11 Sunday -B

Mark 4:26-34 - "The Kingdom and the Seed"
Mark 4:26-34 - "Celebrate the Small Stuff"

Most of us have planted a garden or lived on or near a farm. In my case, I grew up in Chicago where they have to put cows in zoos because so many city people are shielded from agricultural life and would never otherwise get to see one. But for eleven years I served as the pastor of a church in the agriculturally-oriented community of Davenport, Iowa. Davenport is located in Scott County which is Mississippi River land. It is reported to be some of the richest soil in the world. I learned a lot about farming while living there. I learned about soil and seeds. I learned about the need for cooperation and balance between the various parts of nature - the sun, the soil, and the rain. Having returned recently from a trip to Iowa, I was very mindful of the soil


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Every book on change says the same thing. Change has changed. Change is no longer incremental. Change is exponential.

 Here is what no one will tell you: change is not just incremental, or exponential. Change is infinitesimal.

 So you gained a pound or two this year. It happens. Then it happens again next year. And the next year. Suddenly a decade has passed and you realize that "a pound or two" has compounded into two sacks of flour sitting on your hips! Infinitesimal change has caught up with you.

 In the early 1950s farmer Clarence Mauerhan was known as the "Chili Pepper King" of Orange County ("Anaheim peppers," anyone?). A mysterious buyer was paying top dollar for all the farms in the area, but farmer Mauerhan would have none of it. He was the lone holdout against payments for land that no one had dreamed were possible...

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 A Riddle

 About ten years ago, the youth director on our staff told me a riddle, and then he left town on a week-long camping trip without telling me the answer. He told me the riddle, and then he said "Oh yeah, only 17% of Stanford graduates figured out this riddle, but 80% of kindergarteners knew the answer." And then he left! I could have strangled him! But here' the riddle:

"What is stronger than God,
more evil than the devil,
poor people have it,
rich people don't need it,
and if you eat it, you'll die?"
(Repeat)

The answer is: "Nothing." I knew I should have gone to Stanford!

Literally, the word parable means "a riddle." They are stories that leave the listener with the responsibility of figuring out just what they mean. Jesus told more than 40 parables during his ministry, and he only explained one of them to his disciples, so that left the disciples with a lot of figuring out to do. And then Jesus took the answers with him when he ascended into heaven. So here we are, some 2000 years later, still pondering what Jesus must have meant when he told the story of The Wedding Feast, or The Dishonest Steward, or The Good Samaritan.

Steven Molin, Yup, Them Are Mustard Seeds
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 Mortals Only See the Beginning

All their lives the two young brothers had lived in the city behind great stone walls and never saw field nor meadow. But one day they decided to pay a visit to the country.

As they went walking along the road they saw a farmer at his plowing. They watched him and were puzzled.

"What on earth is he doing that for!" they wondered. "He turns up the earth and leaves deep furrows in it. Why should someone take a smooth piece of land covered with nice green grass and dig it up?"

Later they watched the farmer sowing grains of wheat along the furrows.

"That man must be crazy!" they exclaimed. "He takes good wheat and throws it into the dirt."

"I don't like the country!" said one in disgust. "Only crazy people live here."

So he returned to the city.

His brother who remained in the country saw a change take place only several weeks later. The plowed field began to sprout tender green shoots, even more beautiful and fresher than before. This discovery excited him very much. So he wrote to his brother in the city to come at once and see for himself the wonderful change.

His brother came and was delighted with what he saw. As time passed they watched the sproutings grow into golden heads of wheat. Now they both understood the purpose of the farmer's work.

When the wheat became ripe the farmer brought his scythe and began to cut it down. At this the impatient one of the two brothers exclaimed: "The farmer is crazy! He's insane! How hard he worked all these months to produce this lovely wheat, and now with his own hands he is cutting it down! I'm disgusted with such an idiot and I'm going back to the city!"

His brother, the patient one, held his peace and remained in the country. He watched the farmer gather the wheat into his granary. He saw him skillfully separate the grain from the chaff. He was filled with wonder when he found that the farmer had harvested a hundred-fold of the seed that he had sowed. Then he understood that there was logic in everything that the farmer had done.

The moral of the story: Mortals see only the beginning of any of God's works. Therefore they cannot understand the nature and the end of creation.

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes, quoting from A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People, Edited by Nathan Ausubel Copyright, 1948, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York

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Let the Gospel Run Its Course

For me, one of the classic interpretations of this Biblical passage about the seed growing automatically (Mark 4:26) was written by Martin Luther when he said about this text: "After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course." I like that. Luther said that after he pounded on the pulpit and expounded the gospel, he would go home and pull out the Sunday newspaper, and pull out his glass of warm Wittenberg beer and start to drink it and enjoy the afternoon. Luther knew that the power of his sermon was not based on the power of his theological acuity. He knew that the power of his sermon was not based on his eloquence or his abilities. He knew that the power of the sermon would have no effect whatsoever unless the very Word of God got into a person's heart. Luther knew that he couldn't do that. It was the Holy Spirit who did that. Luther keenly understood the power of the Word.

