Posts Tagged ‘Crops’

God Does the Growing 6-14-15

This morning’s sermon is based on Mark 4:26-34. I explore two micro-parables that Jesus shares about the growth of the kingdom of God.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

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

Right about now is a wonderful time to drive through the countryside and be amazed at how quickly the crops are growing. Year after year, I find myself amazed in the early weeks of summer at how tall the corn is already getting…I know the old saying is knee high by the fourth of July…but around these parts I’m pretty sure that some of the corn is likely already coming up on the knee-high milestone. (pause)

That’s the amazing thing about the crops…corn especially, but the other crops as well…something that never ceases to amaze me. (pause) Think about the cycle that we go through each and every year…first off we see the tractors out in the fields…disking them up and getting them ready…and then we spot the planters…and next thing we know…out of the blue, we drive down the road and spot the tiny little shoots as the crops spring up…and then we blink and a month has gone by and those tiny little plants have gotten pretty good sized…they aren’t seedlings anymore…and then we blink again and the corn is 7 feet tall with tassles…and then the next thing we know the fields have turned brown and the combines are out bringing in the harvest. (pause)

Doesn’t that catch us off guard every time? How the fields spring up…the plants grow…all that stuff happens when we’re not really paying attention? (pause)

This phenomenon has, of course, been around for a long time…but in my younger years it was sort of just a passing thing…sure I would notice the big changes here and there…but at the same time being surrounded by the fields, as we are here in Underwood, perhaps it wasn’t quite as shocking because we do see the fields day after day…we might not stop and pay attention, but we’re still exposed to it.

But for me, that wasn’t always the case…and during the 2.5 years that my family lived up in the Twin Cities prior to moving here to Underwood…the changes in the crops always caught me off guard…In this regard, I sort of feel sorry for individuals who live in the big cities…people with a completely different background and experience than we have here in rural Iowa…those individuals who have never seen a farm…who aren’t familiar with the cycle that the crops go through year after year…and I feel that way, because during those 2.5 years of living in the city…I didn’t get to see the fields very often.

I didn’t get to see them, because we very rarely left the city…about the only time we did was every few months when we would head back to the Okoboji area to visit family…and I remember, quite vividly…the blaring changes that the fields would go through between those trips…because I hadn’t seen them day by day…I hadn’t watched the gradual change out the corner of my eye…so for me, the fields would quite literally go from 3 inch high seedlings to 5 foot plants…and then onto brown dried out husks…and then bare fields…and you can ask my wife…I would express utter shock each and every time we’d make that trip when we’d get out into the farmland along the interstate and I’d see the fields for the first time in several months. (pause) But that’s the way it works isn’t it…those things are happening, whether we are paying attention or not. (pause)

And by now, hopefully you’ve caught on to the gist that I’m talking about today, and you already see the connection with today’s gospel lesson, and the first of the two micro-parables that Jesus share’s with his audience today. The agriculture connection…the comparison between the growth of the kingdom of God and the plants of the fields. (pause)

Admittedly, if we were in the midst of the program year, I’d be hearing the snickers of several of our students who were just confirmed back in early May, because they’ve heard me harp time after time about how parables bug me…and as I’ve talked with some different pastors in the last couple years I’ve discovered that I’m not alone in this…because parables are a hard thing when it comes to preaching.

And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve found that a little strange…why are they so difficult to preach on, when it seems like parables are actually pretty easy to grasp? (pause)

Think about this first one…the kingdom of God is like a dude that goes out and plants his crops…and then pretty much goes on about his business…eating, sleeping, just living out the day to day…and all the while the crops are growing…the crops are just doing what they do…and the shoot comes up…and then the ears develop…and the kernels grow…and when they’re ready…the farmer heads back out with the combine.

We can think about that for about a second and a half and realize that Jesus is telling us that the kingdom is going to grow in the background while we live our day to day lives…period…Sound about right? (pause)

And so the challenge for the preacher is finding a way to stretch that last sentence into 15 minutes…when maybe…just maybe…there’s no need for it. Maybe, just maybe…the parable, needs to stand on its own…maybe Jesus’ words need to stand on their own without a ton of explanation.

In many ways, that reminds me of something that I tell my kids from time to time…when they tell me a joke…and then immediately explain why the joke is funny…and I’ll calmly remind them that “hey guys…if you have to explain a joke, then its not a very good joke.” (pause) Maybe it’s the same deal here…that if you feel the need to explain the parable, then it must not be a very good one.

