With what can we compare the Kingdom of God? The two parables that we just heard are the only two in the Gospel of Mark that describe what the Kingdom of God is like. Of all of the things that Jesus said about this Kingdom, these are the two that Mark chose to retain: First, the parable of the seed, which grows by means both unknown and independent of the sower; and, second, the parable of the mustard seed, which begins as the smallest of all the seeds known in Jesus’ land, but yet grows to become the largest of all shrubs.
In Mark’s bare-bones Gospel, he thought it most important to include these two teachings: The kingdom of God is beyond our control. The kingdom of God surpasses all our expectations.
You see, everyone in Jesus’ day wanted to know when and how the Kingdom of God would make its appearance. The Kingdom of God was the new world order alluded to in the Hebrew Bible where God would intervene in human history, He would take back the reigns of power from the corrupt empires of the world, and He would finally set the world right.
In this Kingdom all human affairs would be governed by God’s Anointed One – the Christ – and all injustice, all suffering, and all corruption would be put to an end. If you lived in Roman occupied Judea – hey, if you live here, today – you’d want to know when a Kingdom like that was coming around.
But the problem was that most of the people awaiting this Kingdom of God thought that it would be established by the same means as every other earthly kingdom: through massive, violent effort. They thought that God would descend from heaven with legions of angels to lead the armies of Israel in a campaign to overthrow the nations. Everyone wanted to know when the revolution would begin.
But Jesus didn’t compare the Kingdom of God to other earthly kingdoms; he didn’t liken it to a revolution. No. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a seed: When it is planted it doesn’t break into the world through war or domination, but sprouts up in tender shoots. And from that humble beginning, by the grace of God, comes growth that eludes our understanding!
By telling us what the Kingdom of God is like, these parables also tell us what the Kingdom of God is not like. In fact, the very phrase, “Kingdom of God,” was a challenge to the corrupt empires of the world. In Greek, the word for kingdom is basilea, which means sovereignty, rule, or dominion.
And in Jesus’ day there was only one person on the face of the earth who was supposed to possess basilea: That was Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. When Jesus was proclaiming the Kingdom of God – the Basilea of God – he was challenging Caesar’s claim to absolute power and authority: God was in charge; not Caesar.
This Kingdom was unlike anything else that had come before it. It grew, not through the violent efforts of Men, but through the invisible, gracious action of God. This Kingdom was and is a challenge to anyone who would lay claim to the absolute power and authority that belongs only to God: From Rome to the imperial province of Raetia; or from Pyongyang to Pennsylvania Avenue.
Everyone around Jesus was asking when the revolution would begin. But in these two parables Jesus seems to say, “You’re asking the wrong questions.” There is no coming revolution. The Kingdom is already here. The seed has already been planted. God is already at work.
Now, I’m a seminarian. I’m that guy you pray for every week. But, I also happen to be a twenty-something Millennial. And I’ve found that that combination of things makes me a magnet for certain questions from fellow Episcopalians: Questions like, “How do we save the Church?” “How do we get the young people back?” “What new programs or innovative ministries will make us relevant again?” “Should we swap out the organ for a praise band?”
I believe these questions are well meaning, but every time I hear them I cannot help but think, “We’re asking the wrong questions.” The Church is the Kingdom of God on the ground. Everything Jesus said about that Kingdom applies to us, the Church. And just like in Jesus’ time there are people out there selling revolution: Programs for rapid church growth and five-step plans for parish revitalization. But make no mistake: There is no coming revolution that will save the Church. And that is good news!
It is good news because, like the seed in that first parable, it means the Church is able to produce of itself: the stalk, the head, and the grain. We can have confidence because the Church already contains within itself – within its doctrine and liturgy – all that is necessary for growth. It doesn’t grow by our efforts to make it grow, which means we can’t mess it up! And that’s good news!
We only need to sow the seed and God, in His grace, will give the growth. We don’t know how, but we know He will. If we are faithful in the sowing, then, like the mustard seed in that second parable, the growth that follows will surpass all our expectations.
The question that we need to ask is how do we go about sowing the seed of the Kingdom – the seed of the Church?
Waiting on revolution won’t work. Rebranding the Kingdom as the “Beloved Community” or “King-dom” won’t cut it. The visibility boost from the royal wedding sermon will fade away. And even prayer book revision will only shake things up for a moment. True and lasting growth can only come when we sow that small seed that the Church has always carried with her: the seed of invitation: Come and see!
We don’t need to reinvent the Church, we just need to invite and re-invite people to it. The invitation to come and see welcomes those we care about to experience the life-giving community we all have found in the local church.
Our invitation is simply this: Come and see what God is doing. Come and see a community in contrast to the world. Come and see lives transformed at this font. Come and see Christ’s body and blood broken and poured out for the world at this table.
Come and see hungry mouths fed at the Saturday morning breakfast. Come and see gifts of artistry in use among the quilting and needle arts guilds. Come and see bodies and spirits aligned at Prayer Breath Yoga.
Come and see prisoners visited at the jail ministry. Come and see creation cared for by Cool Congregations. Come and see the Kingdom of God sprouting up on the corner of 13th and Pearl! Come and see.
In a world as painful and confusing as ours, people want to know when a Kingdom like this is coming around. So lets tell somebody about it! Let’s do some mustard seed evangelism. If we do, then by the grace of God that seed of invitation will grow into something larger than we ever thought possible – into something beyond comparison. Amen.