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You don’t know what might grow!

The dominion of God is as if…a sower plants seeds and many days and nights pass and the seed sprouts and grows and the sower DOES NOT KNOW HOW.  Doesn’t know!  Isn’t that just the worst?!  When you don’t know what’s going to happen?  Or when you have done all you can do and you can’t just make something happen?  Isn’t it just the worst when all there is to do is…wait? 

 

Jesus is telling parables because dry theological lectures just aren’t going to stick with people.  That’s boring.  No one wants a long explanation.  We want a story.  It’s natural.  No kid says at bedtime, “Read me the next page of the dictionary!” or “I want to hear that part from the troubleshooting section of the owner’s manual for the microwave!”  Can you imagine? 

 

We want a story.  And because humans are pretty self-absorbed, we’d prefer to hear a story about ourselves.  And that’s what Jesus is doing: explaining what the dominion of God is like, with the hope that perhaps we’ll recognize it when we see it—because it’s really possible.  We might see it. 

 

But it won’t be obvious.  The dominion of God is not going to ride into town on a mighty horse nor glide up to the curb in a limousine.  The dominion of God won’t have fireworks or a booming announcement. 

 

The way Jesus describes it, the dominion of God is going on right under your feet, in the really ordinary and simple stuff that happens every day, the stuff you don’t really give a lot of thought to.  You plant a seed and it grows—so what? 

 

If you’re not a farmer, you probably take food crops for granted.  Most of us haven’t experienced severe hunger or lived through a true famine.  If we can’t find our favorite food at the grocery story because of supply chain issues or whatever, then we’ll just eat something else. 

 

But for a subsistence farmer living in antiquity, those growing seeds might be the difference between life and death.  The stakes are high, but aside from planting the seeds and maybe weeding here and there, what else can the sower do but wait? 

 

Theologian Ched Myers calls this Jesus’s sermon on revolutionary patience, because sometimes there’s nothing else to do but wait.  Anyone who has lived through difficult times can testify to the patience needed to persist.  The end is not always clear, and sometimes it’s slow in coming.  We don’t know how things are going to turn out.  Every time I see another poll about the presidential race, which is still more than four months away, it raises my anxiety because what’s going to happen?  We don’t know! 

 

Last Friday I attended a hymn festival honoring the 50th anniversary of Seminex, the seminary-in-exile created after seminary professors and students and their families all walked out of Concordia Seminary here in St. Louis.  They felt exiled from their church, after the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod insisted upon rigid doctrine and limiting the study of scripture.  These exiles sought freedom in their studies, exploring what God was creating through studying scripture through the lens of literary criticism and the historical-critical method and theologies of liberation.  They walked away from jobs, studies, and any kind of secure future. 

 

Fifty years later, we can assess that things worked out okay.  It’s easy to forget that nothing was assured in those early days.  At the hymn festival, between songs, there were readings from scripture and also excerpts from the writings of some of the leaders of Seminex.  The Reverend Doctor Edward Schroeder wrote this of the experience of exile:

“The opportunity to leave exile persists.  The big temptation is not to go back…however.  It is instead to go toward a future that is itself non-exilic, to find some homeland on a current map—geographical, denominational, institutional.  We are, as John Groh likes to say, charting a course through a minefield.  But the mines most likely to destroy us are…the mines of mesmerizing self-chosen futures; of financial and organizational links that will ‘guarantee’ our existence; of phobias about our exposed flanks—in the courts, before our critics, and in the ecumenical world. 

 

“What does God want…?  …as we move through the minefield we do not yet see which side of that field God has marked as our destination.  And if in leading us [God] should suddenly reverse…direction, we need to hear…that [God] was not above doing that to [the] ancient chosen people as well.  That is discombobulating, but it is not disorder.  It is a different order, the new order of creation.”[1] 

 

To receive the new order of creation will mean letting go of fears and—I just loved Schroeder’s phrase—“mesmerizing self-chosen futures.”  All the great things you hope for your life, all the stability that you imagine would give you confidence, all the pathways to whatever you think is greatness…all of that can easily blow up, spectacularly, without faith in God to lead you where God wants you to go.  We walk by faith, not by what our senses perceive.  We can’t see nor hear nor perceive the future.  We can’t watch the plants growing under the ground, beneath the soil, but the dominion of God is at work even there, doing things we can’t even imagine. 

 

These agricultural parables of Jesus fall into the same tradition of growth parables like what we read from Ezekiel, about a cedar planted on a mountain that comes from a tiny shoot, but God will make it grow.  Ched Myers identifies the allegory in Ezekiel as describing the strength of Egypt, as Ezekiel mentions birds of the air made their nests in the branches of the strong tree, which will eventually be cut down. 

 

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus uses some of that same imagery, and Ched Myers writes:

“Mark surely had the Roman empire in mind.  Israel was merely one of the nations ‘dwelling under its shadow,’ one small client-state being fed by the streams sent forth from Caesar.  What, then, of the minuscule remnant-seed within Israel, the little band of commoners whom Jesus had boldly set up…?  The idea of this smallest of sprigs surviving in the forest, much less overthrowing the mighty Rome, was absurd.  Yet the concluding mustard-seed image proposes exactly such a mismatch!”[2]

 

This second parable of Jesus, about the mustard seed, is what Myers calls a sermon of revolutionary vision and hope.  Did anyone ever brag about their awesome mustard crop?  It’s a tiny seed and no one cares, but while no one is paying attention, that seed is becoming a huge shrub that gives plenty of homes to all the birds. 

 

Myers identifies in these parables Jesus’s discipleship challenge, writing:

“The ‘way of the sower’ will…be revealed as the way of nonviolence: servanthood becomes leadership, suffering becomes triumph, death becomes life.  The lesson of the ‘unknowing farmer’ is that the means of the kingdom must never be compromised by attempting to manipulate the ends.”

 

It’s hard to hear advice like “just wait” and “be patient” and “God is at work” when all you want is a conclusion or at least some evidence that something good is going on and you probably also want some rest and possibly just a tiny victory once in a while.  Empires aren’t built in a day, and neither do they fall in a day. 

 

But the dominion of God persists, like stubborn weeds and gentle growth.  Jesus’s parables beg us to look closer; the evidence is everywhere, right under our feet.  Where will you notice the growth?  When will you slow down enough to recognize that God is at work? 

 

May God grant us the patience and the vision to follow where God leads, restoring in us the new creation. 


Amen. 

Pastor Cheryl

 

 


[1] Rev. Dr. Edward Schroeder, “Seminex Exile.  Love It.  Don’t Leave It.” Found in the bulletin of the hymn festival hosted by Atonement Lutheran Church in Florissant, Friday, June 14, 2024.

[2] Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus, Orbis Books, 1988, page 180.



 


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