Edward F. Markquart, The Mustard Seed
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 Small Ways Every Day

I hate to bring up The Ten Commandments when I'm preaching on the Gospel of Mark, but...remember that they are very rarely Cecil B. de Mille, big-screen, neon-sign events. They really aren't. They are small choices made on small days, over and over and over again. Such as choosing to remember that God made us for freedom and gave us as a gift, not a punishment, rules to live by. Small things such as remembering God made us, so we don't make God. Such as remembering that we had better not put God's name on anything in a vain show of power. Such as remembering that if God made the universe from a little marble and rested, then we are just created and hard wired to let go of our tiny universes and rest too. Little things, like remembering not just to honor your parents when they are old and gray, but also to train your own children to honor you. And don't let them get away with small, crummy, petty things. And don't lie in small things. Then the great truths within you have a shot. And don't strike up teasing, betraying relationships. Almost every adulterous relationship that people bring to pastors like me is when their miserable family is imploding. Every one of them begins with small, careless choices. And don't murder, which may mean more than we want it to mean. And don't steal. I know that means more than any of us want stealing to mean. But if we don't steal in small ways, we won't get all messed up in big ways. And then this last one, which this year I think is the biggest one. Don't covet. Don't waste your life wanting another life. An old friend calls it a case of the "I wants." Whatever "I wants" you have right now-bigger, better, more, different-find little ways of not renting that room in your head. Little ways, like I will not think about this for five minutes kinds of ways. Things perhaps no bigger than a mustard seed.

I follow the God who showed up two thousand years ago in small ways on days of small things. A healing touch here. A compassionate word there. Small things like not giving up on flawed friends. Like praying every day. Small things like enjoying life. Jesus really enjoyed life. Small things like speaking truth to power. Like giving his small, mustard-seed-sized life so that the great labor of the new universe of resurrected, reborn life could be created.

Martha Sterne, A Day of Small Things
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 What It Takes to Grow

 James A. Garfield, prior to serving as President of the United States, was president of Hiram College in Ohio. One day a father asked Garfield if there were a short-cut whereby his son could get through college in less than the usual four years. He wanted his Son to get on with making money. The college president gave this reply, "Of course there is a way; it all depends on what you want your boy to do. When God wants to grow an oak tree, he takes 100 years. When he wants to make a squash, he only takes two months."

 Emphasis, CSS Publishing

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 We Are Called to Plant

 When it comes to being God's fellow workers, the first thing to realize is that we are not in control of the growth. We are called to plant. God gives the growth. God gets the credit. We cannot boast about the success that comes when the seeds are planted. We must be very cautious about taking too much credit for apparent success in the spiritual area. A visitor to the Vatican was quite impressed with the beauty and power of the place. He asked Pope John XXIII this question: "How many people do you have working here?" With a twinkle in his eye, the pope replied, "About half of them." We must never get puffed up with ourselves in the spiritual realm. Only God produces growth. Real spiritual growth comes from God. We just plant seeds and try to nurture them as my farmer friends have taught me over the years.

 Ron Lavin, The Advocate, CSS Publishing

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 Humor: Size Is Less Important Than Spirit

 A small fellow, not much over 5 feet tall, applied for a job as a lumberjack in Alaska. The foreman, thinking to discourage him, gave him a large ax, set him before a tree hundreds of feet tall, and yards in diameter, and told him to chop it down. Within minutes the tree had been felled. The amazed foreman asked him where he'd learned to chop trees so powerfully. The little fellow replied, "When I worked in the Sahara forest." "You mean, the Sahara desert." "That was after I got there," said the small lumberjack.

The point of the story is that size is less important than spirit, or intelligence, or courage -- a point made when King David was selected at a young age: "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature ... for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."

A faith that grows has heart, a heart that belongs to God. Faith grows from the inside out.

Merritt W. Ednie, God's Program In Process
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 Trifles Make Perfection

 Michelangelo, one of the world's great artists, was also a great sculptor. One day a visitor was looking at a statue that Michelangelo was making. The visitor said, "I can't see that you have made any progress since I was here last time."

Michelangelo answered, "Oh, yes, I have made much progress. Look carefully and you will see that I have retouched this part, and that I have polished that part. See, I have worked on this part of the statue, and have softened the lines here."

"Yes," said the visitor, "but those are all trifles."

"That may be," replied Michelangelo, "but...