Have any of you done any weeding lately? I was doing some this week. I am not a master gardener – I’m not even sure I would refer to myself as a gardener. I’m just someone who plants things –like the someone who scatters seeds in the gospel. When I created my garden a friend of mine said – here have some mint. And now every time I weed the garden – I think to myself – why oh why did I plant this mint? Because it grows everywhere – like ivy. I couldn’t make enough watermelon mint salads or use it in enough ice tea – its impossible to keep up with.
And so again and again I weed it back into a nice neat patch – and faster than anything else in that garden - it grows and grows – and like the someone in the parable, I do not know how.
Tell all the truth but tell it slant – wrote Emily Dickenson in a poem. That’s a helpful way to think about parables. Parables invite us to see a whole truth – to see the whole kingdom of God – that’s what parables are always intended to describe – God’s kingdom. Jesus uses parables to encourage us to see anew – to see how God sees. How God sees creation – sees people and community – how God sees you and me.
If only we could see ourselves as we truly are – Thomas Merton wrote – for we are all walking around shining like the sun.
But seeing with those eyes all the time does not come to most of us naturally. Our vision gets cloudy. Merton spent far more time than most of us in contemplative prayer and solitude cultivating that mind/heart awareness. Parables are more of a jolt to our normal way of thinking – a flash, a glimpse of reality – which I think is meant to spark our curiosity. Get us to wonder – where do I see the kingdom growing around me?
Do you know what a mustard tree shrub looks like? It doesn’t look like a tree. It isn’t like a mighty oak or the cedars of Lebanon, or a majestic maple. It’s a shrub. Now is one of those times when I envy those churches that have presentation screens in their sanctuaries…don’t worry….but if we had one – we’d all look at the picture together. And you’d see – a mustard seed does not produce a beautiful tree. It produces a short – perhaps wide – bush of tangled branches. It is not attractive – I don’t think you’d plant one in a garden - but if you did, that tangled mass of life would provide plenty of nooks and crannies and perches for the birds of the air to make nests in its shade.
So what is Jesus helping us glimpse? Well, in this first parable – this unknown person, someone – scatters seeds and goes to sleep. And God gives the growth. This is something Paul writes about in 1st Corinthians (which would’ve paired well with this gospel, just saying) – the people in his church are focusing on the attributes of their leaders – and factions are forming. Paul says – it isn’t me, it isn’t the other guy – it is God. Neither the one who plants, he writes, nor the one who waters is anything – only God gives the growth.
So I think that is something Jesus wants us to remember about the kingdom of God – that is within us and all around us.
How often do we stress and worry about a project or a person or a program – thinking the outcome is all up to us? If we drop the ball – the good we’re seeking won’t happen. But according to this parable – the ways of God will grow – and we won’t always know how, we won’t always understand how. We might not even be around to see the end result? In this parable – creatures find shelter – the man has grain to harvest – all because of God’s goodness, not because of their own efforts. This is the peace of God that surpasses understanding – God’s kingdom will always grow – and we will not always know how.
Something else to note in this gospel. This is the end of a chapter of parables – beginning with the more familiar parable of the sower who sows the seed on the different types of soil – the parable about not hiding your lamp under a bushel, but letting your light shine – and after all these teachings – these glimpses as to how God is at work – the chapter closes with a phrase that deserves attention –
With many such parables, Jesus spoke the word to them – as they were able to hear it.
Tell the all the truth but tell it slant. You and I are more like the growing stalk in that first parable, then we are like the someone who scattered the seed. We grow as we are able. There are times in our life when our vision is crystal clear - when we are more receptive, more open. There are times when we are in the flow – and seeing the big picture comes easy. But seasons change – and there are times when we cannot see the forest for the trees – but no matter what we see – God is still and always working.
In what ways has God spoken to you – as you were able to hear it? Don’t we often hear the word of God in our lives in hindsight? We reflect on an experience – and then we think – Ahhhh…now it makes sense. A parent is taught when a young child – a preschooler – asks a question – answer the question they’ve asked. No need to fill in all the extraneous, intellectual details. I remember once passing a dead bird when Dorothea was four or five – what’s that, she asked. I froze, here we go, I thought – and I said – a dead bird. And that was it. We don’t always need to know everything. God speaks to us as we are able to hear it.
We walk by faith – and not by sight. But we are given glimpses – we can ask to see and hear – parables that give us a peace that surpasses human understanding. I’ll close with a prayer of Oscar Romero that encourages us to remember that God is always at work in our lives – is always growing the good news even if we do not always know how – It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen.