St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Canon Claude Schroeder
Sermon on 2 Cor. 5.6-19, Mark 4. 26-34.
in his Gospel, St. Mark is concerned to present and defend Jesus’ universal call, to men and women everywhere, to follow Him. Throughout this Trinity season we are going to be reading through St. Mark’s Gospel in church on Sunday mornings. The question before us is this, “What does it mean to follow a crucified and risen Savior, who is Jesus Christ?”
Today we are in the 4th chapter of St. Mark, which is given over entirely to a number of parables, of which we heard two: the parable of the growing seed, and the parable of the mustard seed. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, which is what we get in the parables, a short picture story, which was Jesus’ preferred method of teaching.
Only problem was, having heard the parables, the disciples looked at Jesus and said, “What on earth are you talking about?” This is why, as Mark tells us, Jesus took the disciples aside for private tutorial in which he explained everything to them, which is what the preacher today is going to attempt to do.
Eugene Petersen once described parables as narrative time bombs which Jesus tossed around. We hear the parable; they tick away in our hearts and minds, as we wonder about their meaning. When we think we finally have it figured out, we walk away, but they continue to tick and make us ponder, until all of a sudden, kaboom! This ticking bomb of that parable explodes.
A few weeks ago I told the men that l meet with on Wednesday mornings for Morning Prayer and breakfast that we do not need more information. in this culture we are suffering from information overload! What we need is not information, but imagination. We need someone to expand and fire our imaginations.
Is there anybody here who doesn’t know what happens when you plant a seed in the ground? How that seed will sprout and grow, and the earth will produce first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head, and then when the grain is ripe, the harvest has come.
No kidding. C’mon, this is Saskatchewan. We know all about seeds going into the earth. Those elms seeds have been quite something around our house…
So why does Jesus tell us this story about the growing seed? It’s not for the information, but the imagination. What are we being asked to imagine? “The kingdom of God,” said Jesus, “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground…”
The kingdom of God. That sounds kind of theological, that’s because it is. What we are talking about here is the ways of God with His creation, and our place within it. They used to call theology “The Queen of the Sciences…” Those days at the university are long gone.
So where do you and I get our theology from? It starts by observing what happens when someone scatters seed on the ground. But in order for us to understand what is on really going here in this rather confusing world, and in our rather confusing lives, we have to come to church and open up the Scriptures, and listen to the stories that Jesus tells, and listen to that story that Jesus is.
The kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven, as it was also called, was the great subject of Jesus’ preaching and teaching. Up to this point in the story Mark has been showing us that the kingdom Jesus proclaimed wasn’t just empty talk. Through his teaching, his healing of sickness, his forgiveness of sin, and his casting out of demons, Jesus was revealing and ushering in the kingdom. And so the kingdom, we might say, is the presence and power of God at work to change your life, an experience of which we can describe in terms of “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. “(Romans 14.7)
Now today is Father’s Day. What is the secret wish of every father? It’s the deep desire for the presence and power of God to change my wife… and my kids, and any number of other people who are causing me grief right now.
This also happens to be the secret desire of every mother on Mother’s Day, it’s for the presence and power of God to change my husband, and my kids. As far as the children go, it’s pretty much the same for them.
But the Gospel is not the power of God to change your wife, or your husband, or your children. It’s the power of God to change your life, to change you.
How is this change to be understood? In our passage today from 2 Corinthians, Paul describes that change in terms of being of good courage in the face of a load of discouragement. Is there anything about which you are discouraged today, besides yourself? There is a change of attitude where I make it my aim in life to please the Lord. Who are you trying to please? There is a change of motivation where, as Paul writes, ” I no longer live for myself but for Him who died and rose again for me.” What is it that gets you out of bed on Monday morning? Then we have a change in perception. Where Paul writes, “We regard no one from a human point of view, evaluating them on the basis of their skin color, their ethnic origin, family background, education, wealth, career, and so on.” Even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we do so no longer.” What is that you see when you look into another person’s eyes? Those eyes have a story to tell. Do we not say, “This is a person for whom Jesus Christ died.” This is Christian discipleship, and it’s the power of God to change your life. As St. Paul tells us this morning, “lf anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new.’
I don’t know about you but when it comes to the presence and power of God to change my life and yours, the life of this church, and the life of the world, most of the time, I just don’t see it. Sorry. And as for peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, I get a taste of that when I pray, and I get a taste of it in the Holy Communion, but then, (blip) it’s gone! Back to the pain and frustration of daily life.
“Dear Bishop, Please get rid of our Rector and send us a new one. The one we have now doesn’t seem to see and experience much of the kingdom of God.”
Now before you go writing that letter, let me say that just because I don’t see the presence and power of God at work, and don’t always feel it, doesn’t mean that He isn’t there and that He isn‘t at work. As St. Paul also wrote in our second lesson, “We walk by faith and not by sight….”
