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Farmers of the Kingdom

Reverend Philip Stringer

2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13) 14-17

Mark 4:26-34

LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may love and serve only you, now and forever. AMEN


I am curious to know -- show of hands. How many of you had (or have) grandparents who grew up on a farm? How many had parents who grew up on a farm? How many of you here grew up on a farm? How many are currently farmers, living on a working farm. In 1900, 63% of Americans lived in rural settings -- most of them on farms. Today, that is true of only 2%. And if any of those farmers are like me ... well ... the number actually producing food is even lower!


We are an urban society -- and there are good things that come with that. But we are losing something, too. There is something special, I think, about a life that is lived in communion with the soil and with the growth of life. Something wonderful and mysterious.


Faith is a mystery, too. There are two kinds of mystery -- the kind that you can figure out like a puzzle by following the clues; and the kind that can never end because it’s not that the answer to the mystery is hidden -- it’s because the answer itself has no end. It is continually being revealed, drawing us deeper and deeper into its truth.


Today, in our Gospel text, Jesus uses images from a farm to explain the mystery of the Kingdom. “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.”


“(The kingdom of God) is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”


Today, science can tell us much more about the process of germination -- but we still can’t explain life itself. Seeds in soil sprout and grow -- how it happens -- why it happens -- is a mystery. Watching it happen is a wonder.


Another show of hands: How many of you are gardeners? Have you ever planted a seed and seen it grow? In a garden, a pot or even in a paper cup?


Patty has a garden in our yard -- asparagus, tomatoes, squash, herbs. A few years ago we got an heirloom pumpkin at Old Salem -- pumpkins descended from those grown by people centuries ago, which look quite different from the ones we get at the grocery store.


Two years ago she kept some of the seeds -- they’ve been sitting in the house like pebbles for two years, so she didn’t know if they’d be any good. But she put them in a wet paper towel for a day, then planted them -- and low-and-behold in two days there were one-inch pumpkin vines sprouting from the ground. Those little seeds know how to assemble the minerals of the earth in a particular way like nothing else on the planet can do -- and by doing that they will grow and produce pumpkins! Amazing!


Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like the mystery that happens on a farm -- or a garden -- or in a paper towel. Or you.


The Kingdom of God is wherever God’s Holy Spirit is at work.


The soil of the kingdom is the human heart. And the seeds of the kingdom are the love of God. When these come together amazing things happen. Wonderful things -- things “full of wonder” -- a mystery.


Today our texts assure us that the seeds of the kingdom are being planted in our hearts. Your heart is the soil in which God is planting the seeds of God’s love. “The love of Christ is urging us on,” wrote Paul. The love of Christ is at work within us. God is calling forth good and wonderful things in you, just as God does with the earth.


Patty loves going to local growers. There is a family-owned blueberry farm she goes to every year. There is also a strawberry farm that she visits and recently she has gotten eggs from a “neighbor” about 3 miles away. When she tells me she’s going, there’s excitement in her voice -- urgency, as if she can’t wait to get there. Part of it, I’m sure is about the quality and freshness of the things she buys. But it is also, clearly because of the experience with the people. There is something peaceful and kind about people who grow and raise the things we eat.


Why do you suppose that is? I suspect it has something to do with living so close to the soil and the rhythm of living things. It’s a life of mystery!


You know, of course that a farmer doesn’t know what the harvest will be like until it is actually gathered. There may be a lot of food or none. In a way that may be hard for us to comprehend -- farmers have learned that everything they have is a gift. They know what it means to depend on grace, and because of that they have learned to be thankful. I think that this is why they are so generous with others.


The kingdom of God is growing among farmers.


We can learn a lot from farmers.


Here is another mystery of God: The farmers are also the soil! They are both. They give because they have received.


It is the same with you and me. We are the soil that receives the love of God. And what the seeds of God’s love bring forth is a mystery.


“The love of Christ urges us on,” writes Paul. Yes! But to what end? He continues, “(Christ) died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”


A mystery that is being revealed to us is what it means to live for Christ-- to live as an instrument of Christ-- who used his entire being as an expression of God’s love.


