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June 16, 2024

The Automatic Seed

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary Category: Biblical Scripture: Mark 4:26–34

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

June 16, 2024

Mark 4:26-34

 “The Automatic Seed”

Our Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) here at St. John’s has been doing something new this year. The children have been busy with a bit of outdoor gardening to help these little ones learn about seeds and soil and how plants grow. Little hands have been getting into the dirt, planting different seeds, and watching things pop up. It’s wonderful hands-on learning! Now that it’s mid-June, the time for planting seeds is pretty much past as we head into summer heat and humidity. The time for planting seeds is generally earlier in the spring after the soil has warmed up and before it gets too hot. But, you can plant seeds again later in the summer for fall vegetables and plants. Today’s Gospel lesson is all about planting seeds with the parables that Jesus tells. Out of the four Gospel writers, Mark alone records that first little parable about the seed growing. It’s unique to his Gospel. In both the parable of the seed growing (Mark 4:26-29) and the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32) that Jesus tells, there is something almost automatic about what the seed does. That seed that’s been planted is going to do something. It’s going to burst its little seed pod, develop a root system, send up shoots that poke through the soil, eventually growing into a mature plant. That’s just how it works. The title of today’s sermon may sound a little odd: “The Automatic Seed.” What’s up with that? This comes from verse 28 in today’s Gospel: “The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear” (Mark 4:28). The original word here for “by itself” is αὐτομάτη, where we get our word “automatic.” This miracle of the earth simply happens – it’s automatic. It is doing what God created it to do. And like seeds planted in the earth that automatically grow and produce, so does the seed of God’s Word. It, too, is planted and it will grow and produce a harvest of righteousness for the kingdom of God. And so the message for today, based on Jesus’ parables in the Gospel lesson, is entitled “The Automatic Seed.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus is all about parables as he speaks to people about the kingdom of God. He used the stuff of everyday life like planting seeds to communicate the truth of life in God’s kingdom. There are about forty different parables that Jesus told that are recorded in the Gospels. But what exactly is a parable? The simplest definition is this: “A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Both parables in today’s Gospel lesson speak of something very small – a seed. Some seeds are smaller than others, but none of them are very large. Within Judaism, the mustard seed was thought of as the smallest of seeds, which is exactly what Jesus says (Mark 4:31). At first glance, seeds can look pretty insignificant, but as the old saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover. Good things come in small packages. Within these seemingly small and insignificant seeds is the promise of something great: the full plant that bears fruit.

This, Jesus tells us, is what God’s kingdom is like! Through his parables, Jesus warns us against scorning or looking down on the seed of his Word that is being sown today. By earthly standards, the seed of God’s Word may look insignificant and unimportant. The cross may be seen as foolishness by the world (1 Corinthians 1:18). The Means of Grace – Word and Sacrament – may seem unimpressive, but they are the very thing through which God’s kingdom comes to us! Centered in the Person and work of Jesus Christ, God’s kingdom is at work among us. Right here, right now, God’s kingdom in Jesus is working in hearts and minds to redeem and restore all things (Colossians 1:20). Like seeds sown in the earth, the growth is happening spontaneously – automatically – apart from anything we can do. And this is so because God’s Word does not return to him barren or void, as the prophet Isaiah tells us: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,  and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

This is why, day by day, week by week, year by year, we continue to sow the seed of God’s Word, not only here in worship, but out there in the world around us. As our friend, Greg Finke, puts it: “All of this in here is for all of those out there.” The harvest will come, but we are not there yet. For now, in this time of grace until Jesus comes again on that great and final day, it is still planting time. Until that day, seeds must be sown far and wide of all that God in Christ has done for us. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the seed we are sowing, and it will not be in vain. Through our preaching and teaching, through our conversations and fellowship, through our serving and discipling, we point people – all people – to Jesus because that alone is where our identity, security and meaning in life are found. It is as we sing in the Alleluia Verse just before the Gospel reading in our liturgy. These words, first spoken by Peter to Jesus, we now sing back to Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

Even while we are planting Gospel seeds here outside our nation’s capital, in another nation’s capital Gospel seeds are also being planted. In Seoul, South Korea, the Wasmund family – Matt, Dee Dee, Lily and Olivia – are doing this very thing. Serving as a missionary family whom our congregation is privileged to help sponsor, they are bringing the good news of Jesus to people there. They are here with us this morning and will bring greetings to the congregation a bit later in the service. We heard from them during the Education Hour about what the Lord is doing through them in the mission field there, and we pray for the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing upon them and the seed sowing for God’s kingdom in which they’re engaged. Whether it’s the metro Washington, D.C. area or Seoul, South Korea, or any other place, it’s not about us, but about what the Lord is doing through the automatic seed of his Word. It is as St. Paul tells us: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

In this season of life and growth in the world around us, may the seed of faith in Christ Jesus, who loved us and gave his life for us, grow into full maturity so that we become what we spoke of in today’s psalm. By the grace of God, that automatic seed in us leads us to become “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). May God make it so for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


other sermons in this series

Jul 14


A Tale of Two Kingdoms

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: Mark 6:14–29 Series: Lectionary

Jun 23


Do I Know You?

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: Mark 4:35–41 Series: Lectionary

Jun 9


Family Intervention

Preacher: Rev. Jack Meehan Scripture: Mark 3:20–35 Series: Lectionary