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Mark 4: 26-34
Sowing Seeds of Faith

Planting & Growing Seeds of Faith.

As I was reading through the gospel reading for this week, a couple of thoughts occurred to me right away.  What a great time of year to hear the parable of the sower.  Alao, if Jesus always used parables in his teachings, it’s probably a good thing for us to know what a parable really is.  The New Testament was written in Greek and the word parable comes from the Greek paraballo.  It’s a compound word:   para and ballo; para-meaning alongside—as in parallel (like parallel bars in gymnastics) and ballo meaning thrown (like a ball, to throw).  So a parable is a story that is ‘thrown alongside’ another story to help illustrate or describe a teaching or understanding.   So, not just a fable or a story with a moral; but something much richer, a story with an inherent truth embedded within it.   Parables help us to think about an idea or concept in a new way, maybe expand upon it in a way we’ve not considered before.  And if Jesus afterwards needed to explain the parables in even more depth to his disciples, well then, I think it behooves us as well, to look beyond the surface for a deeper understanding.  Jesus’ parables often used agricultural examples, because most places Jesus preached were small villages, surrounded by countryside, and even in the larger centers, people lived closer to the land in those days.   So agricultural comparators would be understood by Jesus’ listeners, but the subtleties of the agricultural aspects of the stories may not always be clear to today’s more urban listeners.  These parables from Mark are kingdom of God parables;  images, stories of how things are in God’s realm, and that’s often different than our realm, where we think we’re the ones in control. 

And then there’s another challenge when we hear the same parable again and again.  I’m sure when some of you heard me read this story, you may have thought: “Oh this one again?”   So, how do we look at an old story with new eyes, hear it with new ears so as to garner any fresh insights.  Can this well-known story touch our souls with new understanding of God and God’s kingdom? 

So if a parable is the story that’s ‘thrown-along side’ of the actual point and teaching Jesus was making, can we discern what the main message is that Jesus is trying to impart? 

Now, as with all bible passages, we need to put today’s scripture into the context of the larger picture.   This is the second  of three parables about sowing seeds that Jesus told.  The first one is the parable of the seeds that the farmer scatters everywhere, in gravel, on the road, in between thorn bushes and in good soil.   The farmer was pretty indiscriminate about where they went—rocky ground, the road side, thorny land, and good fertile soil.  Seeds of faith were sown everywhere—and that was the point.  No farmer that I know would ever throw seeds everywhere like that—farmers work to maximize yields, and that’s what brings monetary profits.  But in God’s realm it’s more important that the seeds get spread as far and wide as possible—the idea is to maximize the reach.  Even in less than ideal growing spots, some seeds will root and may well yield something, and that’s what is key in God’s realm.  And of course the seeds in the most fertile ground will yield the best. But faith, when it’s nurtured, can grow and thrive almost anywhere, and plants that grow in poorer soil conditions still grow and will yield, and even live on to grow even more!  Which has implications for how we can do our best to create the most fertile ground when we’re thinking about helping people come to faith, come to church, but that’s a topic for another sermon!

So, after setting us up with that first story, Mark gives us a second parable about what life is kind of like in God’s realm.  26The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens.”  So, the farmer plants the seed and then what can the farmer do?  Nothing, just goes about his regular life, sleeping and waking... 

And what happens to the seeds?  The miracle of growth! From germination to full maturity. The growth is of God, it is of God’s grace.   The actual germinating and growing happens, it is not of our control.  The actual growing part is of God.  The potential is there, in each seed, in each person.  But the seed must be planted and tended.  Farmers maximize the growth potential making the ground as fertile and receptive as it can be to receive the seed, provide fertilizers and even water to nurture the growth so the seed can grow and produce a maximum yield.  And after all that busyness, what then?  They just wait for the seeds to germinate and grow!  But the mystery, the wonder and beauty of the growth, is through the grace of God, it happens whether the farmer is waking or sleeping.  What about the seeds of your faith?  Are they growing, maturing, yielding fruit?  I’ve heard from people that just in the course of dealing with the challenges of life, and an awareness of God’s presence in those challenges, their faith grows in leaps and bounds.  For others actively nurturing their faith—prayer, study, worship attendance nurtures their faith, helps their faith grow and mature.  It truly is a life-long process.  We can’t make ourselves have more faith, or a better or stronger faith. That comes from God.  But just like we can maximize the potential for the growth of plants,  we can do the equivalent to nurture and nourish our faith, so it too will grow, and mature and yield fruits for God’s kingdom. 

