Thursday, June 1, 2017

Parable: The Growing Seed

I think that I am still in Parable of the Talents withdrawal.  It’s like going from driving a Cadillac to driving a Volkswagen Bug, ok a Beatle.  Both have their value, but there was just so much in the Parable of the Talents and this parable is:  Bam!  Here it is.

Jesus had many parables and they likely didn’t register the same with everyone.  The Bible is like that.  Some verses just attach themselves to us.  I don’t know that I have lived a day in the past decade where Proverbs 3:5-6 didn’t pop into my head.

I like the Parable of the Talents because it’s one where we should be motivated to do something.  Now, we look at a parable that’s about things happening whether we do anything or not between point A and point B.

A man scatters seed on the ground.  Did he till it first?  Did he burn off the old vegetation?  Did he turn some goats loose on it?  What did they do before Roundup was invented?  Did he truly just scatter or did he use a first century drill?  It couldn’t be that.  The seed drill wasn’t invented until 1700, by none other than Jethro Tull

We don’t know how much preparation was involved if any at all.  He scattered some seed.  That’s what we know. 
And then because he followed a precise ritual of watching the seed, going through many sleepless nights of worry, and consulting daily with the agricultural extension, the seeds sprouted.  No, that’s not it at all.

What the man did next had no bearing on what transpired between the seed and the ground.  It sprouts, it grows, the stalk shoots ups and forms a head, and the head fills out with grain.

What’s next?  The man comes and harvests the crop.  He harvests the crop.

The parable doesn’t say if it was a good crop, average crop, or the bumper crop of the millennia.  It grew and the harvest came.

This parable is unique to Mark’s gospel.  It complements the other agrarian parables nicely.  The Parable of the Sower or of the soils if you will and the Parable of the Weeds make analogies with things that people knew well.  So too, does the Parable of the Growing Seed.

You have a seed and some dirt and though not mentioned, a little water and sunshine come in handy; and the next thing that you know is that you have life—plant life—but life nonetheless.  This mysterious process eventually produces a harvest.

I want to go back to Proverbs 3:5-6.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.

I don’t plant a big garden these days.  It used to be that I supplied the north end of town with squash whether they wanted it or not.  These days I have scaled back a little but the same thing happens with whatever I plant.  I’m not talking about putting in tomato plants.  I am talking about seeds.

What happens is that I can’t sleep very well the night that I plant seeds in my garden.  It’s not that I am too tired to sleep.  It’s that my mind races in anticipation of what will happen.  I know that nothing is going to sprout by the next morning, but the mystery of the seed sprouting and growing and producing something that will be harvested has begun. 

Things that I can’t really comprehend have begun in my presence.  I can go out of town or camp out right next to where I planted the seeds and the outcome is the same.

I have watched videos of plants growing overnight and I can see and know what happened, and have some understanding of how it happens.  I know the why of such things—it perpetuates life.  I get that.

What is so amazing is that it happens.  God in his infinite wisdom and his precision design of things so small and intricate that we need extreme magnification to start to visual processes designed before the creation of the world.  It just happens.

Sometimes it happens incredibly fast.  I am talking about okra, of course.  I don’t plant much okra anymore.  When I did, I would check for a harvest and find a bunch of little thumb-sized offerings.  The next day I would go to check and I would have two rows full of 18-inch-long pods.  How did they go from way too small to harvest to too large and fibrous to do anything with?

Maybe I was supposed to talk to my plants?  But who wants to talk to okra?

Let’s understand this parable in terms of our lives instead of okra.  So many things happen over which we have no control.  I am not talking so much the rotation of the earth or gravity or when Diet Coke goes on sale.

We have accepted the wonderful gift of grace and live as God’s children and live in his favor and know that there is so much more life ahead of us; yet there is so much that we just can’t figure out.

There is stuff that we just don’t know and sometimes continues to be a mystery to us; yet, somehow, things seem to work out.  We go from scattering seed to harvesting a crop with little comprehension of what happened between point A and point B.

Realize that we are talking about life now and not crops.

We have a neighbor who just won’t come worship with us.  We have invited a hundred times and feel sad that our invitation has fallen on deaf ears.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he has professed his faith or she is on fire for the Lord.  We are not really sure what transpired.  What happened?

We don’t always get the answer, even if you talk to the person.  Sometimes he only knows that now he sees the truth.  All she can tell you is that Jesus is Lord and that’s enough for her.

What happened?

