Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.”
This morning in the Gospel we heard Jesus teaching about the Kingdom of God, and the language he uses is the language of farming. That shouldn’t surprise us; we all know, I think, that most of the people to whom Jesus spoke and preached were farmers. They were peasants, people of the land who made their living from the land. And, I think, we all know as well that our Lord had a brilliant way of illustrating his teaching in terms with which those who heard him were familiar. Terms taken from their lives. To fishermen he used illustrations taken from fishing and life near the sea. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” he says to Simon and Andrew who were fishermen. “The Kingdom of God is as if a man cast a net into the sea and gathered up fish of every kind,” he says in another parable.
It occurred to me, though, as I wrote this sermon last week, that in fact the great majority of our Lord’s parables and teachings use language taken from farming, agriculture, and gardening. The parable of the sower and the seed scattered on various types of soil. The parable of the wheat and the tares. And today the very familiar parable of the mustard seed. Here again Jesus is addressing those who listened to him in terms which they would easily understand.
I don’t know how many of you are gardeners. I spent several summers during my childhood on a farm, and I used to raise a few vegetables in the back yard of a previous rectory. So I do know something – a little – about gardening. One thing, however, which I think we all know – whether we are gardeners or not – is that it’s a lot of work; it’s hard work, and you’ve got to keep at it day by day. It’s hard enough, of course, if it’s just a hobby, but it’s very, very hard work if your life depends upon it. And that was the case – wasn’t it? – with many of the people to whom Jesus spoke. They lived off the land entirely. If the land produced, they lived. If, one year, the land did not produce, well, perhaps they didn’t live. And so you see, the terms which Jesus is using here are very serious, as homely or even quaint as they may seem to us. In fact, it is not too much to say that for those to whom he spoke they were at times a matter of life and death. Did the seed live and grow? Or did it die?
And He said to them, “The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.” Anyone who has planted a garden recognizes this experience. One works hard to get things started – preparing the soil; getting rid of the weeds; putting up a fence perhaps; fertilizing and planting. It’s daily work, and the success of one’s garden depends very much upon how much work one puts into it. And yet – and here is Jesus’ point – in the end there is something mysterious, something in fact miraculous about what happens in a garden. “The seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.”
I am always amazed; I stand back in wonder, when – even after a great deal of hard labor – the seed I planted comes up and grows. From one point of view I had everything to do with it. And yet from another point of view I had nothing to do with it, for there is something miraculous there. Something which is beyond me and bigger – much bigger – than me. Something which is, perhaps, a glimpse, an inkling, a hint of the mystery and miracle which is the cause of the creation – and even life itself. And what I realize in my amazement and wonder is that all my work is really nothing more than going along with the miracle, cooperating with the mystery, indeed, becoming myself a part of it.
And it was to people who were very much aware of the miraculous nature of life that Jesus told the parable we heard in the Gospel. In fact, as we said, the lives of those people – farmers – depended on that miracle of growth taking place year after year. – Did the seed live and grow? Or did it die? – And what he said to them and says to us as well is this: the Kingdom of God, the life of faith is like the growth of seeds sown in a field. It is a miraculous and mysterious thing. It has a great deal to do with you and me, for it is a Kingdom to be established in and among you and me. And yet, in the end it depends entirely on God. It is God who brings it into being and God who makes it grow. To our eyes, that is to say, from one point of view, it may seem insignificant, as tiny as a mustard seed. Even so, because it is of God and depends on God, from another point of view its possibilities are limitless: without bounds.
My brothers and sisters, that Kingdom of God “is within you,” as Jesus says. You and I – His Church – are the Kingdom of God. You, I, we, are God’s planting here on earth, and there is within us and for us a possibility of growth and life which is miraculous and wonderful. And it is miraculous and wonderful, because it is of God. That is what our faith is all about, you know. That is what the New Testament proclaims on every page: the possibility of a new kind of life – a life abundant, a life rich and full, a life transformed, a life which is itself a miracle because it is in each of us the life of God. And all that we are called upon to do is this: cooperate – let it be – go along with the miracle and find our life in God.
Too often we forget this, you know. Our fears, our doubts, our worries and complacencies, comforts, and self-satisfactions, our responsibilities in this world, our dissatisfactions – too, too often these things so fill our lives or so weigh upon us that we forget the miraculous thing which God has done for us in Christ. We forget that God has made us His Kingdom. We forget that God will give us the grace and the faith and the trust to order our lives and allow that Kingdom to grow. But most of all, and this is the real problem, we forget that the wonder, the miracle, the mystery, the abundant and rich life of His Kingdom, is right here and right now – given to us – within us – waiting only for us to let it be.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, says Jesus. From one point of view it is something tiny and insignificant. Easily ignored or not even noticed. And so – from one point of view – are you and I. One of these days I will be no more. This body which now is me will only be a pile of dust and ashes. . . from one point of view. St. Paul is talking about this in the Epistle we heard this morning – a really glorious portion of Scripture – and what he says is this: that there is another point of view. And that point of view is God’s. The Kingdom which God began in you and me will not end in dust and ashes. No, what is mortal in us – and what is mortal in all those who are in Christ – what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. It will be glorified and conformed to Christ. The Kingdom established in us will go on. The miracle will become more miraculous still. And from God’s point of view – which is the only one that counts – from God’s point of view, the mustard seed – as tiny as it is, and which is you and me – that mustard seed will grow into a tree which reaches to the skies. . . and finds its life beyond in the very life of God.