July 9, 2021

Mark 4:30-32
Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

On Wednesday we looked at another parable from Mark, and it follows a similar pattern to this one. A seed is planted and the seed grows into a harvest. Here, a small seed is planted and it grows into a tree. In both stories, Jesus is saying something about how the kingdom of God is like the transition from seed to harvest – a process that is almost entirely out of the hands of the gardener. Which is why in verses 27 and 28 he says:

. . . the seed sprouts and grows, though he (the gardener) does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain . . .

Every gardener reading along right now is saying, “All by itself?! Did Jesus never plant anything? What about the weeding and fertilizing and watering? What about keeping the rabbits and moles out of the garden? What about picking off slugs and moths and caterpillars and beetles? Nothing grows all by itself except weeds!”

Well, fellow gardeners, you’re not wrong. And thanks to modern technology like heat, plumbing, and electricity, we can even take the place of the sun and rain in the lives of our small seeds and seedlings. But even if we do all of those things – are we really making the plants grow? No. Something happens on a molecular level that we have absolutely no control over. We cannot force photosynthesis to occur, no matter how hard we try.

What you and I are doing, when we weed and water and fertilize and de-bug, is creating a context within which growth can occur. So, the Nate Kimball version of Jesus’s stories is this. The kingdom of God is like photosynthesis. You can support and assist. You can observe and respond. But without a piece of the puzzle entirely outside your control, nothing will ever happen. It’s the subtle but critical line between believing we cause the growth of God’s kingdom and knowing that we are merely facilitators and participants.

So the tension we walk in today is that on one hand there are an enormous number of things we are called to do as people of faith. We should be patient, self controlled, kind and good. On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that those things are merely a context for the unrelenting, uncontrollable kingdom work God is doing in our lives and in those around us. You can love your crotchety aunt with all the love in your heart. But unless her soul intersects with Jesus, you won’t see transformation. On the other side, if you confront her anger with anger, you’ve created an environment where it’s hard to see Jesus. You can read your Bible and pray every day. But unless God transforms your mind, you will still be stuck in old habits and patterns. On the other hand, if you don’t spend time learning and opening your heart to God, it becomes that much harder to hear and respond. 

So here’s your contradictory task today. Put in the work in the garden of your soul. But instead of preemptively deciding what the fruit of your work will be, allow yourself to be surprised at what grows by the grace of God.

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