June 17, 2018
Somewhere along the timeline of civilization an idea was planted that we must get ahead. We must be better than those that came before us. We must have better jobs then our parents. For many, there is the predominant thought that the more toys that they have is surely a sign of how well they are doing in life. Let’s not talk about the debt that many go into to get these toys.
I was not immune to this line of reasoning. The moment that I walked through campus my freshman year of college, I signed up for those credit cards. I had to maintain the lifestyle I was accustomed to before moving a couple of hours away from home. It took me a while to learn differently, and quite frankly, the learning is still happening. In my twenties, I thought I was going to get rich and retire early by being part of a multi-level-marketing company. The only thing that happened was that I went into more debt and almost destroyed my marriage.
We always want more and find it hard to settle for enough. Wendell Berry wrote the following in the forward to a book,
The industrial era at climax…has imposed on us all its ideals of ceaseless pandemonium. The industrial economy, by definition, must never rest….There is no such thing as enough. Our bellies and our wallets must become oceanic, and still they will not be full. Six workdays in a week are not enough. We need a seventh. We need an eighth….Everybody is weary, and there is no rest….Or there is none unless we adopt the paradoxical and radical expedient of just stopping.[i]
When we strive for the things that are not of God, we draw ourselves further from the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is found in the simple and even mundane. The kingdom of God resides in the simplest things that are quite often overlooked and easily neglected.
The gospel of Mark starts sharing Jesus’ parables at the end of chapter 3. We heard the first last week in our gospel lesson. The parables continue into chapter 4 and into our gospel lesson for today. Jesus teaches in parables to help the disciples and others listening to understand how the world that they are currently living relates to the kingdom of God. The parables are comparisons meant to place two things alongside one another to provide analogies, contrast, or reflection. Quite often, that reflection is based on the comparison of two vastly different things.[ii] An outcome is usually present that is not expected. Jesus turns the expectations of those that are listening upside down.
In the first parable of the seed, Jesus concludes, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” This is language that is taken from the prophet Joel referring to the final judgement. It can also be found in Revelation. At this point, Jesus does not say who will be on what side of the harvest, but I am sure that he probably caught their attention. The faith that they have grown up in looks towards the judgement day as one where God will separate the goat from the sheep or the chaff from the grain. For the leaders in the synagogue, it is a matter of who is in and who is out. If you recall, this is much about what are gospel lesson brought to us last week.
Like many of his parables, I am sure that Jesus leaves the disciples thinking about this one for a while. And yet, the disciples are probably still having a hard time of coming to an understanding about what Jesus is talking about. Remember, this is still early in our gospel and in Mark’s version, we still have some distance to travel.
You must admit, that as far as stories or parables go, the first one that we hear this morning is pretty boring. It lacks the action that we like to see in stories. It lacks the raw emotion that we could witness in the parable of the prodigal son. It lacks the variety of soils that are present at the beginning of chapter 4 in the parable of the sower.
A simple seed is scattered on the ground. From this point, it is all a mystery! The boringness of it, is probably why the other gospel writers did not include this parable in their gospels.
We are left wanting more. The disciples were probably left wanting more. How can they be left to sit in the mystery and wonder? Yet, this is where Jesus is calling them to as his disciples. He has asked them to leave everything behind and follow him. For the most part, they seem to be following directions fairly well. Sure, they stick their foot in their mouth from time to time, but they are listening to Jesus and trying their hardest to comprehend and contemplate on what he is saying.
There is a lesson in the simplicity of this parable. The kingdom of God is found in the simplicity. Nothing is required on the part of the one scattering the seeds. “The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” Jesus could be easily explaining the growth of corn. It is almost like a science book! You have the seed that is placed in the ground and eventually it starts to grow. As it grows then the husks grow, and the corn is formed, and it can be harvested. God provides everything that is needed in the process, from the rain to the sun to the rich soil. It all comes from God in ways that they do not understand.
The simplicity that Jesus brings to the disciples in the parable, is the same simplicity that is available for us to embrace today. We don’t live lives that are meant to be on television or in the movies. Honestly, the stories that we do see on the big or small screens manage to usually weed out the boring and simple things that are usually more dominant in our lives. If you want to see a movie that includes the boring and portrays life in a true manner, watch Manchester by the Sea. Life is in the ordinary. Life is in the mundane. Life at times can be very boring. God meant for us to live our lives as if we are already in the kingdom of heaven.
We choose to create our own kingdoms with our desires and thoughts that we must strive for even more. However, we are like the seed that is scattered on the ground. We are created by God and we will be provided by God’s creation. Our lives are highlighted by school, marriage, children, baptisms, and possibly eventually grandchildren and more baptisms. In the midst of it, we encounter crises as well. Yet, we are called to live in the simplicity of just being. Being created in God’s image, living in the mystery, and rejoicing in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.
Let us pray. Mysterious and awe-inspired God, how could we ever fully understand the creation that surrounds us. Help us live into the unknown and be comfortable in it. Let us breathe in the very essence of your being and creation so that we may encounter you in every breath we take. Amen.
[i] Wendell Berry in a forward for Norman Wirzba’s book, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight
[ii] David Lose, In the Meantime blog