Although the story happened many years before I came to be with you, it has been told to me several times as it conveys who we seek to be and what we seek to do as God’s people here at Grace Church. Apparently it was a normal Sunday morning. The adults were in worship and the children had gone to their classes. The story that Sunday may have been about the sower or the mustard seed that we hear today. The story of how a man tosses seeds onto the ground and he sleeps and rises night and day and the seed sprouts and grows and he does not know how. It may have been the well-known parable of the mustard seed that is so small and yet when it takes root it becomes a great shrub that provides shelter and protection for the birds. But whatever the story, I am told that the young children asked a simple question. “Why can’t we plant a garden that will provide shelter for the birds and food for people?
A seed was planted, a question was asked, and from this simple yet challenging question, 56 people showed up last Saturday to bless and plant once again our Gideon’s Garden. In our sixth year in what started as a small plot generously donated by Taft Farm has grown to be a two acre garden that employs young people to plan and plant, till and harvest so that hundreds of bushels of fresh produce are delivered to food pantries and kitchens and markets so God’s good fruit may be shared with those who are hungry—giving them fresh beans and peppers, lettuce and squash, onions and tomatoes. And more and more children and adults come to care for this garden and in doing so find life and possibility they did not know they had within them. No one knew how this would turn out. When the first plot of land was shared and the first seeds were planted, no one knew if the people from our church and the people from the community would stick with it—be able to plan and plant, continue to show up and care for the fruit, nor did anyone know if what was planted would come to good use. What we are asked to do is to plant; God will take care of the growth.
In our reading this morning from the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus has had a difficult start in his ministry. The Gospel begins with Jesus’ baptism in the Judean wilderness where we are introduced to John the Baptist. Jesus is then immediately whisked away by the Spirit of God into a place where he is tested. When he returns, he begins to call his first disciples, teaches in the synagogue and performs an exorcism and healings. He is being hunted by people who want to receive his restoring presence. He soon falls into conflict with the religious authorities who accuse him of blasphemy around forgiveness, fasting, and Sabbath practices. Even his family thinks he is out of his mind and seeks to restrain him. This ministry appears at this stage to be quite “mustard seed” like. Very small and insignificant at its beginning.
And then in the fourth chapter of Mark, Jesus offers his parables of sowing and seeds. Today we hear the parable of the sower who sows without knowing or influencing the outcome of his seeds. He says this is what the Kingdom of God is like. Notice that Jesus does not say, this is what you must do, this is what you must believe. He does not direct his disciples to memorize a dogma or a creed or construct an institution with specific liturgical practices that will direct their paths to heaven. Rather he tells stories, parables of everyday life that challenge anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear to imagine the world in a new way. Parables are not meant to teach a specific lesson. They are intended to open our minds and our hearts to the possibility of God. These stories, parables, give us “hints and guesses” that cause us to think and see anew and cast our own experiences over and against these words, opening a new way of seeing every time they are read.
In this parable, a man sows seeds, he sleeps and he rises and the seed grows. In this first century dry soil (nonirrigated) agriculture, Marks says that once the seed is in the ground, growth takes place “of itself” (automate). This happens without the sower’s act of hoeing or turning or tending. The growth of the kingdom will be neither obvious nor controllable. The sower’s task is to sow the seeds and when the seed is ripe to go in with his sickle and harvest because it is time. But the growth is accomplished by God.
In thinking about the texts for this week, there are two places that I invite you to settle in and see if something takes root. The Kingdom of God is like seeds planted that mysteriously grow, small things that contribute to something much bigger, places and spaces that provide nurture, comfort and welcome. The Kingdom of God is about possibility and mystery. Something is always in process, not always visible, but nonetheless certain.
And we never know how the seeds we plant will sprout and how big will be its span. Possibility is one of God’s kingdom characteristics. Our tasks are hope and patience, if we are to participate in it. Each one of us can become places of possibility in God’s kingdom.
