Tuesday, June 19, 2012

SERMON: God Grows the Kingdom

Date: The 2nd Sunday after Trinity (June 17, 2012)

Have you noticed? The zombie movie seems to be making a comeback. Last year, Monique and I watched the first few episodes of The Walking Dead, an AMC show that is based on a long-running comic book of the same name. The creators thought that zombies were interesting because, if you think about it, there is no real end to a zombie story. You can’t get rid of them. You fight and you fight and you fight, and then you die. The entire show is an attempt to bring human meaning out of an ultimately hopeless situation. 


Looking at our Gospel passage today, Mark shows Jesus telling an entirely different set of stories, a string of parables about the Kingdom of God. 

Mark writes, "[Jesus] also said, '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, but he does not know how'." 

Jesus spins a story that his audience can hear. The farmers among them know what it is like to scatter seed on the ground, to sleep and rise and sleep and rise again, and then to see the new growth that would mean food for their families for another year. 

But, when it comes to the Kingdom of God, there is a problem. God has been working with the Israelites for a long time, but it still only feels to them like the seed has been planted. There is no promised restoration. The glory of God has not returned to the Temple. They are sleeping and rising, whole generations have risen and fallen to sleep, but where is the sign of the growth? Have they done something wrong? 

Many would say "yes." The Pharisees say that the people have not kept the Law of God well enough, that they have not loved righteousness and walked with God. For that reason, there is no growth. 

The Essenes, that strange sect out in the dessert, say that it is because the high priesthood was stolen from its rightful heirs for the sake of power and greed. For that reason, there is no growth. 

But in the story, when the seed sprouts and grows, Jesus says that the planter "does not know how" it does so. The planter is shut out of the process of growing. He sows and harvests. In the middle, all he can do is wait.


 In 2010, Chuck Klosterman wrote an article in the New York Times entitled, "My Zombie, Myself: Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead." Klosterman asks why zombie movies have grown in popularity, and he answers that "modern life is exactly like slaughtering zombies." The thing about zombies is that they always keep coming. You might dispatch one, but there will always be another right behind. You fight and fight and fight, and then you die. 

Klosterman continues, "Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It's always a numbers game. And it's more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning, or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will never be finished with whatever it is you do." 

Whereas the farmer in Jesus' story does not know how the ground gives growth, we do not know why we continue fighting the day in and day out battles of email, paperwork, and other tedious tasks. When it doesn't stop, and we find ourselves lost in the mire of emails and responsibilities, so mired down that we can't find any space to be alone with our close friends and family, much less with ourselves or with God, we have to start wondering: what does my work mean? Why do I get up in the morning? Why keep fighting?


 The farmer who casts his seed into the ground in hope might ask similar questions. But, simply put, he continues to scatter seed in the fields because the ground continues to do its mysterious work turning those seeds into full heads of grain. He trusts the ground to grow the crop. And since this is a parable of the Kingdom of God, God grows the Kingdom. 

The Kingdom of God is like these seeds the farmer casts onto the ground. It starts out small, and its growth is entirely outside of human control. Citizens of the Kingdom see the Kingdom sprout and grow, but they do not know how it does so. All they know is that there comes a time when their wait is over. As Mark says, “When the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” 

God grows the Kingdom not just for its citizens, but for those who will become its citizens. Jesus continues with another parable. The Kingdom is like a mustard seed. Even though it is a very small seed, when planted it can become a shrub 10-15 feet tall. Jesus says God grows the Kingdom like a mustard seed grows, “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” God grows the Kingdom, and he grows the Kingdom to provide a place for the entire world to come and rest. 

And God the Farmer does all of this in the person and work of Jesus himself. Jesus is the growth from Israel’s soil that the nation had long expected. And Jesus’ ministry will soon flower into a ministry that heals the sick and binds demons all over Israel. Jesus will himself be treated like a seed, crushed, put in the ground, and then three days later, he will sprout again, raised into new life by God the Father. God grows the Kingdom, and people from all the nations of the earth will make nests in its shade.


 If God grows the Kingdom, then what does that say for the modern world of work? Is work for a Christian ultimately like a zombie movie in which you fight, fight, fight, and die? No. As God grows the Kingdom, God gives growth to our work as well. 

In the zombie world of work, the imperative is survival. Killing zombies isn’t hard, but you have to kill them or you die. In the Christian world of work, the imperative is thriving. Tilling the ground is hard work, but once the seeds are sown there is space for rest, for sleeping and rising night and day, because we are off the hook for making the seeds grow. That is the mysterious work of the ground; that is God’s work. We sow, and when the time comes, we harvest. God gives growth to our work. 

In this understanding of our day-to-day, we come to expect an abundance, not necessarily a financial abundance, but an abundance of joy as we see the work of our hands become something we could not have imagined – like a mustard seed turning into the greatest of all shrubs. We sow faithfulness when we show up every day (whether at a job or elsewhere) and fulfil our obligations. We sow kindness when we make ourselves helpful to others. We sow our skills and talents and passions, but then, and this is the good news of work for a Christian, we can let go of the results. The God who is growing the Kingdom all around us is the same God who gives growth to our work in an active partnership. We sow. He grows. We reap. Thanks be to God. 

And what does this mean for us? Sow liberally. In the fields in which you are responsible, sow skill. Sow focused attention. Sow kindness. Scatter these seeds far and wide in your fields, and then say a prayer, go home at the end of the day, and rest in joy and hope. God will give the growth. And when the time comes, you will see the harvest of God’s Kingdom, sprouting up to life for you and your families. Be faithful. Stay true. Whether it is the work we do for employers, the Church, or our friends and families, God gives the growth. Sow liberally. Soon enough the harvest will come. 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

**Photo by hummel_12

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