And you know this faith sowing, it’s also a bit of a relief that the actual growth part is God’s responsibility, because that’s the part we don’t really understand, and it’s the hardest part.  We have the easy job, just plant the seeds for God’s kingdom: we spread them around, share God’s word as best we can, where ever we can, while being fully aware that not all the seeds will even grow or if they grow, whether or how much of a harvest will be produced. But nurturing your own faith and planting seeds for others, well, those are our parts of the job.  Could be as simple as inviting someone to come to church with you!

Another amazing thing is that God’s grace comes through our works—we are the ones also called to be the sowers of seeds. It’s like we are agents of God in a way, God’s farmers or gardeners.  Kind of awesome that God not only wants to use us, as imperfect as we are, but encourages us to sow those seeds of faith, and spread them everywhere.  God wants us to be a part of the giving and growth of God’s wonderful grace and spirit of life and love.    

Does it actually work that way?  Yup. 2 examples.  A number of years ago, Vicars Hodge, a former rector of St. Paul’s-Trinity thought that the Wingham area needed a food bank.  He reached out to members of the faith community to see if anyone saw the need too, and if so, to help him get it up and going.  And look what that’s grown into, The North Huron Community Food Share, providing food for hundreds of families each month.  As Covid was winding down, I wanted to respond in some way to the need of increasing numbers of financially strapped folk being hungry.   I reached out to some of the other pastors in Wingham, and more than 2 years in, there are 7 churches participating in the weekly free lunch program, serving up to 80 meals each Wednesday.  I’m not sure either of these projects have brought people to faith, per se, but they’ve each helped those in need, which is also what we’re called to do.  Plant a seed, take care of the seed, and watch it grow.  To belabour the metaphor somewhat, does every seed planted grow?  No.  Sometimes it’s the wrong seed for the soil type we’re trying to plant it in.  Or we didn’t prepare the seed bed sufficiently, or nurture the seedlings once they germinated.   In other words, maybe the idea was the right one, but the timing was wrong, or just not quite the right idea for the need presented, or there was insufficient resources to actually follow the idea through.  This rather takes us back to that first parable, where the seed falls into the gravel path or the weeds.  And you know, that’s ok.  Not every seed we even plant in our gardens grows—I had to replant my beans twice this year, and even the second planting only yielded about 50% germination. But I will have fresh beans to eat!  Clearly, as today’s parable shows us, our job is to plant the seed, nurture it to our best ability, and if it grows, it’s of God.  Because that’s God’s job, to make it grow. 

I don’t know about the other gardeners in the congregation, but each year I make a small diagram, a wee map of what vegetable seeds I’ve pIanted in my little veggie patch, so I know what I’ve planted where.  Bishop Todd has made a new Diocesan Plan to help guide us for the next ten years. It’s called “Turning to Grace”.  I got to thinking that this is rather like a map for the garden that is our Diocese. Unlike my wee garden map, this is a rather big plan, but we have a big Diocese!  We could, I suppose liken “Turning to Grace” to a seed catalogue which includes a planning and planting guide.  In it are ideas and instructions for how each church, which are kind of like plots in the larger Diocesan garden, can choose the seeds that will work best for the soil type in their own gardens. It will help guide our planning and planting based on how big our gardens are, how many gardeners we have to work our plot and what kind of seeds grow best in our soil type.   

 Now, this is not the first plan that’s been given by a Bishop to the faithful of the Diocese to implement.  But he is the first Bishop of which I am aware that has circulated a draft  of a plan around the Diocese for everyone’s feedback.  It’s gone out to all the various levels of leadership, Deanery Councils, every clericus, the Regional Deans and lay co-chairs, the archdeacons and last week members of Diocesan Council gave further input. Anyone can have a say, if you want to read it and comment, it’s available on the Diocesan webpage. If you want a paper copy, let me know.  I think it’s a good first draft, and I’ve given my 2 cents worth, as have your members on our Deanery Council.

So what types of seeds so we plant?  Well, we’ll get more into that once the plan is finalized, I’m sure.  But Jesus gave the example of the mustard seed.  A wee tiny seed – that we help God by planting. And it grows—thanks to the grace of God, into a plant large enough to provide safety and security for God’s creatures.  That’s how it is in God’s realm, in God’s world, in God’s kingdom—even if we do a little something for God, and it can grow into something that provides for others, that benefits someone in need, maybe even bring them to faith or even grow their faith. That’s how God’s world works!  It’s really kind of cool, and amazing that Jesus is inviting us into God’s world, to work for God and take an active role in God’s kingdom!