Friday, 15 June 2012

Mustard seed sermon



Ezekiel 17:22-24
Mark 4:26-34

So, we are finally in Ordinary Time.
I say ‘finally’, because there has been a lot of celebration recently: we’ve had Easter and the seven Sundays of Easter; Pentecost, Trinity (and The Queen's Diamond Jubilee).
Big one off celebrations and get togethers are great; celebration should never be too far from the life of the church, but we wouldn’t want to be having one off specials all the time.
It’s a bit tiring for a start!
So I for one, rather enjoy the long slow weeks of Ordinary Time, that period of the liturgical year when we’re neither celebrating Advent, nor Christmas, nor Epiphany, nor Lent, nor Easter, Pentecost or Trinity.
So what is Ordinary Time?
It sounds rather boring doesn’t it; rather banal?
Does nothing much happen in God’s kingdom during the long weeks of June to November, before the church year begins again at Advent?
I’ve been reading a very good book about Ordinary Time, that I heartily recommend, called Everyday God, by Paul Gooder.


In it she reflects on various bible passages that show God as deeply involved in our ordinary, everyday lives.
God became a human being, after all, and went through a normal human birth and life (in one sense) and you can’t get more ordinary than that.
You could say the whole of the Incarnation is a celebration of the ordinary.
And so God, through the Incarnation, ‘hallows’ all of life.
There’s no such thing as a divide between our religious life and the rest of life, and it doesn’t make sense to live as if there were.
So in ‘Ordinary Time’ it’s not that nothing happens, it’s that we remember every aspect of our lives is blessed by the God of the every day.

So today, at the start of Ordinary Time, we have two parables about ordinary things – seeds - which Jesus puts before his disciples to help them think about the kingdom.

Jesus told so many parables about the kingdom, we need to stop for a moment and ask: ‘What is the kingdom?’
This is such a vital question that perhaps we can turn to each other for a moment and share what we understand by the phrase, the kingdom, as used by Jesus in the parables.
                                               *
So the kingdom a BIG New Testament theme and we cannot hope to understand how God wants us to be church until we have mulled over ‘kingdom’.
The kingdom of heaven…
Is it a place to go to when you die?
Is it something still to come?
Is it here already?
It is the same thing as the church?
Is it separate from the church?

Theologians are generally agreed that the phrase ‘the kingdom of heaven’ or ‘the kingdom of God’ refers to the rule of God in our lives.
It is not a place; it’s more a state of existence where God is King.
The arrival of this kingdom was announced by Jesus as He began his own ministry of teaching, healing and deliverance.
So at the start of Mark’s gospel, we read: ‘Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent, and believe in the Good News.’ (Mark 1:14-15).
We hope and pray that the kingdom, the rule of God, is growing inside the church family, but we must not rule out its growing outside the church too, and often in the most unlikely of places.
I saw the kingdom alive and well when I visited Huntercombe Prison in Nuffield earlier in the week, where some of the local Clergy were privileged to take part in an act of worship alongside Christian prisoners.
These were men who, despite having done wrong things in the past, now wanted to put themselves under the rule of God as they continued to say yes to Christ’s forgiveness.
We need to pray that we may see the kingdom at work beyond the four walls of the church, and for the grace to join in.

So what we can reap from the reading; especially all you keen gardeners who will know a thing or two about seeds.
First of all, the kingdom of heaven is like someone planting a seed.
I love the brevity of this little parable – it fits perfectly with the subject matter – planting seed that will grow is a simple thing to do; kingdom growth is simple. It just happens.
‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.’

So the kingdom is like a seed which is (literally) ‘thrown down’ into the ground.
A clever use of the verb – ‘thrown down’ as it’s the same root as the word which gives us ‘parable,’ which is a thought ‘thrown down’ alongside another thought, so that one illuminates the other. That is the meaning of ‘parabalos’ (thrown down.)

Just how much effort is needed to throw down seed?
Hardly any.
How much effort does it take to get the seed to grow?
Absolutely none on our part.
The seed is hidden from sight for a while; we don’t know exactly what’s happening, and we cannot effect the growth ourselves.
All we can do is wait and hope.

We've tried to get some things to grow in the garden here.
I would say that my husband is an ever hopeful, and much more patient gardener than I am.
He’s put some wild flower seeds down in the front garden.
I think he’s forgotten they’re there.
But I look each day and wonder why they haven’t come up.
(I think the packet might have been rather old).
There are green bits in the flowerbed but I think they might be weeds.
The point is, no one can make them come any quicker; they will come of their own accord (or we’ll have to plant some better ones).
How does this relate to the kingdom?
I guess a lot depends on personality here.
I’m a doer and I like to see results; the quicker the better!
This is not always a good attitude inside the kingdom.
God’s timing is not ours; he is never in a hurry.
We can make sure the soil is fed and watered but God makes the fruit grow.
We had a fascinating reading from Ezekiel.
A rare Old Testament parable about the fruitfulness of God’s chosen people.
In it the prophet reminds us that the growth of the kingdom belongs to God alone.

‘I bring low the high tree,
   I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
   and make the dry tree flourish.’

And then the mustard seed.
Going back to Everyday God, Paula Gooder offers a very interesting reflection on this parable.
She suggests the mustard plant was a bit like a weed.
It is a tiny seed but soon catches on and spreads like wildfire.
A bit like ground elder perhaps.
My Dad, who’s an experienced gardener, claims that people will actually move house in order to escape the ground elder that is spreading over their garden and colonizing every inch of space.
I’ve seen it growing through the cracks in our patio here.
I’ve no idea how it got there.
I think the seeds followed us all the way from our previous home inside one of the patio tubs.
Now it’s growing all along the side where we put our bins.
Anyway, it’s started its takeover bid, and I expect there’s not much we can do to get rid of it completely.
The kingdom is tenacious like this.
Mustard starts small but grows to be a bush in which birds can build their nests.
I always thought of the reference to birds was a positive reference; it’s nice to have birds nesting in your bush, isn’t it?
According to Paula Gooder, they could be seen as a bit of a nuisance.
The birds are people who we don’t normally associate with the kingdom, being attracted to it, and wanting a piece of it.
Do we really want to share our lives with these other people who want a bit of Jesus too?
It’s easy for us to think we ‘own’ God because we are the believers.
But God is not owned. He is Spirit and He is free.
He blows where he wills.
If we are living kingdom lives, others will be attracted, but they may not be PLU (people like us).
They may be different from the person we normally associate with church attendance.
They may be of a different class.
They may be a different age.
They may have complicated problems; they may be more righteous than us.
They may have some different ideas about how to worship God in the 21st Century.
But they are attracted to the bush nonetheless.
Jesus attracted all sorted of undesirables and generally the religious elite didn’t want them included in the family of faith.
Not prostitutes, tax collectors and lepers, please.
The crowds that followed Jesus and took up his energy in their desire for healing and forgiveness; they are perhaps the birds of this parable.
If we are living lives centered on the king, others will be attracted and we will need to respond to them and maybe to say ‘help us be God’s people here in this day in this place’.
As we ponder these parables of growth, what is the good news and what do we need to wake up to afresh?

It is good news that the growth of the kingdom is God’s work.
It is good news that we can be involved too.
It is good news that the fields are ‘white unto harvest’.
But we need more workers.
So we need to pray.
The other workers may be people who are not yet part of the church.
Let’s pray for grace to spot them and nurture them.
And let’s give to God afresh the places where we desire growth.

Our community coffee morning; this is a place where church people can meet and mingle with those who don’t necessarily go to church, but for whom Christ died and for whom God has a plan.
Come and join in!
You could be a listening ear.
You might know someone who would enjoy the company – invite them!
You could be the only Christian you neighbour knows.

Pray for our services at St John’s and St Mary’s; for a spirit of invitation so that others feel included.
Pray for our work amongst families who come and bring their children for baptism at the All Age Worship service.
Pray for me as I go into the Primary school, and for Christian parents who are being salt and light there.
Perhaps we need a nurture group or a prayer group…perhaps you have ideas for starting one…?
Perhaps you sense new growth in your own life – God bringing to fruitfulness the plans he has for you…
Be encouraged that in all these things, the kingdom is growing.
It may look small at first, but just you wait!




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