Pentecost 3B June 13, 2021 Mark 4:26-34
Those of you that saw my yard before I moved know what an expansive perennial garden it had. This spring things came up in a hurry and I don’t remember it looking so good. And what made it look even better was that there weren’t any weeds. There is nothing better than a pristine garden. And when Pam was still alive, she made sure it stayed that way. We both could get a bit obsessive-compulsive and when one of us got that way the other just fed off of it. Between the two of us, and a lot of hard work, the garden and yard stayed weed-free all summer long. Needless to say, when I decided to move and started packing, the garden got ignored. I would sit on my deck and look out over the yard and the growing weeds taunted me. But the fact of the matter was that before too long the house and the garden would no longer be mine. I had to let it go as much as wanted to get it to look like it always looked in the past.
Jesus gives us a couple of glimpses into the kingdom of God to help us see just how counter-cultural it is to the point of being ridiculous. First he says, it is like a gardener who scatters the seeds and then goes to sleep! That’s not what gardener’s do! Gardeners don’t snooze away the growing season. They water, they fertilize, they prune, they weed, and they worry when things aren’t growing the way they think they should. But not in the kingdom of God. There is no micro-managing. Instead, the gardener enjoys the rest that comes from trusting the ancient, mysterious, cycle of nature. The gardener trusts the seeds … trusts the soil …. trusts the sun and the rain to do their work. Yes, the gardener gets to work when the time is ripe. But until then the gardener never operates like he is in charge. The gardener knows that this is all in the realm of mystery.
So, in this story Jesus is trying to help us understand that life in the divine kingdom is not about our striving, our piety, our impressive prayers, our obsessive-compulsive good works to grow and thrive in God’s garden. It’s not about keeping out the weeds. It is about grace … about letting go and trusting the mystery at work, we know not how.
The second parable Jesus tells is about a mustard seed. And what is so ridiculous here is not that the seed is so small, but that people didn’t plant mustard seeds in Jesus’ day. Mustard was a weed, and a noxious, stubborn weed at that. If a first century gardener was foolish enough to plant it, it would quickly take over the land and keep whatever else was growing there from flourishing. Imagine a gardener today planting dandelions or a farmer planting wild oats. These are nuisances we try to get rid of, not plants we’d ever cultivate on purpose.
So, what is Jesus saying when he describes the divine kingdom as a tiny, insignificant mustard seed? What does it mean to take an invasive weed that we would sooner try to get rid of than plant and make it a symbol of God’s kingdom? Who and what counts in God’s realm? What is beautiful and what is ugly? Who matters? Where is the sacred and where is the profane?
I don’t think it is an accident that Jesus came among us as a tiny and forgettable mustard seed. Born in poverty on the fringe of a mighty empire to simple, uneducated folk. And when he grew up, the first to follow him were a bunch of raggedy fishermen and corrupt tax collectors. They were clueless, clumsy, timid, filled with doubt and lack of faith. Is it really the case that God’s kingdom rests on the likes of these? And what happens is that once such a seed is planted, it becomes like a weed. It is invasive. It disrupts the world’s order so much so that the world tries to get rid of it. But, of course, it can’t. The gospel is so intrusive, so insidious that it keeps sprouting up all over the place. Giving shelter to the birds of the air that are here today and gone tomorrow. Giving a home of good news for us in good times and bad.
There you have it. The gardener plants and sleeps, trusting the mystery of love and grace. The almost insignificant mustard seed of the gospel flourishes like a weed and disturbs and frustrates the ways of this world. Such is the divine kingdom of God.