Invasive Tenacious Useful Weed Seed

A sermon based on Mark 4:26-34
given at Mount Vernon, OH on June 14, 2015 *( 2012)
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Today’s reading has Jesus using farming and gardening metaphors and a bit of playfulness. So I have a playful farming and garden pun-filled love letter to read

Dear Rose in the garden, Do you carrot all for me? My heart beets for you, With your turnip nose. And your radish face. You are a peach. Will you peas belong to me? If we cantaloupe, Lettuce marry. Weed make a swell pear.

Love,
Your Pumpkin.

P.S. Don’t squash my hopes! 1

Today’s text has Jesus discussing the Kingdom of God – heaven– in parables. When we hear the phrase “kingdom of God” or the word “heaven” we usually think of a resting place for our souls and those who have left us.
It’s a good and comforting thing for us and those we love to think of heaven as an everlasting home with God. We often understand it as the sweet by-and-by, like the opening hymn suggests. Some think it’s a place with pearly gates, golden streets and angels’ sitting about on clouds singing soothing songs.

Usually heaven is also understood as having some exclusivity to it. Some think it is only for the good, or at least the “not bad.” Others make it even more restrictive imagining it as reserved only for those who believe as they do. Yet most of us think our dear ones and ourselves go there regardless of conditions others claim exist.

So, generally speaking, we almost always tend to imagine heaven as a special non-earthly location for people who are no longer of this world. Consequently it can be a bit jarring to hear Jesus’ accounts in our Lectionary reading about the Kingdom of God. He speaks of it in non-majestic crop seed metaphors. He talks of heavenly growth out of dirt.

Jesus’ notion of there being an earth grown and earth bound heaven doesn’t compute with limited general notions of heaven only existing after life– which is quite ironic since you’d think Jesus’ notions ought to carry more weight.

In today’s lesson, remarkably, Jesus doesn’t even discuss heaven being a place reserved for the dead. It’s something here and now for the living. For Jesus heaven’s earthbound. Moreover for Jesus heaven comes from small un-kingly like seeds and requires our action, as well as God’s involvement. Jesus teaches in the reading that

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

As Jesus tells it, human action takes a little seed and scatters it. We take seeds of heaven, seemingly little bits of love-of-God and put them out there, scatter love about, as it were. Then sure enough we sleep and rise and the little seeds of love we plant sprout and grow. We don’t really know how . . . But, does it matter? The point is to plant and plant and plant and let God take care of the rest . . . to sprout and nurture and grow heaven on earth.

Farming is a good metaphor because when it comes to crops seeds and love sprouting and growing, humans cannot make it happen. I mean, gardeners and farmers toss in the seed in tilled soil with water and fertilizer and then have to sit back and wait and hope for the wonderful miracle of a sprout of life. And as Jesus points out, we really don’t know how that life bursts forth. Heaven is like that.

Humans plant the seed and then they have to be patient. “Sleep and rise night and day” is a 1st Century Jewish image for reckoning time that Mark recalls Jesus using. 2

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

We take the seed of love and we put it out there, plant it, and let God work the sprouting and growing miracles. And we do that here on earth now – for and with and through the God whom we live and move and have our being in.

Jesus notes that

“The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. Then when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The harvest can be understood as all the fruit Love produces. What seeds of love grow and ripened into. And there’s a continuing sowing and the reaping caused by spreading Love. We’ve all heard of the circle of life, well, this is the circle of love.

The kingdom of God, according to Jesus’ first parable in the lesson, is like the cycle of planting where we sow and be patient and let God do God’s work; sprouting and nourishing and reaping the ever-growing, every spreading, planted love that we are to take in and take out and spread far and wide. Even if we cannot see the kingdom of God or comprehend if yet fully: IT. IS. HERE. The Feasting of the Word commentary put is like this

What strikes the reader is how religious believers and certain strands of Christian theology have stressed that the kingdom of God comes primarily in the judgment of the world’s wickedness . . . But here there is not hint of God’s anger, nor any suggestion of the kingdom of God coming with an apocalyptic ending in which everyone will get what is coming to them. Rather the mystery of the kingdom is that it is here and not here. 3.

That’s the first parable about planting seeds. Jesus then gives us this other parable to chew on, the parable of a particular seed, the mustard seed. The mustard seed parable begins with questions

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?”

Jesus gives this answer to those questions:

“It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet 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.”

Back in Jesus’ day a mustard seed was used as a symbol for the smallest of things. 4 Not only that, but mustard seeds were not supposed to be sown. You didn’t put them in your garden on purpose. They were an unclean thing, that did not belong in the garden or your tilled rows in the field. 5. Mustard was wild, weed-like, and so mustard was not only pervasive and available, but free. And it had many uses for everyday folks back then, from food spice to medicinal purposes. Mustard was, in short, not only everywhere and free but very, very useful to humanity. 6.

