Seeds: A Sermon on Mark 4:26-32

by | Jun 11, 2024 | 3 Meek, Sermons

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

He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 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” (Mark 4:26-32).

Let me share some assumptions I have about you, some things we have in common. I beg your forgiveness up front if I get this wrong. But I assume you are basically a good person who wants to make a positive difference in someone’s life before you leave this world. Maybe that’s just the way your parents raised you, or maybe some other angels guided you. Either way, good, helpful, just people: You want to be in that number.

Perhaps also Jesus touches you by his example of self-sacrifice, his kindness to outcasts, his compassionate healing, and his teachings that challenge you to let God make you better than you can make yourself. For his sacrifice for you, bestowing a right relationship with God and eternal hope, you may gratefully want to give back by speaking well of him and doing good deeds in his name. So you want the world to reflect the reign of God that he proclaimed, a world of peace in which kindness and mercy prevail and all share the bountiful gifts of God at one table. You want to contribute in some way to God’s project of getting us there.

Yet, if you are as much like me as I suspect, your influence does not extend beyond a rather limited sphere. Even within that small circle, folks do not always appreciate your gifts. Sometimes you get tired. While you know that love does not expect anything in return, you wonder sometimes if there is anything in it for you. Perhaps you wonder if you make any more difference in your family and community than you would if you did not try at all.

Meanwhile, the media keeps flashing big personalities in your face. Multi-billionaires with their swaggering brands. Politicians and world leaders who spin fictions to promote themselves as saviors and their opponents as demons. Celebrity actors and athletes who catch you up in their dramas as they live lives totally unlike yours. When you feel bored or dissatisfied with your life, maybe you live vicariously through some of these big personalities. Otherwise, big personalities may depress you by making your life look small in comparison.  

Small, like a seed among thousands of seeds a sower slings to the dirt when the time comes. A mustard seed, perhaps, a speck that barely exists. You have to really look for these seeds to find them. You have to really care about their promise to look hard enough. It is difficult to imagine anyone caring that much.

Yet, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is like the scattering of seeds and even the seeds themselves. While the kingdom is eternal, his presence with you makes his reign present too. The risen Christ dwells with you and invites you to give a little more care than our worldly job descriptions require. Trying to raise children with a kind of love that at least dimly reflects the love you receive from God. Offering what you can in church and community from what little time remains in your week and your lifetime. The kingdom of God is in all that, and all that is of the kingdom of God.

The sower flings the seed in spring and by fall it grows, he knows not how. Maybe he fertilized and tilled the soil, but ultimately, he flings and trusts that nature will take its course while he goes about the eating and sleeping and mourning and laughing of life. It seems forgotten until one morning a stalk emerges and drinks in the morning sun.

Whatever your past, whatever your secrets, you remain a word spoken by God. As such, you bear witness to God’s great truth through your little truth, God’s great love through your sometimes faltering and half-hearted love. As a word of God, you are that seed, so small and apparently forgotten. Nevertheless, you bring to bear the kingdom, the reign of God. The insignificance you may feel today signifies the germination stage of your life. And you know not how, but God, in silence and darkness, prepares your life to bear fruit.

You can also see yourself as the sower and the seeds as your humble works of love. Your deeds seem insignificant compared to singing to adoring fans at a Ticketmaster-busting pop concert, flying your personal rocket into outer space, or issuing shock political claims to keep the camera on you. In your much smaller sphere of influence, maybe somebody loves you enough to notice and praise your efforts. But if not, this parable is for you all the more. Jesus promises that your seed will grow and bear fruit. Someday the fruits of your love will break the scales. 

What kind of fruit? Consider the mustard seed. It goes without saying that mustard enhances certain foods that we enjoy together at ball games and picnics. But Jesus takes it further: That imperceptible speck of a seed grows into a sprawling shady home for flocks of birds. The mustard seed goes from almost nothing to a plant of hospitality. It spices meals we share, helps make a home. 

God will transform your gifts, even if unnoticed or unappreciated, into a communion, a home, a party. In God’s scheme of things, you will be the life of the party. “Those who humble themselves will be exalted,” Jesus said, “and those who exalt themselves, humbled” (Mt 23:12; Lk 14:11). 

The making of history dirties God’s fingernails. Unlike other mythical gods of antiquity, God does not stand aloof to maintain purity from the messes we make. God cares about the twisting and sometimes perilous courses of our lives. Indeed, God clears the path, leads us, equips us to discern our direction, to plant and harvest, to love and serve and make beauty with God. 

With due respect to the history teachers and scholars among us, I sometimes wonder if our history books with their records of wars and economic crises and spectacular rulers and big personalities record the history that God keeps. Moments when a friend listens to a grieving divorcee or when a poor man startles bystanders with a word of gratitude for the sunshine or when an old debt is forgiven: Such moments, I suspect, make history from God’s point of view. The historical books in the Old Testament, by and large, do not flatter the kings. Moreover, the prophets on up to our Savior in the New Testament hold a special regard for the poor and marginalized and for those who would give even a glass of water to them. 

That, I suspect, is where history is being made, we know not how. But you and your deeds are seeds. Keep loving. Keep praying and collaborating with Christ. You are making history.

This sermon was delivered at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rome, Georgia on Sunday, June 16, 2024. To view and listen on YouTube, click here. If you wish to listen to the sermon only, move forward to 29:20.

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Image: Jean Francois-Millet ((18-14-1875), “The Sower,” Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

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