Have you noticed that when the power goes out, even if you didn’t have anything “on,” like the television or radio or music, say–even if you were just quietly reading–when the power goes out, it gets really quiet. There’s no hum of electricity, no quiet whirring of motors. It’s QUIET. You realize what a level of background noise we have become accustomed to in even our quietest moments. Some of us even have to manufacture “white noise” to get to sleep, to drown out all the other extraneous and unpredictable noises that surround us. We are constantly surrounded by noise that is just under or at the level of our hearing.

Just so, it seems, always in the background, but flaring up with more and more frequency, we live with a level of anxiety. Where are those prisoners who escaped from Dannemora prison? What disease-bearing ticks are lurking in our gardens and lawns? What chemicals have leached into our ground water and soil? What are those pesky Russians up to, let alone the Chinese? Is that a lump I feel? Did I smell something on Johnny when he came home from that party? Are they talking about lay-offs? What was that strange sound the car made this morning when I started it up? On and on it goes.

The church is certainly not immune to this anxiety, as we read the statistics, the declining membership roles, the graying of heads, the growing deficits. Who will we find to be our next pastor, not to mention, how will we pay for this bridging ministry? Will any of this make a difference?

“Anxiety,” says Barbara Brown Taylor, “is an occupational hazard of a finite creature in a universe of infinite possibilities.” [cited by Kate Huey in sermonseeds, 6/14/15] The symptoms of this anxiety, she suggests, are “perfectionism, drivenness, moral outrage, restlessness, dread of being alone, and estrangement from God.” You may recognize some of those symptoms in yourself or people you know. “What is absent when anxiety is present,” Taylor says, “is faith… that God will be God…”

The kingdom of God [Jesus said] 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. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.

My favorite phrase in this parable is, “he does not know how.” How does a seed sprout and grow? Martin Luther said, “If you truly understood a single grain of wheat, you would die of wonder.” There are worse ways to die. The kingdom of God [Jesus said] 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. While we sleep, seeds sprout and grow. Sure, they need moisture and sunlight, but how they sprout and grow is a mystery. Barbara Brown Taylor labels this phenomenon of the earth producing of itself, “Automatic Earth.” The automatic earth yields its fruit, that is, unless it’s been poisoned or turned into stone by drought or depleted from overuse of any of its nutrients.

The kingdom of God is like this… Jesus said, as he began so many of his parables, these stories that are a particular kind of story–not just illustrations, but more like “instigations.” It is said that “as soon as you think you understand what [a parable] means, you probably don’t.” Parables are not rational equations, calculated by the left side of the brain. They are the pebble in your shoe, meant to be unsettling, evocative, appealing more to the right side of the brain. Megan McKenna even calls a parable “a trapdoor into another world,” [cited by Huey, op cit.] where you may or may not want to live.

The kingdom of God [Jesus said] 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. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.

He also said, “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.”

The mustard seed Jesus is talking about is not the “good little seed that could.” It is more like kudzu, that weed that has taken over large portions of the southern United States. It is the bane of gardeners, pesky, tenacious. And “it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs.” Really? The greatest of all shrubs? Who thinks of shrubs as “great,” other than Monty Python’s Knights that go “Ni!” in search of “shrubbery”? The kingdom of God is like that? The fact that birds find shelter and build their nests in the mustard shrub’s branches is kind of a nice image, but aren’t those the same birds that, in the parable Jesus told shortly before this one, snatched up the seed and ate it? What does he mean, “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed?” Is that a good thing?

Jesus might have said, “The kingdom of God is like a raspberry seed, that, though the berry is beautiful and delicious, its seed becomes lodged in your teeth and bugs you until you can get it out.” The kingdom of God is like that.

What are we to make of these parables of Jesus, especially as we live in a time when he is not able to explain everything to us in private, as Mark says he did to the disciples? Frankly, I’m not even sure Jesus did that, given the nature of parables not to be explained away. These are not good bedtime stories, designed as they are to keep working on us, but even as we sleep, God is at work, as the first parable says.

One of the lessons, I think, these stories have to teach us is that it’s not all up to us. We may sow the seeds–or God may be the Sower–but it is not up to us to manipulate and orchestrate

or control everything that happens from then on. We can ease up a little, trust God to be God. On some level, life can be trusted. What parent knows what little word of wisdom or encouragement or love, spoken to a surly teenager, will not grow and sprout up someday, remembered, clung to, even passed on to their child? Who of us knows what simple act of kindness to a stranger will not grow and sprout up someday to make a difference in someone else’s life? How do we know what effect our individual and collective efforts at recycling, conserving, investing in alternative energy, advocating for legislation will have upon this beautiful little planet?

And here in the life of our church, who knows what will grow from our efforts to get the word out to our community about our solar panels, our commitment to care for the earth? Who knows who will be touched by our message of radical welcome, our rainbow flag, our opening of our building to any and all who need a place of shelter or meeting? Who knows who will notice a Facebook post or a link on our website that will touch someone exactly as they have needed to be touched, to hear a word they have longed to hear? It may not mean that people will be standing in line to get into our Sunday morning worship. It may not mean that the checks will arrive in the mail in such numbers that we will need to hire extra help. But who knows? Who knows how God works? “I have great faith in a seed,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. “Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

It is when the harvest comes that the sower must go into action with his sickle. There is a place for us to respond to and engage with what God is doing. And as we enter into this unsettling, mysterious, “kingdom of God,” we too will be transformed–we will sprout and grow in ways we do not know. In fact, Paul writes, “When anyone is in Christ, there is a whole new creation.” God will stop at nothing less–than a whole new creation. All our anxiety, all our attempts to control and predict, to grasp and hold, –all that will not bring the new creation about. The antidote to anxiety, in fact, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, is courage, “chosen over and over again, everyday that you live, if real living is what you’re after.” (Cited by Huey, op cit.) Courage. The true story of your heart, as its original meaning is. Courage, even in the face of fear and anxiety, to nonetheless trust God to be God, to trust that the earth will yield its fruit, that even now God is doing a new thing in and through us. That’s what the kingdom of God is like.

Amen.

Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark

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