And I love that in Jesus’ telling it is a place where – when grown– other creatures can find comfort. Heaven on earth, you see, is good for all creation. But you know what? Far from being the huge majestic tree we might imagine representing heaven and God’s kingdom, it turns out it’s like a mustard bush. It’s not like some heavenly tree we’d conjure up in landscaping besides the pearly gates. Jesus tells us it is sown, it grows up and it becomes like the greatest of all . . . shrubs. Jesus is being playful.

We imagine heaven as mighty and far from us. But in Jesus’ teachings the kingdom of God is not what we imagine. It is what it is. A seed considered a weed that grows and helps with all sorts of need. Heaven comes to us as . . . a seed of a weed that grows and helps with all sorts of need. It’s here for us and for creation right before our very eyes.

The kingdom of God can be compared to a tiny unclean seed, something common and seemingly unremarkable, something we might not even want on our property. In such seed there lies dormant, the very kingdom of God . . . heaven!

Jesus and his followers were considered outcasts, small seemingly unremarkable things, to his culture. Planted they grow pesky unconditional love, a weed to powers that be. Existing on the very fringes the Jesus Followers were expendables, people Rome could care less about, until the got in the way of the growth of the empire’s power. Challenging oppression and violence and injustice. Then they were weeds. Jesus and his followers were weed seeds. But as we heard the kingdom of heaven’s potential is IN such small seemingly unremarkable to, and unwanted by, the culture; weed seeds.

The mustard bush doesn’t grow from earthly powers’ seeds, it doesn’t get intentionally sown by kings or only grow in emperors’ gardens. It gets sown by the every bodies of the world. In Jesus’ parable today, Heaven is not about golden palaces and golden temples, or special seeds sown by royal farmers or royal gardeners. It’s about God’s weed seeds – that is Jesus’ followers . . . us.

This is a story that Jesus tells to pump up his followers. It means that following his Way, being God’s weed seed – planting God’s weed seeds– is full of promise. It forms the nucleus of heaven. It’s the very center of the law of God’s realm. That news boosts morale. The Interpretation: Mark commentary puts it like this: “ the function of this story is encouragement, the issue is hope, and the mode of teaching is metaphor . . .” 8

In our reading the first parable claims heaven is like a seed, “the Word”– “Love” – being scattered by us and nurtured by God. Our job is to spread it around and grown heaven on earth here and now. See heaven on earth is not worrying about golden streets and harps when we die, but, it’s about growing love on earth. It’s about us being full of compassion and caring in life . . . in creation. It’s about wanting to stop oppression and make sure the hungry get fed and the sick tended to. It’s about visiting the imprisoned and welcoming the stranger. The seeds of that love will sprout and grow. We just gotta sow ‘em and let God – love– do it’s stuff.

In the second parable heaven is like a specific type of seed. It’s not like a mighty redwood or a strong oak. It’s like a weed seed. It’s small and unappreciated by earthly power, but, it is invasive. It is tenacious. It is useful to every day humans and to creation. And it grows much bigger and more valuable than its tiny beginning and cultural value suggests. “Small beginnings can yield great outcomes.” 7. Jesus’ followers may only be like free weed seeds but they are the ones God needs. . . . Jesus’ followers may only be like free weed seeds but they are the ones God needs. At the end of the day, Jesus’ followers are to be invasive tenacious useful plants started from a tiny free little weed seed called Love.

Out of what may seem like the most insignificant beginnings, little bits of love spread by the nobodies to the powerful, God works. Heaven appears. To God – this is so important– to God, we are not insignificant. We matter much. This church and each of you, carry the seeds of love, of God . . . of heaven . . .and planting them and spreading them makes all the difference! ALL. THE. DIFFERENCE. Love sprouts and grows and ripens in and through us and it spreads throughout our relationships, our homes, our communities, our countries . . . and out into the world. That’s an awesome thing. It’s a thing full of so much promise . . . and hope . . . and good news!

Since about now, with all this talk of mustard, I know that some of us are getting hungry and may relish a finish to this sermon. So let me help us all catch up by saying:

Simply put, heaven is like mustard, in that it freely spices up life with love, it heals, it nourishes, it protects creation. On earth. Now.

Hot dog! That IS good news. So go spread love around everywhere and watch it grow like a glorious plant from God! It’s good for us. It’s good for creation. It’s the seeds of heaven itself growing on earth. AMEN

ENDNOTES
1. I found a lot of these puns posted by someone called “Hmm” at http://ca.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20091105204025AAeqrBc. And I added my own to round the letter out.
2. Wray, Judith, Feasting on the Word, 143.
3. Saliers, Don, Feasting on the Word, 142.
4 See, Hultgren, Arland, The Parables of Jesus, 391.
5. Patterson, Stephen, The God of Jesus, 137.
6. Ibid., 137-138.
7. Williamson, Lamar, Interpretation: Mark, 99.
8. Wray, Judith, 145.

COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2015 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED