Sitting in a tree
Mark 6:26-34

Our Gospel today contains two short versions of a couple of familiar kingdom parables.  The first is the parable of the growing seed and the second the parable of the mustard seed.  Each has a unique message yet trying to narrow that message down to a single meaning in either case is fraught with danger. 

Parables are meant to be difficult to understand and interpret.  We generally state that Jesus spoke in parables so that the people who heard them could understand according to their context.  But still Jesus had to explain them to the disciples so that they could understand.  And now we try to understand a couple of thousand years later in an urban context where most of us have no idea what a mustard seed looks like unless we have some mustard in our cupboard or fridge.

Because of the difficulty in interpretation we are forced to wrestle with the text whenever we encounter it and that’s a good thing for us to do.  We should spend time trying to decipher what Jesus was trying to explain or describe.  It can actually be lots of fun.  There is usually no definitive answer so the interpretation can’t be too wrong even if we are a bit off the mark.

Today I want to use the two parables as a bit of an analogy for what the kingdom of God looks like for us, right here and right now. We’ve been talking and praying at church council about what we need to do in order to grow our congregation.  The natural tendency is to get all wrapped around the axles and try to come up with a single answer that will be the cure all, a simple tweak here or an adjustment there.  Some of us even blame ourselves when we see our interpretation of what the kingdom of God is like shrinking rather than growing.

For most of us the kingdom of God that we have a connection with and see is our own congregation, whether that is Lilydale, Croydon, Yarra Junction or Good Shepherd or Luther chapel services or any combination of the above.  Others may see it a bit more widely as they regularly visit Box Hill or St John’s in the city or a congregation where family or friends worship.  Still others look at it from a district perspective or even stretch it out to the Lutheran Church of Australia.  Then of course we can go more widely and start to think of other denominations and then the universal Christian church worldwide.  But is that covering what the kingdom of God is like yet? 

Perhaps not, what about the heavens, the universe, the galaxies and stars beyond even the vision of the Hubble telescope.  It’s out there, we can’t see it, but it does exist.  God created it all so it’s all a part of his kingdom.  But is that really the kingdom, the parable of the seed is talking about a seed being scattered on the ground, and then the man who did the scattering walks away and whether he is awake or asleep the seed continues to grow, the farmer doesn’t have a clue as to how it takes place it just grows.  He waits patiently having no control over what happens to it, but it does grow.  It’s the Pantene principle, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.  So if the kingdom of God is like a man scattering a seed and waiting for it to grow, what does that tell us?

All we can take from it is that we need to sew the seed of God’s word and let the Spirit do its work, that’s the simple one line answer that I mentioned before.  But wait there’s more.  Jesus went on to describe the kingdom of God as being like a mustard seed, small yet when planted grows into the largest of all garden plants, so big that the birds can perch in its shade.

Once again there is growing going on, it starts tiny and grows into something large enough to shade a bird under it.  Perhaps that’s what our congregation should look like, maybe a mustard tree would be a good symbol for our congregation.  It has grown from something tiny and has matured, what is to happen to it next, is it harvested, does it continue to grow, does it put out more seed, does it provide shade for the birds that come and gather in it?  I don’t know whether that is a rhetorical question, a direct question to you or whether it is a question that we should be directing to God. 

Actually I think it is a question that needs to be directed to God.  Where are we and where are we headed and is there anything we should be doing to help.  Maybe sewing the word is where it begins and ends and then we wait, maybe our job then is to eat and sleep and get up and rest in the shade and protection of the kingdom as it continues to grow.  Is that what we are meant to do and be, are we the sewers or are we the birds that come and rest in the shade?  Only God really has that answer for us, if only Jesus could come and explain our paradigm in a parable for us, wouldn’t that be great, or would we understand it.

The trouble is we want to take control; we want to do things in our way and in our time but it will ONLY happen in God’s way and in God’s time.  The church tends to move slowly, things change slowly perhaps for good reason.  It takes time for a seed to germinate and to grow and mature, perennial plants then produce fruit and/or seed and then more of them are able to grow as those seeds are distributed in various different ways.  The same happens for the church, it bears fruit, the seeds are sown and then we wait, we nurture, trying to keep the weeds at bay.  Then we try to sew more seed and help it grow.

I know I have provided more questions than I have answers today.  Sometimes that is as much of a frustration to the preacher as it is to the hearer, but just as Jesus spoke in parables to help us wrestle with the words and try to contextualise and believe in what he was teaching, we too need to wrestle with what it is God needs us to be doing or not doing in this place at this time.  I want to encourage all of you to wrestle with God’s word, dig deeply into it, allow it to plant itself deeply within you and germinate, let it grow and mature you and guide you as you take shelter in the shade of the mustard tree, and as you live out your life as a part of the kingdom of God.   It is a kingdom that is beyond our understanding but it’s there for our benefit and edification and for all of the world too.