We are just beginning to walk into this season beyond Pentecost, a season in liturgy marked by green altar hangings, a season of gospel parables, these difficult illustrative stories that leave us, if nothing else, with mystery. We are in a place like the beach, at which we have dipped our toes into the shimmering waters of post-Pentecost time, and it is time for a decision. How do we handle this time of growth, of mystery, of choice in our Christian journey?
We can stay at the edge, letting the gospel be a frothy wave that barely washes over us. We can reach down and pick up bits of mystery, letting gospel richness flow through us like sand and shells through our fingers. We can do that, and the experience would be good. We can wade a little further, feeling gospel truth hit us in a fairly safe way, letting the occasional wave soak us a little bit more. We can ignore the safety of a cautious reading/approach, and dive right in; immersed in gospel messages, we float, getting accustomed to the push and pull of gospel mystery.
We are in trouble, dear friends, for your preacher and priest has studied today’s particular Markan parables in great detail. She is prepared to compare and contrast them, read them in Greek, and take them apart in excruciating detail, exciting only to those of us who get excited by the richness of the word “eu-an-geliou” and of the shift of verb tenses from Aorist subjunctive to active subjunctive to present active indicative. We are in trouble. Or you are.
We are in luck, dear friends, because we are not going to dive into academia this morning, nor into an ocean. This same priest is led by the Holy Spirit in her preaching voice, and there is much more to parables and to the gospel than academic study, more than clever metaphors and comparisons. For me right now, and I hope for you, too, our immersion in this green season is into the truth and the choice of Jesus. And always, at the end of our bible reading and study and prayer, there is mystery.
Today’s parables teach us about the Kingdom of God. “The kingdom of God,: Jesus says, “is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” The Kingdom of God is scattered, not carefully sown in distinct rows. Its planting is not something that is controlled in an earthly, human way; we are sowing seeds of God’s kingdom! Think about that ear of corn: first there is a haze of green barely visible on tilled soil, then little sprouts, then stalks. Finally, we see ears form, and when we open up those ears, we see that individual kernels have formed. Such is the detail of growth in God’s kingdom, this same God who knows every hair on our heads. We do not see the changes at a cellular level; we see the bigger miracle whenever we are able. Corn stalks grow. People come to church. We are baptized, invited into the body of Christ. We are challenged and compelled to grow into God’s will for us, to keep growing and reaching for Truth itself. We can choose to grow.
Jesus says, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
This parable makes it sound as if the mustard seed grows into a shade tree. Actually, first century desert mustard seeds grow from tiny black seeds to big, overgrown, invasive bushes. Like kudzu. Or morning glories. We cannot eradicate the Kingdom of God – it will be seen, it will grow, and there is room in it for all of creation, for Jews and Gentiles, for you and for me.
At the end of study and prayer and in the middle of our faith is “mysterium,” God’s plan and purpose which will be revealed to the insiders of faith. There is mystery in our Christianity, and always will be. Our first century eyes say that the mystery is revealed when we are initiated into our faith. Our twenty first century eyes show us that is so; we receive the mystery of our faith at baptism. Our mystery is Jesus. The “secret” of God’s religion is Jesus – Jesus himself is the mystery.
And we will never in this lifetime fully figure out God’s plan and purpose. We are invited, however, to join in a life that finds the joy in seeking it. Our gift is continued growth, down to the tiniest details of our being. Our gift is finding the shade of God’s mercy and grace wherever we are. Imagine the joy that is around us!