Martin Luther in the 16th century struggled mightily with this question as to how to discern the kingdom of God. He concluded that the presence and power of God was always to be understood “sub-contrario”, which is a Latin phrase meaning “under the appearance of opposites.” What this means is that God is most powerfully present and most powerfully active in the places we least expect, which are the places that on the surface contradict His goodness. It’s the place of suffering and defeat, the place of hurt and loss, the place where you feel God is absent, your ongoing pain, the irresolvable problem or impasse, the proverbial brick wall. God acts “sub-contrario”, “under the appearance of opposites.” The reason Luther said this was because it was there on the Cross, in the place we least expected, the place we ran away from, that place of shame that we did not want to talk about, that God was acting for the salvation of the world. Yes, and it is the place where He continues to act for our salvation. Now if that sounds like a bit of a stretch, that’s because it is, but this is Christian believing. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)
So maybe just maybe, the problem is not with God, and “How can all good and all powerful God could allow such suffering in the world…” Maybe, just maybe, the problem is with me, and my perceptions and expectations of how God operates, and my need to adopt and receive new ways of perceiving God‘s presence and power.
Ask most people today which is better, winning or losing, what will they say? Winning is better. (Go Riders.) What about success or failure? Success is better. What about bigger or smaller? Bigger is better. Newer or older? Newer is better. Faster or slower? Faster is better. More or less? More is better.
These are all perceptions and they are the perceptions of people with a consumer mindset in a consumer society where buying and selling is the name of the game, and what is good is good for the economy, what is bad is bad for the economy. So if you want to ”slap” us with tariffs, and “hurt” our economy, we will retaliate, and “slap” you right back and “hurt” your economy. And if that means a trade war, so be it. What an exploitative, controlling, coercive and violent world we live in…
Which brings us finally to our parables this morning. In our story today is there even a hint of exploitation, control, coercion, and violence? There is none. What stands out for us, who are constantly being told to hurry up, and to make something happen, is the patience with which the sower waited for the seed to do it’s thing. You don’t plant the seed one day, and harvest it the next. This is a process that you cannot hurry. Having scattered the seed what did the sower do? Went to check his emails. No, he went to bed, and in the morning he got up. Sleep in the Bible is an image of death, it’s an image of that moment when we surrender ourselves to God in the loss of control. Rising in the morning into the new day of God’s making is an image of Resurrection. Does this story of a man scattering seed who dies and rises remind you of anybody?
In this parable Jesus shows us the kingdom of God is not just an idea, it actually does something does: it creates a time and constitutes a space on this earth, that is patient, abiding, trusting, hopeful, and ultimately fruitful. But this requires a people to exist in that time and occupy that space. (Hauerwas, Matthew p. 135)
Who are these people? That would be the Church. Through our unhurried but disciplined life of work, and rest, of worship, and study, of prayer, of service, and celebration of the harvest in this place we give materiality to the reign and rule of God on this earth.
What this parable shows us is whether it is in the world, in imperial societies, or in our hearts, God’s reign and rule will take root, and be established whether we like it or not. And it is in the nature of God’s reign and God’s rule to grow and manifest itself. That’s just what it does, and this reign and rule has been there from the beginning and is built into the structure of creation. So we when it comes to tomorrow, we do not need to be afraid. We have reason to be courageous in our witness to the reign and rule of God.
We now come to the parable of the mustard seed. What does the parable of the mustard seed show us about the kingdom of God? Small beginnings that lead to great outcomes? Yes, that’s there. The significance of the seemingly insignificant. That’s there too.
But the power of this parable comes home to us when we realize that the mustard was not a seed anybody in their right mind would plant in their garden or field. The mustard seed was a sturdy and invasive weed that could pop almost anywhere and start multiplying, and inch by inch eventually take over the whole landscape. What good is a field of weeds? Jesus is really messing with our imaginations when he describes how the mustard becomes the greatest of shrubs. Mighty cedar tree? Yes. Mighty oak tree? Yes. Mighty mustard bush? No. Extending its branches so that birds come and nest in its shade? ? No. It’s a picture that is absurd in the extreme, hardly one that anyone would be happy with except of course, the birds. We can imagine whoever owned the land saying, “Let them be happy on somebody else’s land, I am going to burn it down and regain control!”
This is what the kingdom of God is like? Yes. The kingdom of God revealed in Jesus Christ is like an invasive weed that takes over a field and provides blessing for the birds.
So when was the last time you saw some birds nesting in the branches of the shade of the mighty mustard plant on the little patch of land on the corner of 15 and Montague, and elsewhere?
“I didn’t know what I was looking for, and didn’t have eyes to see.”
Thanks to Jesus’ little parable, now you know. May God grant us the eyes to see… the signs of the kingdom in our midst, the kingdom for which we pray, “Our Father…”