Scripture – Mark 4:26-34
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jesus had a remarkable grasp of language and understood the power of words. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus does not deliver long-winded speeches about God or what it means to live a God-inspired life. Instead, he uses down-to-earth stories about farming or cooking or weddings or fishing. Jesus wanted to enrich people's understanding of God and how to live in ways that are meaningful, joyful and hopeful; so he sparked people's imaginations by painting pictures with words. He was especially fond of telling parables.

Sometimes his parables were lengthy stories, such as the Good Samaritan. Other times they were pithy sayings, such as, "The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."

The basic idea behind a parable is to make a comparison. You talk about one subject, to tease out the meaning of something else. Jesus talked about old and new wineskins to explain the impact of his new understandings of God on the old ones. He said pouring new wine into old wineskins will burst them, and his new teachings surely burst apart some of the old ways of imagining God.

Parables were not unique to Jesus; other Jewish rabbis of his day told them. However, Jesus seems to have employed this form of speech more than anyone else. He is credited with more than 40 parables.

On close inspection, we discover that Jesus did not tell one and only one parable to describe the kingdom of God. He told several, each one providing a different slant on God's kingdom.

On one occasion, Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field." Another time, Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is like a net that was thrown into the sea." Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is like a merchant in search of fine pearls." In today's passage, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like seeds. Each of these parables triggers different mental images and is intended to help us grasp different facets of God's activity in the world. Keep in mind that Jesus did not think of the Kingdom of God simply as heaven. He saw God's kingdom, sometimes called the divine realm, as the occasion when life on earth is as God intends for it to be. Whenever compassion, justice and peace are present, the kingdom of God is present. It is precisely what we pray for in the Lord's Prayer when we say, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

This morning's passage relates two brief parables Jesus told to help people gain insights into the expansion of God's kingdom. In the first, he says, "The kingdom of God 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."

If you have ever planted seeds, you appreciate this tale. It is truly amazing to watch that little seed you buried in the soil become a lush plant that provides you with juicy, red tomatoes or a gorgeous flower that stands out from the green.

This parable reminds us that there is energy at play that has nothing to do with us, and when we contemplate the growth of a seed into a plant, we are touched by a sense of wonder. Sure, we can explain the process scientifically, but that should not rob it of its awesome nature – like the birth of a child. We can explain it. But, wow!

In this parable, Jesus more or less says, "The kingdom of God is like a crop that grows in a field. But, how does it grow? You can simply toss seed on the ground and then go about your daily living. Without any attention from you, something incredible can transpire. The seed sprouts and begins to grow. You do not need to lift a finger to help it. In fact, you can sleep through the whole process! But, one day, you'll peer out at the field where you scattered the seeds and you will discover that handful of seeds has produced an abundant harvest.

Jesus is saying: Life is like that. There are some blessings we reap that make life possible and worth living that have little or nothing to do with our creative powers. Water, sunshine, oxygen, and plants that produce food are here for our sustenance and livelihood.

Jesus uses the example of plants growing to describe God's power. Just as there is an unseen energy at work that compels a seed to grow into a plant, there is an unseen force at work that spurs God's kingdom to flourish.

Jesus is not saying, "Kick back and relax. God will create the kingdom with no help from you." But he is saying that we do not build the kingdom all on our own. Like the seed that does not simply remain a seed but is transformed into something more useful and multiplied in size, the invisible Spirit of God is at work in the world transforming what is, into something greater.

What is our job in the process? Plant the seeds; then trust God to work with them to bring about something exceptional.

"A man took his two children to play miniature golf. At the entrance, the sign read: Children under six are free. His son was four and his daughter was seven, but she was small for her age. He paid for the seven year-old and himself. The man taking the money said, "Why didn't you just tell me both the kids were under six? Then, it would have only cost you five dollars instead of ten? It really would not have made any difference to me."

The father responded, "It may not have made any difference to you, but it would have made a difference to my children. They would have known."1 The father planted a small seed about the importance of being honest. Who knows how that seed might grow?

