All of Jesus’ parable to some extent are elaborations of the parable of the sower, at least his Kingdom parables. But I feel that is even more the case with the Gospel according to Mark. The Sower and the Soils is Jesus’ picture of the Kingdom in this world. The parables that are part of the text today are refinements or close ups of parts of that parable that answer some natural questions. The early part of this sermon sets that connection because the lectionary jumps right back into the gospel skipping the larger narrative parable.
The questions natural questions that might come up immediately are: 1) to what extent are we responsible for the growth of the seeds? and 2) when the seeds do grow what does it look like? This sermon looks at both those questions through the parables.
The year preaching on the Gospel according to Mark is one of the most interesting. Mark’s gospel has the most cryptic and odd parts. It is no wonder that the current reigning academic model puts Mark as the earliest. It makes sense that some thing like today’s parable or last Sunday’s visit by Mary would be smoothed out later. It makes sense, but I’m not personally convinced. Of the four gospels Mark simply seems to have a sense of the absurd. How crazy and paradoxical and wonderful at the same time life and the God of life actually is. This sermon attempts to ponder the odder of the seed parables. “The earth produces by itself.” It invites you to think of it as a parable of the work of the Spirit. God doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – “he sleeps and rise night and day”, “he scatters everywhere” – but the plants grow and produce a harvest. The Kingdom of God can be absurd that way, but it is God’s work. And he grants us the growth.
Mark chapter 4 is a chapter of parables. In the midst of many familiar ones from other gospels is one that is unique to Mark – the seed growing silently. Not that any of the parables are easy, but some, like the parable of the sower and the soils, come with an explanation. Other, like the parable of the mustard seed which is pared with the silent seed in Mark, are more obvious in their intent. And the more obvious, the more likely we’ve heard sermons on them or grasped them ourselves. This sermon focuses on that unique one.
In many ways the parables of seeds are all attempts to describe what the seeds planted on good soil experience. Wheat and weeds together sown (Matthew 13:25ff) describes our experience of living in a fallen world. The mustard seed describes the way churches always surprise. They are not what you’d expect when you look at what is planted. But the seed silently growing talks about the experience of being a seed planted I think.
1) The seed is helpless in its growth. We individuals or the church depend completely upon God for growth. We can’t force it. We might hinder, but have not power to make grow.
2) Never-the-less the kingdom of God grows: often imperceptibly, constantly at the will of God, and inevitably. It takes constant effort to kill organic growth.
3) The reign of God includes a harvest.
This sermon ponders those three elements of the parable.
I included on the record two interesting hymns with organic growth metaphors. The first is a modern hymn, LSB 654, Your Kingdom O God is My Glorious Treasure. The hymn is a compilation of many of the Reign of God parables: treasure, pearl, yeast, mustard plant, field, seeds, weeds and wheat. The last hymn I included is one of the oldest the words taken from the 2nd century Didache, probably the earliest catechism. LSB 652, Father We Thank Thee. Both I thought were worthy examples of response to the Word of the parable.