When the Pharisees were questioning the man born blind from birth that Jesus healed.  We find the account in the 9th chapter of John’s gospel.  The Pharisees are frustrated because it appears that Jesus might be legit and they don’t like that very much.  They try to discredit the man who can now see.  This man doesn’t try to make any fancy theological arguments.

All he can say is this man who healed me must be from God.  All I know was that I was blind and now I see!
Paul wrote that we walk by, live by faith and not sight.  The world says that seeing is believing.  Our biblical witness tells us that believing is seeing.

Our analytical minds want all of the details that go in between.  In proverbial terms, we will call this our own understanding.  But we are a people of trust, of faith, and who can take a little mystery in stride.

Let me fill in a little of what’s happening just to satisfy a little of our own understanding.  I am talking about what is happening in our lives, not with okra.  I still can’t explain okra.  God’s own Spirit is at work in the world today.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well in moving all over the place on this planet and within hearts that some have classified as too hard to penetrate.

This same Spirit that we know well and lives within us, moves like the wind across the street and across the globe and does not feel obligated to send us progress reports.

We have seedtime and harvest in agriculture and don’t always comprehend everything that comes in between. I understand that being a graduate of the finest agricultural university on the planet, we know a whole bunch; but still there is mystery. 

We all get that sunshine and rain and hail that lands somewhere else are good things and there is a good mix of those good things that seems to be just right; but what goes on between the seed and the soil happens whether we sleep all night or binge watch the new season of Orange is the New Black.

We need to understand that God’s Spirit is at work without respect to what we do or do not do.  That does not mean that we can hang up our cleats and say, “The Spirit’s got this.”

We have been given our part—a very important part.  We are commissioned, full of gifts and talents, and expected to produce a return for our Master with our time, talents, and treasure.  We are expected to take the gospel to the ends of the earth and deliver it as passionately as is possible.  It is good news after all.

But what happens in between belongs mostly to the Spirit.  That doesn’t mean that when we have invited someone to come worship with us three times, given them a blue GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER wristband, and every member of their family has been given at least two Gospels of John that we write them off.

Do we say, “OK Spirit, we have done our part; you’ve got it from here?”

No, we continue to share and invite and witness to the lost in the world, but we accept that what happens in between mostly falls into the realm of God’s Spirit.

God has gifted us.  Our Master has commanded us to love and commissioned us to share the gospel, but it is the Spirit who is at work in the world.  We are to live by faith and be able to live with a little mystery as the Spirit goes where the Spirit goes.

Sometimes that is difficult, especially with folks who like to think they are in control.  Control is largely an illusion, at least our control is that way.  I have a very small circle of things that I control.  Other things I might have some influence on, but there is just a whole bunch of stuff that is way beyond what I can control.

Remember that this parable once again makes comparison to the Kingdom of Heaven, in this case the term Kingdom of God is used.  This is a kingdom that grows in the world and which grows inside of us.

Trusting in the Lord, I am just fine with the fact that I am not in control of much of anything.  I can decide to obey my Master, love my neighbor, and share the gospel; but what happens on the other end of these things is out of my control most of the time.

Today, we celebrate Pentecost.  Today we celebrate that the Holy Spirit is living inside of us and walking along side of us, and at work in so many places in the world. 

And I am OK with the fact that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to check in with me every time someone professes Jesus as Lord and enters into life.  You would think that a tweet here and there wouldn’t be too much to ask, but I can accept that I am not on that distribution list.

I am going to be content to do what I have been gifted to do and commissioned to do and ordained to do, and do these things to the very best of my ability to please my Master and bring Glory to God.

I will do these things with joy in my heart and without the burden of response.  I pray that people receive the wonderful gift that we know in Christ Jesus, but my heart is not encumbered by a response that belongs to them and the Holy Spirit.

I am going to be content that I don’t always get situation reports as to what is happening between seedtime and harvest.  God’s Spirit is at work and that’s good enough for me.

I am going to move beyond just being content to being thankful that God didn’t reveal everything to me at this time because sometimes it seems that I am running my race as fast as I can and I don’t know that I could handle knowing the everything of everything right now.

I am thankful that I get a good dose of mystery with my God.  I am not frustrated about it.  I am thankful that my God is so much bigger than I can comprehend.

Paul would later write that we do have the mind of Christ.  I can handle that.  It is still challenging, but I can handle following my Master and trusting that God’s own Spirit is always at work in me and around me.

I am blessed not to know everything about everything but to live in God’s favor and grace and do those things entrusted to me.


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