ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH June 14, 2015
Sowing the Seeds
It is truly remarkable how our environment changes from season to season. We have hot sunny summers, where we can enjoy being outside in the beauty of nature, cooling off in lakes and pools, and relaxing in our gardens. Then comes the fall, where the days shorten and get cooler, the trees and shrubs lose their leaves, while the smaller plants go brown and wither, and grasses go dormant. Then we all know what comes with winter, and its cold winds and temperatures, as well as the snow and ice. It can be a desolate and dreary time with short days and long dark nights. However, the bright spot is that with the end of winter comes spring, with its warmer weather and the rejuvenation of the earth, with all the plants growing and blooming.
It always amazes me how quickly things change in the spring. Over the past three or four weeks, it has been remarkable to see all the growth. It was if all of a sudden, the trees blossomed into full leaves, and the flowers bloomed. For those of you who have to cut your lawn, I don’t have to tell you how much the grass has begun to grow! And for those who like to garden, I’m sure you’ve been busy. On my drives to work, I can see the crops starting to appear as the corn and soybeans come to leaf in the fields. It won’t be long now before we are reaping the harvests of a variety of fresh vegetables, berries, and fruits, although, I have already enjoyed some fresh rhubarb and asparagus. Spring really is a wonderful season for its beauty and colours, and after a long cold winter, it’s nice to spend time outdoors.
I am one of those people that love to be outside, whether playing, relaxing, or even working. Throughout my childhood and teen years, I spent countless hours helping mom in the vegetable gardens and flowerbeds, planting, weeding, watering, and relocating plants and flowers to make her gardens just right. In fact, I still find myself helping mom with her gardens and potted plants when I go to visit. Through all these hours of gardening, I have gained knowledge about plants, soils, spacing, varieties, and other important tidbits about growing flowers and vegetables. For those of you who are avid gardeners and have a green thumb, you know exactly what I’m talking about. In fact, I’m sure you have a greater understanding then I ever will on this subject. However, as much as humans understand plants; their lifecycles, reproduction, genetic makeups, etc. we still don’t know everything about plants. Surprisingly even in this age of science and technology where large seed and crop companies can manipulate and modify plants to make them more drought or pest resistant, or change their germination and yield, there are still aspects to the life and growth of plants that remain a mystery. We know what essentials the plants need to grow and survive, but that doesn’t mean it will always grow. We can plant the seed, we can care for the seed by watering it, fertilizing it, and weeding it, but in the end, whether the plant grows or not is out of our hands. Nevertheless, we continue to sow seeds for many different reasons.
This morning in the Gospel of Mark, we find two parables that use the familiar imagery of planting. In the Bible, there are many scripture passages, parables, and references to sowing seeds. I counted more than 75 different times the word sow, sower, or sowing appears in the Old and New Testaments. It is not surprising that sowing seeds is found so often throughout the Scriptures. Agriculture was intimately related to the religion, lifestyle, and society of the people of the Bible. Many of the inhabitants around Israel and Palestine were farmers. Their livelihoods were based on, and relied on the land. For what they could not control, such as the weather, the inhabitants of the Middle East turned to God or gods for blessings and the hope for abundant crops. Much of the Torah stems from, and is directly related to agricultural life. In Deuteronomy, we find three major festivals that the Israelites were required to observe. All three of these festivals were agriculturally based, and revolved around the products of the earth. These products or bounties were seen as gifts from God, and therefore, God was worshipped and praised for the blessings and abundance of the earth.
Since agriculture and the land were such important facets of society and life, it is therefore only natural that agricultural illustrations and figures of speech were used throughout the Bible to teach and to share about faith and the Kingdom of God. We can see this in the many allusions to vineyards and gardens or descriptions of olive and fig trees. The seed, the vine, the tree, and the fruit were all useful metaphors, which Jesus and the writers of the Bible used to express the truth about God and his ways. We live in an agricultural part of the province, and Canada itself has a large percentage of its economy, based in the agriculture sector, therefore it is not a stretch for us to relate to these parables. Fortunately, the other great thing about the use of agricultural illustrations, is that even those who have lived in large urban centres all their lives can still have an understanding of the text.
