Mark 4:26-34 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
26 Again Jesus said:
God’s kingdom is like what happens when a farmer scatters seed in a field. 27 The farmer sleeps at night and is up and around during the day. Yet the seeds keep sprouting and growing, and he doesn’t understand how. 28 It is the ground that makes the seeds sprout and grow into plants that produce grain. 29 Then when harvest season comes and the grain is ripe, the farmer cuts it with a sickle.[a]
30 Finally, Jesus said:
What is God’s kingdom like? What story can I use to explain it? 31 It is like what happens when a mustard seed is planted in the ground. It is the smallest seed in all the world. 32 But once it is planted, it grows larger than any garden plant. It even puts out branches that are big enough for birds to nest in its shade.
33 Jesus used many other stories when he spoke to the people, and he taught them as much as they could understand. 34 He did not tell them anything without using stories. But when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them.
What do hobbits, King David, and seeds have in common? To slightly paraphrase J.R.R Tolkien, “even the smallest person, (thing, or action) can change the course of the future.” Hobbits, though the smallest of beings, saved their world. The Lord makes it a point to remind Samuel not to look at outward appearances, but the heart, and it is David, the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons who is anointed as king. But how many of you have ever seen a mustard seed? Seeds in and of themselves are not that big and mustard seeds are among the smallest of seeds. Mustard seeds are about 1 to 2 millimeters in size. Can something so small change the course of the future and make an enormous and lasting difference? Can something so small take root into something large enough to not only make an impact, but also provide shelter? In today’s scripture, Jesus takes something as unexplainable and unfathomable as the Kingdom of God, and explains the grand concept in a way his followers could relate to; and throughout his ministry, Jesus told stories, giving people images of things they could see and touch.
But why would Jesus use the image of something as small as a seed to explain the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is like seed which is sown and grows up for harvest. It’s organic and grows. It needs fed and comes to completion at set time. It has a life cycle. It grows in ways we don’t understand. It feeds others and brings life. Like a mustard seed, while it is small, it can grow into grand plant and provide a home for others. It’s mysterious and shatters expectations. It looks like it packs a small punch, but then it surprises. Mustard seeds, even though they are very small, can on average sprout ten to thirty feet tall and spread out about twenty feet. Small seeds scattered should not amount to much; but friends, we worship a God who is able to accomplish many wonderful things through even the smallest seed, person, action, or exchange of words.
For often times, even the smallest word or action from another can help us grow in our faith. As I watched Todd and so many volunteers do an amazing job decorating to prepare for Vacation Bible School’s kickoff this evening, I couldn’t help but remember growing up and attending VBS. In fact, my earliest memory of attending church involved coming to a Vacation Bible School.
When I was five years old, I was so excited because after years of being the little sister, I was finally going to be a big sister and have a little brother. But when it finally came time for my brother to be born, it was quite hard for my five year old mind to understand all of what was happening. You see, my brother was born with a serious heart condition called hypo-plastic left heart syndrome, which meant his left ventricle never developed correctly and was useless. During his first few years, he had three open heart surgeries to help his heart work properly. But when it came time for summer’s VBS, my parents were focused on staying home with my little brother who was still recovering from his first open heart surgery and had a harder time coordinating rides for my sister and I. When church members realized transportation to VBS would be extra difficult for my family, several woman came together to organized a pick up and drop off schedule to make sure my sister and I could still attend VBS. Mrs. Dot was one of the women who picked us up several days and I can remember her always saying she was praying for us. She always had a smile on her face when she came to pick us up and even checked on us during VBS activities to make sure we were doing okay. Miss Dove, another faithful VBS volunteer, who was 80 years old sat on the steps of the church and welcomed children as they arrived. She struck up a conversation with me and my sister and I remember she took an interest in who we were, what we liked to do, what games we liked to play—she told us that God not only loves us but God also loves and watches over our new baby brother. Seeds, however small, were scattered and thankfully took root.
Maybe you have someone in your life who has influenced your faith. Did they do so in grand actions? Or were seeds scattered throughout your life to help your faith grow? I vaguely remember the songs and Bible stories from VBS that year, but I will always remember how adults helped my Mom and Dad transport my sister and I to and from VBS and I will always remember the love they showed us during a time of crisis.
As followers of Christ, we are called and challenged to scatter seeds. What are some ways you are challenged when it comes to scattering seeds and helping to grow the Kingdom of God? Today’s passage reminds us that the seed grows by itself while the one who scattered the seeds does not even know growth is happening. Many of my friends who have children often say a child grows up in a blink of an eye. Perhaps you have witnessed this with your own children or children you know. Before we even realize it, the once newborns mature, outgrow their sneakers and baby clothes, begin school, get a driver’s license, and graduate and all the while parents look upon them and wonder, “how did this growing up thing even happen?” There is a hiddenness to growth, isn’t there? Growth is necessary and important but we don’t always know how it happens, just as the person in Jesus’ parable did not know how the seed sprouted. But hiddenness and secrecy of growth doesn’t absolve us from taking action. We need to scatter. In the text there is someone scattering seeds, even if someone does not understand how the seeds sprout and grow while they are asleep. We are challenged to share God’s love and grace with all we come into contact with. One commentator writes, “this means our job is to keep on persevering in the planting and tending the gospel seeds of mercy, kindness, and love. And we keep planting seeds even when we do not see results first hand.” Mrs. Dot and Miss Dove may never fully understand and results of the seeds they planted in my faith and the faith of other children at VBS. The challenge for us is to continue to operate based on faith- faith that scatters seeds even we cannot see the immediate outcome- at least initially. Living in the kingdom of God requires us to accept levels of ambiguity, accept that we are not always in control; and then step off the ledge of mystery in faith.
But how do we even begin to take action and scatter seeds for God’s kingdom? The truth is people can meet Christ in small moments- small things, small tasks, and just tiny seeds planted day by day. What small actions can we all do this week to help scatter seeds? Perhaps this means helping a group of children have a blast and learn more about God during Vacation Bible School this week. Perhaps it means bringing food to a friend and comforting them after they have surgery or a loss in their family. Perhaps this means volunteering at food pantry or Jubilee kitchen. Perhaps this means sharing Bible stories with children at bedtime. Perhaps this means smiling at a stranger in the grocery store line who looks like they are having a bad day. Perhaps this means showing kindness and mercy to someone you disagree with. Whatever this may look like for you, remember even the smallest of things and tinniest seeds are the work of Christ. It’s the little things that help God’s kingdom take root and it is the little things that make a difference- little things like a smile, a word of kindness, and the faith that God works with the smallest gifts we have.
Like it or not, we don’t control the growth of seeds we plant. It doesn’t work that way. We hardly are privy to ways the small seeds we plant affect the lives of others, but that is the beautiful thing about faith. These seeds may grow into wonderful things and even though we may not know and fully understand how, God is always working through the seeds we scatter. We can only be faithful, scattering what we have received, hoping to share and shelter what comes our way. We can only trust that one day our scattered seeds will take root and grow into something significant with God’s help. Friends, we can only keep faithfully scattering seeds. Amen.