The Gospel according to Mark, the 4th chapter:
Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples. The Gospel of the Lord.
Jesus tells stories. So today… I want to tell you a story about a little boy with a hole in his pocket. This is not a story about my children. This is a story about any little or not so little boy or girl. This little boy loved cookies – what little and not so little boy or girl doesn’t? And he also loved rocks and twigs and all sorts of interesting things that you can see when you are only a couple feet off the ground. So one day… he snuck an extra cookie and stuck it in his pocket before heading out to play in his big back yard. While he was there as he discovered interesting things…pretty rocks and twigs and the like… they went into his pocket too… and the cookie started to get squished and crumbly and… by the end of the day… you know what happened. The cookie crumbs had fallen through the hole in his pocket – much to the delight of his puppy and the local ant population.
Jesus tells stories often in the form of “parables” – which are unlike other kinds of stories. I was reminded in my studies this week that the word “parable” comes from two Greek words - “Para” which means “beside” and “ballein” which means to throw. In Jesus’ parables, he takes two things that don’t necessarily go together – and throws them together to show the surprising way God works in our world.
For example, Jesus tells about a mustard bush with its small seeds growing miraculously to provide shelter for the birds of the field. It’s a nice image for us who have grown up with singing about the mustard seed. But it’s a surprising choice in Jesus’ day. In Jesus’ day, most rabbis would have referenced the great cedar trees described in the Hebrew scripture. They were huge - like the Sequoia Redwood trees in Washington state. But instead, Jesus chooses a pesty bush…which… with the exception of mustard farmers, most farmers think of as a weed. Mustard bushes grow where they will – kind of like a buckthorn – or like a big version of creeping charley. And yet… Jesus uses that weed to describe the kingdom of God and the way that God works in our world. God uses ordinary people like you and me.
The other parable seems more straightforward. Our translation of the Gospel reads: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed” … the Greek word is again the word “ballain” which means “throw”. So the kingdom of God is as if someone threw seed on the ground – cast it to the ground with abandon - and then… went to bed and didn’t worry about it.
Jesus did not write this parable as a “how to” for farmers or gardeners. This is the story of how God uses people, ordinary people, like you and me, to bring in the Kingdom of God. God does the work of making the seed sprout and grow. The sower’s job was simply to scatter – to throw the seeds – and then to harvest the grain. (THROW LIFESAVERS)
Which is what made me think about what happens when have a hole in your pocket. The little boy in my story did not intend to feed all of the ants and his puppy in his backyard. He wanted to eat that cookie! But… that hole in his pocket left a trail of cookie goodness wherever he went.
At text study this past week, one of the pastors told a story of how he had presided over a wedding this past week for Tom, the best friend of his son. It wasn’t unusual – it was a typical friend of the family wedding. The boys had grown up together – and he had often given Tom rides to school and sports event -- especially since this young man’s father had died when he was young. They were just helping out their son’s friend. But after the wedding ceremony, Tom came up to him with tears in his eyes, and said “thank you. Thank you for being a father to me.” The pastor said, “I had no idea that I had made that impact on him.”
He was sowing seeds of love – through the hole in his pocket. His presence made a difference.
After he told the story, before anyone could comment or congratulate him on the good work that he had done, the pastor looked at us and said, “Each of you have done this too.”
He’s right. His words made me start to remember stories of people who I touched – and who touched me. For example – I noticed a young girl with purple hair in the balcony one Sunday. After worship she came up to me – and then I knew her right away. She said, “Remember me?” and then quickly shared her story, gave me a hug and was on her way. We don’t always know what happens after we sow seeds. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we have sown seeds -- the seeds just fall through the holes in our pockets. But we do know this: God is the one who gives the growth.
God is the one who gives the growth. And who is the one that plants? It’s not only pastors and those of us in “church roles,” that sow seeds. Remember Jesus’ parable: it was the pesty mustard bush that was providing shelter and the sower who threw seeds with abandon that planted the seeds.
So now I am looking at you and saying: You have been sowing seeds too. Sometimes you throw them intentionally and at other times, it is your presence, your words of encouragement, your acts of kindness and care that brings hope and plants seeds of faith. After all… you have a hole in your pocket that the love of God falls through.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been going to some graduation parties – and hosted one last week. It was heartwarming to see people from different parts of our lives gathered together on a rainy summer day – relatives, friends, scouts, neighbors, teachers and our church family. It was wonderful to reflect on how those people – and many others who could not make it – have been planting seeds of faith, hope, encouragement and joy in me and in our family.
But while God commissions us to plant seeds – Jesus’ story reminds us that it is God who gives the growth. How God does it is a mystery. The Holy Spirit blows like the wind. We don’t need to know how – all we need to do is to give thanks.
Brothers and sisters in Christ,
May you plant seeds of faith through your acts of love, joy and encouragement and may the holes in your pocket leave love and joy behind – trusting that God will give the growth in ways that we cannot even imagine. In Jesus’ name. Amen
Pastor Pam Stalheim Lane Faith-Lilac Way Lutheran Church
June 17, 2018