Seeds of Life – A Father’s Day Sermon
(Proper 6B, Mark 4.26-34)
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all seeds on earth; yet it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches. (Mark 4.31-32)
Happy Father’s Day.
This is our day, men. The one and only day just for us.
Of course I don’t really believe that we will get any more respect today that any other day. Which reminds me of my wife’s favorite t-shirt. She doesn’t own it – just likes to quote it.
It has this picture of a not –particularly-bright looking man on it with a toppled tree beside him. And the caption is:
‘If a man is alone in the forest where a woman can’t hear him, . . . .
is he still wrong?’
No, I am not going to answer that question. I leave it to you.
Actually Father's Day (and Mother’s Day) are different in the church than in the world. And I am reminded of that because we have a baptism today (at 10:30). And as you know, in the baptism service, we not only renew our own Baptismal vows, we also stand up and declare that we will do all in our power to support the child that is being baptized. Particularly we promise to support their lives in Christ. So we are all parents in a sense. Because we all take the responsibility of raising and nurturing all children in the Christian faith.
That is what it means to be the church – to be the body of Christ in the world. We all take on the work of Christ in the world and for each other. And our number one priority is sharing our faith with others - spreading the Word of God. Sharing what we know about Christ revealed . . . . like scattering seeds on the ground.
Which gets us to this morning’s parables about the kingdom of God.
Jesus tells us that he will teach almost exclusively with parables.
Parables that force us to think – to think in everyday terms. And that not only gives us a better insight, it also helps us to understand how God is present in very ordinary things. Things like a small mustard seed that grows into a magnificent bush – with branches large enough for the birds to build nests in.
The Kingdom of God is present in ordinary things.
So what can we determine from these two kingdom parables about seeds? Well, several things.
The first is that the kingdom of God has a life of its own – with or without us. The farmer scatters the seed; but it grows into fullness on its own – even while he is asleep.
Our faith is a mysterious gift of grace from God; that God brings to fullness within us. Faith is not something that we can manufacture within ourselves. God first put it on our hearts. And as we pray and work and worship in response to that seed of faith, God continues to bring our faith into further maturity.
So the first parable reminds us to be careful of what we take credit for. Do not confuse God’s gift of grace with the work of our own hands. Understand that everything that we have, first comes from God.
In the second parable, Jesus gives us that familiar comparison of the kingdom of God and a mustard seed that starts out so very, very small – yet ends us as the largest of plants.
Obviously then, we see that God can do very much with very little. Just as a large plant can grow from such a modest beginning, so too can we be used to accomplish great things for the kingdom. But we invariably limit what God can do in our lives by not thinking big enough. God never limits us as much as we limit God. By assuming that we are too small or too insignificant to accomplish something big and beautiful for the kingdom. But this parable tells us that anything is possible with God.
I am reminded of something that I shared with you once before, that I read in a very small book entitled Becoming Bread by Gunilla Norris. In it, she talks about an old Jewish story, that says this:
“When the world was created, God made everything a little incomplete. Rather than making bread grow right out of the earth, God made wheat grow so that we might bake it into bread. In this way we could become partners in completing the work of creation.”
So that we could become partners in completing the work of creation. That is what all of this kingdom talk is about isn’t it? It is about the church being partners with God in bringing in the kingdom of heaven on earth.
So let’s look at what we can do to help with the mustard seed. At how we can be partners with God in turning something small and insignificant into something big and beautiful
Well, I am not much of a gardener. That just is not an area in which I personally hear God very well. I always just do what my wife tells me when it comes to working in the flower beds. Therefore, I asked questions of those who know more than I do about the secrets of growing beautiful plants. And here are some of the things that I learned.
First thing that I learned is that, just like in real estate, location is everything. Certain plants need a lot of exposure to the sun and other elements. Others need to be in a place that offers more protection. Plants need to be in a location, an environment, where they will do their best.
It is so important that the church provide the right environment for our ministries to grow and flourish. So I decided that this fall, probably around Rally Day, that we will provide a spiritual gifts inventory for everyone to take to identify the areas in which they are gifted. Then we can better match ministries with gifts. We want to make sure that we are doing those things that bring out our best sot that we are going to grow into everything that God intends.
Secondly, we all know the basics of watering and feeding plants. And the analogy to the church is also clear. We have many examples of watering and feeding also. We are nourished by the Word of God. We eat the bread. We drink from the cup. Our souls are fed through our prayers. And our spirits are renewed by our fellowship with each other. The church nourishes its people in many ways and we in turn must nourish each other in order for our seeds to grow into the full body of Christ.
Now, of course I also learned about all the ordinary details of plant care such as pruning, and re-potting, and treating for disease or getting rid of bugs. But one thing that my secretary, Cathy, told me about plants that surprised me. She said that you have to talk to your plants. Or maybe even play music for them.
I am not real sure about that, but I do know that most living things respond to positive reinforcement. Affirmation is probably the most important thing that we do for each other here. The world is always ready to tell us what our shortcomings are. But the church is a place where you should expect to hear what you are doing right. Where you should feel uplifted, not put down. A place where you are included, not excluded. A place where you are forgiven, not berated. A place where unconditional love abounds.
A place where we always practice positive reinforcement. Are you with me on that? Positive reinforcement will help each of us grow into our full stature as children of God.
Now since it is Father’s Day, I want to talk about a famous father who died last month. Earl Woods, father of Tiger Woods passed away after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was a green beret and had many accomplishments in life, but Earl Woods will always be known best as Tiger’s dad.
I have always been fascinated by everything that makes up Tiger Woods. He had phenomenal success at a very early age. He never seems to show emotion. He has amazing willpower to succeed at a sport that drives everyone else crazy. And because of all of that. Because it seems to all of the rest of us that everything just comes so easily for him, we often forget that Tiger Wood is as human as we are.
We forget that human side of him. Forget the loneliness of his being the only African American on the PGA tour. Forget the hours of practice and training that make him so good. And we forget that he is somebody’s little boy.
Forget, that is, until his father dies.
Death always evens things out, doesn’t it? Even for our superstars and superheroes. So Tiger became very human last month. And we mourn with him as he has to mourn his father’s death in public instead of private.
And we wince as we listen to him try to answer those inane questions about his feelings. And so maybe for the first time, we begin to see him as a real person, and we even feel sorry for him.
But then last week, out of the blue, came a redeeming moment.
In an interview that I saw on television last week, as part of the build up to the U.S. Open that is being played this weekend, Tiger was asked what seemed to be another silly question about his dad. Earl Woods was Tiger’s only coach when he was young, and continued as unofficial coach until the very end.
And so Tiger was asked what one coaching quality would he most miss about his dad.
He thought for a moment and then he just said, “love.”
“His greatest coaching quality was the love that I knew that he had for me. That special bond between us gave me the security of knowing that I could never fail in his eyes.”
That is the real secret of growth in God’s kingdom, isn’t it? The seed of love.
The love of God - and the love we have for each other - give us the security to try to do more, to be more, to hope more. Because feeling loved gives us the security of knowing that we can really never fail when we are doing the work of the kingdom.
Like Tiger Woods, not all of us still have our fathers. And some of us did not do very well by the one that we had. But hopefully we all had someone in our lives that planted a seed of love within us. Someone who helped nurture your life in Christ. Someone who might be the reason that you are here today. It might even be your child.
So if it is at all possible, I want you to call that person today and wish them a Happy Father’s Day. Affirm them for being a good influence in your life, and remember them when you have the chance to plant the seed of love in someone else’s life.
Happy Father’s Day.