Devotional Message: The 4th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 6B (6/17/2018)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 (12)
2nd Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17
St. Mark 4:26-34

Prayer of the Day

O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to all the world. Graft us into yourself and nurture our growth, that we may bear your truth and love to those in need, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

4:26 [Jesus] also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 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.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Message: Seeds… and the Kingdom of God

“O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to all the world.” With these words begins this week’s Prayer of the Day. It is a reminder that what we have before us in the Gospel reading is a Kingdom Parable. Jesus often uses these types of parables in his teaching. The word parable comes from the Greek παραβολή. Literally translated, it means “to throw alongside,” so a parable is an illustration that is thrown alongside life, which when we compare the two, helps us to understand life in a new or better way. In this particular type of parable, the illustration is thrown alongside our understanding of the kingdom of God, and seeks to deepen or stretch the way we understand and experience God’s rule in this world and in our lives.

So the question at hand this week is this: “How do these two illustrations, one about a seed growing secretly and one about a mustard seed, help us better understand and experience the kingdom of God?” The delightful irony in the first parable (“The Seed Growing Secretly”) is that it doesn’t help our understanding at all! In fact, the parable itself claims that there is no way to understand how the Kingdom of God operates. It is, Jesus says, like a sower who doesn’t know how seed grows. Throw some seed here and there, and then go one with life. Sleep and rise, night and day, and while you are doing so the seed grows on its own. There seems to be no purpose in seeking to understand how or why. But there is a critical component to this: the sower trusts that the seed will produce of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. And the sower knows that when the time comes, the sickle will come out, and the harvest will come in. Ultimately, it is the experience of the kingdom of God, illustrated by the capacity to trust in the promise that seeds will grow, that makes a difference.

I’ve been a “religious professional” for some thirty-four years now (thirty-eight if you count my four years of Seminary). I’ve attended classes and workshops, read books and magazine articles, participated in continuing education events, been involved in innumerable conversations with other church leaders, all intended to sharpen my understanding of how to pastor and grow a congregation. I know an awful lot more about this work than I did thirty-eight years ago. But guess what? It is still a mystery. Sometimes our very best efforts seem to produce no results at all, and at other times God seems to overcome our most humbling shortcomings to create faith and faithfulness in the lives of others.

The bottom line is: we keep sowing. We keep gathering God’s people around word and sacrament. We keep sharing the good news of our faith through what we say and what we do. Like the sower, we trust in the promise and power of God. And in the mystery of God, time and time again we experience the kingdom breaking into our lives, bearing the fruit of faith and faithfulness. 

“O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to all the world.” May your kingdom grow. And may we grow with it.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. How does this text compare or contrast with the Parable of the Sower in St. Mark 4:3-9, 13-20?
  2. What is the central point of the “The Seed Growing Secretly?” What does it tell us about God’s kingdom?
  3. What is the central point of the “The Mustard Seed?” What does it tell us about God’s kingdom?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When has the seed of faith taken root and grown in my own life?
  2. How has the presence of God been both mysterious and powerful at the same time for me?
  3. When has my small act of faithfulness become part of something Larger that God was doing?