Week 5: READ: Mark 4:26-34
A parable is a teaching story that uses comparison to emphasize its point. In the parable of the seed that grew secretly (vv. 26-28), this story compares the kingdom of God with the harvest. The farmer who plants the seed has absolutely nothing more to do with the sprouting or the growth of the seed. The farmer plants the seed, spreads manure on the ground and prays for rain or in some cases irrigates the field. There is a lot of science and technology that goes into American farming today. Studies of the soil, history of harvest, and a spreadsheet on cost are all reviewed and decisions are made throughout the winter. While a farmer with means can irrigate a field to provide adequate moisture, no farmer can anticipate nor eliminate too much rain. Nor can a farmer effect the amount of heat in June, July or August, nor the first sign of frost in the fall. There are still many factors that farmers cannot control because they cannot control the weather.
Seeds spout when they swell in moisture and when the soil is warm. Farmers plant the seed but they do not cause seeds to sprout nor grow. They can try and predict when the conditions are right for sprouting but if a seed sprouts or not, it is beyond their control. It is like popcorn seeds popping. You can provide the right temperature and the right amount of oil but rarely have I ever seen every popcorn seed pop!
Jesus did not tell the parable to teach farmers about farming. Jesus is speaking in a metaphor about the planting of the seed of the Word of Jesus in the hearts of people. As we go about our business, off to work, to school, to the store, or working around our yard in our neighborhood, we are Jesus’ hands, feet and voice in this world. Every person we encounter is impacted in some way by our attitude, what we say or do not say, and how we act. If we see ourselves full of the love of Jesus and his love for the world, it will all be good. Like the farmer who spreads the seed – like grass seed that is broadcast on the soil, we broadcast the love of Jesus. Sometimes it is a shallow seed cast out like a smile, kind word, holding a door open, or picking up your neighbors mail for them while they are away. Other times, it may go a little deeper into the soil like watching your neighbor’s child while they run an errand, or visiting your neighbor in the hospital, or listening to them as they share a heartache in their lives.
There are those special moments when it is just right for sowing the love of Jesus in a conversation. These are the times we share the hope we find in Christ who never gives up on us when our neighbor is discouraged. Or the times we risk to offer a prayer for a neighbor who is hurting, filled with worry or sick. We do not manufacture these special moments. Rather, the Lord opens the door. If we walk through opening in faith, we discover this sacred space shared with another human. If you have not had that experience before this could sound threatening. I assure you as Jesus assured his disciples that we need not worry about what to do or say. God will nudge and guide you. It is nothing short of a faith adventure. Every time I have this holy moment with another, I walk away amazed and blessed.
Whether it seems to be a shallow seed cast out in love or a deeper moment with another, this parable tells us that God alone gives the growth. The Apostle Paul wrote: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth, (1 Corinthians 3:6). It is not our role to worry or feel responsible if there is any response of faith to the kind word we give, the help we share or even the witness and prayer we offer. We scatter the seed of the love of Jesus but God alone can activate the seed of faith. We are sent to do our part but the result is in the hands of God.
In another parable of Jesus, we learn things do not always appear the way they are or will be. This is a key to understanding the parable of the mustard seed (vv. 30-32). Do not judge the size of a tree by the size of its seed. Take for instance a pumpkin seed. They are basically the same size from one pumpkin to the next. As a kid, I got to flip through the pages of the Gurney seed catalog that came in the mail each January from Yankton, South Dakota. We all got to make a few selections of seed we each wanted to plant. My favorite part of the garden was the pumpkin patch. There were pumpkins that would be white or orange, 20-30 pounds and then the most exciting of all, the pumpkins advertised to grow big, very big. One of my pumpkins grew to be over 100 pounds! I could not tell any difference by looking at the size of the seed which pumpkin was going to grow to be extra big. In fact, in the first six weeks after planting there was little difference in plant size among my pumpkins. But in time, it became clear which pumpkin plants came from which seed.
