Posts Tagged ‘Mark 4:26-34’

This Isn’t Up To You 6-17-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 4:26-34, I explore two brief but connected parables of Jesus aimed at the growth of seeds. Its a funny thing, how seeds grow isn’t it?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/this-isnt-up-to-you-6-17-18

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

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

If we were to turn back the clock by about 8 years to 2010, my family was in a period of flux. I was about half way through my seminary work by that time, but still working on it remotely. My wife was coming up on 10 years in youth ministry at our old congregation up in Okoboji, and I was beginning to transition away from the job that I held at that time in the trucking industry.  We both felt like there was a change coming…and sure enough…early that fall she was offered a position in Faith Formation at a church in the Twin Cities, which itself gave me the opportunity to transition into full time school and shave some time off my expected seminary work…and so we made the decision that we would relocate to the Cities.

Now one of the steps that we needed to cover in this transition was selling the house that we owned there in Okoboji…and if you’ve ever tried to sell a house in the upper Midwest, you probably know that fall moving into winter is a really bad time to list it…and yet that’s what we did…hoping against hope that the house would sell and that everything would work out for our planned relocation at the very end of the year.

So when the house went on the market, which was roughly mid-October, I found myself trying to make it sell. Willing it to happen…thinking that if I just thought about it hard enough…or focused my attention deeply enough…or worried about it long enough…that I could make it happen…and this dominated my attention as October turned into November and then December.

I was stressing about it so much that it began to effect my normal mood, until one day when a co-worker who knew me pretty well at that point, came in my office and shut the door…he looked me straight in the eye and said “You aren’t you lately…talk.” So I told him what was dominating so much of my mental energy…and then he said “Scott…can you physically make this happen…do you really think that someone else making the decision to buy your house has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with you?” And as he presented me with these incredibly grounded questions I had to answer “No.”  And then he said “No…This isn’t up to you.” (pause)

Now I’d like to say that was the only time I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to control something that I can’t…but it wasn’t the first time it happened…and it wasn’t the last time either. But it serves as an important reminder of the ways that we try, at times SO HARD, to control things that we simply have zero influence over…and that’s where I’m connecting into the gospel for today.

2 brief parables, both aimed at seeds growing, perhaps expectantly in one case and unexpectantly in the other. Parables that, perhaps, make us wonder just what it is that Jesus wants us to understand…or perhaps that make us wonder what truth he was hoping to reveal to his audience on that particular day.

2 parables…One of them about a man who tossed out a bunch of seed in a wheat field…no lined up corn or bean rows, but thrown out all willy nilly, and then he goes about his business while the seeds get to work…and another about a mustard seed that starts off so tiny and ends up a giant bush big enough to provide shade for the birds.

Now full disclosure…every single time I bump into the parable of the mustard seed I grimace…because what Jesus describes does not line up with my experience with mustard. I know it as a weed…a prickly thorn that will spread like crazy and take over a field if you let it…but it doesn’t make a bush…it sure doesn’t grow into a tree like the other gospels describe it…and no one in their right mind would willingly plant it. I hear this parable and it just seems wrong.

So I thought to myself this week…maybe I’m hearing it wrong…maybe there was a different type of mustard plant back in 1st Century Palestine that a farmer would plant in his fields that grows up into some sort of great big bush…so big its almost tree-like…and pretty soon I found myself falling down the rabbit hole of just what Jesus…MIGHT…be talking about…and it dominated my attention so much that I realized I might be missing the point of the parable…

Now let’s shift gears and talk about parables for a moment. Many of you have heard me talk about parables before…about how they aren’t my favorite type of scripture to try to base a sermon on…and I’ve wrestled round and round with myself and have had several conversations with trusted individuals in order to try and figure out just why this is.

Maybe its because parables seem to be aimed pretty directly at us as individuals…posing the question “who am I in this story?” or “where do I connect?” or “what about this makes me uncomfortable” or maybe on the flipside “what gives me hope?” (Pause) These are all valid questions to ask when we encounter a parable…when we encounter a story, whether very brief or sometimes quite extensive, in which Jesus tells us that the kingdom of Heaven or the kingdom of God, or sometimes the age to come is like this…or its like that.  When he takes a concept or an idea or even a promise that represents something WAY too big or wide or complex or deep for us to grasp…and he compares it to something familiar…something that we recognize.