God works for good in all situations, but God does not work unilaterally. We are a vital part of the equation. We can hinder events from moving in a positive direction. Worse, we can propel things in the wrong direction. However, when we respond positively to the urging of God and act in harmony with the divine vision for the greater good, then something life-enriching can sprout and grow.

The first parable tells us that, whether we can detect it or not, God works with the seeds that we scatter to expand God's kingdom on earth. The second parable builds on the first. It claims that astonishing things can result from miniscule beginnings. Again using a story about a seed and its growth, Jesus says the kingdom of God "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."

This parable claims that God can work with even our minute and meager actions to bring about something grand. Each sentence you utter and each action you take has repercussions. This parable suggests that God works with our small efforts to bring about greater opportunities to enhance the common good.

Jesus may have told these parables in part to bolster the confidence of his first followers. By the time the state executed Jesus, he had not reached many people and he could not boast of having scores of followers. His small group of disciples may have looked around at their numbers and concluded that although they loved and respected Jesus, his ministry had not exactly been an overwhelming success. These parables encouraged his small band to keep planting seeds, because there is a mysterious and dynamic power at work in the world. God's Spirit would work with their efforts, no matter how inconsequential they seemed, to produce a magnificent harvest – over one billion followers around the world.

It is a message for us to imprint on our hearts and in our minds. Our news is filled with stories of war, racism, greed, abuse, and discrimination. When our focus is constantly being drawn to these destructive forces that tear at the fabric of our world, it is easy to despair. However, these two tiny parables urge us to defy hopelessness and cynicism, and to remember that great things can result from small beginnings. God can work with small actions to spread the divine realm.

Where do you see God's kingdom infiltrating our world today? Where do you see someone forgive rather than seek revenge? Where do you see someone acting generously rather than hording for himself? Where do you see someone showing respect rather than discriminating? Where do you see someone patiently listening to someone who is hurting? Making a sacrifice for someone in need? Lifting a burden from someone who is dragging? Providing an opportunity to someone who has reached a dead end?

When I meet with couples for pre-marital counseling, I give them this simple piece of advice: outdo each other with small acts of kindness, because small gestures will reap great rewards. They build a foundation for a lifelong loving bond.

Never discount the power you possess to change a person's life or even change our world. A kind word, a bold stand or a thoughtful gesture could prompt something impressive, because God has a knack for working with small seeds.


  1. Mark Diehl, "Endings, and New Beginnings," February 15, 2015


PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE ~ Randall T. Clayton

Lord our God, who created all things and who sustains all things. We pray for peace... You sent a Savior, Jesus Christ, to break down the walls of hostility that divide us. Send peace to the places where greed, pride and anger turn nation against nation, race against race, church against church.

We pray for leaders...leaders of the church and leaders of nations. You who are sovereign over all, give the leaders of the church and the leaders of nations the vision of your kingdom, that they may lead us with justice and goodwill.

We pray for the earth, your creation... You made all things in your wisdom and in your love. Grant us all a reverence for the earth that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.

We pray for those who are in pain in body and mind... You who have borne the pain of the world, look with compassion on those who are sick. Stand with those who sorrow. And show all in pain hope by your Word.

We pray for friends and families... God of love, bless us, bless those we love, bless our friends, bless our families, so that by drawing close to you we may be drawn closer to each other.

We pray for ourselves... God who calls us each by name, we ask that you might give us courage in the face of adversity, hope when clouds of despair descend upon us, joy even in the midst of the mundane. Help us be receptive to hearing a new word from you, a new call, a new possibility for our lives. Help us to be receptive to live in hope and to translate that hope into actions that water the seeds of hope you have planted in creation.

We ask this prayer, remembering the prayer which Jesus taught, saying, "Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen. "

(prayer adapted from Feasting on the Word, Liturgies for Year B, Vol 2 Worship Companion)