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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trusting the Grower

God’s rule and reign is growing and saving the world, though we don’t always know how, we don’t always see it happening, and the time of waiting seems interminable.  We trust the Grower, and we learn from Jesus to see differently, to watch for the signs of God’s new creation.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Time after Pentecost, Sunday 11, year B; texts: Mark 4:26-34; Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15; Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

“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.”

The seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  That’s how Jesus describes the working of God’s rule and reign in the world, a rule and reign he, the Son of God, came to proclaim.  “The kingdom of God is near,” Jesus told people.  He preached in his home town and declared, about a prophetic word concerning God’s restoration of all things, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  (Luke 4:21)  When people saw Jesus heal, heard him teach, listened to his wisdom, were given new hope by his forgiveness, they thought they were seeing the explosion of God’s rule and reign.  There was no mysterious growth for which to wait; all this was coming to pass, right now.

But then he was crucified, which destroyed their hopes, until he rose from the dead.  Yet only forty days after he was risen, he left, leaving his followers in charge, and promising power from God which would continue this rule and reign.  But now instead of the immediacy of what they saw in Jesus, the growth of God’s healing of the world seemed much slower, and often hard to see as the years passed.  Sometimes it looked as if nothing was growing, other times it just seemed interminably delayed, sometimes it seemed as if the world was actively seeking to destroy the growth.  With each succeeding generation, the hope that all would come to pass in their lifetime faded more and more.

But the grace was that when they thought about all Jesus had taught, they remembered parables like these today, images he gave of God’s rule and reign, stories which pretty much promised a long wait, a mysterious growth, and which suggested patience was going to be needed.

This is good news for us.  Because the truth is, sometimes it feels as if we have a great divergence between what we say and hear in this place and what we see in the world, in the papers, on the news, in our lives.  Here we speak of hope and healing on a weekly basis, we proclaim God’s salvation for us and the world, we declare, as Paul does today, that God is making a new creation.  But once we walk out into the sunlight, we find a world where it’s hard to see any signs of all this good news, it’s hard to know if anything is getting better, it’s difficult to know if God’s healing of the world is working, or if we’re just getting worse and worse.

To us, then, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is like when a seed would sprout and grow, but you do not know how.”  But he says, trust the grower.  It’s happening.  God is changing everything.  God’s gracious love is bit by bit transforming the world.  You don’t know how.  But one day you’ll see the harvest.

I think the most important point of this all is Jesus’ reminder of who’s in charge of the growth.

It’s clear from the agricultural image of both parables, and the similar word from Ezekiel and the psalmist, that these are not parables putting the weight on us to make the growth happen.  The farmer simply sleeps and rises in this story, nothing else.  In fact, it’s so out of our control that it happens without our knowing, and in this example, the farmer thinks, Jesus says, that the earth “produces of itself.”  It’s like magic.

Now remember, Jesus isn’t giving gardening advice, and even in his first parable we can assume that the farmer does his normal farming things, weeding, watering, tending his crops.

But even in modern agriculture there is a bit of mystery.  We can break it down as scientifically as we want, but it is still a little miracle to think of a dry seed, one which could sit doing nothing for years, suddenly producing a plant which grows to hundreds of times the size of the seed, and produces dozens of new seeds.

Even if we are supposed to be farmers and keep working on the land, the only one who can do the growth is God.  We can’t will the seeds to grow.  We can’t will the healing power of God to change the world overnight, either.  But if the first happens, Jesus says, we can expect the other to happen as well.

And that’s Jesus’ first point, shared by Ezekiel: God can do things that seem completely impossible.  In fact, God’s doing it all the time.  The Bible says that the true God is the one who makes dead things live, even dry bones, who makes dry land in the midst of seas, who brings health and life into the face of disease and who has created all that is.

So if we are concerned that God’s rule and reign, God’s authority over this world, is decreasing, struggling, going nowhere, we are to trust that we just don’t see everything.  Even if we think that the powers of evil are far more potent than God, Jesus urges us today to have a little patience.  He says, remember who’s doing the growing.  It will happen.  Trust the Grower, the true Farmer, who will make a new creation just as he said.

But of course, trusting the Grower is only the first part.  I think Jesus also wants us to learn how to see better.

The truth is that how we think the world is doing depends a lot on how we look, and at what things we look.

You could make an argument that hatred and oppression are growing, that we are heading toward an age of chaos, if we’re not already in it, where human rights and justice for all are decreasing.  And you could find ample evidence for this point of view, from the devastating killing of the people of Syria, to the persistent civil wars blowing through Africa, to the increasing class warfare in the United States.  Everywhere you look, you could argue, things are getting worse.

