Seeds.

Mark 4:26-34

The Parable of the Growing Seed

26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

30 He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 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 Use of Parables

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

It’s been said around here at Fleming Road UCC, and at other places where I’ve been in ministry, that I have a lot of ideas.  Some are even good!  It is true, I have lots of thoughts and ideas.  I also come up with lots of thoughts and ideas in conversations with folks.  

It’s also true that many of those ideas that we come up with sometimes are good, sometimes not so good.  But, I believe that God’s Spirit acts within and outside of us, sparking us to have dreams and visions…to form processes for cultivating ideas even as we take some risks.  Ideas often start out small, need some time to grow and mature.  When the time is right, it’s good to plant those ideas and see what happens.  

That’s one of the reasons why I love the church.  We have processes and procedures, we have community, we have faith, we have all of the ingredients for imagination and to make things happen for the good of our communities.  

But, church, we need to be asking ourselves questions:   What are we passionate about, what makes us get up in the morning and face a day, what gives us hope?  I know I have a passion for running, I have a deeper passion for seeing relationships happen and for energy being driven from community for growth and change.

The parable of the sower has much to say to us.  Jesus spoke in parables oftentimes.  Parables are words for the audience that do not carry their meaning on the surface.  They are meant to be shared, chewed on, thought upon, and then their meaning grows within us.

Jesus had been encouraging his disciples with their being a part of his family, a part of God’s kingdom.  As we’ve said before, Kingdom of God talk is about God’s Presence in our lives and in the world.  God’s working out God’s purposes in all things, and for good.

Jesus was also sharing that the Kingdom of God is participatory.  It’s not idly watching or consuming something.  So often, we in the church have followed along with the idea that we need to create programs or services that we can consume or others can.  That’s not the idea that was planted in the church by God.  We have created a consumer based church that may give us a brief respite from the craziness of life from time to time, and maybe that’s good for a season, but God wants to plant within us a vision for church that is life-giving, energizing, and involves us in relationship with each other and with the world around us…and with a God who is very much present with us.  For example:  I love giving sermons, I love music…I like worship services.  There is a place for them, but if all we do is come and consume on Sunday morning, or produce a product, then we will all eventually come to a point of burn-out or hollowness.  We then may have that famous saying creep up:  “church (or pastor, or sermon, or youth group, or choir, or bible study, or whatever) is not meeting my needs”.   Well, the church was not set up to meet needs, but a place for relationships to flourish, and that requires full participation.  All of us, together.  

I believe that Jesus is saying to his listeners, and to us now, that he wants us to grow into the people we were called to be, that we have been given opportunities to understand who we are and how we relate to one another.  Opportunities such as meeting together for worship, forums, podcasts, small group bible studies.  God has given us other opportunities like Tikkun Farm, Valley Interfaith, Finneytown Schools, Oasis/ECI, the archery program and other things, to not only serve, but to meet people and develop true friendships.  God has also placed this church in a physical location, surrounded by people who I think would love to get to know amazing folks like you!  These opportunities help us to grow in many ways, but the real work is in between the events, in between seeds being planted and coming to bear fruit.  The work is in cultivating an understanding of the ideas, imagination, and new creation being formed and reformed within us and in the quality of our relationships with each other and with God. 

Seeds are being planted within us and all around us, seeds that will bear fruit towards seeing the Kingdom emerge within us, God’s Presence within us, and around us.  Some of those seeds are being consumed, aren’t being given enough water, don’t have deep roots, but some are falling on good soil.  Can we hear what Jesus is whispering in our ears?  Can we see what God intends to do?

Friends, I believe that God has given us good soil here at Fleming Road UCC!  I believe that this soil does require tending, plowing, and cultivating.  But, I think that the seeds God is planting will grow.

I’m also grateful for the conversations we’ve had this past month around here and in the community that affirm that we have a lot of gardening to do, within us and in this church, but we are committed to seeing what God wants to grow through all of the many seasons that we will be walking and working together in.  

Then there’s the mustard seed.  The Kingdom of God is being planted within us, it may be the smallest seeds, yet it grows into becoming a large tree, so much so that the birds rest in them.  We may not be a large church, but we can be a seed planted in this community for much community goodness.  The smallest of seeds make the biggest difference.  Let’s love well this garden!

Outside-In.

Mark 3:20-35

20 and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. 21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

28 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

The True Kindred of Jesus

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Sermon:

When I was 22 years old, I made a decision.  I was about to graduate from the University of Kentucky with my bachelors in social work.  I had switched my major from telecommunications to social work in my sophomore year.  I enjoyed telecommunications, but I had one project where I had to create an entire season of programming for a new tv network.

I worked hard, produced a great line-up, and wanted to make sure that it would be both entertaining and also based on something that would be good and uplifting for a community.  My professor gave me a C and said that the biggest flaw is that it would never sell or make money.

At that point, I decided that I wanted to do something that was more than making money, but good for the world.  So, I switched to social work.  Which, in that profession, there is no chance of making money, as my dad would remind me of at the time.  

Now, my dad was a school principal, a good guy who also wanted to make a difference in his community.  And, truthfully, he just wanted me to do well and not struggle.

The kicker came though at 22 when I informed my dad that I was going to shift gears again, and instead of going into social work, I was going to go into youth ministry, where there is no money at all…and, even more, I was going to work for a non-profit youth ministry.  

