Ezekiel 17:22-24; Mark 4:26-34
Ezekiel 17:22-2422Thus says the Lord God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. 24All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.
Mark 4:26-3426He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet 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.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
I started my garden a couple weeks ago. At the time I had hoped to soon finish the second bed and plant the seeds that have been lovingly saved and passed on to me by some farmer friends of mine - seeds that we all took the time to bless a few weeks ago in worship...but as you can see, nothing to that affect as yet been accomplished. A few seeds that I hope still to plant are favorites - wax beans and kale, and a few are new attempts - cucumbers and cauliflower and delicata squash. I know at school, Michael took some time with his class to plant beans on the side of a clear cup so they could watch the seed break open and sprout - he probably knows the parts of a plant better than I do!
The passages of scripture this week talk about God’s action and initiative, the unfolding of the kingdom, and our place in the midst of it all.
I have to be honest and say I wish I was a bit more like our sleepy gardener in our Mark passage - throwing seed on the ground and reveling in the mystery of sprouts unfurling toward the sun. I am someone who would make my plants grow by force, if I could (not, of course, that I have the time to put in all the proper effort and research that such an undertaking would entail). I like results - to see the fruits of my labors, to know - for certain - that if I put in the proper inputs, I would receive the proper outputs. I can control the outcome.
What our passages show, however, is that the outcome is anything but under our control. Of course we know that for a plant to grow, it has to be in the proper environment and have opportunity to thrive. Of course we know that a tiny mustard seed doesn’t produce a ginormous tree. The hearers of these parables would have known that as well - and have been perplexed by Jesus’s assertions that the kingdom is like this careless farmer or that the kingdom is like this miracle tree. The point is that the growth - the kingdom - isn’t dependent upon us and our efforts of forcing it to be. God’s kingdom happens even when people would expect nothing to grow out of what has been sown. God’s kingdom happens when we expect one thing - a barren field from slipshod planting or a mustard plant - and get another - a bountiful harvest or a tree that provides shelter for all. (Nevermind the fact that in Jesus’ day, a mustard plant would never be something any self-respecting farmer would have sown - it’s a weed and would have taken over anyone’s field). It’s a sentiment that is echoed in the Ezekiel text - God taking sprigs from trees and making dry trees flourish and drying out thriving trees, making a home for birds of all kinds.
God’s kingdom is unexpected, uncontrollable, and unfolds in ways we have no good grasp on - it’s unmeasurable and unknowable, deep and mysterious. It takes our well-laid plans - or perhaps our not well-thought-out ones, and turns them on its head. It takes our securities and comforts and invites us to challenge our assumptions. It takes our sorrows and hurts and wounds and turns them into places of harvest and abundance.
On Easter - we talked of death and resurrection and spent some time reflecting on the things in our lives that have died and what resurrection work God may do in the year ahead. Death and resurrection are all part of kingdom work - after all, who would have expected God to raise Jesus from the dead after three days?
We wrote on seed paper crosses to name and acknowledge those deaths as well as to name and acknowledge the growth and hope and resurrection God brings about when those deaths happen.
I want to pause here and name for a moment, that we - together - are undergoing one of those big death moments. Our relationship - our connection - to the United Methodist Church, is something this body has discerned needed to die. We prayed and struggled and wrestled and came to this place that meant following God involved stepping away from that connection. Only two weeks ago was that decision ratified by the New England Conference. It’s a death - or maybe more apt, it’s a relationship that is dying. And just like when someone dies, there is a lot of emotion surrounding that process of grief and letting go - even when we know someone is ready to go. There’s sadness, anger...there can be relief and hope and peace...there can be a “thank God it is over.” I want to remind ourselves of that as we make our way through these final weeks.
I also want to remind ourselves that in God’s kingdom, wherever there’s a death, God stands ready to offer new life - and we never know quite what that will look like. This for me is what ties us back to our passages for today. God’s going to work among us - and we have no idea what the Spirit will bring forth. We don’t know the timing and we don’t know the harvest. We may grow impatient at the waiting - wanting to control and force results - just like me and my gardening skills.
It’s not an easy path - slow, mysterious growth comes hard. Seasons of fallowness can leave us impatient. Plants that grow in ways we don’t like or that we don’t think belong in our garden frustrate us. Turning over our wants and desires and dreams for the sake of what God wants to grow can be a struggle.
But I know that with faithful perseverance, with steady, constant surrender to the leadings of the spirit, with loving attention paid to the smallest, most insignificant things, with an open-hearted embrace of people and situations the world has written off, with a posture of open-handed trust - that we will be surprised beyond our wildest imaginings at what God does as a result of this step of faith.
The seeds have been planted. Our invitation - and challenge - is to rest in God’s grace...to tend to what springs forth (even if it looks like a weed)...and to release ourselves (both as individual people and as a people) again and again into God’s care and provision, trusting that it is God - and not us - who will bring the abundant harvest...who brings green growth to our barren places...who will create in us a shelter for all who need a home. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.