Third Sunday after Pentecost | Mark 4:26-34
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts related to the Sunday reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. A study in practical theology.
The more I gaze into the face of headline Christianity, the more I understand why people reject anything that smacks of faith. Listening to a politician using faith-speak to galvanize voters (right or left wing, though usually the right—this bird flies in circles, it seems) is enough to repel any thoughtful person.
There are some wonderful public voices in the Christian world. While I am not Catholic, Pope Francis often gives me joy. Rachel Held Evans’ journey has resonated with many Christians as they examine their own beliefs. People like Nadia Bolz-Weber (to the extent that there is anyone like Nadia Bolz-Weber) are inspiring (and entertaining.)
Most of Christianity is quieter, more in keeping with the part of the iceberg that is under the water. You don’t see it, but that massive body of ice crystals beneath the surface is the only reason any ice rises up at all.
Jesus told parables. Stories, illustrations thrown alongside our lives to help us think. The kingdom of God is like seed scattered on the ground, he said, growing into a field of grain. The kingdom of God is like mustard seed, he said, tiny and almost unnoticeable, yet growing into a plant somewhere between knee high and over one’s head, depending on which of the nearly countless sources one reads to try to learn what kind of plant Jesus meant.
There is nothing spectacular about grain growing, nothing that would make a front page article or a popular tweet, except that from it we get the bread that we eat. Nothing about mustard is impressive—tiny seeds and a plant that may be large enough to shade birds but that is nothing more than a shrub at best.
Scattered, tiny seeds. An unremarkable plant. Such is the kingdom of God, Jesus says. What a remarkable journey, though, from germination to plant. We pass by each day without noticing the process until one day the field is full of grain, or flowers have grown from what looked like nothing.
The kingdom of God—what is with that expression anyway? Do we really imagine God as a radiant old king, someone made in our image, sitting on a throne, gazing down at the disc of the world? Many have. Many still do. It is an image that says more about our limited imagination than it does about God.
The small things, the things we overlook, those are what tell us about God. A child who knows kindness grows into an adult with a good heart; that is of God. A victim offers forgiveness, regardless of the effect on the offender, lightening the burden and opening a new future for the one who forgives; that is of God. Small things and things that cannot even be seen, these are where God is present.
Life grows around us, even without our notice. The universe takes the smallest things and makes something of them. We breathe, and a plant uses the carbon dioxide we exhale, growing from what seems nothing. The world is connected in ways we barely understand. On the other hand, our greatest efforts are sometimes the most harmful: scars on the planet that one can see from space, scars within us that God can see from anywhere.
Food for a hungry neighbor, kindness toward a child, a sense of gratitude for being alive—these things matter to God, even when we do not see how such things may change the world. From small things, unseen and unnoticed, come the beauty and wonder around us.
“The kingdom of God is as if…,” the parable begins. As if what?