Pastor Sherry’s message for June 13, 2021
Scriptures: Mark 4: 26–32
In 2010, 8 of us from Servants of Christ Anglican Church, in Gainesville, Florida, went on a mission trip to Turkey. There we worked with a missionary who ministered to Iranian refugees. Through the missionary/interpreter, I was able to interview a 24 year old man who had recently been baptized. His name was Navid. I wanted to know how he had come to faith in Christ. Now bear in mind that the missionary and his wife had studied Turkish for 1 year, then Farsi—the language of Iranians—for 3. He would present my question to Navid in Farsi, then share Navid’s answerwith me in American. It was a time-consuming but very elucidating conversation.
Navid shared that his father had been an Islamic cleric who was desperate for him to become a pious Muslim. His father went so far as to offer to set him up in his own business—a shoe manufacturing concern—if he would just agree to worship Allah. But, like many young people from Iran at that time, he associated the poverty and rigid governmental controls with his father’s religion, and wanted no part of it. We learned that young Iranians were opting to dive into the drug culture, obtaining high quality drugs from over the border in Afghanistan, or were finding their way to Jesus and other faiths. Navid admitted a peer had approached him to consider Jesus, but he was not interested in any form of religion. That very night, as he slept, he had a dream in which Jesus appeared to him. Jesus told him three times, “I want you to reconsider.” I asked, “How did you know it was Jesus?” He answered, “You just know.”
Somehow Navid obtained a copy of the New Testament and began attending the only authorized Christian Church in Tehran. He read the Gospel of Matthew to the end and wanted to be baptized. The church pastor told him he could not baptize him or they would both be killed. Soon thereafter, the authorities did find him exiting the church and beat him severely. He waited 3 days until he was feeling good enough to move and fled the country with his wife, Camilla. She was so precious. I asked the missionary to ask her what made her come to Christ. She too had not been very interested in Christianity until she saw how knowing Jesus Christ had changed her husband.
I tell you this story to illustrate that the Kingdom of God—which is God’s rule over not just us on earth but over the universe—moves forward one person at a time. Sometimes it moves quickly, as with the 3,000 on the day of Pentecost. But I find it usually is a slow work, requiring patience, time to develop relationships, and lots of prayer. Let’s see what our Gospel lesson has to say about the gradual but compelling way in which God’s Kingdom advances.
Mark 4:26-32 contains two parables involving seeds:
The first, peculiar only to the Gospel of Mark, involves scattering seed on the ground. No matter what the farmer does, waking or sleeping, the seed “does its thing.” The man may apply some fertilizer or water, but God superintends the growth! The seed takes root, then sends up a shoot which erupts through the earth. This little seedling becomes a stalk, which continues to grow, and then it “bears fruit” or ripens. The farmer or the planter harvests what God has caused to grow.
Notice the role of the person. He or she broadcasts the seed, but he/she cannot really control the growth. In God’s Kingdom, that part is left up to God. As St. Paul later writes in 1 Corinthians 3:6, I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. This is the same point made again. We do our part, but real growth only comes from the Lord.
As a pastor, I consider myself a “water-er,” an irrigation system if you will. Probably someone before me has introduced you to Jesus. They spread or planted the seed. I have then come along to explain God’s Word to you. I can also demonstrate my faith by the way I live my life and by my personal testimony as to how loving God has changed my life for the good. This is the kind of irrigation or watering of the Word that I do. But neither the one who sowed Christ into your life, nor me as the “water-er,” can really control your growth as a believer. I can’t make you love Jesus. I can’t force you to read the Bible or to pray daily. I can’t compel you to tell others who don’t know Jesus yet about how essential He is to your life. In God’s Kingdom, that part is left up to God the Holy Spirit, and to you, cooperating with Him. Recall that a young man tried to tell Navid about Jesus. He rejected that invitation. He accepted Christ when Jesus Himself appeared to him. Nevertheless, I believe the unnamed peer sowed a seed that Jesus caused to take root in Navid. In ways perhaps imperceptible to Navid, in ways inscrutable and supernatural, God then began to work in his life. Today he has been granted Canadian citizenship, lives up North, and I understand he is now a pastor and a church planter there. Jesus has really grown his faith, hasn’t He?!
Consider who sowed into your life: As we approach Father’s Day, was it your Dad or another Father-figure (a Spiritual Father) who introduced you to Jesus? Perhaps it was a Spiritual Mother. My grandmothers told me about Jesus. My paternal grandmother was a Presbyterian who saw to it that I was baptized at 3YO. She took me to Sunday School and read me the Bible. My maternal grandmother was a Pentecostal Holiness who taught me many of the old hymns we sing today. She also helped me learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was the example of a peace-filled or joy-filled Christian friend who convinced you. You may want to thank whoever it was.
The second parable is the famous one of the mustard seed. My paternal grandmother gave me a necklace containing a tiny, yellow mustard seed, when I was a child. I understood it meant that my faith might start small, but like the tiny seed, it could grow into a large tree if I nurtured my relationship with Jesus. Later I wondered if she meant to remind me that God likes to use little things, even little people, to do great works. Both of these interpretations of the mustard seed are correct, but they also seem just a little too tame!
Consider that Jesus taught in parables in order to challenge people’s thinking. He seemed to delight in overturning their usual assumptions, to frustrate and then transform them–and us:
1.) It was a hated Samaritan who nursed the Jewish man back to health. No Jewish listener in the crowd would have expected the rescuer to be an enemy.
2.) The shepherd leaves the 99 to go rescue the one lost sheep. Who leaves 99 to go after one? Surely He left other caretakers in charge or had the 99 penned up in a corral, but Scripture is silent on this.
3.) The Father forgives the rascally prodigal son and reinstates him, while the righteous, well-behaved elder son sulks. Both sons are disappointments, but the Father loves and forgives each one.
4.) The last laborer gets the same pay as those who toiled longest. To our American sensibilities, this seems most unfair!
Pick your favorite parable. Jesus turns human logic on its head. So we want to look for what might be radical about a mustard seed, or for the ways in which Jesus might just be challenging our common conceptions.
What if we have generally interpreted this parable from the perspective of mustard seeds that are cultivated, or “tame mustard” seeds? These are planted in neat rows in order to harvest mustard for medicinal purposes, or to be made into spices and condiments. This interpretation doesn’t really seem authentic as it involves too much human control. What if we thought, instead, of “wild mustard” seeds? These varieties are the Biblical equivalent of Kudzo! They are a weed that you would hate to take root in your yard or garden. If you have ever struggled with getting rid of bamboo, or ivy, potato vines, or dandelions, you know what I mean. Wild mustard just takes over! (My farmer son-in-law tells me there is wild mustard growing here in Suwannee County!)
Normally, cultivated or tame mustard grows in shrubs that reach about 3-4 feet high. Wild mustard can, however, become tree-sized, if allowed to run amok. Could our Lord be telling us, tongue in cheek, I’m not saying God’s Kingdom grows like a tame and cultivated variety of plant, carefully shaped by humankind into something resembling an English garden (or clipped and snipped to look like Mickey Mouse or Goofy at Disneyworld). Oh no! I’m talking about God’s Kingdom reaching out and overtaking people. Maybe not with allot of noise or commotion. Maybe not even in a way you and I can see and evaluate as it’shappening. The Kingdom of God—or God’s reign in the human heart—is notsomething you or I can limit or manage. Like the seed described in the first parable, it moves at the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Our God looks within and works from within. As with the seed, from the first parable, our growth in Christ starts inside and works up and out. My prayer for you this week is that our love of Jesus may spread, like the Kudzo-like mustard seed, out of Wellborn United Methodist Church into Wellborn, Live Oak, over east to Jacksonville or west to Tallahassee. May our love of Christ transform us and take over our communities. AMEN! May it be so!
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams