A sermon for the third Sunday after Pentecost, June 14, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
The Kingdom of God 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.
This parable from our Gospel lesson is only one sentence long, but it contains a lot. The Kingdom of God—that is our relationship with God. It necessarily includes our relationships with everyone and everything else. The whole of the Gospel and our experience as Christians can be seen as an attempt to understand, explain, and live the Kingdom of God.
In this first parable in our lesson Jesus makes it both very easy and very challenging for us. The Kingdom of God is easy because this person just throws out some seed and it sprouts. This may seem over-simple, and perhaps it is. But life is always a gift, we don’t make it, it appears, often despite us. And the Kingdom of God—the web of love—is purely God’s grace, the product of God’s love, not the efforts of anyone. The farmer puts out the seed and life emerges from it, we do not know how, and learning and studying biology doesn’t solve the riddle, it just leads us deeper into the mystery of the emergence of life.
Anyone who has farmed or gardened knows that there is a lot of work involved in growing things and taking advantage of the good things that sprout. Cultivating the soil, making sure there is water enough but not too much, finding places to plant that have the right amount of sunlight, removing unwanted weeds. Yet any farmer knows, you also have to wait, and you just don’t know.
When I was a little kid, I wanted to grow a garden. So my parents found a little place over by the fence at the edge of our yard and helped me dig it up so there was soft soil there, and we went and picked out some seeds. I had to settle for radish seeds and lettuce seeds, because other vegetables would take too long to grow for my level of patience, or would take more space or special preparation to grow the vegetables. (I think they steered me away from zucchini because they didn’t want to deal with a superabundance of squash, but maybe I just didn’t like to eat it.) I remember going out every day to check my little garden. It was frustrating and a little frightening to go out every day, maybe two or three times a day, to see if anything was growing. That amount of attention makes it seem like forever before those first two little leaflets appear suddenly one morning, poking out of the ground. No matter what we do, or what we come to know, the growth of our food and the sustenance of life is a gift and a mystery.
So often we expect that gift, and we want to claim that gift from God, that we forget about the waiting. In this little parable, it says, the person “would scatter the seed on the ground and would sleep and rise, night and day…” Not just overnight, but night and day, and again—just like me and my radishes—poking around, trying to find one big enough to harvest and have my trophy. The Kingdom of God is coming; indeed it is here, yet it doesn’t emerge on our timetable, or for our personal convenience. Our relationships with others and with God emerge, the shape of our individual lives, and the shape of our life together emerge in ways that we could never predict. God’s love is here—but in the shape that God gives to it and on God’s timetable.
The Kingdom of God is a gift to us all, and it is easy, even for the simplest and most humble; but it is also a challenge, especially to those of us who are not so humble or simple. Jesus says that his Kingdom is scattered on the ground, and it grows even though we don’t understand how. How often do we decide, “I know how to do this better…” or, “I understand this, and this is how things have to come out?” It’s one thing to make plans, to choose the appropriate seed, plant at the right time, till the soil according to good and established practices, but it is yet another to think that we have the outcome under our control.
As engaged as we are, with one another—in our life at work, with the members of our families, or in shaping our church—the outcomes are always uncertain and not under our control. This is difficult, because we want to use our gifts, our intelligence, and our hard work to make things come out right. Indeed, the hard work and commitment of Christian people does make things come out right—it’s just that the way things come out is not under our control—and the shape of the plant that sprouts and grows may be completely unlike what we thought we planted.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.