Yesterday our Gospel reading in church was Mark 4:26-34.
The reading begins with Jesus saying,
The kingdom of God is as if…
In my sermon I suggested we might understand “the kingdom of God” as any place where God is at work and that in this passage Jesus is describing what God’s work looks like in the world.
There are three characteristics of God’s work I see in Jesus’ description. God’s work is messy, mysterious and moving.
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground.
The Greek word translated “scatter” is ballo; it means “to throw”. But ballo is not throwing the way a major league baseball player throws a ball. Ballo is throwing carelessly without concern for where what you have thrown is going to land. “Scatter” is an inspired translation.
Jesus does not picture a careful gardener creating straight tidy furrows in the ground and meticulously planting each seed at the perfectly prescribed depth for optimal growing potential. The farmer Jesus uses to describe God’s work throws the seed everywhere “on the ground”. In the immediately preceding parable in Mark 4:1-9 some of the seed the farmer scatters falls on the path, some on rocky ground, some among thorns, and some on good soil. This is not well planned gardening.
The divine seed of God’s work is scattered liberally on the earth. There may be places where that seed does not germinate and bear fruit, but it is sown everywhere. Our job is to cooperate in the growing process and affirm the seed of God’s work wherever it is present.
Jesus also says of God’s work that, having scattered the seed, the farmer
would sleep and rise night and day, and the see would sprout and grow, he does not know how.
The work of God is deeply mysterious. We do not know how God’s work unfolds. There are no prescribed strategies that can guarantee a particular outcome in the work of God’s kingdom. We are not in control of the process. The one thing about which we can be certain is that we are not in control.
If we constantly dig up the seed to make sure it is working properly, we will prevent it from doing its work in the hidden dark fecundity of the soil. We need to trust God’s work, even when we cannot clearly see or understand what may be going on. We can only submit to the mystery.
Finally, God’s work is in constant movement. Jesus says,
The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.
God’s work is always in process. We are all at different stages of receiving and producing the fruit of the divine seed of God’s presence in our lives. We do not sit in judgement on one plant because it has not flowered as quickly as another. We watch with patience, watering, fertilizing, and weeding the whole garden, trusting the power in the seed and the energy in the soil to produce the fullness of life at the proper time.
Our task is to be like good soil, open and receptive to the seed of God’s presence, allowing that which we cannot understand or control to have its way in our lives.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is reported to have used a different symbol to speak of God’s work saying,
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)
Wind is messy; when it blows, it blows everywhere. It is a mystery where the wind has come from and where it may be going. Wind is always in motion.
Jesus’ kingdom is a messy mysterious movement. Our task is to allow the wind to blow and to be carried by the Spirit into the fullness of God’s work in the world.