Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 4:26–4:34
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2021
In today’s Gospel lesson, we have two parables that Jesus told: the parable of the Seed Growing (Mark 4:26-29) and the parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-34). Over the course of his public ministry, Jesus told many parables that are recorded in the Gospels: the parable of the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13:3-8, 18-23; Mark 4:1-9); the parable of the Tenants in the Vineyard (Matthew 21:33-44; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19); the parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24); the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13); the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-27); the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37); the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Sons (Luke 15:1-32). But what exactly is a parable? A parable is part of wisdom literature, along with proverbs, riddles, poetry and other sayings or writings about how to live according to the Lord’s plan and purpose. Simply put, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Another very good definition of a parable comes from the late theologian, C.H. Dodd (1884-1973), who said: “A parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer in its vividness or strangeness and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise meaning to tease it into active thought” (The Parables of the Kingdom, by C.H. Dodd - revised edition. New York: Scribner’s, 1961; p. 5). Today, the two parables of Jesus speak of growth in God’s kingdom that comes about through the smallest of seeds. That’s what we focus on in today’s message under the theme “Seed Sowing.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Although the area we live in – the DMV - is not agriculture-based, you don’t have to travel very far outside our area to find fields and farms and crops. Even in our densely populated communities here, many of us enjoy planting seeds in our garden and flower beds. With the rain and warm weather that we’ve been having, those seeds are now young plants on the way to producing ripe fruits from the garden and flowers that are beautiful to behold. The words of Jesus’ parable are so very true: “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mark 4:28). Although we can work to ensure that the seeds we have sown have good soil, fertilizer, and adequate water, the growth ultimately comes about not because of what we do. That is a humbling reminder that this, too, is something which we cannot control. “The earth produces by itself.” And so it is with the kingdom of God. Seeds of faith are planted in the hope that these will produce a harvest of righteousness over the course of a lifetime. “Faith that can move mountains and ministries that change lives – these things also grow out of small and ordinary people, places, and times” (Sundays and Seasons: Year B, 2021 – Guide to Worship Planning. Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2020; p. 210). Growth in the garden as well as in God’s kingdom takes time; it’s not an overnight process. Patience is required to help tender seedlings grow to full maturity. Time-lapse photography helps us see and understand the growth process in a matter of seconds. But in real time, that process can be painfully slow. It takes tremendous patience, trust, and hope as the growing process take place.
Gospel seeds are sown in our lives through water and the Word. The cleansing water of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit in Baptism brings us into God’s kingdom and implants saving faith in us. In holy Baptism, we are clothed with Christ’s own righteousness (Romans 6:1ff.) and adopted into the family of believers. The seeds of faith first sown in Baptism are nourished through the power of God’s Word that we read, mark, learn and inwardly digest in our life in Christ. The Word of the Lord calls out to us through the preaching and teaching of the forgiveness of sins are we receive in Jesus. These seeds of faith are nourished and strengthened as we walk together in faith; reminding one another as our Scripture memory verse tells us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). By the power of the Holy Spirit, over the course of a lifetime these seeds of faith grow into seedlings, and then young plants, and then into maturity. As today’s psalm told us, the one who delights in the law of the Lord “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). Such a person sends down deep roots into the redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus. Seeds of faith planted in Baptism and nourished by God’s Word are made stronger by the blessing of the Lord’s Supper. Through this holy gift in which the Lord Jesus himself gives us his true Body and Blood under the bread and wine, we abide in Jesus; we stay connected to him and fruits of the Holy Spirit are produced in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Such fruits glorify the Lord and are a great blessing to those around us.
As Americans, we are familiar with the bright yellow mustard that we use on hamburgers and hot dogs. But there are other different types of mustard seeds, including brown and black varieties that are very familiar to other cultures and widely used in their cooking. All mustard seeds are pretty small, as Jesus said in his parable: “… a grain of mustard, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32). We’re not used to seeing mustard shrubs or trees, but again, in other parts of the world, including the Middle East where Jesus first told this parable, it was – and is – a common sight. From something very small can come something very large – that is Jesus’ point. The kingdom of God that centers in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ comes to us in something quite simple and small: water that is poured over our head, the Word that is spoken, the bread and wine that are received. And yet from these seemingly small gifts comes faith that can move mountains (Matthew 17:20). That is, through faith that rests in God’s almighty power, not our own, all things are possible (Luke 1:37). Through that mustard seed of faith, God is more than able to do what seems impossible to us.
In the summer season with growing plants all around us, let us continue to sow seeds of faith in daily life through our words and our actions, always pointing others to Jesus who loves us and laid down his life for us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may these seeds lead to a rich harvest for the kingdom of God. Amen.