We have received the love of Christ. If there is one thing you remember about the sermon today, it should be this: The blessing isn’t that we have received Christ’s love. The blessing is that THROUGH it we are made a means of blessing others. “The love of Christ urges us on!” ... and it is a mystery. Especially in a world in which the places lacking love are ample.


On Wednesday of this week, June 19th, we will observe “Juneteenth” as a federal holiday. Growing up in northeastern Indiana — in an overwhelmingly white suburban neighborhood — I had never even heard of “Juneteenth.” I think that most white Americans have preferred to relegate slavery to being a footnote — as if the United States ideal has always been essentially what it is today — people are the same, but some of the people then had human property. That notion completely alienates the enslaved population from the American identity. We can see that reality in the way Juneteenth has also been referred to as “black independence day.” As if it is an event that is only relevant for black people.


I would challenge that notion. I think that Juneteenth marks the second most important moment in our nation’s history. First is the 4th of July, when Independence from Great Britain was declared for most of us, followed by June 19th, when independence for the rest of us was — at least officially — recognized.


June 19 marks a moment in history that is hugely significant for all of us, as we struggle to bring to fruition what has been started.


As Christians who are also Americans, we have an important role to play in making that happen. “The love of Christ urges us on!” as we work toward a society that is truly equal for all. Last week I mentioned how Abraham Lincoln quoted scripture when he declared that “a house divided cannot stand.” Today we are not a house divided, but we ARE a house that is still fractured by racial separation that is physical in some ways, but also psychological. There is physical inequality in economics as well as in justice and opportunity. The United States is still not a level playing field, and the love of Christ is calling us to help change that.


And it is hard work — because if we continue to use the metaphor of an uneven “playing field,” then the ground we are trying to level is hard and full of stone.


Juneteenth is Wednesday, the 19th. Tomorrow, June 17, is observed as the day of martyrdom for the Emanuel Nine. June 17, 2015 is the day when a young white supremacist entered Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC, he joined members of the church for a Bible study — and when it was over he started shooting, killing nine people. Today is the official commemoration in the Lutheran Church of the Emanuel Nine — and for me it shines a light on just how complicated racism is for white Americans.


Two of those killed that night were pastors.


Daniel Lee Simmons, Sr., and Clementa Pinckney were both graduates of my seminary — Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. I graduated from there, too. And that is YOUR seminary. Our offerings have helped to maintain it. When I learned that they were LTSS graduates I was proud — and even feeling a bit righteous; we stand with the good guys.


But then I learned something else. The young man who killed them and the others was Lutheran. He grew up in a Lutheran congregation in Lexington, SC — only about 30 miles west of the seminary. I’m not certain, but I think that I might have supply preached there when I was in seminary. His family attended worship there. He went through confirmation there. But somehow he grew up hating and dehumanizing.


I want to stand with the righteous when it comes to the Emanuel Nine — but the truth is that I stand with a foot on both sides and that will never change until I can be honest about the way that somehow what we do isn’t enough — or at the very least isn’t finished.


But the “love of Christ urges us on.” There is a world that needs what we have received.


A farmer who grows a crop, just so it can sit in the field has missed the purpose of farming. The food is for sharing.


“(Christ) died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”; We live for Christ, who lived to give himself away in love.


“The love of Christ urges us on . . . the very reason that Christ died is so that you may have life. The very reason Christ died is so that you and I might live no longer for ourselves, but for him.”


The seeds of God’s love are being sown into YOUR heart. And when the seeds of God sprout, do you know what emerges? A farmer! -- who sows seeds of God, which sprout into farmers. It is a mystery. But it happens every time, just like a pumpkin!


Perhaps we are not farmers like were our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents. But like all the faithful who have gone before us -- and who have scattered seeds throughout the centuries that have brought us to present day -- and to (((((( this )))))) field of sowing -- where the seeds of God’s love are sprouting in our own hearts -- Like them, we are farmers.


We are given seeds for sowing . . .


It is a mystery . . . and who can know what good things God will raise up from our sowing?!

AMEN

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