Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 17, 2012 - Secrets, Secrets

Mark 4:26-34 – Parable of Seed Growing Secretly
            When we prayed the Lord’s Prayer earlier in this worship service, we said, as we have prayed many times before, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It is a sweet prayer; but not many of us think of it as a revolutionary prayer. It is, you know, “revolutionary.” What did we pray for? What is this Kingdom of God that we have prayed for so many times? The problem with the Kingdom of God is that it is so different from what-people-expect that we really have no idea what we just prayed to see. To make it worse, we have little idea how/when it will arrive. Are we part of bringing it into the world? Mostly, we are not sure how to answer any of these questions. I suppose this makes the Lord’s Prayer a safe prayer to pray. After all, if the Kingdom of God is a vague promise and we have no idea if we will have some part in its coming,then it can hardly be revolutionary.
            The Parable of the Seed Growing Secretlyspeaks of the Kingdom of God. So, let’s examine it. It speaks of mysteries too deep for bumper stickers or sound bites. It gives voice to hopes that still have the power to move us to action.
"The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."

            The parable of the Seed Growing Secretly confronts us with a sharp contrast: the inactivity of the farmer after sowing; and the sudden call to the harvest. The farmer’s life follows a passive order of sleeping and waking.   The grain grows and matures with no intervention from the farmer.  Then suddenly, the grainis ripe, the sickle is raised, the joyful cry rings out, "the harvest has come."
            The message of the parable is a call to wait patiently for God’s Kingdom to come. And the reason we should wait patiently is that God is attending to its growing; it is soon to break out everywhere. It is a call to trust that the Kingdom will come in God’s good time.
            Some see the parable as a caution to the Zealots, ancient and modern, who would bring the Kingdom by some kind of force. There were ex-Zealots among the disciples.  Why did Jesus not act when action was plainly needed?  Why didn't Jesus purge the new Christian community of sinners?  Why didn't Jesus overthrow the Roman invaders? The gospels tell us that Jesus’ disciples were impatient to see the Kingdom; they were ready for Jesus to establish it with swords and battles.
            In contrast, the task for the farmer is scattering seed, and then his job is finished. Now, the man is passive. Sleeping is passive. Does he chop out the weeds? Jesus does not say. Does he carry water to help the seeds to germinate? Again, Jesus does not say. Days and nights pass without intervention from the farmer. Notice there is no mention of the man's plowing, harrowing, or cultivating.  Neither is there any reference to this struggle against drought or storm. Is Jesus really suggesting that there is nothing we must do as Christians?
            Well, when we bring all the teachings of Jesus together, we find many teachings that insist that we have work to do:
+Take up your cross;
+Go into all the world baptizing in my name;
+As Jesus told the disciples late one afternoon, “You give them something to eat.”
The message of the parable speaks to our anxiety that God might not get it right. The assurance that the harvest will come stands in opposition to any doubt or worry which endeavors to force the coming of the Kingdom of God:
+by a revolution of Zealots,
+by exact calculations and preparation like the Apocalypse,
+or by oppressive obedience to the Law like the Pharisees.
            Thus, the parable asks, if we are willing for Jesus' sake to wait with him for God to do what God is sure to do. Are we willing to wait with the confidence of children of God, without any spiritual maneuvering or heavy-handed efforts.
            This parable is telling us that this is the way with the Kingdom of God.  It comes at God's command; ours is to wait and watch patiently and confidently.

