Proper 6B’21
13 Jun 2021
Mark 4. 26-34
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone

Almighty God, Maker and Grower of seed: Grant us grace to generously sow your seeds of love that the Son of Righteousness might reap an abundant harvest for your Kingdom; in the Name of Christ we pray. Amen.

John Irving, American Novelist, Academy Award winning screenwriter and an Episcopalian, makes the point in his novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany that great things sometimes come in small packages. The story’s main character is a 12-year-old named Owen Meany who was born with a particular disorder that caused dwarfism. Although he was small in stature he had a big faith and he used to tell his classmates that his life had a purpose and that he was “God’s instrument.”

One day, in the dead of winter, he and some of his classmates were traveling in a church bus headed for a weekend youth retreat; suddenly the bus hit a patch of ice and veered off the slick road plunging into a lake of freezing water. Because of his small size Owen Meany was able to crawl out of the small window of the bus, swim around to the back of the bus and open the emergency door and save all the children from drowning. Irving’s novel has been made into a movie entitled “Simon Birch” and stars Jim Carrey and Ashley Judd and I highly recommend you watch it sometime!

Today we hear one of Jesus’ parables about something powerful that comes in a small package and is all out of proportion to its size– a mustard seed. This parable like all the others in its most basic form goes something like this, “You think you understand reality but you really don’t. From God’s perspective here is reality.” Jesus will spend a lot of time telling more stories like these to overturn listener’s sense of order and reality. On his way to the cross, he will demonstrate that God not only loves sinners but also likes lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes. Into a secular and religious world dominated by powerful oppressors who were always citing the proper criteria for determining who was and was not acceptable, Jesus comes, eating and drinking with sinners and instead of riding a war horse upon entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he would enter riding a humble donkey.

Today’s parable is another installment in this series. Jesus chooses a small insignificant seed and plant that were proverbial in the middle east of his day. But I wondered if the mustard seed and plant might also have some clues for us modern disciples so – I turned to that great modern day oracle – Google and ‘googled’ to see what I might turn up. I found the blog of someone who had recently been on a tour of Israel and had this to say about the mustard seed and its plant: “While in Israel I learned that the people here are not too fond of mustard trees. There were actually Jewish laws against them being planted in gardens. The reason for this is that they essentially take over the area, spreading and sprouting and generally becoming a nuisance. Those stubborn little bushes would pop up and ruin the plans and purposes of the gardener.”

Evidently this blogger was from a fundamentalist background for he continued, “Growing up I heard nice sermons about the remarkable power of a mustard seed – tiny as it is, growing into a giant redwood or something. The only problem is, when you actually look at a mustard tree, it’s pretty scraggly.” (He included a picture on his blog of a small bush cropping up out of a crack in the rock wall of a garden – it wasn’t very impressive.)

He went on to make a theological point: “This insidious viral plant spreads like wildfire and is under no one’s control. It breaks all kinds of rules about how plants are supposed to behave. This is not the cedars of Lebanon that Israel hoped the Kingdom of God would produce.” I agree, this tiny seed that grows mysteriously into a bush seems a little lacking for any ‘would be empire builders’ or those who were out to make a name for themselves.

Equally frustrating, there is no formula for the process of growth that the parable gives to the planter of the seed. St. Mark simply records that after scattering the seed the planter would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow…and he does not know how.”

What are we to make of this? Perhaps the words of St. Teresa of Kolkata will suffice: “God has not called us to be successful but to be faithful.”[1] As we are faithful to plant the seeds of love in the hearts of those we come in contact with God will do the rest. As modern disciples how do we plant the seeds of Christ’s love, you may ask? I heard a story recently that, at least in part, answers this question.

I talked with a woman who told me that she had not been inside a church since her childhood and had never been baptized. The subsequent years and choices of her life up till then had taken her to some dark places and had resulted in some dire consequences. In misery she thought that she might be able to get her life turned around if she returned to Church. When she started to think about which church to go to she remembered a friend’s church from childhood. Her friend’s mother was British and she and her family attended the Episcopal Church and whenever she had a sleepover with her friend, they would take her to church with them. In this crisis point of her life she remembered this family and their church and how nice they had all been to her. She looked at all the local Episcopal Church websites and found one that had their service times clearly listed and that also had a service time that was convenient for her schedule.

Because of these small acts of kindness all these years later this woman has found the Church and ultimately God – and her life took a dramatic turn for the best!

The mystery that something so small can make such a big difference is one of the hallmarks of the Christian faith and of the Kingdom of God. In this woman’s case it took just two small seeds; the kindness of an Episcopal family who were willing to invite her to church, and a welcoming church with and open door, for the seeds to sprout, grow and now some twenty years after they were planted, bring someone back to God and to God’s Church.

Take a look at your hands my friends; these are the hands of a planter of seeds, the seeds of God’s love. Go now, and generously sow them. Amen.

[1] Unknown source for this quote