June 17, 2012 “ 3 Pentecost B, Proper 6
Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
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. Now I’m not a farmer but I know that’s pretty crazy talk. You don’t just throw seeds out on top of the ground and get much in return, especially around Jerusalem where it’s mostly rocks. I think, when Jesus said this to his audience, the people would have been puzzled and probably inspired to hear a pretty shocking message. The kingdom of God is bigger than us and beyond our control. It happens as God wills it to happen, not necessarily as we will it.
I’ve tried to think of some similar images that Jesus might use if he were talking today. The kingdom of God is like kudzu, he might say. We don’t exactly know how it got here but it’s taking over. Pretty soon even New Jersey will have it! Or, the kingdom of God is like St. Augustine grass. You come back from vacation and its runners have taken over your driveway and sidewalk. Or, the kingdom of God is like summer tomatoes. You wait and you wait and you wait and then, boom, they’re all over the place. You can’t eat ’em fast enough.
The kingdom of God is sprouting forth all around us. It’s delicious and it’s surprising. It’s more than we can make on our own. It invites us to jump in but, if we don’t, that doesn’t stop it. In fact, if we don’t jump in, the kingdom will assert itself over against us in some powerful ways. If we don’t start seeing the world the way God sees it, there’s a cost involved. The kingdom of God is all for us unless we turn against it. The kingdom of God is something you want to be on the same side with. It has its own life and invites us to participate in that life but it doesn’t depend on us for its existence. The kingdom of God is wherever God is and God is all over the place, not just where you think he might be.
The lessons today speak of the unlikely graciousness of God’s work in the world. It just doesn’t add up to human logic but God’s work is there nonetheless and it speaks to us of the hope that we can’t find when we just look at each other and our circumstances. God’s work in the world defies our logic, invites us to expand our thinking. I am the way, the truth, and the life.
Ezekiel, the Old Testament prophet who spoke in the time of the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon, foresees the time when God will restore the people in their homeland. Though oppressed now, eventually they will be free and all the nations will know that God has saved them. God will take a sprig and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. The transplanted sprig will produce boughs and bear fruit. All the trees of the field “ all the people and nations of the world “ will know that I am the Lord. God will make all things well, in time, even though the present circumstances are the worst we can imagine.
This week at Vacation Bible School, the lessons will focus on this time of exile in Babylon. More than a few parents have expressed some concern over that theme. Sounds pretty depressing, one parent shared. The exile was a bad time. Why do we have to talk about that? Isn’t that the point of the entirety of scripture and the Christian gospel itself, that in the midst of the depressing human condition God infuses hope and salvation? We don’t find hope and salvation by suppressing or ignoring suffering. We find hope and salvation by suffering faithfully. While we make do with pretending things aren’t all that bad in life, God is working to transform all that is amiss. Daily some sort of suffering is assigned to us. We can’t make it go away on our own. Yet as we suffer faithfully, God transforms our suffering into a deeper joy. We find that the things we most wish would disappear come to be part of our discovery of God’s presence. Suffering isn’t punishment from God. Suffering is the way of the world being transformed by the way of the kingdom of God. Suffering teaches us that the things which are bigger than us and threaten to destroy us do not measure up to the healing grace of God.
Maybe you’ve noticed that most every children’s book or movie has the theme of good versus evil. Evil lurks and the story develops how frightening that evil can be. Yet good always wins out in the end in those children’s stories. Adults might get a little more cynical and think that evil actually wins along the way. But the gospel message is that ultimately good does win. The cross of Christ is God defeating evil for all time and the events of our lives are invitations to us to suffer faithfully so that we might find that salvation. We’re not here to prove our mettle. We’re here to find that God’s mettle is already proven.
It doesn’t make any sense that seeds strewn about on rocks would grow and produce fruitful crops. It doesn’t make any sense that self-centered, self-serving people would be loved by a gracious God. But that’s the truth we celebrate day in and day out as Christians. The kingdom of God is sprouting forth all around you. The events you cannot change, the things you wish were different, have already been made new by God’s saving grace. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; everything has become new!