jesus speaks often of the human heart. We sing, “Lord, let my heart be good soil, open to the seed of your word!” God’s Word gets planted in our hearts, and it is there that the Kingdom grows.

Jesus further explains this with the parable of the mustard seed. The mustard seed starts out small and insignificant and grows large, putting forth branches in which birds can make their nests.

Now if we were a Jew living in Jerusalem and hearing Jesus tell us that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, we would have laughed.

Although mustard trees are useful to flavor food and such, they were considered to be a weed. They grew all over in cracks in the streets, at the edges of fields, and in between houses. They were difficult to get rid of, and were not easy on the eyes … meaning, mustard shrubs were scraggly and actually kind of ugly.

What is Jesus tying to tell us in this parable because we would have expected the Kingdom of God to look more like a beautiful, grand, and lofty cedar tree?

But the Kingdom of God is like scraggly mustard plants that pop up in the most unlikely places, sinking its roots deep into the ground.

What Jesus is saying is that the Kingdom of God is showing up and growing itself all over the place. When we can be too quick to dismiss it as an ugly, scraggly plant, Jesus says, “Look again, what looks ugly and weed-like is what God’s kingdom is present in and hidden under.”

Over and over again, Jesus experiences rejection. Religious leaders look at him and think, “He’s just a weed we need to get rid of.” But we know this is not the case. Things and people are not always what they seem. This is why we believe Jesus can be found among the poor, those living on the streets, and those who are rejected.

But this isn’t even the main point of the parable. The tiny mustard seed is like the Kingdom of God because it grows in all kinds of places into a giant shrub for a purpose: to house the birds of the air.

A couple weeks ago, my friend, Elly, was leading a group of people from the Fargo/Moorhead area in a trip to Israel/Palestine. While there, a number of the people in the group got tattoos at a family-owned tattoo shop that has been around for 1,300 years. 1,300 years! People in the group started asking Elly if she wanted to get a tattoo.

She said, “I’ll never get a tattoo because there is nothing meaningful enough in my life that I would permanently want on my skin.”

Someone said to her, “But you love trees.”

She thought for a bit and answered: “Yes, I do love trees. I could get a tree for the rest of my life and be happy.”

She thought of the tree of life passages in Scripture, so she chose an olive tree. In the Middle East, it is said that one does not plant an olive tree for themself, but for their grandchildren.

Then she thought of the mustard seed parable and the purpose of the shrub to house birds. So, she asked the 27th generation tattoo artist if he could place a couple birds in the tree of her tattoo.

Her tattoo starts at the base of her heal. The roots of the tree are prominent and purposefully placed at the very bottom of her foot, in order that the roots are as close to the ground as possible, reminding her to pay attention to what she is grounding herself in. The leaves of the tree reach up and there on its branches are two little birds.

These birds serve as a reminder to Elly, and to you and to me, that when the Kingdom of God takes root in us and grows, we becoming that welcoming place for others to encounter the very presence of Christ in this world.

Like weeds, we are in every nook and cranny of this earth, being places of wide and radical welcome for people and our fellow creatures. We become the people where others can nest and find hospitality and a home.

Through the parables today Jesus tells us: “God is present and working in this world and in our lives.”

Jesus says to you, “Let the Kingdom of God take root in you and grow. Be like a mustard plant, adding flavor to the world, and being a place of refugee for those who need a friend.”

The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground …

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed …

The Kingdom of God is in you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mess of what my garden becomes in the fall (so much to harvest I don’t even know what to do with it all). Abundance!!! Like a big scraggly bush that takes over.

What lessons can we take from this?: Patience. God will do God’s work. The soil and water and seeds are working to bring about life.

What Jesus is saying is that we are to let his love transform us

 

Be like mustard shrubs!

 

Razzouk – family name. Been doing tattoos since the year 1300 (27 generations). What they are most famous for is their stamps (stamp tattoos). The design is on wooden stamps. The stamps are more than 300 years old.

 

Tree, but put the birds in. Olive tree – you plant an olive tree for your grandchildren, not for yourself. Mix of old and new. Being rooted and reaching. Wanted the roots going into the ground. Ground myself and pay attention to what I ground myself in. By being more grounded and more rooted it frees me to reach further. Pay attention to all those things in life. That, and everybody else was doing it.”

 

 

as small as a mustard seed and then it grows (becoming shelter for others. Wide, open arms of welcome. Expanding our perception of what we thought possible. Rival gang members – mind blowing.

 

 

When we hear Paul speak in the second reading that he is convinced that one has died for all, this Word of good news is planted in our hearts. Jesus died and was raised for you, no exception!

 

Maybe you don’t believe this right now, or you are hearing it for the first time. You might be thinking: what’s the catch? There isn’t one.

 

Hearing about God’s love for us is meant to change and transform us.

 

I’ll share an example with you. Every fall we read “Tattoos on the Heart” together with a cottage. It is a book about how the radical love of God and community transforms people. The people we encounter in this book are members of the many gangs in Los Angeles, CA. Some spend time as a teenager in corrections, or are in rival gangs, or grow up in the projects. Many struggle with addition, and being trapped in gang violence.

 

Then, because of the Dolores Mission Church, Father Greg Boyle, and Homeboy Industries, they hear of the love of God for them. This love gets planted in their hearts and it grows and changes them.

 

In the book we hear story after story of people who become sober and find a way out of gang life. Not only that, but rival gang members, people who used to try and kill one another, become friends and work side by side. I know this sounds unbelievable, but the Kingdom of God looks like rival gang members who become friends and it keeps happening in places like L.A. at Homeboy Industries.

 

(if you want to read the book let me know)

 

Verse 17 of our 2nd Corinthians reading says: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” God is always making us new, molding and shaping us into people who live out God’s kingdom in this world.