3 Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. Bingham Powell
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
We do not know a lot about the first thirty years of Jesus’ life. The Gospels give us one story from when he was twelve. And after that, he doesn’t appear again until his baptism in the river Jordan about the age of thirty. Jesus did a lot in the brief three years of his ministry. He gathered disciples, he healed the sick, he prayed to God, he ate with all kinds of unsavory people, he traveled from place to place, he debated with the other religious leaders, he taught and he preached, and he proclaimed the kingdom of God. This last one – proclaiming the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven as Matthew often calls it – is the one thing he did more than anything else. In the Gospel accounts, he proclaims the kingdom of God more than he heals. He proclaims the kingdom of God more than he prays or eats. He proclaims the kingdom of God more than he talks about money, food, law, sin, repentance, love, life, death, or eternal life.
Jesus does not use the expression “the kingdom of God” as a euphemism for heaven or the afterlife, although I do think he understands it to have an eternal characteristic. Rather, the kingdom of God is something that we can begin to experience here and now. On many occasions, when he healed, he told the person that the kingdom of God had come near. In other situations, he suggested that the kingdom had already come. When pressed by the Pharisees about when the kingdom of God was coming, he said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20-21). The kingdom of God is among you. Or the Kingdom of God is within you, as the good old King James Version says. The word kingdom, therefore, is not the physical place of fairy tales where kings and queens live in castles and send knights on adventures to rescue princesses from evil dragons or witches. No, the kingdom is a metaphor for God’s dominion or God’s reign in our lives. Being a metaphor doesn’t make the kingdom untrue; it is truer than most anything you can touch or feel or see.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus uses two parables to help us understand this kingdom of God. “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.” In this first parable, Jesus alludes to the mysteriousness of the coming of the kingdom. The seeds are scattered, but no one listening knew how they grew into plants: the earth produces of itself. So, the kingdom is proclaimed, scattering the seeds, and then the kingdom mysteriously grows, first the stalk, then the full grain in the head. The farmer doesn’t do much after the seeds are scattered. As anyone who farms or gardens knows, while there may be a few things you can do to help the seeds after they are planted, most of it is out of your control at that point, most of the work is put in early on preparing the soil, and you can actually ruin the crop by too anxiously getting involved and doing too much.
Jesus continues this agricultural metaphor in a second parable: "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It 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." The small mustard seed becomes the big shrub, nearly a tree-like shrub. The kingdom of God begins as almost nothing. Maybe you don’t even recognize it when it is planted in your life, but it has the potential to grow and grow and grow even more. Now, the mustard plant is a bit of a weed: a delicious weed to enhance the flavor of your food and maybe even have a little medicinal quality, but still a weed. It grows in places where you did not plant it; it can easily take over a field unexpectedly. We don’t have a lot of mustard around here, but you might have had a similar experience with mint. Mint is often called a weed: a delicious weed to make a refreshing iced tea in the summer, or a cool bowl of homemade ice cream, or a nice sprig for your mint julep, but still a weed nonetheless. They always warn you to only grow mint in pots, because the mint will otherwise spread and take over and go places you don’t want it to grow. What a striking metaphor, the kingdom of God is like a weed. The seed is so small that you may not even notice when it is planted in you, but when it finally grows, it takes over. It invades your life, spreading to every nook and cranny of soil within and among you it can find.
Our tendency with weeds is to weed them, to root them out, because they are bad. They are unpredictable; they are not what we planted. I suspect that is our tendency with the kingdom, too. The kingdom of God tries to spread many times in our lives before it finally can, because we keep on weeding it. We don’t recognize it as the good thing it is. The kingdom is all too often seen as an invasive weed that we need to pluck. But, the kingdom of God is good. It is the Good News that Jesus proclaimed to his followers two thousand years ago and continues to proclaim to us today. It is life giving, providing shade to the birds and offering them a place to build their homes. When the weed of the Kingdom of God comes and grows in you, it will transform you, and help you focus on what is truly important in life and help you to let go of those things that aren’t.
This is our hope: that the Kingdom of God will take root in us and spread throughout, bringing us more and more in tune with God through Christ. Bringing life to us and to those whom we encounter. In the words that Jesus taught us, we boldly pray for this every time we gather together for the Eucharist: thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Don’t weed this weed of the kingdom of God from your life, but let it continue to take over until the birds of the air take shade in its branches. For the kingdom of God has come near and is among you and within you. Amen.