1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 Psalm 20 2nd Corinthians 5:6-10 Mark4:26-34
Two hunters fly to Kenya, where they bag six gazelles. As the crew was loading the small plane to return, the pilot says the aircraft can take only four gazelles back. “Last time, the pilot let us take six, and he had the same plane as yours,” argues the first hunter. Reluctantly, the pilot gives in and they take off. But the little plane is too heavy, and goes down. Climbing out of the wreckage, the second hunter turns to the other, “Any idea where we are?” The first hunter replies, “From the surroundings, I’d say we’re pretty close to where we crashed last time.”
We all have lessons to learn, and we know Jesus used parables to teach us. He uses them to stimulate and excite his audience, so that they can perceive the power and presence of God in a new and immediate way. In using these short provocative stories, Jesus is seeking a shift in our imagination, a shift in the way we see ourselves, see God and see others. Such a shift may seem small and insignificant, but here he compares it to a mustard seed, a tiny particle that can have miraculous powers. The parable of the seeds and the harvest leads us directly to Jesus’ comparison of the kingdom of God to a mustard seed.
The size of the mustard seed in Jewish texts, demonstrates the world’s insignificance and also teaches humility. Muhammad said that he who has in his heart the weight of a mustard seed of pride would not enter Paradise.
All of this being said, I come to my favorite hymn, There’s a wideness in God’s mercy. Jesus’ parables can open the windows of our hearts and minds where life-infusing air can blow in and refresh our souls. The parable encourages us to develop faith the size of a mustard seed, but it is plain and simply about the kingdom that provides saving space well beyond our imaginings. The parable is not about us, but about the grace of God. Would we even consider wanting “mustard seed grace”? That grace would be contained and limited. God’s grace allows us to proclaim, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea.” God’s grace, that unmerited favor of God, God’s mercy (those things we don’t deserve), is limitless – expansive – growing – thriving – living – just like our oceans. That thought, those words offer such hope for all of us. All of us are in need of forgiveness, understanding, empathy, compassion, and encouragement to continue on our faith journey.
The words of this hymn continually speak to me about faith. In the parable, the plant grows so large from such a small seed, that we marvel that birds can come a nest in its branches. In the expanse of heaven, “There’s no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven.” Those who have sorrow, pain and fear, here on earth can be comforted knowing that there will be a day when relief, healing, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation happen. God continues to give us the strength, fortitude and perseverance to journey through sorrow and pain here on earth. We know in our hearts and in our heads, we are not alone.
“There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.” We all mess up at one time or another. God wants us to learn from those missteps and grow. Through prayer – an honest and sincere conversation with God – we find wisdom, strength, comfort, not judgment. We can find joy again when sorrow is shared. That is where the community of faith comes in – to share joys and sorrows.
“For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.” Would we want God’s love to be the size of a mustard seed, even if it grew to be much larger. Or, would we want the limitless expanse of the mind – not my little pea brain – but all of our minds – our thoughts inspired by the beauty of nature, our imaginations fueled by the hope of the resurrection, our dreams encouraged by our community of faith? “For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”
Listen to the Gospel reading from the Message - Then Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows – he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps – harvest time! “How can we picture God’s kingdom? What kind of story can we tell? It’s like a pine nut. When it lands on the ground it is quite small as seeds go, yet once it is planted it grows into a huge pine tree with thick branches. Eagles nest in it. With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots.
While Mark doesn’t give us a lot of parables, like Matthew and Luke, these readings today give us wonderful examples and the reason for Jesus’ use of parables. The secret of the kingdom is contained in parables. In Mark, we don’t get the critical advice about developing our faith the size of a mustard seed. It is about the kingdom, a kingdom beyond our understanding. The parable is not about us, but about the grace of God.
Here in Mark’s Gospel, there are clues in the plant that grows so large from so small a seed. We marvel that birds come to nest in the shade of this spacious dwelling. So shall the reign of God be. So shall God’s grace be. So shall God’s mercy be. We, like the farmer, don’t understand how the sprouting and the growing takes place. Yet it becomes a harvest of life, and the tree from the seed spreads out branches to be a place of rest and song and abundance. So, God’s grace and mercy spread in and through our lives. We don’t have to do anything, just believe.
This is a profoundly pastoral side of Mark’s account of Jesus. These are hoped filled parables. God will not fail to fulfill God’s promise of salvation. It is already coming to be in this world – like the seed sown in the earth, or the remarkable growth of the tree from the mustard seed, the pine nut, silently but powerfully coming to be. Coming to us as God’s grace and connecting us to one another through God’s love.
“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy…” “If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word; and our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.” We all need – a place to speak the truth in love. It is here at Grace that we strive to love and not judge. It is here we strive to be the hands, heart and feet of Christ in this community and beyond. We have so many opportunities to help those less fortunate – to respond in love, as in giving to the Rector’s Discretionary Fund to help others with their power bills, or medication, or food.
Today’s account leaves a lingering tension in the air. On the one hand, it is as though Jesus uses humble human images to tell us as much as we are capable of understanding: on the other hand, even when he “explains” the stories to those closest to him, they can’t comprehend what is coming to pass. God speaks to us in a language we can understand, when we can understand. At the same time, the mystery and the reality of God continually move us toward growth.
We know that God wants to be in relationship with us. God is pursuing us. We experience God’s grace and mercy every day, even when we forget to water and fertilize the seeds we have planted, even when we lose sight of the birds nesting in our branches. God’s grace is present…God’s love carries us.
So, as we journey together, and we find out - we uncover, discover our heart’s desire. We are to learn, to know, to grow in our understanding of God. And in knowing, we are to scatter seeds for God to water and tend while we go about our lives. So, the hope is in the question: “What is God’s kingdom like? “There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed; there is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.” No one answer will ever exhaust the meaning of the question, but the pulse of Jesus’ words, Jesus’ deeds, his death and resurrection points to the secret hidden from a distracted, hopeless world. This pulse is the heartbeat of God, whose rule and reign is coming with the speed of mercy and compassion. And ever present is God’s grace calling to us, claiming us and empowering us to continue to plant those seeds of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. God wants us to embrace and live into the wideness of God’s mercy! Where is God calling you? What seeds do you have to sow? Amen.
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven; there is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind;
and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.
Frederick William Faber