The Rev. Sarah Buteux
June 17, 2018
Confirmation and Children’s Sunday
Seeds of Faith
26He 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.” Mark 4: 26-29
Today’s parable of the seed growing secretly, is the shortest parable Jesus ever told. Which is good since this really needs to be the shortest sermon ever preached.
But it is also one of Jesus’ most confounding parables, precisely because it is so short. It seems so simple and straight forward it’s actually kind of hard to know just what to make of it.
The kingdom of God, according to Jesus, is as if “someone would scatter seed on the ground.” Notice he doesn’t call this person who scatters seeds a “gardener” or a “farmer” because that would be giving them way too much credit. Jesus just refers to them as “someone,” because this “someone” does so little that they don’t qualify as either.
I mean, what are some things that gardeners and farmers do? Just shout them out. Gardeners and Farmers: Weed! They water, spray, till the ground, turn over the earth, edge the beds, add compost, plan out the garden, rotate crops, plant certain things together. We go out to our little Common Ground garden at least two days a week and no matter how hard we work there is always more to do.
But this “someone” in the parable, doesn’t do anything. They don’t till and they don’t thin. They don’t weed or water. From what I can tell they don’t even really sow. They just scatter. They just toss some seeds out and hope for the best.
And yet…lo and behold, in spite of their effort, or lack thereof, the earth produces anyway.
They don’t know how. They don’t know why.
It just does. And when the fields are ripe, our special someone goes in with a sickle and harvests the grain.
That’s it. That’s the whole parable. And that’s what the kingdom of God is like. Let us pray.
Just kidding. This is going to be short, but not that short…because seriously… how is that like the kingdom of God?
The truth is that this parable leaves a whole lot of us scratching our heads thinking wait…what?
I don’t get it.
How is the kingdom of God like that?
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us, I think in part because most of us have been trained to read the Bible like it’s a handbook for living. We read it because we want to know what we’re supposed to do -how we’re supposed to live – especially if we want to make God happy. Right?
But the Bible doesn’t always tell us what to do or how to live.
Sometimes the Bible just tells us how things are.
In this case, I think what Jesus is trying to tell us is that life, faith, the kingdom of God – all the important stuff that people like me and maybe people like you tend to agonize over, worry about, plan and prepare for – all the really, really important stuff – it’s not all up to us.
We can help things grow and we can hinder things that grow, but at the end of the day we can’t make someone’s faith grow in their heart, anymore than we can make a seed grow in the ground, a baby grow in the womb, or the kingdom grow in this world.
I mean sure we can participate. We can influence. We can behave and hope and work and pray toward certain outcomes. But at the end of the day, says Jesus, the kingdom of God, the life of faith, life itself – all the really, really important stuff – it’s all a gift; a gift we can no more earn than we can keep.
Some things are beyond us. Some things are designed to happen whether we are helping or not. Some things will fail to grow, whether we did all the right things or not.
Sometimes things work out. Sometimes they don’t. When it comes to life, faith, and the kingdom, the why and the how are as much a mystery as God.
“Do you or I or anyone know how oats, peas, beans and souls do grow?
No. We don’t.
If we did, that’s all I’d do. If I knew how to make this as real for you as it is for me, if I knew how to set your hearts on fire for Christ, how to make faith come alive in your heart, I swear that’s all I’d do. But I don’t.
All I can do is scatter seeds of love and prayer and opportunity with the hope that something will take hold. And in some ways, that’s a hard truth. At least it is for me and I would imagine it is for any of you who are raising children in this world, because kids, here’s the thing: we want to do right by you.
We want to give you the best foundation possible. We don’t just want you to have the faith we have. We want you to have even more faith. We want you to have more meaning and direction in your life, more community and connection, more comfort and hope, and of course more love. Am I right parents?
This parable holds a hard truth for any of us who love someone who has lost their faith or has yet to find it. When we see people around us struggling, wavering, and lost we want to help.
Speaking personally, I want to fill this church, because I think knowing God can save people from a life of selfishness, aimlessness, and despair. I believe learning to follow in the way of Jesus is our best hope if we’re ever going to live peacefully and sustainably upon this earth.
I want every person who comes through those doors and every child who comes up through our Sunday School to rise up sure and certain in the knowledge that God loves them,
sure and certain that they have a place and purpose in the body of Christ, sure and certain that they can play a vital part in God’s kingdom coming in the here and now, God’s will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.
But I can’t make faith in all this real for anyone anymore than you can. Only God can do that.
It’s a hard truth, but maybe it’s also a freeing one. Because you know what? If it’s really not up to us. If Jesus is right – which, spoiler alert, he usually is – if Jesus is right and it really is all up to God, then maybe what this parable actually is, is an invitation. An invitation – to paraphrase Patrick Johnson – into a more “life-giving” and “less anxiety driven” rhythm of life and faith.
“Imagine, “he says, “a rhythm that begins with widely scattering seed, many small and seemingly insignificant acts of word and deed that witness to God’s (kingdom). (And) then prayerfully waiting to see what God will bring to maturity…. (Maybe) Our job (says Johnson) is not to manage God but to join a God who is already at work in this world. …(Maybe our job is simply to) live our lives: to sleep and wake, …to plant gardens, to love our families, to cook and eat dinner, go hiking and just sit in the sun for a while. … (enjoy this life…Because) In the in-breaking reign of God, our work is not to make it happen. Our work is (simply) to see where God is making it happen, and join in.”
That sounds like good news to me. And the children have even better news to share with you today, because whether you realize it or not, that’s what many of you have been doing….bringing your children to church or brownies to coffee our, showing up at the garden or teaching the kids to sing.
Over the last 2 weeks the kids have had the opportunity to think about people in our church who have planted seeds of faith in them by just doing what you do. We’ve talked about people here in our community who have done something so beautiful or true or kind that it has made these kids think: that is what a Christian looks like and that’s how I want to be in the world.
Kids would you all come up.
Some of them had time to make cards to thank you for the faith you have planted in them just by being you. Some of them had time to paint pots and plant flowers.
And any children who weren’t here the last two weeks, but can think of someone you’d like to say thank you to this morning for helping you grow in your faith, you can come up and get a flower and bring it to that person.
Maybe it’s the person who brought you to church today.
Maybe it’s your Sunday school teacher.
Maybe it’s Dana for all her beautiful music or Helene and all the folks who bring food for coffee hour. I can help you find that person.
I want to invite you to pick up your flower now and give it to someone who has planted a seed of faith in you, whether they realized it or not… a seed God has helped grow….
And finally, before he is confirmed, Marcus would like to share a few words with you about the people who have planted seeds of faith in him, a faith that has grown in his heart and led him to this day. …
Thank you Marcus.
We can’t make God real for you.
We can’t save you or make you believe or make you into a Christian.
Only God can do that. It is a mystery in God’s hands.
But what we can do, and have done, and will continue to do for you Marcus and for all of you, is our very best to live out our faith with love and integrity.
We’ll keep showing up and doing our part and trusting that God will continue to do God’s part. And in becoming a member and affirming your baptism, Marcus, I hope and pray that you will keep showing up too.