 II. Have you ever had the experience of waiting patiently then to find that the result had been completely worth the wait? Usually, the opposite is the case: we wait and wait, and when the day arrives, the result is underwhelming. Sometimes I wonder if we are less than interested in God’s promises because we have been disappointed so many times. Pretty goodnow might beat a wonderful that might never come.But, sometimes, when God is involved, the wait provides dramatic results.
            Years ago when I was just a kid, my family went to my grandparents’ farm in early summer. It just happened (or maybe it was no accident) that this was the very day that the sweet corn came in. We started early. My Dad showed me how to tell when the corn was just right for picking. He set up a large work table in the yard; my job was to go to the corn patch to pick and bring back the ears of corn. I would carry and shuck; he used his butcher knife to cut the corn off the cob to get it ready for freezing. We worked all morning long.
            At some point, I was aware that my Grandmother had gone inside to start lunch. Because she used a wood cook stove, I didn’t stay in the kitchen much in the summer. But, I was aware that she had put a large kettle of water on the woodstove to heat. Not much later, she called out to me that the next ears of corn would be for lunch; I should bring them to the kitchen. So, I found enough ears for corn for lunch, shucked them, and took them inside. The water was actually boiling on that stove as I went inside. It went right into the water. Of course, it was ready in no time at all.
            The corn was the star of that meal. That boiled corn had the purest, lightest, sweetest taste I have ever experienced. It was a subtle flavor – not strong at all. Anything artificial at that meal would have covered over that wonderful taste.
            Now, some of you know the moment when the corn is ready and the taste I’m remembering; you have enjoyed it, too. But, if the only corn you’ve ever eaten came from a grocery store, then you have no idea how corn on the cob at the peak of perfection tastes. If you know the taste I’m talking about, go ahead and nudge the person sitting next to you in the pew and give your neighbor a knowing smile. Just let them know that you know how corn at the perfect moment tastes.

Well, this is how looking forward to the Kingdom of God is. When you catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of God breaking out, you realize what a treasure it is and how privileged you are to know that experience. I have seen glimpses of the Kingdom of God:
+On a medical mission trip with a cantankerous, unpredictable doc where we made artificial legs from wood and bicycle parts, I watched as people stood without crutches for the first time in their lives. The angels in heaven could be heard singing their Hallelujahs.
+I watched a husband and wife whose lives had been torn apart by betrayal choose the courage and the forgiveness to reach out to join their hands in the possibility that they could still make a future together.
+Pastor Sarah and I at the bedside of a dying grandfather had the privilege of teaching his young granddaughter what it is to pray. She had no idea that she could speak with God.
I have seen glimpses of the coming of God, and it is good. Many of you have seen such glimpses, too. Such glimpses of a world so good that we call it the Kingdom of Godkeep us going.

III. Back to that prayer when we prayed, “Thy kingdom, thy will be on earth as it is in heaven…”
            Be cautious whenever any political party or candidate, democrat or republican, right wing or left, Tea Party or Occupy, claims to be the bearer of Christian values. They wrap themselves in the mantle of the true religion, but then they talk about issues politicians choose:
            +immigration was in the news this week;
            +our nation’s foreign policy toward Iran;
            +preventing abortion or is it the War on Women?
            +the economy, jobs, and unemployment.
You know the issues politicians sometimes use and sometimes address.But, the Kingdom of God will not be found when your side wins these debates.
            The Kingdom of God, in contrast, addresses God’s issues:
+forgiveness. We prayed for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. The political world cannot practice forgiveness; there are penalties that must be paid. Forgiveness in the hands of Jesusis an act that breaks the vicious cycles of alienation and permits a new beginning. It was made possible when Jesus absorbed all the hatred the world poured out, then threw open the tomb rising again by thepower of God.
+Community. The conviction of God is that the Christ-shaped community on earth should be a visibly welcoming home that excludes none. The political world around us cannot practice such hospitality because it is committed to grades of humanity: some people are more equal than others; certain people will always enjoy privileges that others can only dream about. In contrast, the only concern the Kingdom brings is whether every one of every nation knows Jesus Christ.
+Generosity. Generosity is the willing sharing of all that comes to us. Again, the world around us cannot be generous because the world believes that we have a right to our abundance AND others deserve their poverty.In contrast, Christian generosity comes out of our imitation of God who gives grace without limit -- without deserving. Imagine! Committing ourselves to God’s standard of generosity (2).
These are issues Jesus talked about, but they are rarely the issues of political discourse. Cable news barely speaks of these. Thus, they are a reminder that the Kingdom of God calls us to watch for and work for a world that the present day can only imagine.

            What did we pray? “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Radical stuff in that prayer. It is only possible in the living presence of Christ. The good news is that this kingdom comes because it is the generous gift of God. Therefore, we are free to live like people of the Kingdom already.

2. Bruggemann, Walter. Disruptive Grace, pp. 289-292.