Unless you look in differing ways.  Because you can find evidence for the spreading grace of God everywhere you look, too.  You can cite example after example of people leaving comfortable lives to be relief workers in war-torn areas who are saving the world one person at a time, one child at a time.  You can speak of non-violent resistance movements gaining power by standing up to wicked leaders and decades of oppression, all throughout the world.  You can find ample examples of places where healing is happening, where grace is flowering in deserts of pain, where God’s people are making a difference.

It all depends on where you look.  Are you looking at the field, Jesus says, and frustrated that it’s not yet harvest?  Look closer and see what is happening.  First the stalk, then the head, then the grain, that’s how it happens, he says.

The new creation is happening.  Paul said it, and Jesus knows it is.  He came to begin it.  But maybe in places it’s just that little bit of green growth breaking out of the husk of the seed, underground.  Maybe it’s just peeking above the surface of the ground.  Maybe it’s just a stalk or two.  But, Jesus says, never doubt it will happen.

I think this way of seeing is critical for those of us who come here each week and hear proclamations of God’s Good News.  If somehow we’re supposed to go out and just expect the new creation to be reality, we’re going to start losing our faith, struggling to make sense of what we hear here and what we see out there.

But if what we hear here is the promise of the harvest, the shape of the whole new creation, the promise begun in Jesus’ resurrection, and we know that when we go out we won’t see it yet, but we’ll see bits and pieces, we’ll see starts and beginnings, then we have something.  Then we have hope.  Then we can continue to have faith.

We don’t look at things from a human point of view, Paul says.  So we believe the new creation is happening.  We just see it from a different perspective than the world.

And I think it’s important to know that this new creation is both small and great.

God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign can be seen in the small canvas of individual lives of believers and painted broadly across history on the life of the Church, the world, the universe.

And both are legitimate places for us to look.  In our lives, we hope that we are growing to be disciples, to be more and more the new creation we are promised to be.  God has planted seeds in each of us, and there are days when we think a harvest will never come.

And yet, if we know how to look, there are days when we see signs of growth, progress, new life from God.  When once we might have been unloving, somehow we do the loving thing, the Christly thing.  When once we’d have kept to ourselves, somehow one day we talk about God’s goodness with another person.  Or even better, we are God’s goodness to another person.  The full harvest of our lives is a long way off.  But it’s coming.

And the same goes for the larger perspective, whether we’re talking about the Church, or the whole world.  There are certainly times when we despair about the activities of Christians in the world, how again and again we don’t seem to witness to God’s grace, rather, we see the Church seeming to work actively against God’s grace.  This is an argument we can make.

Unless we know where to look.  Because if we look at the Church throughout the world we can see wonderful examples of how God is making all things new through these believers, through this kingdom.  Wrongs are righted, people stand in solidarity with others because of Jesus’ love, and God’s good grace is lived throughout the world.

And the same can be said about the greater world beyond the Church.  If we look for the right things, we can see the grace flowing.  If we learn patience, we can even see the harvest approaching.

So the promises we gather to hear in this place each week speak both to our lives and to the world.  As does the call we hear – we are not only shaped as disciples for the life of our life, for our loved ones, our small circle.

We all are part of God’s greater plan to heal the world, and in a world of immediate global connections we not only know about what’s happening on the other side of the world, we are also called to do something about it.  Together, as people of God, we are each a part of the harvest of God’s grace and life for this world – both in our local lives and throughout the world.

One more thing we should remember, though.  This could take some time.

A growing season is just a few months.  But the kingdom Jesus established has been growing and working in the world for 2,000 years and there’s still much to be done.  In our lives, in the life of the world, God is growing a new creation.  But it may be thousands of years off.  This might be the hardest thing about the kingdom.  In God’s time, things don’t move as quickly as we think they should.  That brief time Jesus was on the earth was not the norm but the exception in the speed and visibility of the growth, because the Son of God himself was with us.  For this reason I am eternally grateful that patience, Paul says, is a spiritual gift.  It’s one I need badly.

But knowing how to look, and more importantly, knowing whom to trust, the Grower himself, we do not lose heart, as Paul said last week.  We do not lose heart.  Because all things are being made new.  And our eyes have seen this for ourselves.  Even though we don’t know how God will do all this.

You see, “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.”  We don’t know how.  But we know it is happening, and who is doing it.  And in that grace, we go from here to be a part of that new life, that new creation, until the day it arrives.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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