But think about parables in general…today we actually get a touch of narration from Mark into them…when we hear that with many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them…as they were able to hear it…let me say that one more time…as they were able to hear it. (pause)

Have you ever noticed how many of Jesus’s parables have to do with the subject of agriculture…of plants…of growth…its not all of them…but it is…A LOT…of them…and why? (pause) Well, because Palestine in Jesus time…just like rural agricultural Iowa today…was very agricultural in nature….EVERYONE dabbled in farming in one way or another…pretty much every family had a small plot of crop land where they grew wheat or barely to provide bread for themselves…and most families had a few livestock…sheep or goats or maybe a cow to provide milk and meat…they may not have operated on the scale of our present day farmers…but everyone did it…because if you didn’t, well then you had a hard time eating…as there was no local Fareway or Hy-Vee to go to and stock up your pantry. (pause)

Jesus talked with the people in ways that made sense…taking some pretty heady subjects…like, you know…that whole kingdom of God has come near thing…these subjects that we have no way of wrapping our minds around…and he compared them to something familiar…because anyone…and I mean anyone…who has ever farmed a field…or even tended a backyard garden knows…flat out…that we don’t make the plants grow. (pause)

Sure we do everything we can to set the plants up for success…and I’m not trying to downplay the enormous amount of work that farmers put into their fields…the prep work…the planting…the fertilizer…the pesticides…the herbicides…the constant monitoring of the weather patterns…but…just like the farmer in the parable…we don’t make the plants do the growing do we? (pause)

And you know what…that applies to other things in our lives as well. Recently I had a conversation with a couple of our members…Gaylen and Karen Montgomery…who if you aren’t aware…are in the process of transitioning their home to Branson full time…and as we sat and talked the other day, our conversation moved into the intense desire for the house to get sold…and I told them “been there, done that.”

4 years ago as we were preparing to move from Okoboji up to the Twin Cities, we had a house to sell…and for about 2 months I was mentally trying to force it to sell…willing it with every ounce of my being…and you know how well that worked? (pause) Not…at…all…but I was driving myself absolutely batty until one day when a much wiser man than I asked me a simple question. “Can you make it sell?” No. “Then why are you trying to?”

There are things in this world that we simply cannot control…and you know what…the growth of the kingdom of God…its one of them…and sometimes, that can be absolutely maddening can’t it? (pause) I’m guessing that each and every one of us here today has at least one person in our lives that we wish for…that we hope for…that one person who shows no interest in the faith that we profess…the hope that we have in Christ…and it would be so much better if we could just open up their minds and MAKE THEM BELIEVE IT!!!!

But we can’t…because faith doesn’t work that way…growth doesn’t work that way…plain and simple…it doesn’t work…because God didn’t intend for it to work that way…and while that is utterly frustrating for us in those interactions when our minds are reeling…hoping against hope that we can change their minds for them…its also incredibly freeing to realize that hey…its not my responsibility to create faith.

The apostle Paul realized this and wrote about it in his first letter to the Corinthians when he said “I planted, Apollos watered…but God gave the growth.” (pause) God…gave…the growth. (pause)

Make no mistake…God, is up to something in the midst of our day to day lives, whether we’re paying attention or not…whether the humanity is paying attention or not…whether the world is paying attention or not…because Jesus told us, from the get-go…the kingdom is here now…and the kingdom is ever changing, and is ever growing…sometimes just too quietly or slowly for us to notice…but when we stop long enough to take a good look…that’s when we see the growth…the change.

We see it in the world…we see it in the church…we see it in one another…and when we stop and think about it we even see that growth within our own lives of faith. And so in this moment…when it comes to the notion of “growth,” we need to embrace the fact that we just have to let it go…because no amount of effort on our part is going to make the growth happen…whether we like it or not. (pause)

And as shocking as that might seem…before we settle into the notion that God isn’t calling us to do anything, we better take one more look at that parable…because while the farmer isn’t involved in the growing…he is involved in the planting…and likewise we are called to sew the seeds of the kingdom…we are called to proclaim the gospel out there…in the fields of the world…because if they don’t hear it…then they can’t believe it…it they don’t hear it…then there’s nothing to grow.

We do the sewing…then God…does the growing. Amen.