3rd Sunday after Pentecost June 13, 2021
First Reading: Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Gospel: Mark 4:26-34
Prayer of the Day:
O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to all the world. Graft us into yourself and nurture our growth, that we may bear your truth and love to those in need, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Hymns of the Day
If you don’t have hymnals at home,
lookup the hymns on YouTube or other websites.
For the Fruit of All Creation (ELW 679)
For the Beauty of the Earth (ELW 879)
Word of God, Come Down on Earth (ELW 510)
Almighty God, Your Word is Cast (ELW 516)
Lord, Let My Heart Be Good Soil (ELW 512)
Reflection on Mark 4:26-34
by Pastor Tim Dean
What do you call a poodle in Wisconsin during the summer?
A hot dog!
One more groaner: what do fans do at hot summer soccer games?
Other than me telling corny jokes about the current heat wave, what does this have to do with the gospel reading today from Mark?
Jesus tells something called “parables.” “Parable” is sometimes translated: story, riddle, or even puzzle. A new translation for me this week is “joke.”
I don’t mean ridiculous or nonsense, but something using humor and a punchline. One of our great shortcomings as humans is that we become so serious about the bible and God that we miss the sense of divine humor and playfulness.
Take the joke of the mustard seed, for example. Jesus is speaking with crowds of people and talking about the kingdom of God. “What can I use to describe God’s reign, God’s infiltrating presence?”
Later he must explain the jokes to the insiders, the 12 disciples. Have you ever had to explain a joke to people? It seems like the disciples don’t get it!
Anyway, Jesus tells a joke to make a point about the kingdom of God, comparing it to a mustard seed.
People maybe smile or chuckle or groan when they hear him. Really? A mustard seed? Where Jesus lived in the Holy Land, the mustard plant was a non-descript shrub—a weed. It would be like me saying, “The kingdom of God is like a dandelion seed or a clover patch or a thistle.”
The kingdom of God apparently is not a cash crop. Yet it grows. It takes over.
The second funny part about the joke that we usually miss is that this mustard weed the “greatest of all shrubs” (4:32). Jesus’ originally audience must have really snorted at that one!
I googled the type of mustard bush found in Galilee—part of the brassica plant family. They are hardly the “greatest”—they can grow thick, but they don’t look very impressive. I imagine Jesus grinning as he says that this scrubby plant is the greatest of all shrubs.
The humor and absurdity are part of Jesus’ message. He could have said the reign of God is like a mighty oak or majestic pine—or even a beautiful rose. Instead he describes something more ordinary—a common weed that takes over, inch by inch, transforming the whole field.
Matt Skinner says that some people may consider this mustard shrub a weed, a nuisance, but “what about those who, like the birds, need a home where they can be safe? They will be happy.” (Skinner, “Commentary on Mark 4:26-34,” workingpreacher.org, 6/17/18)
The punchline seems to be that the kingdom of God grows on its own terms, providing welcome and respite for unlikely recipients. Not spectacularly, but in hidden, ordinary ways. Like a manger and cross. Like human bodies and caring for human need.
The seed takes root and grows, and the farmer does not know how. The mustard weed surprises everyone by taking over the field.
Matt Skinner again: “The reign of God does not carve out a separate sacred space; it claims all aspects of human existence.” (workingpreacher.org, 6/17/18)
The gospel is that God’s reign comes, grows and claims every part of our lives. Nothing can keep this seed from growing!
This punchline makes me think about where the seeds of God’s kingdom are planted in me, in us, in our lives and ministries. The punch of the joke is that God’s growth is not under our control.
Yet we do have a role to play in this process. The kingdom comes in ordinary, unexpected ways, but we can help nurture its growth—whether by planting seeds, tending the plant, harvesting fruit, or just enjoying birds finding a safe nest.
I like how one preacher describes it: Rather than exclaiming, “Look what we are doing—isn’t that great?” Christians do well to be asking instead, “What does God seem to be growing, and how can we help?” (David Schlafer, “Connections: Year B, Vol. 3,” p. 88)
What seeds does God seem to be growing? That’s the theological punchline for me in these jokes.
Maybe God is growing is an important friendship in your life.
Maybe what’s growing is the need to let go of an unhealthy relationship with the help of a counselor or friend.
Maybe it’s a nudge to get involved in a new justice or welcome ministry.
Maybe it’s a desire to get to know your neighbors better.
Maybe what’s growing is taking an art class or some other creative outlet you’ve never tried before.
Speaking of what’s growing in the soil of MLC…
We give thanks today for the seed of God’s reign planted in the life of Dan Norman, who will be baptized today at the 10 a.m. Dan and his fiancée Shi heard about MLC from neighbors, and we began conversations about a year ago to talk about being washed in water and the Holy Spirit.
God brings new spiritual growth to Dan and Shi, and we help by welcoming them to our life together and getting to know them.
What a surprising gift of grace baptism is! Ordinary water, ordinary people, and the kingdom of God comes upon us.
We like to think that we are in charge—but the joke is that God is the only One who makes things grow, whether we like it or not.
Yes, we do play a role to help. But the first and most important question is: “What is God up to?”
Author Jeanne Choy Tate says that in these parable/jokes, we are most like the soil. We are the receptive space for the seeds of God’s reign.
Tate writes, “I see myself in the soil. I am the land lying in wait, longing for renewal. I am the empty hollow cupped out of earth, a receptacle for the seed. I hold [this seed] in trust till its time has come, till the tiny green shoot of plant erupts from its protective soil to unfold into the blessing of sunlight, rain and life-giving air. All in God’s time.” (Jeanne Choy Tate, Christian Century magazine, 5/23/18)
God brings growth to us—in mysterious, ordinary, life-giving ways. All in God’s time. We hold out empty hands, receive the seeds of the kingdom, and ask God what we can do to help.
So what do you call something that looks like mustard?
Not a hot dog condiment. But the coming kingdom of God.
Let Us Pray
God of growing seeds and flowering shrubs, thank you for planting in us the seeds of your reign of justice, mercy and love. Thank you for your presence which continues to root, take shape and surround us. Sprinkle your grace upon all you have made, and renew us as your children in the waters of baptism. Bring healing and reconciliation to the broken and hurting parts of creation. Sustain all who hunger and thirst. We pray all this in the name of the One who laughed at a good joke, shed tears with the brokenhearted, and became fully part of your creation, Jesus Christ.