Now, I thought my dad would be OK with it.  I had worked part-time in college with this non-profit, was involved with it in high school even, and my parents were even fairly significant financial supporters of this organization.

My dad’s response, literally, and I still remember this 31 years later, “I just paid for 4 years of college for you to do what?!!!”  

I said yep, and off I went…and, yes, I did struggle, mightily.  I had years of eating more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and 25 cent ramen noodles than I can remember.  

But, something happened 2 or 3 years into working for this non-profit.  My dad told me how proud he was of me and that I had grown more in the past few years than he could have imagined.  I was so grateful.  

I don’t know what it is though, but I left that job within a year or two of that conversation to work for a church in Atlanta, GA.  It was kind of like when I had long hair…when my dad said that it had grown on him (pun intended) and that he liked it…I cut it.  

Now, our lectionary text this morning is certainly interesting.  For any that don’t know what the lectionary is exactly, other than a word that those of us in the mainline as clergy throw around a lot, it is a yearly cycle that changes every three years with different passages from scripture attempting to give those reading or hearing it a picture of God’s story and our story together.  There are actual daily readings, google lectionary, you’ll come up with a lot of good stuff!

Our passage this morning, at first, can be somewhat unsettling for us in the 21st century.  What does it mean to have a house divided?  For Satan to turn on Satan?  A stronger man?  And the kicker, Jesus’ family coming to reprimand him and Jesus seemingly redefining who his family is?

Well, first of all, just like all scripture reading, we have to cultivate an openness to what God wants to share with us, while also understanding that this was probably written in first century where relationships and families were defined a bit different.  Yet, there’s still some amazing messages for us today.

Jesus’ family is concerned for him and for his safety.  He’s drawing large crowds in a restive time in history and in this place.  Revolution is in the air and a desire to live without the yoke of occupiers from Rome and a religious system that coddled the people while conspiring with the Roman authorities.  

And, folks are drawn to this Jesus who is expressing through his words and actions living a life as full humans not subject to a system or an ism, but in a deep abiding in God’s Presence, God’s reign that is based on deep relationship.

A movement is brewing a drawing in people and with that, the authorities are threatened and trying to pin things on Jesus, saying things, betraying relational integrity and trying to get Jesus out of the picture…and even scapegoating him for their own short givings and failures in living into the promises of God.  Promises that they knew from their religious training, but failed to live into because it would upset the social order that kept them comfortable.

So, his family comes to him, out of concern, but also with a desire to even forcibly take him back home if you will.  Jesus answers his family, his followers, and his detractors with a powerful conversation.  He tells them that if he’s doing all of his miracles because he’s in league with the devil, that doesn’t wash because the devil can’t cast out the devil.  That doesn’t make sense.  And, that a kingdom divided can’t stand, it falls.  Why would the devil want to fail like that?!  

And, no one can enter a strong man’s house and take his stuff unless he has a stronger man…in effect, Jesus is saying that he’s stronger than the devil.

So much in that alone!  One, it says how important it is for us to be reminded that we can’t be a church divided!  That we have to trust one another in order to live as Jesus followers in a world that desperately needs unity.

It also says that Jesus is enough, is with us, and our relational identity in Christ and as the body of Christ is stronger than any division that we experience or even cause intentionally or unintentionally.  

He goes on to say, that all of us will be forgiven for those times we blaspheme, or say false things about one another…but, when it comes to God’s spirit that flows and is active, that it’s a grave mistake.  God’s with us, God’s Spirit is flowing, trust it, even in deep doubt.  And, again, remember, eternal means something about quality rather than quantity.  In other words, blaspheme God, go ahead, but that will not increase your quality of life, you’ll simply continue to be in a place that is disconnected from who you are, who you are with others, and with God…in other words, alone…and not in a good way.

Oh friends, we have come through a time of forced isolation, now, more than ever, we need to recommit ourselves to one another and to the purposes of the church, which is to love our neighbors, each other, well and to trust that God is with us and has a purpose for us…and wants us to be fully human!

Jesus’ family, well they hear Jesus, they don’t forcibly take him.  When he’s told they are outside of the crowded house, he tells his disciples and this followers, that they are his family because of their commitment.  He is saying that they are demonstrating true friendship by listening and trusting.  And, that there is a deeper bond than even our blood relatives, that Jesus is our redeemer-kinsman, our brother, and this relationship is more important than any allegiance or belief or opinion…and this relationship calls us into deeper relationships with one another.

That’s church.  Our families are gifts that we should cherish and nurture and honor…that’s throughout Scripture and our nature.  Church though is a covenant that we enter into with one another, we say that we will work out things together, talk to one another, deeply listen, grow and mature together, be willing to live out what it means to follow Jesus and be God’s people.  Church that is “outside-in” focused.  Which means that we look at the people around us, God loves everyone around us…we find God in engaging the other and in the process inviting them from the outside into the inside of communion.  That’s what Jesus did and does!  

Now, last thing…Jesus’ family doesn’t seem to be offended too long by Jesus’ words.  His mother was one of the few that stayed with him at the cross at great peril to her own life.  She also knew early on the gift to the world that he was and is…and, his brother?  James becomes the leader of the church after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Carrying the message of Jesus’ life to the world.

So, church, graduates, family, know that you are loved and out of that love can love others.  Know that our commitment to one another is not defined by isms or belief systems, but abiding love that goes with us throughout our lives!