Jesus is teaching once again about the kingdom of God. There are two aspects to the kingdom of God: the perfect kingdom that will come at the end when Jesus returns. Teachings about being prepared for heaven has been a strong message in the past. As loved ones die, eternal life becomes very important to families. Jesus says that he has gone to prepare a place for us and will come again and take us to himself (John 14).
God cares about this world and life on earth as well. For God so loved the cosmos…(John 3:16). God loves and cares about everything in creation, not just people. God created a balanced system. If we mess up creation by polluting the water, land and air, we mess up life for every living thing. We not only make creation sick but we make ourselves sick as well. We are finally beginning to understand the importance of this balance for life and health.
Some of Jesus’ parables are about the kingdom to come and being watchful and ready for when he returns. The parable of the mustard seed is about the kingdom Jesus initiated on earth. The seed is small, just like the church that began with the first few followers of Jesus. This unarmed band of followers were pretty insignificant. Because of the truth of this movement as taught by Jesus and empowered by the Spirit, it grew and became a force for good and for God in this world.
In time this tree grew to have branches that provided a home for all the birds of the air. Each bird family adding their own color and song to worship God and serve others. The parable reflects the prophetic message of Ezekiel: All the birds of the air made their nests in its boughs (31:6) and possibly the apocalyptic message of Daniel 4:20-21. Do not underestimate the power of God to grow new branches in the tree that God loves called the church. Even if the tree appears old and dying, the pruning of the old branches can by the Spirit’s work sprout new growth. If the church is focused on the mission that God has given the church to accomplish in any given community, God will give life. When the church is consumed by its own issues it begins to die. Ironically, it is only as the church gives itself up to serve others in mission, that life is restored. This is the way of Christ.
I can no longer tell who invited me to attend a small meeting of the World Mission Prayer League (see www.wmpl.org) but I can say that this pan-Lutheran organization seeded my heart for mission. Based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, this organization prays for, seeds mission workers to and supports the efforts to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in fourteen specific countries (6 in Asia; 3 in North America; 3 in South America and 2 in Africa). Prayer concerns for unreached people groups in the world as well as service opportunities are available on the WMPL Web site.
From the very first group meeting of WMPL, my heart was moved as we listened to a couple of letters that were read that told stories of what God was doing in Bolivia and among the Santal people in India. Our meeting time included Bible readings of the mission activity of the early church, correspondence from mission sites with specific prayer requests. The majority of the time was spent in prayer for mission. When the seeds of International and domestic mission were planted in my heart and mind, I found myself pursuing books about mission activity and the courageous and passionate people involved in that work.
As internship assignments were being considered in my third year of seminary, I worked with the Mission Board of the denomination to reopen Cairo, Egypt as a possible internship site. While Jody and I interviewed for the internship, due to unrest in Cairo at the time, they decided to send a single person rather than a married couple. We considered applying for a call by the Mission Board in my senior year for an opening in Israel but due to a difficult pregnancy, we decided to be placed for a call in the US. After four years in rural South Dakota, I interview and was called as a mission developer of a new site in Upstate New York. Prayer and spreading the message of God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ have deep roots in my heart.
In 1999, I was called back to the Midwest to work at our Churchwide Offices of the ELCA as the Associate Director of Prayer Ministries, a newly developed position at the time. This was a rich time of creativity and discovery as it was my honor to learn from and see what God was doing across this church and with our partners in places like Germany, Madagascar, and Ethiopia. For several years I served as the Director of the Evangelism Strategy for the ELCA before becoming the Director for Evangelism. In 2006, a call was extended from Grace Church in Loves Park, Illinois which brought me full circle back to parish life. In every step of the way, the seed of prayer and work of mobilizing people to share the story of Jesus as we serve has colored my world. The work and the prayer continues.
- What is God’s role in the parable of the seed growing secretly? What is our role?
- What did you find most helpful in this parable?
- What is our role in the growth of the kingdom of God on earth? What does that mean for you?
- What questions still remain for you as you think about these two parables?