Posts Tagged ‘Mustard Seed’

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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What Do You Hear? 7-27-14

This week’s sermon is based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-53. Jesus shares 5 short parables explaining the Kingdom of Heaven. I explore the wide range of human experience and how it shapes our hearing of these parables.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-do-you-hear-7-27-14

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

Over the course of the past few days I have noticed a trend, both on Facebook as well as in conversation including comments by others caught in passing as well as direct conversations that I’ve engaged in…the fair. I’m guessing that most of you are aware that we have one of those going on right now.

And now, admittedly, I find myself a little bit curious as to the general state of reactions to “the fair.” How many of you out there are big fair-goers…namely, the type of person that gets excited and goes at least 2 or 3 time, if not more, each and every year (let them acknowledge). Okay…well then, how about those who make it a priority to get to the fair at least once each year (let them acknowledge). Okay…and how about those that think get there once in a while, perhaps taking it in once every few years (let them acknowledge). Okay…what about those who have no interest in going to the fair…but at the same time have no issue with it…those that have no problem with it, but also feel no need to go check it out (let them acknowledge). Okay…and finally…who out there will claim to be “anti-fair” (let them acknowledge).

Obviously there is a wide range in opinions or thoughts or perhaps, personal experienced in and around the notion of a county fair. I myself will admit to falling into the final “anti-fair” category. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with those who enjoy it and who chose to participate in the various activities that go on there. But I also know that its just not for me.

I blame growing up in the Okoboji area and going, year after year, to the apparently…world famous Clay County Fair that occurs every September in Spencer…perhaps you’ve heard of it. The older I got, the less and less I wanted to go. Huge crowds wandering around looking at animals or equipment that I saw every day on the farm. Carnival barkers yelling out in order to try to finagle a dollar or two out of my pocket and into theirs. Various venders attempting to sell their goods…oh and the food…the vastly overpriced fair food. (pause). I know some love it…but its just not for me…and so when I hear the word “fair” it just doesn’t sit well with me…though admittedly I know others have a different experience.

And its this notion of a different experience that brings me into the scripture for today. Week #3 of Matthew chapter 13…Week #3 of parables…and if you were hear a couple weeks ago, then you heard me admit to the notion that parables excite me about as much as the county fair.

Yet here we are…teeing up round three of what seems to be the same sort of thing…but admittedly, as I read through the lesson for today, I was struck by some differences compared with what we’ve had over the course of the past couple weeks. (pause) For two weeks, we head single parables, quite lengthy…both including explanations from Jesus after the fact…and both having to do with farming…there was a definite trend present. But this week…things are a little bit different aren’t they?

Yes we hear parables again…but this time around, Jesus treats us to multiple parables…5 of them to be exact…they are each substantially shorter…and there are no detailed explanations from the teacher this time around. (pause)

At first glance, these five individual parables don’t seem to have much in common with one another…and admittedly that raises the question of just why Matthew chose to lump them all together in the first place, not to mention why the creators of the Lectionary decided that we needed to hear them all at once…yet here they are.

First we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…a tiny seed that grows into a great shrub…even a tree…and the birds set up shop. Then we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed in with a whole bunch of flower until the entire batch is leavened. After that we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field that some random guy finds…and he’s compelled to go off and sell everything in order to acquire it. In the one similarity, next we hear of a merchant searching through a bunch of pearls in the marketplace, only to find one of great value…and he too sells everything to get ahold of it…apparently the kingdom of heaven is like that too. And finally we hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a great net thrown into the sea which hauls in a great variety of fish…some good and some bad…and the fish will be sorted out at the end.

And so it seems that the kingdom of heaven is like…well you know what? It seems like the kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things doesn’t it? Saying its like a mustard seed in a field or a garden might appeal to the farmer or the gardener. Personally I hear that one and I’m transported back to the days of walking beans and my dad telling me you darn well better get those mustard plants cut out because they will spread and overtake everything…others might hear that and focus in on the birds. Maybe for birdwatchers out there, that’s a positive thing…others might not like birds so much…and to them that’s negative.

And what about that whole yeast in the flour thing. It seems that Jesus is speaking to the cooks and bakers…or perhaps to the homemakers with this one…and that’s fine…but what if you aren’t a fan of leavened bread…or perhaps you’re allergic to glutton…maybe this doesn’t sound so great.

The treasure in a field? Well that sounds like it might just appeal to real estate brokers…or perhaps just treasure hunters like the guys on Pawn Stars or American Pickers. (pause) And the pearl? Well jewelers might like that one…or oyster farmers…and the great drag net? Sounds like that one’s aimed at fishermen. (pause)

Sure enough…it seems in today’s lesson, not to mention all of Matthew chapter 13 and its many different parables…that the kingdom of heaven is like…well…a lot of stuff isn’t it? (pause)

Now when we think about parables in general, something we’ve talked about for a couple weeks now…we remember that Jesus utilizes parables to give us little glimpses of the kingdom of heaven…that’s nothing new…but its interesting when we stop and think about it…and when we add in the notion that the kingdom of heaven covers a lot of ground…some of which might speak to us as an individual and some that might go right over our heads.

Thinking back, I can see this trend in my own responses to the last two parables. First we heard the parable of the sower and as a farming community, I think a lot of us…me included…could really relate to that one. It spoke our language. But then a week later we heard about weeds in a wheat field…and all farming aside, at least for me personally…that one missed the mark…it was a lot harder to wrap my head around because I had never done anything with wheat…but I also know that’s not the case with everyone…because there is a wheat field…recently harvested…about half a mile away from where we are all sitting right now…right up over the hill past the elementary school…so clearly someone in the local area knows a thing or two about wheat.

Now this week, I find these parables a mixed bag as well. I already mentioned the connection I find with the mustard seed…but on the other end of the spectrum I hear about a merchant selling everything he owns just to buy a nice pearl…and I find it laughable because that’s just not something that even registers on my personal radar. (pause)

And as we think about all that…perhaps we begin to come to the realization that maybe…just maybe…Jesus knew what he was doing when he told such a wide variety of parables…because each and every individual experiences those parables differently…and that’s because each and every individual who has ever and will ever live…has a unique experience in life.

God has made each and every one of us uniquely…sure we all share interests and view points with others…but we differ from them as well…and so as Jesus teaches, he boils down life altering realities of the kingdom of heaven into snippets that work for some that hear it…and either fail to register, or paint an entirely different picture for the next person.

But you know what…that’s life isn’t it? We live out our lives of faith in the midst of our own unique experience…and our life of faith is shaped by that experience. (pause) It never ceases to amaze me how the life of an individual or a group of individuals can and does vary so much from moment to moment. We live a life of emotionally and experiential roller coasters. I have witnessed…personally…within the confines of this week alone incredible joy…unbridled happiness…expressed…and within mere moments, the expression of utter despair and pain. (pause) I have seen this between different people…and I’ve even seen the back and forth within a single individual.

As your pastor I have the blessing of being invited into these moments alongside of you…and it is truly a blessing to be able to witness so many utterly “human” moments that encompass such a wide variety of experience…and yet as I think about these various experiences of individuals…I realize that life WILL not be contained in any sort of container. Life will not be defined by any single experience…and to hear someone utilize a comparison for the purpose of explaining something…that will not be limited to a single explanation.

And so today…as we hear these 5 different parables from Jesus…I stand before you today and recognize that if I attempt to explain to you what is significant or correct or apparent about even a single one of them…much less all five of them…then you and I are going to disagree…because I cannot possibly understand how your experience shapes how you hear any one of these.

And that’s the beauty of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells us today that the kingdom of heaven is like a lot of different things in life…and that is because the kingdom of heaven is here now…You might have noticed that none of these are set in the future…Jesus did not say that the kingdom of heaven will be like anything…he said that it IS like a lot of things.

You see…when God made the choice to enter into our reality…to put on flesh and walk around…to become human and move into the neighborhood…He brought the kingdom of heaven along with him. It’s here…right here…right now…We are in the midst of the kingdom of heaven right now…and though the kingdom continues to change as it, along with our present reality…moves towards the completion that God has intended…we are granted little glimpses of it. Sometimes in scripture…sometimes in our own day to day experiences…and sometimes both of those all wrapped up into one.

God works in ways that are beyond our understanding…but make no mistake…God is working…and so I pose this question to you today…when you listen to these parables…either as a whole, or individually…what do you hear? What seems significant to you…what seems troubling to you? (pause) Focus on those points…and continue to think about them as you leave today…as you walk out these doors into your regular day to day life. Because that’s is where God is using the Holy Spirit to give you just a glimpse of what the kingdom of heaven is like.

I’m not going to attempt to give you the answer today…but perhaps as you ponder…and as you discuss your thoughts with someone else…then God will reveal something significant to you that He desires you to know.

And in the midst of your experience…whatever it is today…regardless of where you might happen to fall in that rollercoaster of the human experience, remember that you are not alone…remember that we have a God that loves us enough to come to us in the midst of our experience…and remember that nothing…neither death nor life…neither angels, nor rulers…nor things present, nor things to come…nor powers, nor height, nor depth…(pause) nor ANYTHING in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing at all…not our pride…not our pain…not anything can stop God from coming to you…and so I ask you today…as you sit and listen to the words of Jesus Christ…God himself in human form…What do you hear?