Mark 4:26-32 | More seeds! Growth, but what kind? | Dan Spragg
A few years back I wrote my own parable. ‘The Parable of the Dandelion’, it goes like this:
To what can we compare the Kingdom of God? It is like the Dandelion that appears in the garden before the gardener realises. They pull it out, yet it grows back twice as big. So, they apply liberal amounts of round up, yet the dandelion still grows back. So the gardener pulls it out again, this time putting salt onto the root that is left behind, yet the next season it grows back once again. So in a final attempt the following season the gardener sprays it again with round up, and once it has died covers the space with weed-mat and layers upon layers of bark mulch. A little while later the gardener while walking and finally enjoying the fruits of her labour notices, in a place never before seen, the small opening head of not one, or two, but three brand new dandelion flowers and in a moment of new understanding begins to notice that yellow really is a nice colour for a garden after all.
It was an attempt on my part to create some sort of local version of these parables. Seeds that grow despite all opposition (the one from last week – the parable of the sower) seeds that grow without any sort of attention paid to them, and the large tree that comes from a small seed. Seeds, seeds, and more seeds, and they just grow! Dandelions seemed appropriate! It seems the Kindgom of God is the same – it will grow – whether you try and stop it or not, or whether you ignore it, or no matter how insignificant it all seems. It just grows! The thing about parables is that in the end it always seems to be the unexpected thing that achieves what the expected outcome will be. Seeds grow that have no attention paid to them, the smallest seed produces something large and purposeful… yellow is a nice colour in a garden after all.
We’ve framed this series of parables we are embarking on throughout this year with the question of ‘What does this tell us about how we be or do church?’ I recently heard someone describe the message of Jesus as ‘Simple, but hard’. A simple message – like ‘love your enemies’ for example. But hard to put into practice – like ‘love your enemies!’ While we can take the meaning of the parables in many different ways to a certain extent I believe this statement to be true – the message is simple, but a little harder to put into practice! Today we are reminded that the Kingdom of God will grow. Despite us, in spite of us, it will grow and mature. It is a mystery. We sleep and we rise, we sleep and we rise, and somehow its potential is fulfilled. The growth of God’s ways in our world is the mysterious work of God and the outcome – the harvest, the maturing into its full potential is both a gift and a miracle. It is not up to us! It is a simple message – the growth of God’s kingdom, or God’s reality, does not depend on us. It is hard however, it seems, to put this into practice.
There is a sneaky little temptation that many of us, including myself, fall for and succumb to. Have you ever wondered why the first answer to the question of, ‘how are you?’ often times seems to be, ‘busy’? Have you noticed yourself saying this? It’s one of the big temptations of our time I believe – the temptation of busyness. If you are busy, it appears that you are doing things, not just sitting around. If you are busy, you must be important or needed. If you are busy you must be successful. We wear it as a kind of badge of honour, ‘I’ve been busy!’ We use it as an excuse to get out of things, ‘I can’t, I’m busy.’ We hold it up as something to aspire to, ‘wow! You’ve been busy haven’t you!’ It’s funny that in the middle of saying these things we never really stop to think about it. We say there’s never enough time to get all the things done, yet we strive to be busy. We know how we feel when we have been busy for extended periods of time – frazzled, spent, a nagging feeling like although we’ve been busy we may not have actually achieved anything… so why do we glorify it? I think at the end of the day it comes down to anxiety. We are anxious for people to respect us, we are anxious to achieve things, we are anxious to be seen as valuable and useful.
How do we be and do church? By being busy! By being anxious about our worth in the world. By being anxious about our effectiveness. By being anxious about our survival. It is a problem because as far as I can see it works in the opposite way to what the message of Jesus is in these parables. These parables are an invitation to trust that the growth of God’s way in the world is in fact the work of God – it doesn’t depend on us – it doesn’t depend on how busy we are or not. But we give in to anxiety, and we give in to our culture’s definition of success by busyness – another version perhaps of ‘death by a thousand cuts?’ – and so we actually end up working against the truth Jesus is speaking. We want the reality of God to come to fulfilment and so we get busy in whatever way we can to make it happen and in the meantime we miss what’s really going on. In history we tried to bring it about by revolution, or by crusade which may have helped the religion of Christianity to spread far and wide but not without casualty, and not without a certain amount of the meaning being lost or even corrupted in the process. Throughout time, including now, we try and bring it about by obedience – follow the rules and God will reward us, get busy, work hard and God will accept us – you know that old protestant work ethic. Some of us also spend a lot of time and energy on trying to bring it about by calculation and prediction – how many times has the world supposed to have ended?! Aren’t all these simply distractions of our time and energy? There is that saying, ‘Don’t just sit there, do something’ that sums up our attitude both in church and in culture. I kind of think a better way to say it is, ‘Don’t just do something, sit there!’
The heart of the issue is that we don’t know how to simply sit and be because we’re not comfortable with what we find when things are quiet and still because that’s when the voices in our heads start whispering, ‘you’re not doing anything… you must be a failure… no one likes anyone who just sits around…’ Our worth is tied up in what we do… that’s a problem.
It is a simple but hard message. God will do God’s work, it doesn’t depend on you. In a season where there seems to be many ‘musts’ about what the church ‘should’ do, there is an invitation from Jesus to wait and trust. Are we willing to accept the invitation? Of course we know that actually sitting around and not doing anything is probably not what is being suggested, so what is the work we are meant to do? If we aren’t to engage in anxiety fuelled busyness, then what are we to engage in? Eduard Schweizer in his commentary on Mark’s gospel says this, “To build one’s life in this way – entirely upon God’s promise and no longer upon one’s own ability or inability – demands all the feeling, thinking, doing, and speaking of which we are capable” 1 He implies that the work of trusting God, to build a God centred life, is in fact the work we are to do, and that it will encompass all of what we end up doing if we let it. It is hard to trust God, because it is more mysterious, less bound by time and space, less dependent on cause and effect, more dependent on the fact that we are loved and liked by God before we’ve even done anything, more dependent on the power and effectiveness of the ways in and of God themselves. But, this is the work we are to do – to build our life on trust that what we know of God is actually true.
The nature of the parable of the Mustard Seed in particular seems to be about the growth of its function, or a maturing in its mission and effectiveness. It doesn’t seem to be trying to answer a question of quantity rather than one of quality. How are we to be and do church? Trust in God, even if it is mysterious. Step out of busyness driven by anxiety and step into a life that Jesus described as one where, ‘my burden is easy, my yoke is light’. It may require some sitting still for a while, it may require stopping the distractions we end up being involved in, and it may require stepping into different ways of being and doing. It may require accepting our inherent worth as loved and liked by God.
What is the Kingdom of God like? It is like a way of living where we actually trust in the promises of God, and where we look to see growing up all around us meaningful ways of life where many can find a home. It is the participation in this that we are invited into so, don’t just do something, sit there… take a breath, trust in God, and get about living as if it is all true! After all, Dandelions, and the colour yellow, might just be a nice thing to have in a garden.
1Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark, p103.