That’s what a parable is…in fact it literally means to “place alongside,” literally lining up two things that really have nothing to do with each other, and yet the comparison serves to reveal something to us. (pause)

Now its possible that I’ve struggled with parables because it can get tricky to try and tell others how they should interpret the stories that Jesus shares…and perhaps the safest thing to do is propose possibilities…that a particular parable might be pointing you this way, or maybe its pointing that way, depending on your own perspective and experience and even your current point in life…as these things can change from person to person or moment to moment. (pause)
I found myself pondering at great length this week on this tension that I feel regarding parables…and then I happened to read the last portion of this text at just the right time…With many such parables he spoke the word to them…as they were able to hear it. (pause) As they were able to hear it.

I don’t know if you want to call this a “eureka moment” for me…but in that instance, I found a freedom within the parables that I’d never experienced before. Maybe just maybe…the way that Jesus’ audience would have heard the parables on that day…namely if they would have thought about a great big bushy plant that grows from a teeny tiny seed…maybe that doesn’t matter for us today…and that my experience with mustard being compared with the kingdom of heaven…calling the kingdom of God something prickly and invasive that will take over once it gets a hold is equally valid.  And so is your experience…so what do you hear? What comes to mind when Jesus describes a person planting a mustard seed, which starts off so small you can barely see it, but that it grows up into the greatest of the plants in the garden? (pause)

Or what do you hear when he speaks of casting out a bunch of seed on the ground and letting it simply do what its supposed to do?  That first parable…it caught my attention more than the mustard seed to be perfectly honest…because having grown up on a farm….and having been around farmers for most of my life, I can’t help but think that the way Jesus describes the work of the man, or the lack there of in this case, doesn’t quite add up.

I can’t help but think that the title farmer indicates some of the hardest workers in the world…but not only that…I also think that farmers might just be the best example of hope that we can point to.  Because despite all the work…all the planning…all the effort of prepping the fields and spraying and fertilizing and everything else…once they put those seeds in the ground…how much control do any of us have?  And yet, year after year…in field after field…we see the farmers faithfully put the seed in the ground, hoping…TRUSTING…that its going do what its supposed to do…maybe thats what Jesus is talking about when he says the man sleeps at night and rises during the day…going about the activity of life while the growth happens on its own….the growth of that plant…it isn’t up to you is it? All we can do is plant the seed and trust it…and hope for it. (pause)

And maybe just maybe…this is a message for us here in the church today.  Things are not the same as they were a year ago…or 10 years ago, or 50…because things change…and God continues to invite the church, and all of reality for that matter, forward into new realities…time after time…and no matter how much we might worry…or think its completely dependent on our actions…its not. We plant the seed…whatever that looks like…

And yes…planting seeds takes on many different forms…and I’m not saying that we can all simply sit back on our laurels and watch the church grow grow grow…and so it is important that we ask ourselves the question here…what does it look like for me to plant a seed? Even if its something that I’ll never get to see bear fruit? That something to ponder on.

And yet as you ponder…I don’t want you to hear this message today as some sort of moral imperative to live up to…because that’s not the case.  The truth of the gospel is that through Christ, whatever it is that God is up to has already been accomplished for you. You have already been claimed…and that seed, if we want to call it that…its already been planted and somehow God has grown that seed up into a beautiful life of faith…and perhaps that’s that the take away today…that when it comes to matters of faith or the church or the activity of God here in the world…its not up to us…and yet we are here today, a living breathing example of how the seed which is planted by another can and does grow within you. Isn’t it refreshing to hear that you aren’t responsible for spiritual growth…but that God will make that work in God’s own time…Does it give you a sense of peace to know…it isn’t up to you? But its been done for you out of God’s amazing love and God’s amazing grace for all people. Amen.

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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:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/god-does-the-growing-6-14-15

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.