Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Today we continue with Mark’s Gospel and hear another pair of parables as Jesus is teaching the people and his disciples. Jesus shares two parables, both involving a person sowing seeds and waiting on the harvest.
As a young boy, I grew up following my papaw everywhere on our small farm. My mom grew up on the same farm, but her role was a bit different as they had animals including chickens, hogs, and cows. But I was a happy fellow whenever my papaw would come out and fire up the old 8N Ford tractor and hook up a plow. You see, I had a job sitting on the plow to keep it weighted down. As we rode to the fields, I would sit on his lap and steer until we got to where we would be working that morning or evening.
He planted corn, green beans, cabbage, squash, tomatoes, cantaloupes, and my favorite growing up—watermelons. As a boy I didn’t think much about the whole process of planting and harvesting. I don’t even remember the in between time much except for using a hoe to scrape out the weeds every once in a while. But after reading and preparing for today, I can see the transformation that happens when a seed is planted, when it grows, and when it is harvested.
Transformation is an important theme in today’s parables from Mark’s Gospel. In the first parable, Jesus provides that the Kingdom of God is like someone who scatters seed on the ground, but after throwing the seeds he would sleep or leave it alone until it would grow, doing nothing to help the seed sprout and grow. He goes on to say that it is not until the grain is ripe that the sower will go in with his sickle because the harvest has come.
In the parable Jesus says the sower does not know how the seed grew, it was a mystery. He didn’t see it grow until it broke the ground. So what does it take for that seed to grow? It takes good soil, rains, sun and time.
In the second parable Jesus goes on to compare the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. A small seed, smallest of all in ancient times, that becomes transformed into great shrub that provides for the birds of the air a place to rest and nest.
So what do these parables mean? This is where transformation takes center stage. Transformation is defined as a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance in the dictionary. Life is full of transformations, some that are natural and some that cause angst or struggle. We transform from birth to adulthood. I don’t recall being born, but I do recall growing up and it was full of learning experiences that have transformed me up to this point. There were a lot of events and people involved too.
The Kingdom of God requires transformation. In the parables, the transformation comes from the earth that produces first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain. The earth is what gives the rich soil that along with the rain and sun produces the grain. So now we can assume we know what the parables mean. It is beyond our control for the most part once we scatter the seed. There is nothing we can do to help, right?
Just like in the Youth Message today, we learned that we can water and fertilize to help out with the growth of plants, something I didn’t really do with my plant. The people Jesus was teaching likely did not fully understand the parables’ true meaning. His disciples were taught much more than the people so they could carry on the works of Jesus after His impending death on the cross.
They didn’t know it yet, but they were being prepared to transform into the men who would establish the Christian Church throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, the Middle East even into Asia.
I recently read a story about transformation that I found out about during a professional development training that my wife and I attended a while back. She bought the book in the Fall, but I didn’t read it until a few weeks ago. The story includes three objects, a carrot, an egg, and a coffee bean. It centers around a young man named Abe a young man filled with stress and fear as he faces challenges and pressure at school and home. One day after class, his teacher shares with him the life-changing lesson of the coffee bean, and this powerful message changes the way he thinks, acts, and sees the world.
I’ll shorten the story a bit, but the teacher boils water and shows Abe how each of the three objects react to boiling water. After twenty minutes in the water each are removed and observed. The carrot that was firm and crisp has become soft; the egg that was fragile has become hardened; and the coffee bean had produced an aromatic beverage. Each has been transformed due to environmental circumstances, but each transformed differently.
Abe discovers that instead of letting his environment change him for the worse, he can transform any environment he is in for the better. Equipped with this transformational truth, Abe embarks on an inspirational journey to live his life like the coffee bean. Wherever his life takes him, from school, to the military, to the business world, Abe demonstrates how this simple lesson can unleash the unstoppable power within you.
Using that story, maybe we get a glimpse of what Jesus meant about the earth providing what the seed needed to transform. It still is not easy for us to transform ourselves. We get sidetracked by the world around us, we stray from our faithful study of the Word and our lives center on things that take us away from the fruits of the harvest that God has prepared from a seed to a ripe grain or fruit.
Often our problem is not with us thinking that our work will bring in the kingdom; but with those of us who are doing no work. Here’s an example found in a Lutheran Church Bulletin in New Mexico a while back and shared in a commentary I read on this scripture.
A preacher in the Midwest told of a woman who called him to speak of her dissatisfaction with the program of the Church. He invited her to come to his office and talk the problem over with him. She accepted the invitation and brought to his attention some of the things that were needed and could be done.
He gratefully acknowledged the wisdom of her ideas. He then said, “This is wonderful that you are so concerned and interested in this. You are the very person this Church needs to head up this program. Will you take the job?”
Her reply was just as immediate. “Oh, no, I don’t want to get involved. With my club work and the hours that I put on some other things, I just don’t have the time. But I will be glad to advise you any time.”
The preacher’s answer was classic and well put: “Good, gracious, lady, that’s the problem now. I already have 400 advisers. I need someone who will work.”
It seems she didn’t want to commit completely. I’ve been there, done that too. Committing to stepping out of our comfort zone and transforming ourselves is not an easy process.
What can we do to transform our lives for the Kingdom of God? What actions do we need to do to show that transformation and steadfast faithfulness that empowers us to do God’s work?
We all have our jobs to do: casting seed on the earth and being ready to participate in the harvest when the time is right. God’s “job” is to create the “natural” growth.
Trusting in God’s example through Jesus we can be assured that we are truly nurtured in good soil and that we will grow and transform just as the mustard seed that became a shelter and resting place for the birds of the air.
Ambrose of Milan, a 4th century Roman Christian and Religious leader, sums it up very well, “the mustard seed is indeed very plain, and of little value: but if bruised or crushed, it shows forth its power. So faith first seems a simple thing; but if it is bruised by its enemies, it gives forth proof of its power, so as to fill others who hear or read of it with the odor of its sweetness. The Lord himself is the grain of mustard seed. He chose to be bruised, he chose to be crushed; he chose to be planted in the earth as a seed.
For it was in a garden that Christ was taken prisoner, and likewise buried: he sprung up in a garden, where he also rose from the dead, and became a tree. You also then are to sow Christ in your garden. Plant the Lord Jesus. He is a seed when we take hold of him: he is a tree that gives shade to the word; he is a seed when he is buried in the earth; he is a tree when raised to heaven.”
In Jesus’ teachings we are that small mustard seed that will be transformed. From something small, something great has grown. Our hope is in and through that same Jesus that we, once small, have been transformed to become something great in His kingdom. Amen.
Sermon by Joe Davis at Saint Michael Lutheran Church on June 13, 2021.