The Reign of God: Something New Under the Sun!

Mark 4:26-34


For the first time, I planted a garden this spring. Oh, I grew up watching my dad tend a huge plot in our back yard. During late summer and fall we always enjoyed the fruits of his labor. Tomatoes and zucchini and peppers and potatoes were ours in abundance to eat and give away. And yet, until this spring I either didn’t have the space, or the sunlight, or the will to do so. What a wonder it has been already to walk into my back yard in the early morning and at dusk to watch as these seeds sprout and grow. Yes, I built the boxes and filled them with the right combination of peat moss and manure and vermiculite. Yes, I pressed the seeds into the earth. Yes, I have checked every day to see if they have enough water. And yes, I have been diligent in pulling up the silver maple seedlings which are everywhere this year. Still, it was with no small measure of awe that I took the picture here. For while I had put things in place, the actual growth of a squash seed is still a mystery isn’t it?  As much as we can perhaps understand and explain it, we can’t ever fully comprehend it, can we?

So it is that Jesus compares the Reign of God to such as this today. And I wonder now just what he is getting at…

  • I mean, is he trying to point out for us the utter mystery of it? Or is it that the Reign of God comes regardless of whether or not we know how it happens?
  • Is it that we are to simply pay attention to the results of the in-breaking of God into our world? Is it God’s gift of the harvest, whatever that includes, that is ours to receive and celebrate?
  • Is it that we, like the farmer in our parable now, are somehow partners with God in bringing in the Kingdom? I mean, the farmer did scatter the seed. And the farmer did reap the grain once the harvest came. No, the farmer did not make it grow, but the farmer was surely in on it. 
  • Or is it simply in the ordinariness of all these things and their coming together in unique and life-giving ways? Is it also possible that the Reign of God is right here in our midst — that we just need to be about “planting seeds in rich earth where the sun shines and where water is adequate?” Is it possible that in the same way with the Reign of God we have, by God’s generous hand, already been given all that we need for it to come in all its fullness?  Again, not by our doing, but somehow with our partnership?
Indeed, as I consider this now I think of the way I am called to partner in ‘bringing the Reign of God near’ week after week — in my preaching.  For you see, truly, for as long as I can remember, most of the time in much the same way that my garden growing seems mysterious and almost inexplicable to me, I have found this to be so when I craft a sermon. Oh, I ‘make the conditions right,’ yes. I ‘scatter seeds’ by finding time early in the week to read the assigned texts, I peruse the commentaries, I let it mull, for days sometimes.  And then, somehow, it seems to come together. In fact, I was struck a few days ago by the similarity of my own experience to Stephen King’s take on where story ideas come from in his On Writing where he asserts, 

Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up. (King, p. 37)

And so do you suppose that this may be exactly how it is with the Reign of God? For it is, indeed, about previously unrelated ideas coming together, yes? And isn’t it simply our job to recognize it when it shows up? And then somehow seek to be a part of it growing and flourishing?
I mean, think of it with me. Seed and soil, sunshine and rain are entirely different elements — but they come together to make something ‘new under the sun.’  And as for this business of the Reign of God? Don’t we somehow know its nearness best whenever unrelated things come together? Line when we experience kindness in unexpected places, healing where there was only brokenness, selflessness among human beings for whom selfishness is our instinct, courage where fear would be more reasonable, generosity when our first impulse is to keep the best for ourselves, life where there was only death?  And when they come together don’t we also experience something entirely ‘new under the sun?’  Do you suppose that was what Jesus was getting at when he told the stories before us now?

  • It seems there is an abundance of learning that is ours to receive from Jesus’ comparison of the coming of God’s Reign to a farmer who sleeps and rises, night and day and knows not how the seed sprouts and grows.  Indeed, even the fact that Jesus’ story telling here causes us to observe this in the world in new ways strikes me as ‘something new under the sun.’ What do you think?
  • What experiences of gardening — of watching seeds sprout and grow — do you bring to this week’s Gospel? How does what you already know about these matters inform your take on this Gospel?
  • I am told that Stephen King’s On Writing has been used in seminary preaching classes. Have you read it? If so, have you found it helpful as you have thought about preaching and proclaiming the Good News?

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