Early when I first arrived in Great Barrington, I met with Ananda Tempane and Gwendolyn Hampton Van Sant, and members of our Wisdom/Outreach group. Through Grace’s Community Network Dinners a partnership was beginning to grow between Grace Church, Railroad Street Youth Project, and Multi-cultural Bridge organizations. We were just beginning to explore how together we may be able to partner to meet the needs of young people in our community. Railroad Street Youth Project, started in 1999 in response to desperate cries from our young people for support and welcome in our community offers counseling, work training, projects, and a place to hang out and meet with caring people. Multi-Cultural Bridge offers classes in our schools, facilitated discussions in our community, and education around racism and identity that provides important venues for addressing real needs and real opportunities. At Grace Church we are involved in listening and sharing and working alongside these organizations to hear how God is calling us to be present and active and fruitful in serving the young people of the Southern Berkshires. We have written grants to support this work. We have talked with them about serving as mentors with young people. We are a part of an ongoing discussion on racism and in particular our roles as white people to end this curse in our community. We are planting seeds. God is doing the growing. We do not know where these efforts will lead. We will not know all who are cared for through these activities. And much of the work that is being offered will not be completed in our time, but will continue in new and ever expanding ways. What is important is planting the seeds. God will accomplish the growing.
As Christians we are called to walk by faith, and not what may be obvious to us at any time, trusting in God’s eternal creativity. God is always at work bringing love and mercy into every part of the world. In the words of II Corinthians we are invited to go beyond what we can see to open ourselves to the divine presence in sometimes unlikely places and housed sometimes in unlikely vessels. We are invited to see the movement of God’s grace in our own lives and in the people around us seeing us and them as God sees us—infinitely beautiful, love filled, and filled with unimaginable possibilities. In Christ we are a new creation, liberated from any limitations we may believe that control us and able to do great things as God’s companions in transforming the world.
Every day we are given the chance to sow. Every day we are given the chance to participate in the spreading of God’s good news in the world. In hope we see that as in the mustard seed, even the smallest of gifts or actions, is significant. One tiny seed can grow into a great plant that provides goodness for others. No seed, no action, no person should be seen as insignificant. Each contains life. What we have to offer is potential—possibility. Even small steps, small actions that may not be seen, have the potential in God’s goodness to produce great things.
As a church community in the Southern Berkshires, we may look around and be concerned that there is not enough—not enough people, not enough energy, not enough young people coming behind us to carry on. But just as Samuel was not able to see the potential king David among all the sons of Jesse the Bethlemite in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures—God is doing more in us and through us than we can possibly imagine.
God does not look on our age or our gender or our size or our earning potential or any other qualifiers that we look on. God looks on our hearts and sees a mighty community. God sees the potential in each of us, and God inspires us to see divine energy in sometimes-unexpected places.
Today, serving alongside Christ Trinity Church in Sheffield and St. Paul’s Church in Stockbridge, Grace will be going to offer worship and fellowship to a group of people who gather outdoors in Pittsfield. I do not know whom we will meet. I do not know what we will learn about ourselves. But I know that God will be present and in all things God works for good. If we give ourselves over to being present—to share ourselves in faith—from the smallest of seeds can come a great harvest and great possibilities.
Our reading today from Mark’s Gospel has something to say to us both in thinking about Jesus and about our work as a community as church. Jesus’ earlier ministry was not received with wide acceptance among his fellow Jews, but it eventually took root and spread to every corner of the world. The church that began with just a small group of frightened followers in Jerusalem now reaches people of every age, race, and culture. From tiny seeds come God’s kingdom—we do not need to worry about success—we just need to plant—the outcome is up to God—and all can find shelter in its branches.
Last Saturday, two of the children who asked about planting a garden so many years ago, showed up in Gideon’s Garden. They are now in high school, Jackson is heading off to college in the fall. Along with his brother Garrett they planted lettuce and parsley and basil until the garden was completed—ready to begin another season of growth. They offered themselves as a part of kingdom work. The kingdom of heaven is found wherever God’s children come together in God’s creation to sow seeds of love and compassion and mercy. We do not control it nor will we always see the result of our planting, but we can rest assured in the knowledge that God will accomplish the growing. As participants in God’s kingdom, where do we need to open ourselves to God’s creativity? Because we do not see with God’s eyes, what or who are we looking past? As faithful disciples, what seeds can we sow, trusting the results to God’s infinite goodness? For the love of Christ urges us on.