Seeing through Seeds

A sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Year B, Proper 6), June 17, 2012.  The lectionary readings are Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17, and Mark 4:26-34.

On this first of the ordinary Sundays, the Third Sunday after Pentecost, our worship returns to a familiar pattern.  We again have a prayer of confession.  We use green on the altar and in the vestments.  The music and hymns lead us to think about God in all God’s majesty and mystery, in broad and sometimes general ways.  The Church continues to observe feast days here and there, almost like exclamation marks in the narrative of God’s love for us, but most of the Sundays through the summer offer us space to grow and develop, to think and mature in our faith. And especially in today’s scripture readings, there’s a lot that is growing.

In the first lesson, from Ezekiel, God doesn’t mess with seeds, but gardens like I do sometimes—he uses a seedling.  God takes a bit of cedar from the top of a tree, sets it down on a high hill, puts it in the ground and says a prayer over it, and then raises it up as a symbol of God’s might, God’s reign, God’s love, and God’s care.  Everyone will look at it and think, “God has made this.  God keeps it strong and alive. God will keep me strong and alive, too.” 

The Gospel has things growing, as well.  But here, seeds are sown. Seeds are slung.  They’re not so much planted as they are scattered.  They go all over the place and several different things happen. 

Our reading from Mark’s Gospel is a parable, or several parables.  One of the wonderful though sometimes confusing aspects of a parable is that the assigned characters shift around.  In other words, it’s not always clear where God is in the parable.  It’s not clear which character represents Jesus; if in fact any character is intended to be him.  This is why parables worked so well for Jesus and why we can hear them again and again, yet find new meaning in them. 

When we read or hear a parable, then, there’s an invitation for us to step inside and try on some of the different characters and attitudes. Which one speaks to us today?  Which one fits best?  Which one challenges and which one offer comfort?  We can look at both parables and wonder where we are. 

You may identify with the sower, the one who plants seeds and hopes for the best.  Whether seeds or seedlings, the intention is that they will grow.  If may be an idea or a practice or a project that you’re just beginning.  You do a little to get it started, but then it’s out of your hands.  It may be taken out of your hands, or other things may grow to overshadow your project—maybe there is the equivalent of a storm, or maybe the birds in your world eat up the seeds you’ve sown.  If you are the sower, you make an investment and then over time, you have to manage your relationship to the seeds you’ve planted.  How much will you try to control?  How much will you let go? 

Maybe you identify with the seed or the seedling.  You feel like you’ve been placed in a certain place—maybe it’s fertile ground, or it could be rocky stuff.  Maybe you’re trying your best to put down roots and yet over and over again, something comes to move you along and keep you scattered.  You’re trying to find a foothold.  You’re trying to find something that will stay still long enough to enjoy the sun, to absorb the rain, to find the energy and life within yourself to grow, to expand, to become.  You might feel as tiny and insignificant as a mustard seed.  Perhaps you have the idea of the mustard tree in your mind, but it seems so far off, and so far ahead, it’s hard to see how you might reach that place.

The sower and the seed are major characters in our reading, but there are also birds, birds that take shad.  Someone else had done the planting and the growing has already happened, and so we can enjoy what has been done, we can make a nest, take advantage of the shade, and enjoy the view. 

While one of these characters may speak to us more than another, the parables have to do with what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is not so much a literal place as it is every place, every place where God’s intention is allowed to take root and grow.  The kingdom is full of mystery—it grows at its own rate.  Some parts can be planned, laid out, and organized.  But other areas of the kingdom are up to God’s own good grace—we have to let go.

To me, our Gospel today seems to call us to be witnesses who have faith.  To see and to believe.

It’s not so easy to see, to be a witness.  We have to be awake, to pay attention, to sort out what we think we’re seeing from what we actually see.  We compare our view with another person, and then together, come up with a glimpse of reality.  God is working in our world—around us, within us, in little things and in large things—it’s for us to take note, to observe, to see. 
The seeing is important and is connected with our believing, with our having faith—but sometimes what we see hinders faith as much as helps it.  We see pain and misery.  We see disease and violence and poverty.  We see a terribly distorted version of the world God has created.  But with eyes wide open, Jesus encourages us to have faith.  Have faith that seeds will find what they need to grow.  Have faith that growth will happen in God’s good time.  Have faith like that of the mustard seed, faith that might be tiny at first, but with God’s help grows into something that helps others.  Seeing is not always believing, but to believe is to begin to see clearly.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians talks about walking by faith, not by sight.  He’s not so much opposing seeing and believing as he is pointing to the way of seeing deeply that involves faith. Paul warns about those who boast in outward appearance—see through that, Paul urges.  Christ died on the cross and to all appearances, so died the dream of God.  But for those with eyes to see, he has risen for us.  For those of us with eyes to see, to notice, to witness, our faith leads us further and as though we’re given enough to move forward through a fog, with more faith, we see more and move farther along. 

Though seeds in this world teach us about mystery, and patience, and surprise, growth in God happens with even more mystery.  This is because, as Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation.  Everything old has passed away, and the new has come alive.”

Friends, the kingdom of God unfolds around us and within us.  It’s our gift and charge to witness and to have faith. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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