In chapter four, Mark describes three different parables that use agricultural images. At the beginning of the chapter, Mark retells what is probably one of Jesus’ most famous parables about the sower. Many of us know this parable where the sower sows seeds on the path, on the rocky soil, amongst thorns, and on good soil. Mark then goes on to retell the two parables in which we read this morning. These parables are hoped-filled illustrations that define our role in furthering the Kingdom of God, as well as describing the Kingdom of God.
In the first parable, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God grows as if someone scatters seed on the ground and then watches as the seeds sprout and grow. This passage emphasizes our role in the Kingdom of God. We are like the farmer sowing seeds. God has blessed us with many gifts, and as believers, we are called to use these gifts and share them with all those around us. We are called to sow the seeds of the Gospel to everyone. As Jesus tells us in the parable of the sower earlier in the chapter, the seeds may fall on deaf ears, or they may not take root, but that is not to be our concern. We are encouraged not to dwell on the outcomes of individuals, because this is out of our control. Interestingly, this story indicates that as the sowers we don’t even need to worry about watering, weeding, or even fertilizing. We are called to sow or plant the seeds and leave the rest to God. Paul has a similar take on this in his letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 3:6-9a, Paul tells the Church of Corinth that “I (Paul) planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together…” Just as farmers and gardeners plant and hope for good weather and growth, we too are to plant the seed in others and ultimately leave the outcome and growth up to God. For it is a mystery that we cannot understand, but we are to have faith that the seeds of faith will sprout in those around us, and that they will mature into believers of God, and advance the Kingdom of God.
But what does the Kingdom of God look like? This too is a mystery. The Scriptures have many descriptions, visions, and illustrations to define or attempt to explain God’s Kingdom, but in the end, we really do not know. However, from the descriptions we can read about, including the second parable given by Jesus, we understand that the Kingdom of God is inviting, it is beautiful, and feels like home. We understand that God’s Kingdom is a place where we can come and find safety and security. It is a place where we can find shelter from the harshness of the world. It is a place where we can rest. Jesus describes the Kingdom of God growing from a very small mustard seed to the greatest of all shrubs, with large branches. In this Kingdom, we are close to Jesus. In the shade of God’s love and grace, we find safety and comfort in this place Jesus has made for us. Perhaps most importantly, we understand that the Kingdom of God is already here. We don’t have to wait until we die. We don’t have to wait until Christ’s second coming. God’s Kingdom has been created in this world! The seed has already begun to grow into the shrub. Therefore, we are called to sow the seeds of faith to all those around us, so that others may experience what it is to be a part of God’s loving kingdom.
God wants to have a relationship with all people and to have everyone experience what it is to be a part of his kingdom. This is a huge task, and obviously one, which is difficult for us to fathom. However, the parables we read this morning offer encouragement. As Christians, we are members of God’s Kingdom, which is an amazing gift of grace. In response, we have a calling to share this gift of faith with others so that they too may enter the Kingdom. Ultimately, we do not know who will accept God’s gift and come to have faith in Jesus. The outcome is out of our control. Even so, as followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to sow or plant the seeds of the Gospel to those around us. It doesn’t matter whether we have a green thumb or not. We have all been blessed with different gifts, in which we are called to use to share the Good News. Some of us may find it easy to talk to others about our faith, while others may be more comfortable showing our faith through actions. Either way, we are called to sow the seeds of faith. Just as farmers go out every spring and plant their fields in hopes of a bumper crop, we too should go out and spread seeds in hope for an abundant yield. However, unlike farmers we don’t have to wait for spring. We can plant the seeds of faith year round.
I encourage you to reflect and pray about your abilities God has given to you. What circumstances or position are you in where you can share God’s love with others? How is God calling you? Faith grows from the smallest of seeds, so let us go out into the world and sow the seeds of the Gospel. Then let us watch those seeds grow and mature in faith, as God’s Kingdom grows into the greatest of all shrubs! Amen.