The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 4:23-34

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

During the time of Jesus, there were many people who had grown tired of waiting on the kingdom of God to arrive. Some of these, the Zealots, had decided that the time had come to take matters into their own hands. If God wouldn’t bring in the kingdom, then they would do it themselves. They were tired of waiting.

Much like the Zealots of Jesus’ day, we Christians have almost from the beginning believed that it was up to us to bring about the kingdom. And after studying church history for three years in seminary, and 24 years since, quite frankly, I am amazed that Christianity hasn’t managed to turn the whole world against Christ.

In an effort to speed the kingdom’s coming and ensure its growth, we have, through the centuries, taken it upon ourselves to convert the world to Christianity. And in the process we have abused, oppressed, tortured, and even killed people who have stood in our way or disagreed with our views.

The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, Nazi Germany were all atrocities committed in the name of Christianity and, purportedly, to speed the coming of God’s kingdom.

The fact that the church has survived at all, I think, bears truth that the Holy Spirit was and is at work, sometimes despite the church and our often twisted views of what Christianity is really about – which is Christ-like grace and acceptance and love.

Jesus’ parable of the farmer and the seed reminds us today, just as it did the people of his own day, that the kingdom of God, its coming and its growth, is the work of God which comes in God’s own time and in God’s own way.

And Jesus precedes this teaching with a warning –Pay heed to what you hear.” Listen Carefully. For the measure of attention you give will determine the profit you receive. To those who have an understanding of spiritual things, more will be given. But to those who will not listen, the parable will only serve as a source of confusion and what little understanding they have will be taken away.

Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a farmer who plants seed and then goes about his life trusting that the earth will do the rest. The farmer doesn’t know how the seed grows – nor is that his concern. He merely sows and then waits for the harvest. Everything in between is up to nature and out of the farmer’s control.

The point of the parable, of course, is that the kingdom of God does not depend on human intervention. Its growth takes place totally outside the realm of human endeavor or even understanding.

This can be a hard pill for Christians to swallow. We can’t imagine God doing anything without us. We can’t imagine anything growing without our implementing plans and programs to monitor its growth. We can’t imagine being “out of control.” Because being out of control means having to put the same trust and faith and confidence we have in ourselves in someone or something else. And that’s risky business, even when that someone else is God.

But that is the whole of it. The key to our understanding what the kingdom of God is like lies in our understanding that we do not and cannot make it happen, and in our trust and faith that God can and does make it happen—that the kingdom of God is happening—all around us, all the time.

This is not to say that our role is totally passive. By preaching and teaching, by loving one another and working for social justice, by witnessing through our Christ-like words and actions, we are sowers of the seed. But we do not decide how or where or when those seeds grow. As I have said many times: We are not called to convert. (It’s not our job. Not our responsibility.) We are called to proclaim (and to invite) and to trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest. The kingdom of God will come. The one who has begun the good work will see it to completion.

So, hear now another parable: Two farmers were planting in their fields. The first farmer, after sowing her seeds, went on about her daily life trusting that the seeds would sprout and grow. But the second farmer did not trust the earth. Anxious and worried he returned each day walking the field and lifting the sod to check the seed for growth.

After a time, the first farmer returned to find a field that was ripe for harvest. As she gathered, much seed fell to the ground assuring an increase the following season. And God spoke to the first farmer saying, “Take your reward. For the measure you have given is the measure you have received and to you more will be given.” The farmer smiled, for she understood, and she went away content and happy.

But the second farmer stood before a barren field. The seed that had not died from exposure, he had trampled under foot. And God spoke to the second farmer: “Take your reward. The measure you have given is the measure you have received. And the little that you had has been taken away.” The Farmer began to weep, for he did not understand, and he went away discouraged and unhappy.

Let those who have ears to hear, listen.
Proclaim the Gospel,
live your life in faith, and faithfulness,
and trust God to do the rest.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.