Preached at Christ the King Chapel, CFB Suffield, Ralston, AB, 17 June 2012
Readings for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Lectionary Year B: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13,Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17, Mark 4:26-34
It’s often said that Jesus used parables to connect with his listeners using everyday language and images that they could understand. That’s true to a point, but if you remember my sermon on the parable of the Sower and the Seed earlier in Mark 4, I suggested that it would have made no sense to the audience of Jesus’ day. A guy wanders around and throws handfuls of precious seeds everywhere, some on good ground, some on bad, and he doesn’t seem to care where it falls, except to be pleasantly surprised as to what grows. I suspect that Jesus’ audience, who lived on the razor’s edge of subsistence farming, would have listened and gone, “huh?”, and I suggested that the parable was more about the generosity of God’s love and grace, which is scattered everywhere for those who want it.
I think we have something similar here. Following close after the parable of the sower and the seed, Jesus tells the two parables that we hear in today’s gospel. First, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to “someone [who] would scatter seed on the groud” (Mk 4:26). Again there is the suggestion of a profligate randomness here, starting with the word “scatter”, which doesn’t suggest much thought. We don’t hear anything about cultivation, fertilizing, weeding, watering, all the hard work of gardening. All we hear about is the guy sleeping and getting up, day after day. Does he go to his garden to work? Does he go to the pub in the village? We don’t know, we aren’t told, and that suggests it doesn’t matter. The earth produces, the seed grows, the harvest comes and this is how the kingdom of God works.
So the kingdom of God, if we understand that to be God’s purpose for the people he wants to be in relationship with (as opposed to a place in heaven, the afterlife) has an unplanned, even profligate quality to it, but is productive nevertheless. That’s the good news that we need to hear this morning, because often when we hear about harvests in the bible, they are associated with judgement and judgement can be, well, scary. Remember how Mark’s parable of the Sower and the Seed contains that element of judgement, in that some of the seeds/people of the kingdom fail to produce because they are the ones who fall away from God, while the productive seeds/people are the ones who stay true to God and his word and who are gathered up? There is a seriousness about the biblical metaphor of the harvest. When God the harvester comes, we want to be the good wheat or the good fruit that is gathered up; we don’t want to be that ugly, binding weed that gets pulled out and cast aside.
The consequences of our choices in life, and God’s right to judge us for them, is part of scripture and should never be forgotten or downplayed. In our second lesson today, we hear St. Paul write in 2 Corinthians that “all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor 5:10). Paul doesn’t hide this reality, but he isn’t fazed by it, because throughout Paul is an unshakeable faith, and this is also part of the good news that we need to hear today, that God’s work in us through Christ will make us fit to stand before that judgement seat. As he says at the end of our second reading, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everthing has become new” (2 Cor 5:17). A commentator I read on this passage this week noted that in Paul’s Greek, there is not a clear connection between the two clauses, nor is there much explanation. It is as if Paul simply says “in Christ …. BOOM! … new creation!”
Paul never refers to the seed parables of Jesus, and it is debateable whether he even knew them, butI think he would say that his “BOOM! New creation!” idea matches nicely with Mark when he says that the sower has no idea how the seed works. The sower just throws it on the ground and “BOOM! Grain comes up! New creation!” It’s God’s work in us that that makes us fit to be gathered up. Being part of the kingdom of God is partly about being found fit on the day of judgement, but it’s also about being raised up by God in the creative force that brings Christ up from the dead on Easter Sunday and which carries through to us in each day of our lives in him.
So this gorgeous Sunday, as we leave church and see the earth in leaf and flower, and perhaps go back to our assiduously planted and cultivated gardens, let us give thanks for all that life and for all that God has done in us. Yes, there is an art to living the Christian life, just as there is to gardening, and we need to cultivate that art. But the beginning of that art starts first in astonished gratitude, that God, the crazy generous sower, has given us life.